Eyes On the Street: I Survived Worcester’s New Kelley Square

The newly rebuilt Kelley Square from above, pictured in early 2021. Photo courtesy of MassDOT.
The newly rebuilt Kelley Square from above, pictured in early 2021. Photo courtesy of MassDOT.

When the StreetsblogMASS website launched in the spring of 2019, one of the original three stories on the home page was about Worcester’s Kelley Square, and a MassDOT plan to completely rebuild the seven-way intersection with a peanut-shaped roundabout.

Two years later, that project (pictured above) is mostly complete. This past winter, I took my bike to Worcester to try navigating the new Kelley Square, both on foot and on two wheels.

Lighter-than-usual pandemic traffic may have helped, but I found my trip around the new Kelley Square roundabout to be significantly less harrowing than its reputation. The manufacturers of the “this car survived Kelley Square” bumper stickers may need to find something new to sell.

Here’s the view of the new peanut-roundabout from the south, from the sidewalk in front of Kelley Square Pizza:

New Kelley Square Dec. 2020
New Kelley Square crosswalks, pictured in December 2020.

The project’s design couldn’t quite squeeze in space for protected bike lanes in the roundabout itself, but icons on the sidewalk (one is faintly visible in the photo above) indicate that bikes are allowed to share the widened sidewalks.

Continuing around the eastern edge of the Square, here’s the view of the Water Street crossing:

The junction of Water Street and Kelley Square, pictured in December 2020.
The junction of Water Street and Kelley Square, pictured in December 2020.

Note the new crosswalk into the center of the roundabout. When I wrote about the project in 2019, local advocate Jerry Powers, the co-chair of WalkBike Worcester, had some misgivings about that crosswalk’s design across two lanes of moving traffic.

“Anytime you get over one lane, there’s the possibility of one car stopping for you in the crosswalk and motorists in the other lane not seeing you,” Powers told me then.

That’s definitely a valid concern, and could be much more of an issue as more traffic returns, but when I used these crosswalks in the middle of the day last December, cars and trucks were moving slowly enough that it was fairly easy for me to see oncoming traffic, and drivers were willing to yield.

It certainly feels like a big improvement over the previous design: the sidewalks are much wider, and the crosswalks are considerably shorter. Compare the photos above with this 2016 Google Street View image of the same area:

A December 2016 Google Street View image of Kelley Square in Worcester, looking north towards Water Street and the Canal District.
A December 2016 Google Street View image of Kelley Square in Worcester, looking north towards Water Street and the Canal District.

In addition to the new roundabout in the Square itself, MassDOT also upgraded several of the connecting side streets with bike lanes and improved sidewalks.

On Harding Street, next to the new Worcester Public Market, there’s now a short sidewalk-level, contraflow bike lane leading from Kelley Square towards Worcester’s Union Station (a three-minute bike ride away), in addition to an on-street painted bike lane on the opposite, southbound side of the street:

The Kelley Square reconstruction project added new bike infrastructure to several Canal District streets, including this sidewalk-level protected bike lane on Harding Street, pictured in December 2020.
The Kelley Square reconstruction project added new bike infrastructure to several adjacent Canal District streets, including this sidewalk-level protected bike lane on Harding Street, pictured in December 2020. At left is the new Worcester Public Market.

“The Canal District has really become our most walkable and bikeable neighborhood,” Steve Rolle, the City of Worcester’s Assistant Chief Development Officer, told StreetsblogMASS in a recent phone conversation. “There’s been a lot of new construction, but the area really started out developing organically, with small businesses having this vision for it to become a cool urban neighborhood where people would want to walk around.”

The Kelley Square project also rebuilt Madison Street, which runs northwest of the square and connects it to Worcester’s new Polar Park baseball stadium. Here, too, MassDOT decided to prioritize space for four to five lanes for motor vehicle traffic instead of building high-quality bike lanes; instead, signs guide bikes onto a widened sidewalk intended to function as a shared-use pathway:

Madison Street, a busy four-lane arterial, gained a new shared-use sidepath (pictured at right) as part of MassDOT's Kelley Square reconstruction project, pictured here in December 2020. At left is the under-construction Polar Park baseball stadium.
Madison Street, a busy four-lane arterial, gained a new shared-use sidepath (pictured at right) as part of MassDOT’s Kelley Square reconstruction project, pictured here in December 2020. At left is the under-construction Polar Park baseball stadium. Kelley Square is in the distance.

South of Madison Street, plans are in the works for a new district of hotels, offices, and mixed-use residential buildings along Green Island Boulevard, a newly-built city street:

Green Island Boulevard under construction, December 2020
Green Island Boulevard, pictured here during construction in December 2020, is a new city street being built in hopes of attracting new mixed-use development in the vicinity of the new Polar Park (visible in the background at the end of the Boulevard).

Finally, if you’re in the area, head a few blocks west to Southbridge Street to see one of Worcester’s infrastructural wonders: the double-stack railroad viaduct where the CSX railroad tracks soar over the Providence and Worcester railroad:

The Miss Worcester Diner and the Southbridge Street rail viaducts
The Miss Worcester Diner is located next to a massive double-decker viaduct where CSX freight trains fly over the the Providence and Worcester railway and Southbridge Street.

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