Follow Up to Proposed Porter Square Vision Zero Improvements

After seeing the City’s proposed design documents for Porter Square intersection improvements we are compelled to write a follow-up letter expressing our disappointment in the plan. Despite the recent deaths of a bicyclist and a pedestrian here, under the City’s plan there would still be no safe, protected route through the intersection for bicyclists. Furthermore, existing infrastructure that protects pedestrians is shown as being removed. The latest plan is by no means an adequate Vision Zero response.


We first want to thank city staff for all their hard work and dedication in trying to address these important changes to one of the City’s most popular and well visited intersections. Embracing a vision of safe, livable streets in which people of all ages and abilities can travel streets safely via walking, biking, or transit will boost local businesses, enhance the health and well-being of residents, help the City achieve its ambitious climate action goals, and contribute to an equitable and affordable city for all.


Our objections to the City’s current design and plan are as follows:


  1. There are no significant or substantial safety improvements that benefit people on bikes or walking, despite the tragic deaths of Joe Lavins and Marcie Mitler in 2016. We are shocked and extremely disappointed that the proposed design does not do more to protect the most vulnerable users of our streets. We ask that space be re-allocated to make more space for vulnerable users through protected bike lanes and shorter crossing distances for pedestrians. As a major multi-modal node, the intersection should prioritize all road users instead of resembling a suburban interchange.


  1. Some of the proposed changes would take us in the wrong direction and make the area more dangerous for vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians. On Somerville Ave between White Street and Massachusetts Ave, the City’s design proposes adding a turn lane and removing a heavily used pedestrian refuge; this proposed change actually makes the intersection more dangerous. This is unacceptable, particularly in light of the fact that Marcie Mitler was killed near here. Studies show that pedestrian refuges are one of the most effective tools in improving pedestrian safety. Removing the refuge/island will also likely lead to increase driver speeds, further endangering pedestrians and bicyclists.


  1. Given the high volumes of pedestrians and bicyclists, the City should be more pro-active in making substantive changes for public safety. Reducing, rather than increasing, the number of travel lanes at the intersection will do much to calm traffic and increase safety for all road users. In specific, the City could evaluate whether both directions of Massachusetts Ave and Somerville Ave approaching the intersection could be restricted to one vehicle lane for straight travel and one for turning which would provide the opportunity to introduce protected bicycle lanes and widen sidewalks to provide greater space for the large volumes of pedestrians and the opportunity to introduce greenery, seating, and other elements. Additionally, a dedicated bus/bike lane along Massachusetts Avenue should be explored to improve reliability and safety. Expanding space for pedestrians or bicyclists can be done even in the short term through use of paint, flexible posts, and planters, a strategy used successfully in cities around the country.


As we mentioned in our previous letter, we support the goals of the City to simplify signaling for shorter wait times, and closing the exit ramp which could then be used for public space. We also suggested a bike crossing from southbound Mass Ave to the shopping plaza, adjacent to the crosswalk.  However, we believe that much more can and should be done to protect vulnerable road users, especially given the two tragic deaths that occured here.