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Engineering Group Presents Mt. Auburn Street Possibilities

Public Works Committee meeting on potential street narrowing strikes rancor with Watertown residents.

In a fractious meeting of the Watertown Town Council’s Public Works Subcommittee on Monday evening, WorldTech Engineering presented three potential scenarios for the narrowing of Mt. Auburn Street. The audience of more than two dozen in the Watertown Public Library’s meeting room expressed their concerns frequently as they listened to the proposed changes.

After a nearly year long study, approved by the Watertown Town Council at the end of March 2010, WorldTech Engineering presented a range of approaches to narrowing Mt. Auburn Street from four-lanes to two, each carrying an estimated price-tag of $9 million: a median strip in place of the middle two-lanes, a two-lane left hand turning bay, or a simple reduction to a two-lane road.

In all cases, the road would remain four-lanes west of Common Street, in recognition of a notably heavier load of traffic. More traffic signals and new road-markings would be put in place to improve traffic flow.

“The main question we asked ourselves, was whether it is feasible to reduce Mt. Auburn Street from four lanes to two,” said WorldTech Engineering’s James Fitzgerald. “The short answer is, yes it is. It is possible.”

WorldTech Engineering President Richard Benevento told the audience that since Mt. Auburn Street was expanded to four lanes in 1980, the mindset of road planning had moved away from merely accommodating capacity.

Benevento stressed context sensitive design.

“We want to create a town street rather than a state highway environment, and looked for a plan that can reduce the amount of lanes and still accommodate the same traffic,” he said.

Citing a concern for safety and practicality, the Watertown Town Council had voted unanimously to support the narrowing of Mt. Auburn Street in October 2009.

Response was mixed from the 26 members of the Watertown community in attendance, the 75 minute long meeting punctuated by concerned interjections from members of the audience.

Dennis Duff, 64, was strongly critical of the plan. He feared that it would put added pressure on traffic, and that an increase of cyclists on the road would slow down buses.

Missak Ourfalian, 45, was supportive of the street being narrowed.

“It is a major business area, and parking is an issue, as well as safety. It is a two-lane highway each way," he said. "Traffic does not slow. It is dangerous, and people cannot cross."

Watertown Superintendent of Public Works Gerald Mee was on hand to help out with responding to alarmed residents.

“There’s no panacea option that solves everything. There’s lots of pluses and minuses to think about from the options out there,” he said. 

Public Works subcommittee chairperson and Watertown Town Councilor Susan Falkoff said that the three-person panel would meet again twice next week, with dates to be confirmed later this week. 

Charlie Denison March 08, 2011 at 05:54 PM
I've often thought that Mt. Auburn Street could be one lane in each direction with a combination of a center median and left-turn only lanes. I'm glad to hear that the Town agrees. This would really benefit everyone by creating space for bike lanes, shortening pedestrian crossings, making it safer and easier for drivers making left turns between major intersections, and calming traffic that now drives much too fast, especially through Coolidge Square, where there are many pedestrians.
Paul Angiolillo March 08, 2011 at 09:37 PM
I agree with Charlie. If New York City can make its streets more livable and manageable for nonmotorized travelers -- and it has -- http://www.streetfilms.org/transforming-nyc-streets-with-jsk/ -- Watertown should be able to do so.
Marian Ferro March 09, 2011 at 09:36 PM
I believe it is a very bad idea to turn Mt. Auburn St. into a two-lane street. One lane in each direction is not enough to accommodate all the traffic that uses that road. It is not a quaint little street through town. A part of Rte. 16, it is part of many people's daily commutes to work. The traffic would be backed up, causing longer commutes (time-wise) than necessary. Traffic would also back up at the start and end of the school day. I have to wonder if any of the people who support this idea actually use (that section of) Mt. Auburn St. regularly.

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