The Watertown Public Transit Task Force, the Watertown Town Council and the Town’s Department of Community Development and Planning will present a community educational forum on municipal transportation planning on Thursday evening, June 16, at 6:30 PM in the Watertown Free Public Library. All local residents, employees and business owners are invited to this free event.
The goal of the forum is to increase the shared knowledge about what modern transportation planning can do in municipalities like Watertown to improve local transportation and ease traffic congestion. The Watertown Public Transit Task Force (WPTTF), a volunteer community advocacy group, says that people in Watertown can advocate for and support better transportation services if they know more about what transportation tools are available to local government.
The June 16th Forum will present information about what municipalities can do to improve transportation planning. Panelists will include James Freas, Newton’s Planning Director; Mike Garvin, the Waltham Traffic Engineer; Ralph DeNisco, a principal at the Boston office of the international transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard; and Steve Magoon, Watertown Assistant Town Manager. Newton and Waltham are both currently engaged in town wide transportation planning efforts.
Local transportation infrastructure changes have tended to be piecemeal mitigations for specific private developments. The focus has been on things like traffic signals and turn lanes. In contrast, the 2015 Comprehensive Plan called for a comprehensive transportation plan for the Town, saying, “A comprehensive transportation plan, which both provides active and passive connectivity internally to neighborhoods within Watertown (and to the greater region), is essential to ensure a sustainable system over the long-term.”
Several local transportation improvement projects or studies have been undertaken recently or are now underway. These include:
While the WPTTF praises these efforts, it says that what has been missing is a coherent set of policies, goals and implementation plans to pull together and coordinate the efforts in different transportation modes and in different corridors that all affect one another. WPTTF also calls for these policies to put a priority on reducing single occupancy vehicle trips in Watertown.
According to the WPTTF, studies by the MassDOT and local developers’ traffic studies, as well as the anecdotal reports of most Watertown drivers and transit users, Watertown roads are badly congested at rush hours and public transit services are very inadequate.
A recent MassDOT study found that at the AM peak, as many as 40% of trips on the Arsenal Street bus line are not on time. (Source: MassDOT Arsenal Corridor Study Existing Conditions Evaluations, January 26, 2016, Weekday Average Trip On-Time Performance by Time Period.) WPTTF has complained to MassDOT that these averages, unsatisfactory as they are, hid many worse specific problems and do not adequately reflect the difficulty of rider’s real experience.
The same MassDOT study of intersections between Watertown Square and where Arsenal Street connect with Brighton found that key intersections at either end of that corridor are at the F or D Level of Service. The traffic study for athenahealth’s campus development found that almost 40,000 vehicle pass by the athenahealth site on an average weekday. That study also projected that with developments already underway or expected in town, plus standard “background” growth, traffic volumes in seven years (2023) are expected to increase by about 22% in Watertown Square and 20% where Arsenal Street meets Greenough Boulevard. A 2011 study of Mt. Auburn St. conducted for the Town projected that under future 2030 conditions, six of the eight signalized intersections in the study area would have at least one movement operating at an unacceptable level of service – but that study did not project any of the subsequent developments actually built, under way or proposed on Arsenal or Pleasants Streets.
The WPTTF has also called for significant upgrades in MBTA service in Watertown, but the efforts to address local problems has been frustrated by the MBTA system wide dysfunction.
People interested in joining WPTTF or finding out more about it can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.