We must ensure the Washington Street Underpass comports with Vision Zero principles

Somerville residents and bike advocates are understandably very concerned about plans that depict the removal of existing bike lanes and the addition of automobile travel lanes at the Washington Street underpass in East Somerville. 

As a cyclist and an advocate for protected bike infrastructure, I share in people’s sense of concern. We must work together to ensure this project and all future roadway projects comport with Vision Zero principles and best practices. This means transportation policies and project designs that shift the priority from speed and throughput to the fundamental goal of safety — because crashes can be avoided if streets are designed to protect all people.

The pending roadway designs that are now circulating raise very serious concerns — but after conferring with the GLX team, Council President McLaughlin, Senator Jehlen, and the City of Somerville, I am hopeful that we can bring people together to reconsider the current plans.

Washington Street Bridge/Underpass — previous/existing conditions

The Washington Street Bridge/Underpass was closed in 2019 to allow for Green Line Extension and Communtiy Path Extension work. It is due to be reopened this spring (some five months ahead of schedule).

Before the bridge work began, Washington Street had functioned with one extra-wide motor vehicle lane in each direction, plus a curbside bike lane in each direction.  The bike lanes were installed by MassDOT at the request of the City of Somerville in 2016 as part of MassDOT’s McGrath Highway interim improvements project

Working roadway design drawings

In addition to the rendering circulated by Somerville Bike Safety via social media this week, I was also able to obtain the following rendering from the GLX team.

Clearly, both of the currently proposed renderings — which all show two automobile travel lanes in each direction and the removal of the existing bike lanes — are cause for alarm and concern.

In my conversations with the GLX team yesterday, it was emphasized that a primary objective of the pending design proposals was to show how cyclists will make the connection from Washington Street up to the new GLX station and the Community Path Extension. It was also emphasized that there is still an opportunity for us to advocate for a different striping plan and a better allocation of roadway space in this area, so my staff and I will continue working with all stakeholders to push for a positive outcome here, one that is in keeping with Vision Zero principles.

Originally posted January 18, 2020. This post may be updated as more information becomes available. Please email [email protected] with any questions or concerns.