MassDOT Shares Early Concepts for Taming Wellington Circle

Wellington Circle in Medford.
Wellington Circle in Medford. From this location on the northeast side of the intersection, pedestrians must cross over 20 lanes of traffic and 7 crosswalks to reach the Mystic River Reservation parklands on the southwest side.

On Wednesday afternoon, a working group meeting for MassDOT’s Wellington Circle redesign study got a first look at the state’s conceptual alternatives for cleaning up the tangled knot of highways that snarls traffic and blocks foot traffic in Medford near a busy MBTA Orange Line station.

MassDOT and project consultants from McMahon Associates have prepared short- and long-term concepts that aim to simplify the complicated intersection, restore parkland (the three highways that meet in the circle are technically “parkways” under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation and Recreation), and improve access for pedestrians, and people on bikes.

Those concepts are still being refined, but on Wednesday, a working group of municipal leaders, neighbors, and other stakeholders got to see them for the first time, and offer their feedback.

For “short-term” interventions, the project team is proposing several changes that would simplify the intersections with relatively minor changes. Removing right-turn slip lanes at three of the intersection’s four corners, for instance, would offer significant benefits to bikes and pedestrians and reduce the number of conflicts from merging vehicles, while also recovering a significant amount of parkland that’s currently buried beneath asphalt:

A short-term proposal for Wellington Circle would remove right-turn slip lanes at three of the intersection's four corners – a relatively minor change for people in cars that would dramatically cut down the number of lanes and crosswalks that pedestrians would need to use to cross the intersection.
A short-term proposal for Wellington Circle would remove right-turn slip lanes at three of the intersection’s four corners – a relatively minor change for people in cars that would add a significant amount of new green space and reduce the number of lanes that pedestrians need to cross in order to traverse the intersection. Courtesy of MassDOT.

Other shorter-term projects could include the removal of northbound left-turn lanes from the middle of the intersection (relatively few drivers use these, according to MassDOT’s data), and relocating traffic from Middlesex Ave. and 9th Street to a pair of smaller new intersections to the north:

A conceptual view of various short- and middle-term interventions for Wellington Circle, including the elimination of three right-turn slip lanes, elimination of left-turn lanes from Mystic Valley Parkway to the Fellsway northbound, and the relocation of the Middlesex Avenue to create a smaller new intersection to the north, away from the busier Revere Beach Parkway intersection. Courtesy of MassDOT.
A conceptual view of combined short- and middle-term interventions for Wellington Circle, including the elimination of right-turn slip lanes, elimination of left-turn lanes from Mystic Valley Parkway to the Fellsway northbound, and the relocation of the Middlesex Avenue. Courtesy of MassDOT.

In the longer term, MassDOT would rebuild the central intersection of the Fellsway, Revere Beach Parkway, and Mystic River Parkway entirely.

Before the pandemic, almost 9,000 cars an hour traveled through Wellington Circle during the afternoon rush hours – more than twice as much traffic as Sullivan Square in Boston. Efforts like the Silver Line Extension study are underway to reduce that volume of traffic, but the project’s planners still expect that this will be an extremely busy intersection.

One possibility being considered, which was unpopular among working group members at Wednesday’s meeting, would build a new a highway overpass to carry through-running traffic between the Mystic Valley and Revere Beach parkways:

MassDOT's overpass concept for Wellington Circle. Stakeholders at a January 2021 working group meeting urged the agency and its consultants to reject this proposal. Courtesy of MassDOT.
MassDOT’s overpass concept for Wellington Circle. Stakeholders at a January 2021 working group meeting urged the agency and its consultants to reject this proposal. Courtesy of MassDOT.

Working group member Alicia Hunt, Director of Planning, Development, and Sustainability for the City of Medford, told the study team that she was “disappointed to see the overpass idea.”

Jeff Buxbaum, a representative from WalkMedford, agreed. “There’s no way anyone’s going to accept that… We’re taking down overpasses, we’re not putting them up in situations like this.”

The study team also shared two similar at-grade alternatives, both of which incorporate the concept of a “quadrant roadway,” which essentially separates turning traffic to a new junction away from the main intersection.

“You’re able to redirect those heavy-volume connections out of that main intersection and shift them off to a separate intersection, so that individually, each intersection can be simplified,” explained Gary McNaughton, a project consultant from McMahon Associates:

One long-term concept for redesigning the Wellington Circle intersection would create one major intersection for through-running traffic, and a separate intersection for turning traffic, with a large park in the middle. Courtesy of MassDOT.
One long-term concept for redesigning the Wellington Circle intersection would create one major intersection for through-running traffic, and a separate intersection to the east to handle turning traffic between the Fellsway and Revere Beach Parkway, with a large park in the middle. Courtesy of MassDOT.
The "triangle" concept for a redesigned Wellington Circle intersection would create three large intersections to handle traffic between the Fellsway, Revere Beach Parkway, Mystic Valley Parkway, and Middlesex Ave. Courtesy of MassDOT.
The “triangle” concept for a redesigned Wellington Circle intersection would create three large intersections to handle traffic between the Fellsway, Revere Beach Parkway, Mystic Valley Parkway, and Middlesex Ave. Courtesy of MassDOT.

The at-grade alternatives got a warmer reception from the working group, but many members still expressed a desire to see less asphalt and fewer lanes through the intersection.

Working group member Doug Carr, representing the NAACP’s Mystic Valley Branch, said that MassDOT’s at-grade concepts “just seem so complicated. I was hoping for something that would be simpler, both for the pedestrian and for the vehicle operator… this just looks like a lot of spaghetti on the plan.”

With the Orange Line nearby and significant new transit-oriented development happening in the neighborhood, study consultants agree that more trips through Wellington Circle could be made on foot, on transit, or by bike, if the area were easier to navigate and if better connections were available.

“Everything that’s been developed was based off of pre-pandemic traffic volumes,” said McNaughton, the project consultant. “One of our big next steps is to figure out those future traffic volumes, to look at what long-term impacts will happen from changes in travel patterns as well as mode shift and growth and things in the area… we will be taking that into consideration as we advance these concepts.”


Previously on StreetsblogMASS:

What Do We Do About Wellington?

 

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