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Eyes On the Street: Somerville’s New Garden-Protected Bike Lane

A person riding a bike turns onto a residential street lined with 3- and 4-story apartment buildings and trees blossoming with spring flowers. Along the left edge of the street is a narrower bike lane paved with fresh asphalt and separated from the car lanes with a granite curb.

The new physically-separated Summer Street bike lane, pictured here still under construction on May 1, near the top of Spring Hill at the intersection of Summer St. and Benton Road.

As it enters its final phase of construction, a multi-year sewer replacement project in Somerville's Spring Hill neighborhood is rebuilding several neighborhood streets with new sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and other safety improvements – along with a big increase in curbside greenery.

Starting in 2022, workers started ripping up pavement on roughly a dozen blocks between Summer, Highland, School, and Central Streets to replace and upgrade the neighborhood's 19th-century sewer pipes.

The project was highly disruptive, and required digging up entire streets. But it afforded the opportunity for the city to re-imagine how those streets could be rebuilt from scratch.

Now that the underground work is largely complete, workers are now building new sidewalks and new traffic-calming features throughout the neighborhood.

On Summer Street, for instance, the project has upgraded what was once a paint-only bike lane with a new curb-protected design for bicycle users climbing up the hill (westbound) from Union Square.

Several orange construction cones protect granite curbs that delineate a rectangular planting bed along the edge of a city street. At the far left edge of the photo several workers in fluorescent yellow vests are working. Beyond the edge of the sidewalk is a parking lot lined with several trees blooming with pink blossoms.
A new rain garden under construction on Summer Street, near the intersection with Laurel Street. This and several other new gardens on the redesigned street have been designed to collect and treat polluted runoff from the street, while also providing a physical buffer between car traffic and the bike lane and sidewalk.

Additionally, at numerous intersections throughout the project area, workers are moving curbs closer to the center of the street to slow down traffic, shorten crosswalk crossings, and create more space for trees and other plantings.

According to Dan Amelin, a City of Somerville Engineering Division Project Manager, these reconstructed streets will give the city about 6,750 square feet – roughly the area of a standard tennis court – of new green space.

"These spaces include, but are not limited to, a new 'pocket' park on Quincy St. at Summer Street, new bioretention basins, new planter areas, (and) new tree pits," explained Amelin in an email to StreetsblogMASS.

Additional bikeways slated for Central, Highland Aves.

Next month, the city expects to start rebuilding nearby Central Street, one of the city's few north-south streets.

A photo of a residential street with changes sketched on top: two stripes on either side of the street represent new bike lanes, and a call-out labels read "new tree pits" and "new sidewalks"
Sketch of proposed changes on Central St. between Summer and Highland. Courtesy of the City of Somerville.

As part of that work, the segment of Central St. between Highland and Summer will be restricted to one-way northbound traffic for motor vehicles.

Then, workers will rebuild the street with a single 12-foot motor vehicle lane in the middle, and new sidewalk-level bike paths along both curbs to allow for two-way bike traffic.

Along the northern edge of the sewer project area, protected bike lanes that are planned for Highland Avenue likely won't go under construction for a couple more years.

Highland is notorious for its potholes, but under the city's current capital budget, construction funding to rebuild the street with safer bike infrastructure won't be available until July 2026.

Redesigned Washington Street Also Under Construction

It's unrelated to the sewer project, but a few blocks to the southeast, Somerville is also rebuilding Washington Street west of Union Square.

A man riding a bike with a child's seat on the back pedals past a construction zone marked with cones. To his right, fenced off with barriers, is a gravel lane delineated with granite curbs. A line of cars stopped in traffic waits in the distance.
Washington Street's new sidewalk-level bike lane pictured under construction near Beacon Street earlier this spring.

The project will build physically-protected bike lanes between between Beacon (at the Cambridge city line) and Hawkins Street, one block west of Union Square. For the final block between Hawkins and the square, bikes will share a dedicated bus-and-bike lane.

The project is also installing new "floating" bus stops between the new bike lanes and the roadway, to let MBTA buses pick up and drop off passengers without needing to pull over to the curb.

The route 86 bus currently serves this segment of Washington Street, but at the end of this year that route will be replaced by the new frequent-service 109 as part of the upcoming first phase of the MBTA's bus network redesign.

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