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Newton Scrubs A Bike Lane From Washington Street, But Others Are In the Works

Washington Street in Newton, which runs along the Worcester commuter rail line and Massachusetts Turnpike embankment, currently lacks sidewalks and crosswalks to bus stops like this one. Courtesy of the City of Newton.

In the face of vocal opposition, City of Newton officials are removing a short-lived bike lane that was recently painted on Washington Street between West Newton and Newtonville, but the city's safe streets advocates are hoping that a better, more protected version could be installed next year, when the city is expected to pilot a road diet on the same street.

Washington Street spans the entire city of Newton, from the Lower Falls on the Charles River to Oak Square in Boston. In its central section, it runs on an embankment above the Worcester commuter rail tracks and the Massachusetts Turnpike, connecting the village commercial districts of West Newton, Newtonville, and Newton Corner.

Despite the fact that it serves as the most direct walking route between those centers, long stretches of Washington Street lack sidewalks along its southern curb. And though it's unusually wide, Washington's current layout (four car lanes plus two curbside lanes for on-street parking) lacks any dedicated space for bikes.

Late last year, Newton adopted a new vision plan for the Washington Street corridor, which suggested using "the great width of this street to reconfigure it into a boulevard with a strong emphasis on trees and landscaping."

An illustrative view of what Washington Street in Newton could look like, from the 2019 Washington Street Vision Plan. Courtesy of the City of Newton.
An illustrative view of what Washington Street in Newton could look like, from the 2019 Washington Street Vision Plan. Courtesy of the City of Newton.
An illustrative view of what Washington Street in Newton could look like, from the 2019 Washington Street Vision Plan. Courtesy of the City of Newton.

The city had set aside $400,000 to advance early design work on that reconfiguration; however, earlier this year, the city repurposed those funds to repave the street in its current configuration instead. As a small consolation prize for safe streets advocates, the city's Department of Public Works replaced one of the street's parking lanes with a single painted bike lane along the highway embankment (there remained no bike lane in the opposite direction).

The paint was barely dry before the city announced that the new bike lane would be removed, and parking would be allowed once again.

An email newsletter from Bike Newton last week explained that "there was vocal opposition to the removal of parking without any public process and the City has decided to scrap this bike lane trial...  While this bike lane was an improvement over what existed previously, it was of limited utility since it only went in one direction. We are hopeful that a trial of a lane reduction and parking protected bike lanes on Washington Street can move forward in the spring."

"People were just crazy angry about it,” said Newton City Councilor and former Bike Newton president Alicia Bowman in a phone conversation with Streetsblog last Friday.

But Bowman is optimistic that the city can do better - with more public support - when it uses paint and temporary materials to pilot a road diet on Washington Street next spring.

"Newton has a grant to put down markings for a road diet trial," explained Bowman. "If it were a two-lane street, there should be room for parking-protected bike lanes, bus stops, better crosswalks... So why upset the community to put something in in October, when winter's coming and it’s an unprotected lane that only goes in one direction, when in six months we could do something much better? Let’s wait and do some good work this fall and winter to define what it could look like, and then move forward."

Several other positive developments are in the works this fall for safer bicycling in Newton:

    • Six new Bluebikes stations have opened in the city this fall (and four of them are on Washington Street).
    • The city is in the process of painting new bike lanes on Beacon Street west of Newton Centre to Washington Street near the Woodland Green Line stop (this will expand existing painted bike lanes that extend east from Newton Centre to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Boston).
    • An online meeting tonight (Monday Oct. 19, 5:30 p.m.) will discuss city plans to legalize two-way bike traffic on the narrow "carriageways" along Commonwealth Avenue, another major east-west corridor across Newton.
    • And on Wednesday, Oct. 21, the city will host another online meeting about a proposal to add bike lanes on Parker Street south of Newton Centre.

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