Powder House Boulevard Planning

In summer 2017, the City began utility work along Powder House Boulevard. This work will improve the efficiency of the existing water main by removing corrosive buildup in the main. The roadway along the full length of the Boulevard is being repaved and sidewalks upgraded in sections, as work progresses along the Boulevard. The final phase of utility work, which will be on the western end of the Boulevard, is scheduled to be completed in Spring 2019 with paving and sidewalk work expected to be complete by late summer 2019. The City is currently evaluating options for bicycle lanes and has announced a multi-component Traffic Safety Plan to be implemented starting in April 2019, with various elements scheduled for completion between April 2019 and Summer 2020. 

  • Updates

  • Take the Survey

  • Project Overview

  • Presentations, Meetings, & Notes

  • Traffic Safety Plan

An Update on Powder House Boulevard – July 2019


Please join us Wednesday, July 31st, 2019 at 6pm at West Somerville Community School, if you have further questions about the construction and the short‐term line painting strategy.

With utility and sidewalk reconstruction on Powder House Boulevard reaching completion this summer, the City wishes to update our residents and stakeholders on the next steps in the community process. Since our community planning dialogue began, neighbors and community members have consistently identified pedestrian safety as our primary objective. To that end, the City implemented a number of traffic calming and pedestrian safety measures around the West Somerville Neighborhood School and at the North Street intersection intended to reduce illegal speeding.

There has also been stakeholder interest in providing safer bike facilities on Powder House Boulevard. However, given the limited width of the Boulevard (40 feet), providing dedicated and protected bike lanes in both directions would only permit us to maintain parking on one side of the street.

There have been a number of meetings on the topic of traffic safety on Powder House Blvd., not just in the last few months but as far back as May of 2017. At that first meeting, the City presented options for restriping the Boulevard upon completion of roadway reconstruction and focused on an option with a bike lane in one direction and no change to on‐ street parking – a proposal which, in recent meetings, has been referred to as “Option B”.

In recent months, as the conversation around traffic safety on the Boulevard continued, community members asked that the City revisit the chosen plan in favor of safer bike facilities. Diverse stakeholders have shown significant interest, raising a number of concerns and asking important questions throughout this process. It is clear that there are issues that need to be addressed as we develop the best long‐term solution for Powder House Boulevard and the entire neighborhood.

When we last met in May 2019, we solicited community feedback on four potential options for lane striping. More than 150 community members participated in that meeting, whether in person or via written communication. The options can be reviewed at this link.

The results of surveys conducted during this meeting as well as supplemental online surveys suggested that there were many differing and strong opinions on these options, and many questions that require further study. At a minimum, residents and stakeholders asked for further review of alternative designs, impacts and mitigation measures. While City staff and external consultants have begun study and conversation about the alternatives, the analysis will require additional time and will benefit from analysis during the school year.

However, while this process has been underway, reconstruction of the Boulevard has neared completion. Paving was completed in early July and the street now has no pavement markings at all. While we need to allow proper time for the new pavement to cool and set before painting new crosswalks, lane markings, and any additional bicycle and safety markings, we should paint the street as soon as possible. Although there are still a number of outstanding questions regarding the street design, City staff have to make a decision on how to paint the street on a temporary basis and implement that strategy immediately for the safety of all road users.

Therefore, we will implement a three‐part strategy to address the immediate concern:

  1. Temporarily paint “Option B” on the street using low‐durability materials. This will provide a bike lane in one direction along the street and maintain existing parking. We will use paint for lane lines instead of high‐durability thermoplastic markings, which means that the paint will wear off over the next 12 months as we continue to work with the community for a permanent solution. Crosswalks will be high‐visibility, durable thermoplastic. At the same time, the city will implement the four‐way stop at Curtis Street and add permanent speed humps by the
  2. Monitor and measure. Over the next 12 months, we may change paint markings to test protected bike facilities without removing parking. We will also collect data and review the impact of
  3. Keep working with the community. Because we are using paint instead of thermoplastic markings to do these lines, it will wear off over the next 12 months, allowing us to implement a longer‐term markings plan by the summer of

What next?

Despite the need to put paint down as soon as possible, City staff feel strongly that the community dialogue regarding the safest long‐term solution for Powder House Boulevard must continue. Stakeholders have an interest in building the best and safest street possible for all users. We’ve been asked to answer some very good questions about these alternatives, and we want to come back to the community with answers to these questions.

To continue our discussion with the community, we will be meeting:

  • FIRST: Wednesday, July 31, 2019 at 6:30pm at West Somerville Community School, to provide a construction update, answer questions about this short‐term strategy and the completion of traffic calming measures this
  • ADDITIONALLY: We will continue discussing a long‐term painting plan. Our next scheduled meeting on this topic will be this fall after we’ve collected more information and measured the effectiveness of traffic calming measures and the temporary.

Rendering shows possible line pattern for PHB

Additional Questions:

 Is this the final decision regarding street design on the Boulevard?
No. The City will continue the process of finding the best long‐term street design solution, but an interim decision had to be made given that the street was repaved in early July and needs paint in the very near future for safety reasons.

Will we discuss the long‐term bike lanes on July 31st?
No. On the 31st, the City will give a short presentation with construction updates, parking study results, and an explanation of next steps in implementing the traffic safety plan. Staff will answer questions regarding the interim solution and rationale behind the decision.

Will the temporary single bike lane be on the same side of the street for the full length?
No. The bike lane will be on the westbound side of the street from Powder House Circle to about halfway between Packard Ave. and Curtis St., and on the eastbound side of the street from North St. to about halfway between Packard Ave. and Curtis St.

Could we have a pilot that tests a protected bike lane before making a final decision
Yes. The City is considering a short‐term (one day or one week) experiment using cones to study the effect of protected bike lanes on the Boulevard and surrounding streets. The City may also try shifting the paint to move the bike lane on the other side of parking on one side of the street. This is to test alternatives. These experiments will not have long‐term parking impacts, and will permit us to have further discussion about these options.

Why would the City even consider converting a parking lane into a protected bike lane?
Since Somerville residents worked together to build the original Community Path in the early 1990’s, our community has recognized the importance of providing bicycle routes that are separated from motor vehicle traffic. Somerville has a number of long‐term community goals that involve more people getting around by bicycle, which reduces pollution and congestion and promotes a healthier lifestyle. To encourage more people to get around by bike, the City must first provide bike lanes that the majority of people would feel safe riding in. On some streets, that goal requires converting the space used for on‐street parking into bicycle lanes.

Why do we need narrower lanes for cars on the Boulevard?
Extensive research has shown that vehicle speed decreases as lane width decreases. Narrowing lane widths for motor vehicles is one of the quickest and most affordable ways that a community can reduce illegal speeding.

Is the City considering removing all of the parking on Powder House Blvd.?
No, there are no options where parking is removed on both sides of the Boulevard

Is the 4‐way stop pilot at Curtis St still happening?
Yes, the City will test the safety benefits of temporarily converting the traffic signal at Curtis Street to a 4‐way stop sign, similar to the Packard Avenue intersection. Given the timing of the sidewalk reconstruction, repaving, and restriping on Powder House, the decision was made to wait until construction was complete to start the pilot. This is now estimated to begin in early August.

What happened to the rubber speed tables and flex posts outside the school?
The rubber speed tables and flex posts were removed to allow for the street to be repaved. Given that the rubber speed tables were a success but are seasonal in nature (they have to be removed for winter snow plowing), the City has instructed its contractor to install permanent asphalt speed humps in their place. These are expected to be constructed in the next 2‐3 weeks. Flex posts will also be reinstalled upon completion of final striping.

Does the City still intend to install a different on‐demand, red pedestrian signal at the entrance to the school?
Yes, the City still intends to install a hybrid pedestrian signal (also known as a HAWK signal) at Hardan Road to provide a safer pedestrian crossing. This type of signal flashes red when activated by a pedestrian, and motor vehicles are required to stop. However, this depends on the success of the 4‐way stop pilot at Curtis Street – the HAWK signal cannot be installed so close to a traditional traffic signal.

Will the City continue to work on the intersection of Powder House Boulevard and Route 16?
City staff are submitting a grant proposal to the State for design and construction funds to make this intersection work better for all users.

Where will residents park if parking is removed on one side of the street?
This item will be studied between now and the fall 2019 meeting and will be discussed at that time.

Does the City have a parking plan for the funeral home, the church, the daycare, the gallery, and the school?
City staff will continue to meet with these stakeholders and will share more at the fall 2019 meeting.

Can the City force Tufts students and/or employees to park on campus?
This item will be studied between now and the fall 2019 meeting, and will be discussed at that time.

Can the City work with Tufts to allow residents to park on campus?
This item will be studied between now and the fall 2019 meeting and will be discussed at that time.

Is it possible to put the bike lane on the sidewalk?
This item will be studied between now and the fall 2019 meeting and will be discussed at that time.

Is it possible to put convert the grassy planting strip between the sidewalk and the street into a bike lane?
This item will be studied between now and the fall 2019 meeting and will be discussed at that time.

What will the City be doing between now and the fall meeting?
City staff will be meeting with stakeholders, measuring the effects of the temporary design strategies, and reviewing the alternative design strategies listed above.

Please join us Wednesday, July 31st, 2019 at 6pm at West Somerville Community School, if you have further questions about the construction and the short‐term line painting strategy.

This survey is designed for you to give input regarding your preferred options, concerns, and thoughts on possible parking mitigation strategies for Powder House Blvd. The City will be making a decision in the next few months regarding the street's final condition, and wants to collect as much input as possible to inform that decision. Follow this link to to view a handout with the various restriping options and associated tradeoffs.

This project will include upgrades to underground water mains as well as surface-level roadway improvements for improved bicycle and pedestrian safety and reduced vehicle travel speeds. During the first phases of construction, crews will access water main joints in the grass strip along the north side of Powder House Boulevard between Mason Avenue and North Street in order to clean and line the water main, which will improve the capacity of the water main and improve flow. This work will not affect travel lanes, but crews will need to restrict parking in the immediate area around the work zones on the days they are working. The roadway will also be repaved, first between Powder House Circle and Mason Avenue, and then between Mason Avenue and Alewife Brook Parkway. Once paving is completed, the roadway will receive bicycle lanes as well as additional measures to reduce vehicle travel speeds and improve safety for all users of the roadway. In all, the project and the accompanying Traffic Safety Plan will include, but is not limited to:

  • Improved water main flow
  • Roadway resurfacing
  • Sidewalk repair
  • Traffic calming
  • Bicycle lanes
  • A series of speed tables near the West Somerville Neighborhood School
  • A pedestrian-activated HAWK signal in front of the West Somerville Neighborhood School
  • Conversion of the Curtis Ave. intersection to a 4-way stop
  • A large bump out at North St. 
  • Improved markings and signage
  • Additional radar feedback signs

Meeting Date

Downloads

5/22/2019

Presentation
4/3/2019 Presentation (Traffic Safety Plan)
5/15/2017 Presentation

Other

Conceptual Design with Community Feedback

Community Meetings: Traffic Safety Plan & Bike Options

  • May: We are working to schedule a May date for the first in a series of meetings. Please sign up for the City newsletter at www.somervillema.gov/newsletter and keep an eye on the city calendar for updates.
  • Summer: Wednesday, July 31st, 6:30 p.m., West Somerville Neighborhood School
  • More Info: Staff are also always available to answer your questions at [email protected]

Neighborhood Office Hours

  • Wednesday, April 10, 6-8 p.m., West Somerville Neighborhood School
  • Tuesday, April 23, 6-8 p.m., West Somerville Neighborhood School
  • Thursday, April 25, 6-8 p.m., West Somerville Neighborhood School

 

Powder House Blvd. Traffic Safety Plan (PDF)

Powder House Blvd. Traffic Safety Plan

The next phase of traffic calming improvements to Powder House Boulevard is detailed in the Powder House Blvd. Traffic Safety Plan.

The plan builds upon earlier safety measures and traffic calming improvements made to the Boulevard in recent years including a pedestrian-activated Rapid Flashing Beacon at Hardan Road in front of the West Somerville Neighborhood School, sidewalk bump outs, improved crosswalk markings, new crosswalks, reflective mid-crosswalk signs, reflective strips, the flashing 4-way stop at Packard Ave. installed in collaboration with Tufts University, and the lowering of the citywide speed limit to 25 mph in 2016.

The next steps detailed in the plan include a number of additional improvements already scheduled for the current construction season as well as some new elements developed this year in response to community input. In addition to other interventions, key safety features include a series of three speed tables near the West Somerville Neighborhood School, a conversion of the signalized intersection at Curtis St. to a 4-way stop, a large sidewalk bump out at North Street that will narrow the western pedestrian crossing from 70 to 30 feet, and a pedestrian-activated HAWK signal in front of the school designed to slow and fully stop traffic with a series of yellow and red lights.

The plan also updates existing plans for a “road diet” for the Boulevard, an effective approach for slowing traffic by narrowing the vehicle travel lanes. Single lane bike lanes had been previously planned for Fall 2019 for the Boulevard to both improve cyclist safety as well as narrow the road. In collaboration with the Somerville Bicycle Committee, discussions will be held from May through the summer to determine if the community prefers the existing plan or a two-lane, two-way bike path instead that could have additional safety benefits for both cyclists and pedestrians but would require the elimination of a significant amount of parking.

The plan is available as a PDF download here for those who wish to read the plan, and a voiceover video version is available here for those who wish to listen to an explanation of the plan.

Every action detailed in the plan aims to increase pedestrian and cyclist safety on Powder House Boulevard as well as the safety of all participants in traffic including motorists. Each feature works both independently to calm traffic and increase safety and as part of an overall system of traffic calming. Overall efforts combine both existing and emerging best practices that are well tested for their traffic calming efficacy.

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