At its regular meeting last Thursday, the Somerville City Council unanimously approved a request for city staff to develop an alternative design that would install protected bike lanes along a portion of Highland Avenue in the city's upcoming Spring Hill Sewer Separation project.
Ward Three City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen, who represents the Spring Hill neighborhood, sponsored the order, which requests that "the Executive Director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development propose an alternate design for Phase 1 of the Highland Ave. portion of the Spring Hill Streetscapes plan that includes protected bike lanes from Central Hill Campus to Central Street, without sacrificing the proposed pedestrian safety and MBTA bus improvements."
As reported previously, advocates from Somerville Bike Safety have been petitioning the city to prioritize better bike and pedestrian infrastructure over on-street parking on Highland Avenue, a major crosstown route for bikes and buses.
Highland Avenue currently has no dedicated space for bikes or for transit, but instead features two lanes of on-street parking, and two shared travel lanes in the middle (see photo above).
At Thursday's meeting, Ewen-Campen told his colleagues on the City Council that, after several meetings with advocates and the design team, "I have become increasingly convinced that it is indeed possible - not only possible, but really essential - that we include protected bike lanes on Highland Avenue, and that we can do it without sacrificing the pedestrian safety, the ADA compliance, and the MBTA bus improvements that we need."
Ewen-Campen's order passed unanimously without further discussion.
Design for "phase 2" of the Spring Hill project, which would rebuild Highland Avenue west of Central Street, is still at least a year away; however, the construction of protected bike lanes on the eastern segment of Highland Avenue could help build momentum for extending similar infrastructure to the west, towards Davis Square.
The Council is expected to vote on a funding request for the first phase of the Spring Hill project later this year, which will give the Council one more opportunity to vote on a final design.