Transportation Advisory Committee - Dec 9th, 2020
Meeting held via remote participation. Meeting materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/23105/18. These notes cover one agenda item: TAC's working discussion about the Thorndike Place traffic impact assessment (TIA).
(Howard Muise, TAC Chair) Mr. Muise gives a brief introduction. TAC reviewed the Thorndike Place traffic impact assessment a few years ago; they have a new plan, and a new traffic impact assessment.
(Scott Thornton, Vanasse and Associates) Mr. Thornton gives a presentation on the Thorndike place TIA. Thorndike place is a residential development adjacent to Route 2. BETA Group is Arlington's peer review consultant for the 40B comprehensive permit and they're reviewing the traffic impact assessment.
Vehicle access to the site will be via Littlejohn Street. It's approximately a ten minute walk to Alewife station. During recent years, similar residential projects have been done on the Cambridge side of route two, including Vox on Two and Tempo.
The current plan has 174 units, 239 parking spaces, and sheltered parking for 144 bicycles. The number of parking spaces complies with Arlington zoning. Earlier iterations of the plan were more expansive; the current iteration is smaller with fewer environmental impacts.
The current TIA is mostly based on intersections studied for the previous one. Lake Street intersections in scope of the study include Brooks Ave, Littlejohn Street, Margaret St, Burch St, ramps at Route 2, and the Minuteman bikeway. Traffic volumes are based on prior year counts, adjusted for time and seasonal variation. COVID has reduced traffic. Lake Street traffic counts in 2020 were one-quarter of what they were in 2014.
Permanent count stations in this area are spotty. Vanasse used a permanent counter near the intersection of routes 2 and 128 to derive year-to-year adjustments. They've also worked with BETA to validate their methodology.
Vox on Two is a comparable site, which is close to transit and the minuteman bikeway. The apartment building is slightly larger with 220 units, and fewer parking spaces. Vanasse used Vox on Two as a source of mode split information.
In 2019, Vox on Two's trips were 39% single-occupancy vehicle, 6% carpool, 35% transit, 14% walking, 5% biking, and 1% other (e.g., ride share). BETA agreed to this methodology for estimating the mode split. The previous TIA used census data for mode splits, and arrived at a higher percentage of automobile trips.
Vanasse estimates that Thorndike place will generate 7 entering and 20 exiting trips during the morning rush, and 20 entering and 13 exiting during the evening rush. They estimate a total of 430 trips/day (all modes).
The project is planning several mitigations to reduce the number of vehicle trips. They'd like to get a new blue bike station at Thorndike Field, and there will be 144 indoor bicycle parking spaces. The lobby will have a transit screen, showing estimated arrival times for the Red Line, buses, and ride sharing services.
(Scott Smith, TAC) Mr. Smith asks if they could provide a more direct route to the minuteman bikeway.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says that topic has been discussed. The challenge is making that connection through an environmentally sensitive area.
(Scott Smith) Mr. Smith asks if the main connectivity will be via Dorothy Road.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says yes.
(Scott Smith) Mr. Smith isn't sure that Vox on Two is completely comparable. It's very close to discovery park, and some of the tenants might be walking to work. Vox also has more constrained parking. Mr. Smith expects a higher percentage of vehicle trips than Vox on Two, but less than the neighborhood currently generates.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says there were community concerns about having enough parking, and they are providing enough to satisfy Arlington's Zoning requirements. He believes prospective tenants will chose this site for its location.
(Scott Smith) Mr. Smith points out that the MBTA recently removed a nearby bus stop from route 2.
(Ray Jones, TAC) Mr. Jones asks if the pedestrian overpass (which crosses route 2) will be integrated into this project.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says the pedestrian bridge isn't part of the project, and they aren't planning to provide any connections to it.
(Howard Muise) Mr. Muise asks if Vanasse looked at ACS data.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says they used census data, but focused more on the Vox data from 2018 and 2019.
(Howard Muise) Mr. Muise acknowledges that vehicle mode share will drive traffic volumes. He asks if HOVs were included in vehicle trips.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says he'll have to double check.
(Melissa Laube, TAC) Ms. Laube checked the calculations and believes they were included.
(Greg Lucas, BETA) Mr. Lucas comments on the mode split. The transit percentage is close to the census data. For bike and walking trips, it depends on where people are commuting to. He believes that Thorndike Place may generate fewer walking trips.
(Mike Barry, TAC) Mr. Barry asks if the project plans to connect to route 2.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says there was an idea to do that in the past, but it's not part of current proposal.
(Mike Barry) Mr. Barry believes that Edith street may be popular for biking and walking trips, if there's good access.
(Greg Lucas) Mr. Lucas says that BETA's review had comments about intended access routes for pedestrians and cyclists. He questions whether the pedestrian bridge over route 2 would provide a viable benefit.
(Scott Smith) Mr. Smith notes that the pedestrian bridge has ADA compliance problems.
(Laura Swan, TAC) Ms. Swan asks if any improvements to Dorothy Road or Littlejohn Street are planned.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says they plan to add a sidewalk in front of the property (on Dorothy Road). There also planning to add stop signs at the driveway.
(Laura Swan) Ms. Swan asks about the path that runs around the building.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says it's a passive recreation route (note: I suspect Mr. Thornton's answer is incorrect; during several hearings, BSC said this was for emergency/fire department access).
(Dan Amstutz, TAC) Mr. Amstutz asks about putting the Bluebike station closer to the site.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says it could be closer to the site. He'll have to discuss that with the applicant. They thought the bike station would be a better amenity closer to the bikeway.
(Dan Amstutz) Mr. Amstutz asks about the small parking area in front of the building.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton believes it will be short-term parking.
(Dan Amstutz) Mr. Amstutz says that Dorothy Road has a stop sign at Littlejohn, but not the other way around.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton believes there could be an all-way stop sign. Or, just leave the one on Dorothy Road.
(Dan Amstutz) Mr. Amstutz asks a question about the TIA. The study showed peak travel trips onto Littlejohn, but there's a peak-hour turn prohibition there. He asks if the TIA numbers are an extrapolation of existing trips.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says that most of the side streets have peak hour turn prohibitions; but there's still traffic making those movements. He isn't suggesting changes to the turn prohibitions.
(Howard Muise) Mr. Muise says the prohibitions are intended to prevent drivers from taking shortcuts through the neighborhood.
Mr. Muise says that TAC received a letter from Jennifer Griffith, who was concerned about traffic making a left out of Littlejohn St. He suggests placing the Blue Bike station on Margaret Street, and thinks other residents could use it there. He suggests they consider subsidizing T passes for residents. He suggests adding turn counts to figure 7, for the few streets that aren't currently shown. Finally, he asks if they've considered having fewer parking spaces.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton agrees that with current trends, the project could likely have fewer parking spaces than they 239 they're proposing. They're providing the number of spaces that zoning requires, and would prefer to avoid asking for a waiver.
(Howard Muise) Mr. Muise asks if the ground parking lot will be used by residents.
(Scott Thornton) Yes, it's for residents.
(Howard Muise) Mr. Muise notes that the TIA shows a service level increase for eastbound traffic on Lake Street. He's skeptical about that, and asks Mr. Thornton to take another look.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton said the planning department provided adjustments, based on the new traffic signals being installed on Lake Street. He will review that section.
(Howard Muise) Mr. Muise says he was involved with the new Lake Street signals. The idea was to coordinate signals between Brooks ave and the Bikeway. He expects some improvement, but not as much as the TIA shows. He thinks a queuing analysis at Lake Street and Brooks ave would help; that's where the backups happen.
(Bill Copithorne, TAC) Mr. Copithorne asks if anyone has though of doing a town survey, regarding people's mobility plans post-COVID.
(Dan Amstutz) Mr. Amstutz says there were questions about that in a recent transportation survey. The State Secretary of Transportation recently gave a presentation about this. He said that answers varied, depending on treatment options and whether a vaccine was available. With a vaccine, most people planned to return to public transit.
(Bill Copithorne) Mr. Copithorne says those kinds of considerations could affect the number of parking spaces needed.
(Greg Lucas) Mr. Lucas says the current thinking is that people will begin using transit after a while. Alternatively, they could choose not to live near transit. Right now, he's expecting more vehicle trips in 2021.
(Scott Smith) Mr. Smith says the Kendall Square Association has done surveys on this subject. If possible, we should look at their findings.
There are no further questions from the committee. Mr. Muise opens the discussion to public comment.
(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith believes that Vox on Two is not comparable, because it's oriented to younger people. She says the apartments are smaller. She says that Arlington has a better school system than Cambridge. People are more likely to drive, and there are no school buses. She says the traffic light at the bikeway won't solve the traffic problems on Lake St. She says that leaving the neighborhood during commuting hours is treacherous; drivers on Lake Street won't let you in. It's treacherous. She believes the development will add more cars than the TIA says, and thinks that a police officer at the bikeway would do a better job than traffic signals. She says that Vox on Two isn't comparable, and there are safety concerns when leaving the neighborhood. She says there's a lot of cut-through traffic and people don't stop at stop signs within the neighborhood.
(Howard Muise) Mr. Muise says the TAC executive committee will provide written comments to the ZBA. He's delegating this to the executive committee (rather than the full committee) to ensure the comments are submitted in time for the ZBA's hearing schedule.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton would like to receive a copy of these comments, and asks how he can get them.
(Dan Amstutz) Mr. Amstutz says the planning department will send him a copy.