Bus and bike lanes implemented this past September on Broadway in Somerville have stirred local unrest, manifesting in a movement called “Restore Broadway.”
Installed as part of the city’s Winter Hill in Motion project, the lanes were intended to improve mobility in the area, serving as Somerville’s first lanes to support two-way bus traffic on the same street. The city also installed parking-protected bike lanes and retimed traffic lights with the intent to accommodate drivers and pedestrians.
But many residents feel that the rollout of the bus lanes left much to be desired. Close to 1,800 supporters have signed a petition, posted by resident Arthur Moore two weeks ago on Change.org, that calls for improved traffic safety and reduced pollution in the area. The petition calls for the city to remove its new, red-painted bus lanes and repaint the street to dispel confusion. It also expresses concerns about an increase in car accidents and blocked intersections. Some businesses in the area no longer have parking close to their facades, the petition states.
This follows a month-long fight by Moore and others to help restore traffic safety to the Winter Hill area. Posts on The Somerville News Weekly blog since the beginning of this month chronicle his efforts to spread the word about increased accidents and decreased accessibility in the area.
Restore Broadway held a community meeting on Oct. 12 at 11:00 a.m. at PROOF Somerville with Ward 4 Councilman Jesse Clingan and Somerville senior city planner Brad Rawson.
At the meeting, Former Representative Mike Capuano suggested putting a non-binding question on the November ballot for residents that would ask if they are supportive of the changes to Broadway.
Kate Castle, a Winter Hill resident involved with the Restore Broadway effort, likes Capuano’s idea. However, city councilors informed her that state approval would be necessary to add a question to the ballot.
Castle got involved with the Restore Broadway effort because she was concerned about pedestrian mobility. She prioritizes gathering community support and input to bring to city councilors and state representatives.
“There’s a lot of frustration in the community right now,” she says. “[We are] trying to find ways that people who don’t normally know how to go to the city and voice their concerns and their opinions have a way.”
Amanda Marsden noticed these frustrations, too. A Winter Hill resident who drives in to drop off her kid at daycare in the mornings and takes the Orange Line from Assembly Row to work, Marsden has experienced the issues with intersection from the perspectives of both a rider and a driver.
“A lot of people are pitting pedestrians vs. cars, or cyclists vs. cars, and I think that’s sad,” Marsden says. “I think in general, the lanes are a positive thing for our city, but I’m incredibly disappointed with the timing and communication around the rollout.”
Marsden also says that a lack of enforcement and signage made transportation in the neighborhood exceedingly difficult, especially when the lanes were first implemented. Not until residents vocalized their concerns did crossing guards and officers appear in the area, she explains.
At the intersection of Massachusetts Route 28 and Broadway, Marsden says, “pedestrians or cyclists that were crossing were taking their lives in their own hands crossing the road.” Conditions on that state road improved when Representative Mike Connolly expressed concern and assigned state officers to enforce traffic rules there, Marsden explains.
Castle explains that though city planners promised to add a crosswalk at the intersection of Broadway and Thurston Street to ease pedestrian access to the bus stop there, the crosswalk was never implemented due to budget constraints. She says that while the city cannot afford a pedestrian crosswalk, it will be hiring third-party firms to collect data on transit conditions in the area.
Pedestrian safety is a major concern for Castle. Three deaths in the past six months have set residents on edge, but she does not see the same level of solidarity among pedestrians as among bikers.
“We have got to … let the city know that there are people whose qualities of life are being impacted,” Castle said.
On Oct. 17, Ward 5 City Councilor Mark Niedergang responded to Moore’s Restore Broadway petition with a Somerville News Weekly blog post in which he stressed his continued support for the new bike lanes.
“I will support what I think is best for the City regardless of what the majority wants,” Niedergang asserted in the post.
He also said he had been receiving mixed messages from residents, some for and some against the new lanes. Niedergang added that bus riders positively affected by the changes are unlikely to live in Wards 4 and 5. Similarly, Castle expressed that while the new lanes may be convenient for riders in Medford or Arlington, the packed buses do little to improve mobility for Winter Hill residents.
Niedergang added that it is too late to put the issue on the ballot, since that would require a vote by City Council or “a lot of signatures.”
Somerville residents are still frustrated with what they see as elected officials’ failure to act.
“Right now, the message we’ve received from the city is they’re not going to budge on it,” Castle said.