Mass Ave

Updated February 2011
East Arlington Livable Streets (EALS) Coalition supports the Town’s Mass Ave Corridor Plan and we firmly believe that a reconstructed Mass Ave will be a safer street for all users and promote a more vibrant and successful business district. The current Corridor Plan maintains motor vehicle access and curb-side parking, and introduces important motorist, pedestrian and bicycle safety enhancements. Claims that the Plan will lead to traffic chaos, emergency vehicle delays and removal of parking are misinformed and unsubstantiated. On the contrary, the Plan maintains all of the necessary capacity for motor vehicle traffic:
  • Two Cambridge-bound traffic lanes are maintained for nearly the entire one-mile length of the corridor. A designated right turn lane to Lake Street and updated traffic-signal equipment will actually improve east-bound traffic flow at this busy intersection.
  • Traffic studies completed in 2005, 2008, and 2009 by different engineering firms all concluded that the lower volume of west-bound traffic can be handled with a single traffic lane as long as a left-turn lane is provided at Lake Street (which the current Plan provides). There is no evidence that this configuration will constrict traffic flow and/or lead to traffic spill-over onto neighborhood streets.

    Mass Ave from Varnum St Illustrating Two Cambridge Bound Lanes, One West Bound Lane, and Bike Lanes

    Varnum Current View


  • Nearly all legal parking spaces are maintained in the current Plan with new parking spaces added, where possible. Illegal spaces must be removed by law because they currently sit within an intersection or too close to fire hydrants and crosswalks and can be a safety hazard. For better or for worse, this is a non-negotiable state requirement.
  • Given the state’s requirements for minimum-width bike accommodations and a left-turn lane at Lake Street, the push to include four “shared” traffic lanes could force a choice between widening Mass Ave’s roadway at tremendous cost or eliminating curb-side parking along one side of the street.

When Mass Ave’s reconstruction is complete in 2013, more local residents will likely walk and bike to the business district as walking and cycling along Mass Ave becomes safer and more comfortable. Drivers’ experience coming to East Arlington and parking will certainly be no worse than it has been for many years, as nearly all of the legal parking spaces are maintained and bike lanes make parallel parking easier.

The current design will also help to strengthen Capitol Square’s “sense of place,” the intangible quality that draws people to successful neighborhood business districts with:

  • a fully-traversable median of cobble blocks or brick between Orvis/Graton and Milton Street to help distinguish Capitol Square within the mile-long corridor;
  • additional street trees, pedestrian-scale lighting, landscaping, trash cans and benches.
  • improved crosswalks with refuge islands and bump-outs for enhanced pedestrian visibility and safety;

View from Marathon St Towards Capitol Square Featuring the Traversible Median, Bump Outs and Refuge Island

Mass Ave Marathon Existing Conditions


  • bike lanes to discourage sidewalk riding and make parallel parking easier;
  • wider sidewalks on the Capitol Block and between Winter and Cleveland Streets;

Congress has appropriated $4.5 million for Mass Ave to improve safety for all road users: pedestrians, motorists, and bicyclists. If these funds are not used by the Town in 2011–13 for this corridor, we risk having to use local funds to complete the roadway work. Passing up this opportunity is simply not an option.

EALS shares business owners’ concerns about the disruptions to commerce during construction. We look forward to working with the business community and the Town to minimize the temporary disruption created by this essential road project and to promote a better, long-term environment for East Arlington businesses and the people who patronize them.

Finally, we believe that the community process for the project has been extensive and fair. The first community meeting was held in the fall of 2008 and there have been numerous opportunities for the neighborhood and businesses to weigh in on the plan. The Town has listened. A number of key elements have changed in the past two years. The initial plan unveiled to the community included one travel lane in each direction with existing traffic signals removed from the Teel/Thorndike and Foster/Linwood intersections. Because of community pressure, both of these lights are back in the plan and two Cambridge-bound travel lanes run nearly the entire length of the corridor to accommodate the morning queues on the Lake Street and Rt. 16 approaches. In other cases, bus stop locations have shifted and additional parking spaces added due to community comments. That is the definition of a successful community process. Those who continue to claim that the Town is “not listening” are a vocal minority of residents (with, granted, significant business support) who are frustrated that they are not getting everything that they’re asking for: an additional and unnecessary traffic lane.

At some point soon, the final opportunity to comment on the core elements of the plan will be held at Town Hall, ie. MassDOT’s 25% Public Hearing. We hope you will attend this hearing and make your case for the current plan that’s based on sound engineering analysis and solid community support.

The most updated plans (hi-resolution PDFs) are on the Town’s website at

The current plan has been publicly endorsed by:
  • Arlington Board of Selectmen
  • Arlington Bike Advisory Committee (ABAC)
  • Arlington Dept of Planning and Community Development
  • Arlington Fire Chief
  • Arlington Police Chief
  • Arlington Town Manager
  • East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition
  • Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC)
  • Walking in Arlington
August 2010
 The good news is that thanks to our efforts and the good turnout from supporters at the June public meeting, the plan is significantly better than what was presented to the public in June. The two east-bound travel lanes are back to the standard 11′ and the one west-bound lane is now 14-15′ (a few feet wider to better accommodate traffic flow while vehicles wait to turn left). Because of this change, most sidewalks in Capitol Square that were narrowed many decades ago to accommodate the trolley stop will be widened by 4-5′, including in front of the Capitol Theater. Bump-outs to reduce pedestrian crossing distance are now included at nearly all crosswalk locations.

Those tracking the project from EALS point of view are pleased with these changes but remain concerned that crossing Mass Ave at the unsignalized x-walk locations will still remain a challenge for pedestrians, esp children and the elderly. While not practical at all crosswalks, we would like to see small, raised pedestrian refuge islands at at least two locations along the corridor (similar to the attached image of Rt. 116 in Amherst). The recent plans’ removal of the textured, traversable (flush) median is another element we would like to see retained in Capitol Square to help create a unique character in the business district.

Some of you may have also noticed recent articles about Eric Berger’s legal fight to prevent most of the pedestrian and bike-safety improvements (bike lanes, wider sidewalks, narrower travel lanes, bump outs, etc) in the evolving corridor plan. For the Globe story, see

Unfortunately, the article continues the dogma of this being a cars-vs-bikes battle and overblowing the significance of the Mr. Berger’s legal efforts. Other project opponents continue their campaign of misinformation to confuse the issue and increase opposition. Their latest e-missive includes the implication that the Town is illegally making changes to the plan behind closed doors without informing the public and that the plan continues to be one lane of traffic in each direction, both false. We must continue with our efforts to increase the growing support in the neighborhood, leading up to the MassDOT 25% design hearing expected in Sept or Oct.

Older material
The planning process for the Mass Ave Corridor in East Arlington (a one mile stretch between the Cambridge line and Pond Lane) began Fall 2008. It has included four community meetings, a community workshop/charrette, and over a dozen meetings with the business community as well as ad hoc neighborhood groups opposed to the Plan. Additionally, the planning work has been guided by an Advisory Committee appointed by the Town that includes planning and public works staff, Selectman Jack Hurd, two TAC representatives, neighborhood residents and business owners. The original committee numbered ten and was expanded to twenty in the Spring 2009.

Currently, the Plans call out for a reapportionment of the road space to provide space for all users of the road. The de facto four lanes will be changed to reflect the increasing demand for bicycle access and new turn lanes on to Lake Street and at a handful of other locations. The roadway is planned to include three traffic lanes (two eastbound, one west from Cambridge line to Bates Road and one eastbound, one west and a center turn lane from Bates to Pond Lane), bike lanes and on-street parking on both sides of the street. We believe this will rationalize and calm traffic without impeding access to side streets or causing additional traffic congestions. Three consecutive traffic studies have all concluded that four lanes are unnecessary on Mass Ave.

Nearly 100% of the legal parking spaces along Mass Ave will be retained and a handful of new ones added in the business district. Sidewalks will be widened in a few select places in the business district–in front of the Capitol theater for instance. New traffic signals, lighting and street trees will be added as well. Traffic signals will be maintained at their current location with a new one at Bates Road, the only designated north-south collector street in the neighborhood. Pedestrian crossing distance will be shorter in most places because of bump outs and new crosswalks have been located in two or three locations. See for copies of the plan.

Letter delivered to E. Arlington businesses in early August is here.

The Board of Selectmen Meeting notes from 5/11 on the Mass Ave Project are here.

The EALS, MassBike, Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee (ABAC) joint memo to the BoS on Mass Ave bicycle accommodation can be read here.

Please read the EALS letter of support for the Mass Ave project here if you would like to add your endorsement to this letter, please email here.

Letter thanking the E. Arlington businesses that donated to our Capitol Theater event is here.

Mass Ave Corridor project: sponsored by the Town and funded by the Massachusetts Highway Department (see for the project’s official web site)

Read FAQs about the project provided by the town here.


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