Connect Arlington Virtual Forum - Jul 30th, 2020
Meeting conducted via video-conference.
Adam Chapdelaine gives a welcome. Arlington embarked on its Sustainable Transportation plan as an offshoot of the master plan. There are several things we'd like to achieve: building off past efforts like bus rapid transit, creating complete streets, addressing localized transportation issues, considering Arlington in the regional transportation network, and equitability for a range of populations and ages.
Jenny Raitt presents next. She recognizes members of the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee and DPCD that have contributed to the sustainable transportation plan.
The plan's name is "Connect Arlington". It used the master plan's traffic and circulation section as a starting point. Connect Arlington is intended to be a 20-year vision for the development of a transportation system in Arlington. It will cover all aspects of transportation, and consider the effects of future technologies and innovations. Nelson Nygaard is our consultant for the project. A transportation fact book will come out of the study of current conditions. The committee has performed several types of outreach, including focus groups, town-wide surveys, and collaboration with the council on aging.
Dan Amstutz presents a set of finding on current conditions. Flat areas tend to have multi-family homes, while hilly areas have single-family zones. Arlington's Commercial activity is centered around Mass Ave. Transportation corridors are located in the "valley" part of town. The town's topography affects walking routes -- it's harder to walk in hilly areas of the town, and that influences how people choose to get around.
The assessment looked at (automobile) trip volumes and crash history. There were almost 2000 crashes between 2016 and 2020, which includes two traffic fatalities. Most crashes occurred on corridors, but many were dispersed throughout the neighborhoods. Non-driving commuters tend to live in multi-family areas, and near bus routes.
A recent survey asked people to choose the most importation transportation factors to consider. The top three were: considering the needs of diverse populations and people of all ages, prioritizing the pedestrian environment, and focusing on improved travel times.
60% of people drive to work; 40% don't (this includes people who work at home). 4% ride bicycles, which is higher than neighboring communities.
The survey asked "If you were to change your mode of transit, what mode would you use?". "Ride a bike" was the most common answer. There seems to be interest in cycling.
Some elements of transit plan can be done independently. Some require partnerships. Others require a regional approach.
We'd like to have measures and targets, to evaluate how we're doing on a year-by-year basis.
We're nearly at the end of the analysis of existing conditions. We'll continue with public meetings, focus groups, and surveys. We hope to have the plan finished by December.
The facilitators open the forum to questions.
(Joanne Klys) I don't have a car. Instead, I walk and take 77 bus. During the school year, the MBTA seems to become the school bus; this makes it challenging for other riders to get a seat. Are people aware of this? How can it be fixed? During the school year, I have to plan trips around school pickup/drop-off times.
The T schedules extra runs of buses to accommodate students. This comes down to a frequency issue, and whether the T can schedule enough buses to meet peak demand. We'll have to work with the MBTA to find the best solution.
(David Watson) I was looking at the survey results for transportation priorities. It was interesting that bike infrastructure didn't make the top cut, but cycling was the preferred mode shift. Can you talk about that some more? Why are people not interested in bike infrastructure when they're interested in biking?
Some goals, like safety for all are relevant for cycling, as opposed to specific goals (like protected bike lanes). People tended to gravitate to broader goals, rather than ones for specific modes of transit. However, walking was very important to many survey respondents.
If you feel there needs to be greater emphasis in an area that wasn't reflected in the survey, please bring it up during the breakout sessions.
(Julie Sussman) I tend to go to bus stop across from my house. If I don't plan my trips, I can get caught in the school exit rush. The MBTA needs extra bus service during this time.
(Keith Jensen) I support alternative modes of transportation. Why do some of our streets not have lines (lane markers) painted on them?
Part of Mass Ave is going to be improved in the second phase of the Mass Ave rehabilitation project. Some of the grants for that project didn't come through, so we tried to address smaller pieces individually, like sidewalk replacement and lighting. Parts of the roadway are in bad shape. Public works would have to weigh in on when they'd be repaved.
(Jennifer Susse) I'd like to talk about students on the bus. Many parents drive kids to school because they aren't guaranteed to get a seat on the bus. This creates more traffic in the morning than there needs to be.
This is something we can raise with MBTA. The public transportation system is constrained due to COVID-19; these limitations are intended to provide safer rides. This is a challenge for the MBTA due to number of buses and the number of drivers.
(?) How will the plan address increases in population? How are we thinking ahead?
So far, the transportation process has focused on assessing current conditions; the next phase will consider the future. This relates to development patterns, but we aren't expecting that much growth during the next 20 years. We want to provide more transit options, so people can get around more easily. Using our roadways more efficiently will help us address growth. Next forum, we'll have a preview of what those options could look like.
The attendees are split into five breakout groups. I'm part of group five, which was facilitated by Rachel Stark. The groups were asked to discuss three questions.
Question 1: Do you agree with these top goals for the transportation system? Would you add or remove any of these goals and why?
I'd like to see cycling given a more prominent place. One can't necessarily make a decision about bike infrastructure based on a survey of the general public. Bike infrastructure was probably #6 because cyclists are over-represented in this survey. Some drivers find bicycle infrastructure problematic.
I cycle, walk, and take public transportation. How many cyclists travel through Arlington to go to other places? Our bicycle infrastructure should accommodate them.
I don't ride a bike. All of the top survey preferences are necessary, the whole list of them.
I agree that bike facilities are tricky. We've built a lot of bike lanes, but they're not necessarily a safe haven for cyclists. Making them safer requires significant space, and a tradeoff with other modes of transportation. There are compromises among modes. We should have better bike facilities and promote them. Prioritizing safety for all covers a lot of needs. Safety seems like the most important goal of the top five.
Question 2: If you could wave a magic wand and change something about transportation in Arlington, what would you change?
I'd have a Red Line running down one side of Arlington, and the Green Line running down the other side.
I'd get rid of cars as much as possible, especially on secondary roads. In particular, drives that take shortcuts through neighborhoods.
I'd like to see ADA compliant flyovers at every bike path crossing along the minuteman. People use the bikeway to avoid interacting with street traffic.
I'd like a tunnel, so cyclists don't have to ride up and down Park Ave, but could ride through the hill instead. Many of Arlington's hills are very steep. The topography imposes limits on east/west travel.
On Mass Ave, I'd like to see a consistent section with dedicated bicycle lanes, narrower automobile lanes, wider sidewalks, and more room for outdoor activity. Even if that means directing some traffic to Route 2 or Broadway.
I'd like better service from the MBTA (buses). There are millions of cars, but I'm not sure how to deal with that.
Question 3: What is standing in the way of making changes about transportation and what are some ways to make them happen?
Money (e.g., to run red line down one side of town and green line down the other). And challenges in improving MBTA service.
Our car-centric culture. People like to drive, even when they could use other modes of transit. After driving to their destination, they expect to park directly in front of it. This makes it hard to reallocate space for different transit modes. More people want to use alternative modes of transportation. We have to do more of these projects, even if there's public opposition to them. We have to start somewhere -- it's a chicken and egg problem. We're talking about safety. A group that's been historically advantaged to the detriment of other road users (i.e., drivers) might need to give up some of their advantage.
We have a diverse set of needs for transportation, and some of them are at odds with each other; that's an impediment at times. Innovations that could serve different groups without inconveniencing each other.
Different authorities are in charge of different parts of the transportation system, and they're funded from different sources. Jurisdictional issues can make it hard to coordinate and make decisions. Maybe it would make sense to have a bus that ran just from the heights to East Arlington, independently of the MBTA.
Money is an obstacle. The MBTA, drivers, bikers, everyone needs something. Not sure of the best way to go about it. I can't stand driving anymore so I stopped. I walk and take the bus. I try to avoid times when everyone else takes the bus. Not working makes a difference.
The number of cars on the road is a problem. Perhaps people could be encouraged to work from home after the emergency is over, to reduce the amount of traffic.
We return to the main meeting, and each group provides a report. Group five's discussion appears above, so I'll summarize the other four.
Group 1. Our group had a lot of bike people, and spent a lot of time talking about bike infrastructure. AHS access from the Minuteman Path might relieve pressure around school pick up and drop off. Fixing brick sidewalks was a top preference; those sidewalks are hard on pedestrians and people with mobility challenges. We could try movable/temporary bicycle racks. Move them around and see how people like them. We'd like better service from MBTA buses. The 77 is over-subscribed and the service is erratic. Striping spaces reduces the number of cars that can park along the street. The transportation plan should include pickup/drop-off spots and loading zones (e.g., for Uber, Lyft, and delivery vehicles).
Group 2. Our priorities were very reflective of Arlington, and of the people participating. We focused on being pedestrian-friendly, and what that might mean (e.g., level surfaces in front of town hall, improved street crossing). We're glad to see people thinking about a more balanced approach, and considering more than automotive transport. We should consider climate change, children, and things that might be missing from an equity/diversity standpoint. Sharing space is a challenge. In the post-COVID world, perhaps fewer people will drive to work. There may be quick fixes to disincentivize bad behavior. Future developments like high speed rail and autonomous vehicles should be part of the discussion. We need to learn how to share resources.
Group 3. Our group agreed with the goals, but wanted to see more emphasis on cycling. People were concerned about safety, especially in the pedestrian environment. We talked about strategies for encouraging people to get out of their cars. However, people won't get out of their cars if they don't feel like there's a safe alternative. We'd like to remind people about the health benefits of walking and cycling. We talked about making driving less convenient and mass transit more convenient. Some of Arlington's streets are laid out in disorganized patterns, and that creates additional challenges. We'd like to see sidewalk improvements. Money and space are challenges. We should convert more parking lanes to bus lanes, and add priority signaling for buses.
Group 4. Everyone in our group agreed with the goals, but noted overlap between them. We'd like to see an expanded focus on bicycle facilities and the environment. Having sidewalks in good condition would be nice. We should encourage people to use more sustainable forms of transit. We'd like to see better connections to the route 128 corridor, more ride hailing services, and more zip cars. We'd like to encourage people to explore other modes of transit, and reduce the number of cars on the roadways. Topography and money are challenges.