Residential Streets Get Safety Makeover

bike lanesOliver Street has been remodeled with a painted curb extension, red crosswalk, and bike lane. Photo courtesy of Adam Polinski.

Four streets in the city have been remodeled with painted curb extensions and bright red crosswalks, and some of them have been adorned with green contra-flow bike lanes. The changes on the roads—Hancock Street, Gilman Street, Oliver Street, and Skilton Avenue—are designed to slow down vehicles and protect bicyclists and pedestrians.

The new designs, part of a pilot program the Transportation and Infrastructure Division is running in collaboration with the Somerville Bicycle Committee, are meant to help create a safe network of paths for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike. The city received a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to make the changes.

Extended curbs narrow the space a car has to turn, and sharper turns require driving more slowly. Reducing speed is crucial to safely sharing the road, according to Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Brad Rawson.

“The City of Somerville was the first municipality in Massachusetts to adopt what’s called a Complete Streets ordinance, which means that the way that we design and manage our public roadways is going to be multi-purpose, is going to serve more than just the automobile user,” Rawson says. “With that in mind, we’re always looking to make sure that pavement markings, wayfinding, and signage are strategically employed and empirically tested to slow cars down, to make everybody behave as respectful and safe neighbors.”

The city-wide speed limit was recently lowered from 30 to 25 miles per hour, and Rawson’s department is pushing for another decrease to 20 miles per hour.

The bright red crosswalks can help with visibility, another factor that can make streets safer for pedestrians.

Contra-flow bike lanes allow cyclists to ride in both directions on otherwise one-way streets. This design can dramatically shorten the distance bicyclists have to travel, and also disperse crowds from major roadways.

The four roads are the latest in a series of similar design changes the Transportation and Infrastructure Division has been implementing over the past two years on low-volume, low-speed streets. The markings have reliably made drivers slow down by two miles per hour, according to Rawson. The department will collect data through the spring to determine whether the changes have increased the number of users on the roads and to look at differences in safety metrics.