The intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Appleton Street has always been an awkward one, born from 1960s engineering standards. As bicycle and pedestrian traffic has increased over the years, the intersection has become more crash-prone. Attempts to improve the intersection from a 2012 road safety audit failed, and the intersection has stayed mostly the same for over 60 years. As an Arlington High School student, I ride through this intersection every day, and it’s been terrifying.
On May 5th, 2020, Charlie Proctor and his partner Allison were out on a bike ride, heading towards their Somerville home. As Charlie approached the intersection, a left-turning car from Massachusetts Avenue sped through the intersection and hit Charlie. Charlie Proctor was killed.
Since then, several similar crashes with bicycles and left-turning vehicles have occurred, prompting Arlington to look to redesign the intersection. Throughout the redesign process, advocates have been pushing the city to quickly implement a design that improves safety for bicyclists to prevent another fatality or serious injury. Finally, this month, Arlington implemented some short-term measures to increase safety for people on bicycles. I feel so much safer on this new corridor. However, this almost didn’t happen.
Originally, the Arlington Selectboard chose the design below (2-2 defaulting to Shared Lanes), which wouldn’t have improved the situation for those biking on Massachusetts Avenue. The plan kept the lanes wide, the bikes on the roadway, and only added green sharrows.
The shared lane marking plan that the Arlington Selectboard approved on 9/13/2021.
However, after the vote, Selectman John Hurd requested that the town develop a compromise alternative. This alternative included the full bike lane plan to the west of the intersection, but to the east, only included a bike lane heading eastbound. This kept all of the eastbound safety features advocates requested but kept the parking businesses requested on both sides.
The hybrid alternative– proposed by Selectman Hurd.
The Selectboard on October 13th voted 4-0 in favor of the new plan. Arlington DPW was ready to implement as fast as possible. Starting the week of October 23rd, work began on the project. The old pavement markings were removed, the new lanes were installed, and the green paint was applied.
The new Appleton cross bike green paint drying.
After a week of night work, the project was complete. There are four key changes Arlington implemented during this quick-build project that now allow bicyclists to ride safer through the intersection.
Key Safety Changes
This bump out (extensions of the curb into the roadway) will help make the intersection more typical. Drivers coming down Appleton street won’t be able to speed through the merge, they’ll have to stop, and then turn. Drivers coming up Appleton street from Massachusetts Avenue will also have to slow down to make the left turn.
Buffered Bike Lanes
These hard fought bike lanes increase bike comfort along the corridor, and have buffers protecting people on bikes from dooring incidents. They connect to an existing bike lane through Arlington heights.
Appleton Cross Bike
One of the main benefits of the bike lane that was installed was this large cross bike. This bicycle crossing includes solid bright green paint, as well as the elephant foot markings, which are white squares that make this bike crossing impossible to miss.
Left Turn Hardening
Five yellow flex posts have been placed in the intersection, to slow down left-turning drivers from Massachusetts Avenue onto Appleton street. Drivers no longer can shoot up the hill, now they are forced to slow down, and make a tight left turn. I fought for these centerline posts, and I’m confident that they will really make a big difference here.
Through persistent advocacy, we were able to make significant changes to improve the safety of this dangerous intersection. These short-term measures are a great start, but we still need more protection and dedicated space. While my bike ride to school has improved, I’ve still encountered close calls along this corridor since the safety measures have been implemented. To ensure no more fatal crashes or serious injuries occur, change needs to happen as soon as possible. Local advocates and MassBike will continue to work to improve safety at Appleton and Mass Ave.
View a side by side comparison of before & after these critical safety improvements
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.