American Legion Project to Create Protected Bike Route from Franklin Park to Mattapan Square

Proposed new cross-sections for American Legion Highway south of Walk Hill Street. Courtesy of the Boston Transportation Department.
Proposed new cross-sections for American Legion Highway south of Walk Hill Street. Courtesy of the Boston Transportation Department.

In a virtual public meeting on Thursday afternoon, Boston Transportation Department staff outlined their plans to calm traffic and add protected bike lanes to American Legion Highway in Mattapan and Roslindale in a quick-build project later this fall.

The city also plans to extend the new protected bike lanes on Cummins Highway westward through the Calvary Cemetery to American Legion, thus creating a near-continuous bike route between Mattapan Square and Roxbury.

American Legion Highway is a wide four-lane boulevard that stretches from the Hyde Park neighborhood in the south to Blue Hill Avenue at the southeastern edge of Franklin Park in the north. Though it connects densely-populated neighborhoods, it runs along several large parks and cemeteries and includes a broad tree-lined median along much of its length – characteristics that lend the street the feel of a suburban parkway.

A Boston Transportation Department (BTD) survey found that the vast majority of drivers break the street’s 35 mph speed limit on the segment between Morton Street and Walk Hill Ave. near the Mass. Audubon nature center. Several drivers were clocked going over 75 mph:

Courtesy of the Boston Transportation Department.
Observed vehicle speeds and traffic volumes on the central segment of American Legion Highway, by hour of the day. Courtesy of the Boston Transportation Department.

“Drag racing is unfortunately common,” said BTD project engineer Dan Merrow during Thursday’s hearing.

Most of the American Legion Highway north of Cummins also ranks among the city’s worst streets for motor vehicle crashes, which is a major reason BTD officials are prioritizing the changes.

Daniela Sanchez, an active transportation planner for BTD, said that the city will reduce the number of travel lanes on some of those high-speed segments. Instead of letting lead-footed drivers weave around slower vehicles, Sanchez explained that a single-lane layout would “control the speed by pacing drivers one behind the other.”

The reduction in travel lanes also opens up the possibility for better bike lanes, in accordance with recommendations from the city’s Go Boston 2030 plan.

Some segments of American Legion currently have painted bike lanes, but they lack physical protection; on other segments, bike riders are expected to share the rightmost lane with the street’s speeding motor vehicles. This project would add new bike lanes to segments of the street where they currently do not exist, and add flexible post bollards to buffer them from traffic. In some segments, a lane for parked vehicles would provide an additional buffer.

The proposed design would retain multi-lane layouts at most major intersections, however, to accommodate heavy traffic volumes and avoid long queues of motor vehicles at stop lights. In a few locations, including the southbound approach to Cummins Highway, BTD’s design squeezes out the buffers for the bike lane in order to retain space for motor vehicle traffic.

In the northernmost segment, approaching Blue Hill Avenue, BTD proposes to omit a northbound bike lane altogether, and instead shunt northbound cyclists onto Circuit Drive in Franklin Park, in order to preserve two lanes for moving vehicles and on-street parking.

Some public hearing participants pushed back against those design choices during Thursday’s hearing, but Merrow defended the design as the best that can be implemented in a quick-build project.

“There are a couple of places where we may not be able to fit (a protected bike lane) because eliminating a traffic lane could cause large traffic backups,” explained Merrow. “We can’t make those kinds of changes without going through a much longer process.”

The city has set up a webpage for the project at boston.gov/american-legion. A copy of today’s public hearing presentation, with details on the street’s proposed new cross-sections, is expected to be posted there soon, and another virtual public hearing with a Spanish language translation option is scheduled to be held next Thursday, Sept. 17, at 6 pm (register online here).

 

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