City Proposes Road Diet, Protected Bike Lanes On Cummins Highway in Mattapan

The City of Boston's preferred concept for Cummins Highway would address safety concerns by  reducing the street's width, widening sidewalks, and adding protected bike lanes. Courtesy of the City of Boston Public Works Department.
The City of Boston's preferred concept for Cummins Highway would address safety concerns by reducing the street's width, widening sidewalks, and adding protected bike lanes. Courtesy of the City of Boston Public Works Department.

The Boston Public Works Department is recommending a major reconfiguration of Mattapan’s Cummins Highway to reduce vehicle speeds and add protected bike lanes, but drivers in the neighborhood are pushing back against the city’s recommendations.

Cummins Highway links Roslindale Village to Mattapan Square, and is a key point of access to the Blue Hill Avenue station on the Fairmount Line and the Mattapan Square stop of the Red Line. and for the past year, the city has been preparing plans to completely reconstruct the section of the street  east of Cavalry Cemetery.

West of Cavalry Cemetery, in the whiter, wealthier neighborhood of Roslindale, Cummins Highway looks and functions like a fairly typical city street: it’s only two lanes wide, with faded painted bike lanes and on-street parking at the curbs.

Speed data from the City of Boston indicate that vehicles breaking the speed limit by 15 miles per hour or more are relatively common on the four-lane section of Cummins Highway in Mattapan.
Speed data from the City of Boston indicate that vehicles breaking the speed limit by 15 miles per hour or more are relatively common on the four-lane section of Cummins Highway in Mattapan.

But east of Cavalry Cemetery, where the street enters Mattapan, Cummins Highway widens to four lanes of asphalt with a small concrete median in the center of the roadway. City data indicate that dangerous speeding is much more common in that wide, multi-lane section of the street.

City data also record 119 injury-causing crashes on Mattapan’s section of Cummins Highway between 2015 and 2018, including 17 that harmed people walking or biking.

That puts Cummins Highway among the top 3 percent of city-controlled streets for motor vehicle crashes, making it an official part of Boston’s “high-crash network.”

Crosswalks on Cummins Highway in Mattapan currently span across four lanes of traffic with small median in the center of the roadway. A plan from the Boston Public Works Department aims to improve safety and reduce speeding by reducing the street to one lane in each direction, similar to the street's layout in nearby Roslindale. Image courtesy of Google Street View.
Crosswalks on Cummins Highway in Mattapan currently span across four lanes of traffic with small median in the center of the roadway. A plan from the Boston Public Works Department aims to improve safety and reduce speeding by reducing the street to one lane in each direction, similar to the street’s layout in nearby Roslindale. Image courtesy of Google Street View.

In the project’s previous public meetings, held last April and October, attendees reportedly expressed strong support for designs that would reduce vehicle speeds, shorten crosswalks, and introduce safer bicycle facilities.

At the third public meeting, held last Thursday, city engineers presented their “preferred concept,” which would widen sidewalks, create new curb-protected bikeways on both sides of the street, and shorten crosswalks by reducing the number of motor vehicle lanes by half (as pictured in the rendering at the top of this article).

But according to Vivian Ortiz, a Mattapan resident and bicycle transportation advocate, many of last week’s meeting attendees expressed skepticism over the city’s plans, and asked the city to find some way to improve safety while retaining the four-lane roadway layout.

“It felt like West Roxbury,” said Ortiz, referring to the backlash against the city’s plans to improve safety along Centre Street after a motorist struck and killed Marilyn Wentworth there in 2019. “There were very few people there representing people who walk or other vulnerable road users.”

Still, the city has made clear that it will need to balance the neighborhood’s input with citywide policies and design guidelines, including Vision Zero, Go Boston 2030 (which identified Cummins Highway as a priority “complete streets” corridor), and the Fairmont Indigo Initiative.

“In the October meeting and this time, (the city) emphasized over and over again that this is about safety,” said Ortiz. “They told us, ‘You guys have expressed over and over again your frustration over speeding, and this is what we need to do.’”

The city plans to  refine its design over the spring, summer, and fall, and will host a final design meeting before the project goes out to bid for construction, which is expected in 2021. A project website has been set up at boston.gov/departments/public-works/cummins-highway.


More information:

Cummins Highway preferred concept roll plan

Feb. 27 public meeting presentation

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