Eyes On the Street: More Space for Pedestrians and Bikes in Somerville

Somerville Ave. features sidewalk-level protected bike paths in each direction, new stormwater collection gardens, and improved sidewalks and crosswalks.
The newly reconstructed Somerville Ave., looking east toward Boston. The project installed sidewalk-level protected bike paths in each direction, new stormwater collection gardens, and improved sidewalks and crosswalks.

StreetsblogMASS took a bike tour through Somerville during an unseasonably warm October evening on Thursday afternoon to check out two projects that are nearing completion: the reconstruction of Somerville Avenue in Union Square, and the quick-build reconfiguration of Powder House Circle near Tufts University (previously covered here).

Somerville Avenue has been under construction for as long as StreetsblogMASS has existed, and the project’s main focus was to replace aging sewer pipes that had been causing flooding problems in the neighborhood.

But because the entire street was being torn up, it also presented an opportunity to upgrade the street with protected bike lanes, new trees, and improved crosswalks.

The trees and landscaped bump-outs are integrated into the street’s new stormwater collection system, so that runoff has a chance to filter through gardens before it flows into Boston Harbor:

The newly reconstructed Somerville Ave., looking east toward Boston. The project installed sidewalk-level protected bike paths in each direction, new stormwater collection gardens, and improved sidewalks and crosswalks.
The newly reconstructed Somerville Ave., looking west. The crane at left is the construction site of a 450-unit apartment building that’s being built next to the future Union Square green line station, due to open within the next few months.

The improvements are being finished just in time to be ready for the opening of Somerville’s new Union Square Green Line stop, which will be the first branch of the Green Line Extension to open later this winter.

On the northern side of the city, a quick-build project to reconfigure Powder House Circle is also nearing completion: just a few flexible-post bollards remain to be installed.

The newly reconfigured Powder House Circle features shorter crosswalks, protected bike lanes around the edge of the circle, and narrower car lanes.
A panoramic view of the newly reconfigured Powder House Circle, pictured from the Tufts University campus. Paint and flexible-post bollards have created more space for pedestrians, shorter crosswalks, protected bike lanes around the edge of the circle, and narrower car lanes.

The traffic through the new version of Powder House Circle feels considerably calmer than it did before, with cars forced into a single file through the circle itself, which had previously been a multi-lane free-for-all.

The circle’s traffic is calm and slow enough that a number of people on bikes on Thursday evening opted to avoid the protected bike lanes around the edges, and simply ride through the circle among the cars.

People on bikes navigate their way through the newly-reconfigured Powder House Circle in Somerville.
People on bikes navigate their way through the newly-reconfigured Powder House Circle in Somerville.

 

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