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MassDOT Announces $1 Million in Grants for Pandemic ‘Shared Streets and Spaces’

12:58 PM EDT on July 23, 2020

Pedestrians take advantage of expanded walking areas on Beacon Street in Brookline in mid-April. Brookline officials have repurposed on-street parking areas to provide additional space for safe physical distancing in commercial districts and on key routes to area hospitals; City of Boston officials may soon follow suit. Photo courtesy of the Brookline Transportation Department.

The MassDOT has announced its first round of grants for its new "Shared Streets and Spaces" program, an effort to help cities and towns create safer walking and biking routes with more room for physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new program, announced at a press conference only six weeks ago, is intended to support quick-build projects that can be implemented within a few days, but still have potential to be made permanent in future projects. Grant awards are relatively small for transportation projects – ranging from $5,000 to $300,000 – and this week's round of grant awards allocates roughly $1 million of the program's $5 million budget, leaving plenty of funding for additional projects to be funded.

The grant program also gives preference to projects in designated "environmental justice" communities – neighborhoods with higher proportions of non-white households or non-English speakers, or lower household income levels.

Among the projects being funded:

    • In Lowell, funds will be used to deploy temporary barriers to create safer routes for people on foot and on bikes on three routes near the center of the city.According to a city press release, plans include a "20-ft. wide multi-use path from Varnum Ave to the Sampas Pavilion" on the north bank of the Merrimack River, plus "a two-way cycle track on Upper Merrimack Street from Cardinal O’Connell Parkway (next to Lowell City Hall) to Decatur Way (near the UMass/Lowell campus)," and "a 10-ft. wide multi-use path from Fletcher Street to the Pawtucket Canal."
    • Chelsea will improve walking routes to its elementary school complex on Eastern Avenue and Browne Middle School near the Route 1 viaduct for an "anticipated increase" in students walking to school."The project will include temporary pedestrian safety upgrades at the intersections of Crescent Avenue/Washington Avenue, Broadway/Crescent Avenue, Broadway/Stockton Street, and Broadway/Third Street that may include relocation of crosswalks, painted curb bump-outs, (and) pedestrian beacons," according to MassDOT.
The City of Somerville plans to install physically-protected bus and bike lanes on this section of Washington Street east of the McGrath Highway with "Shared Streets and Spaces" grant funding from MassDOT.
The City of Somerville plans to install physically-protected bus and bike lanes on this section of Washington Street east of the McGrath Highway with "Shared Streets and Spaces" grant funding from MassDOT.

In Somerville, grant funding will help the city install a short westbound bus-and-bike lane, separated with flexible post bollards, and a eastbound protected bike lane on Washington Street just east of the McGrath Highway. The project will benefit the city's highest-ridership bus route – the MBTA's Route 86 – in addition to buses on the 91 and CT2 routes.Brad Rawson, the Director of Somerville's Mobility Division in the Mayor's Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development, explained in an email to StreetsblogMASS that the short section of bus lane will let bikes and roughly 125 daily westbound bus trips get a clear path around long queues of traffic waiting at the McGrath Highway traffic light. The location is also the future point of access for the Green Line Extension's East Somerville station and the Community Path Extension, both currently under construction.

"The East Somerville neighborhood is a major equity priority for the City," wrote Rawson. "We are striving to prioritize our projects so that populations most historically burdened by inequitable transportation investment can benefit from safer streets and more reliable transit."

  • Other grant funds will help create additional pedestrian and outdoor dining spaces to support small businesses in the walkable downtown business districts of Shelburne Falls, Lexington, Medford, Nantucket, Natick, Northampton, Provincetown, Wareham, and Webster.
  • Roughly $4 million in funding is still available under the Shared Streets and Spaces program, and MassDOT will continue to accept applications for new projects on a rolling basis until Sept. 29.

    Additional information is available at–streets-and-spaces-grant-program.

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