Massachusetts Avenue and Appleton Design Update

A Guest Post by: Petru Sofio

Massachusetts Avenue and Appleton Street in Arlington has always been a dangerous intersection. Odd geometry, antiquated traffic signals, and sun glare issues make for confusing and sometimes fatal conditions. On May 5th, 2020, Charlie Proctor, and his partner, Alison, were biking home when Charlie was struck by a left-turning driver who crossed in front of their path. The crash was fatal for Charlie. He died just three weeks before his 28th birthday.

A month later, an eerily similar crash occurred at the intersection, when a driver crossed the lanes while turning left onto Appleton Street and struck a bicyclist, who luckily survived but was placed in the hospital for months with major injuries and a lifetime of physical therapy and recovery. In response to these incidents, Arlington promptly had their police department ban the deadly left turn every day during the pm peak hour. 

After these collisions, Arlington’s Select Board approved a Design Review Committee, consisting of the town’s transportation planner, Department of Public Works, Arlington Police Department, three residents, an Ottoson Middle School representative, a business representative, and a representative from a nearby church. The goal was to create a short-term solution to improve safety for vulnerable road users at this intersection, get it approved by the Town, and implement it as quickly as possible.

First Draft of the Proposed Designs:

The first set of plans included sharrows, wide lanes, and curb extensions. These plans weren’t well-received by advocates or residents. Parking restrictions and poor bicycle facilities encouraging bikes to be in the door zone didn’t sit well. Advocates stressed the importance of improved safety for bicyclists, and sharrows have been shown to not increase safety for bicyclists.

After one more meeting, a new set of plans was released.

Second Draft of the Proposed Designs:

These plans were much better received by bicycle and pedestrian advocates, as they added bike lanes would increase safety for people on bikes. They also would narrow the lanes of motorists to 11’, making it much easier to cross the street. Unfortunately, residents and business owners had extreme pushback to these plans. They had objections to the bike lanes and the loss of parking spaces along the corridor (roughly 41%). 

Finally, the third set of plans were released.

Third Draft of the Proposed Designs:

These were full corridor plans, showing that the town was getting these plans ready for approval. These alternatives both took out the left turn lane, but yellow flexible delineators were added onto both plans to slow down left turning drivers. One plan included shared lane markings in both directions, the other included buffered bike lanes in both directions. Alternative 2 with the bike lanes showed a clear balanced plan. However, there was still opposition to the loss of parking on the residential side of the street. Roughly 41% of the parking on the corridor has to be removed to install the bike lanes.

The committee voted 8-3 to approve the plan that included buffered bike lanes, with the understanding it would best improve safety for people on bikes, people on foot, and drivers who frequent this corridor. Of the 3 who voted against– 2 were against on a technicality, and only one person was truly against the bike lane alternative.

After some final tweaking from activists and town agencies, the final plan for Massachusetts Avenue and Appleton Street was released.

Final Draft of the Proposed Designs and Next Steps:

Even though the Town engaged the democratic and open public process engaged by the Committee to choose this bike lane alternative, the Arlington Select Board will be reviewing and deciding between the bike lane alternative and the shared lane alternative. In the Design Review Committee meetings, the plan that included buffered bike lanes was voted favorably by a vote of 8-3, whereas only one committee member was for the shared lane marking plan. The shared lane marking plan isn’t even complete, as Arlington’s DPW hasn’t reviewed it yet.

On September 13th, 2021 the Select Board is expected to discuss if they prefer the plan that increases bike safety or the plan that retains parking.

As expected, the local abutters are now fighting against the approval of the bike lane alternative. They are nervous about the parking removal that is required to install the bike lanes. 

This project began because of several crashes that seriously injured and killed people on Arlington's streets. The bike lane alternative reflects that goal and needs to be implemented to keep vulnerable road users safe on this corridor, who are currently under served. The opposition has an extreme focus on car storage and doesn’t really seem to be interested in improved safety. Some even oppose the plan that includes sharrows because a few spaces had to be removed for pedestrian daylighting. If Arlington doesn’t approve the bike lane alternative to make the corridor safe for all road users, then the entire 15-month process would have been for nothing. 

The Design Review Committee and its members were approved by the select board. There has been a long process of deliberations for what is best for the corridor, and the committee overwhelmingly chose the bike lane alternative. Unfortunately, despite this recommendation, the board has the final say. 

There is an upcoming Arlington Select Board meeting where these plans will be discussed and then voted on for implementation. Please attend this Arlington Select board meeting on September 13th at 7:15 pm to show your support for the bike lane alternative.


Take Action

Join the Select Board Meeting to voice your support of bike lanesusing the following information:

When: Sep 13, 2021 07:15 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Topic: Select Board Meeting
Register in advance for this webinar
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


Contact the Select Board in support of the bike lane alternative in advance of the meeting:

Len Diggins -  [email protected]
Steve DeCourcey - [email protected]
John Hurd - [email protected]
Diane Mahon - [email protected]
Eric Helmuth - [email protected]

Please copy when emailing:

MassBike - [email protected]
Select Board Administrator Marie Krepelka - [email protected]
Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine -  [email protected]
Transportation Planner Dan Amstutz - [email protected]
TAC Chair Laura Swan - [email protected]


About Petru Sofio

Petru Sofio is MassBike's 2021 Design Review Intern and Advocacy Representative from Arlington, Massachusetts. As a high school student, he bikes daily to and from school, year-round, using the Minuteman Bike Trail. He is a dedicated advocate, fighting to make streets safer for all ages, modes, and abilities.

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  • John Allen
    Chad Gibson said vehicular cycling doesn’t work. That 50 year old meme keeps going around and around. Chad, maybe bicycle driving (the preferred expression now) doesn’t work for you because you think that is what you are doing, but actually it is not. I have ridden as Deborah Huber suggests for 40 years in Boston and suburbs without a single collision with a car. That does not work? Deborah, I want to discuss this with you, please look me up, I am easy to find online.
  • Deborah Huber
    More than the speed of traffic, the volume may play a part I can not evaluate. Still I strongly disagree with weaving a bike lane in and out of parking areas. Wherever possible bike lanes should remain in a constant position on the road.
  • Chad Gibson
    Bike lanes are the best option for this quick turn build. Vehicular cycling does not work, especially on a street like Mass Ave with motorists going 35 mph. Very few would ride in the middle of the lane, even with a few sharrows. They don’t feel safe, because they aren’t safe. Sure on a side street that might be fine, not the scenario we are talking about here.
  • Deborah Huber
    I am sorry but I can not with a clear conscience support the Bike Lane alternative proposed here. Let me explain. Bike Lanes are not equal to safety — Paint does not Protect. In certain cases Bike Lanes are not a bad option. I feel in this case they are not the good option.
    Bike Lanes position those on bikes in an out of the way place on the road. Driver’s like this and many who ride bikes believe they are in a better position and safer but when you are out of the way, driver’s pay less attention to you.
    When driving a bicycle, you are best to keep a steady position and ride in such a way that Drivers can know what to expect. If you are out of the way (in a bike lane) drivers pay less attention to you than if you ride in the traffic lane (like a car). Drivers will tend to make left and right turns without regard for a cyclist they are paying no attention to. Where as if you ride like a car, in the lane, no one can right hook and left crosses are also less likely be cause the oncoming car will see you where they are looking for a car and the should yield as they would for a car.
    In addition, these bike lanes weave in/out around parking, which is not a consistent path.
    My proposal would have been to making the changes to correct the “odd geometry” but I would rather it be a firm physical bump out, to keep cars where they belong. The wide lanes need to be narrowed. My attempt at adding up the parking, bikelane, buffers and 11’ lanes comes to a ~41’ wide roadway. My solution would be 2-7.5’ parking lanes, 2’ buffers painted next to parking (aka the ‘door zone’) 2-11’ travel lanes. Sharrows painted in the center of the travel lane.
    Be safe on the roads everyone.
  • Jes Slavin