Safer roads, faster buses: the Dudley to Alewife Brook Parkway Mass Ave project

A view of Mass Ave. There are 4 general travel lanes, separated by a median. A cyclist rides in a paint-only bike lane between the general travel lane and a curbside parking lane.


  • Over the next few weeks, the City is planning to make safety and public transportation improvements to the northern blocks of Mass Ave, from Dudley St. to the Arlington border.
    • Dedicated bus lanes will improve speed and reliability for thousands of bus riders a day.
    • Protected bike lanes will make people riding bikes vastly safer, separating them from trucks, buses, and cars.
    • 20 total metered spaces will be added on side streets to mitigate parking loss for businesses, along with loading zones/15-minute parking.
    • Metered spots on side-streets are only metered 10AM-6PM. Residents may park in metered spaces for free outside of these hours.
  • Like many residents, we are happy to support the plan.

More information can be found at the City’s project page.

The benefits of this project

For people who ride bikes, or would like to ride bikes

Mass Ave is one of the most dangerous roads in Cambridge for people who ride bikes, with significant truck traffic, bus traffic, and in general a larger volume of cars. Speeding on Mass Ave can be a problem too during off hours. It is a key transportation artery, as it goes across the whole city end-to-end. This particular stretch connects Arlington, North Mass Ave, and the Linear Park bike path that connects Alewife Station and Davis Square.

With the current infrastructure, cyclists either have to ride in traffic, often in front of giant trucks or buses, or ride between traffic and parked cars. At any moment someone in a parked car could open their car door and hit a bicycle rider directly into traffic.

Protected bicycle lanes will allow cyclists to travel safely, separated from traffic, reducing the chances of injury or death. In the 2020 Community Needs Survey, 53% of Cambridge residents who did not bike within the last year said they wanted to bike more in Cambridge, and the most commonly cited barrier to biking was safety (89%). Specifically, 87% felt unsafe around motor vehicles, and 48% cited poor connections to their intended destinations. On major commercial streets, like Mass Ave, only 25% of all respondents reported feeling “very comfortable” with conventional (i.e. paint only) bicycle lanes. Strikingly, only 4% of people who are “interested but concerned” about biking report feeling “very comfortable” with conventional bicycle lanes. In contrast, 68% of those “interested but concerned” report feeling “very comfortable” on separated bicycle facilities. Given safer routes for biking, more people will be able to bike, reducing the need for private vehicle use, and thus improving congestion and reducing pollution.

For people who ride the bus

Thousands of people ride the bus routes on North Mass Ave; as many as 7500 weekday users on the 77 bus (pre-pandemic). Dedicated bus lanes (southbound during morning hours, at all times northbound) will mean faster service and, just as importantly, more consistent service.

Why is consistency important? Even if the bus is slower by 10 minutes only occasionally, bus riders who need to get to work or an appointment on time must always add 10 minutes or risk being late. So it’s critical to not only speed up buses, but also to make them run consistently on the same schedule, reducing variation in arrival time.

Given faster and more consistently reliable buses, more people will be able to use the bus, again reducing the need for private vehicle use, and thus improving congestion and reducing pollution.

Note, the bus is also a great option for individuals, including some seniors, who can neither drive nor bike. For example, seniors with vision impairment may not be able to drive or bike safely, but they can still take the bus. Making the bus faster and more reliable will improve their quality of life and access to businesses on Mass Ave.

City staff’s outreach for the project

  • September 1st: City staff began putting up flyers and going door-to-door with businesses.
  • September 2nd: City staff visit businesses that weren’t open the day before.
  • September 14th: Initial meeting with public—City shares initial draft and solicits feedback.
  • Next 4 weeks: City accepts more feedback through numerous individual conversations with businesses, residents, and other stakeholders, and then iterates on plan.
  • October 12 and 13th: City presented updated plans to businesses, with a variety of changes made based on received feedback.
  • October 28th: An additional meeting to share designs with the public.

Addressing concerns:

How will business parking needs be accommodated?

Metered parking spots on Mass Ave are being replaced as follows:

  • Half of the metered parking is moved from Mass Ave to side-streets. The metered parking would be in effect between 10AM-6PM and could be used as residential parking at other times.
  • The other half of metered parking is replaced by a loading zone on the southbound side of Mass Ave between 9AM-10PM, allowing for loading and 15-minute parking. Note that loading zones in Cambridge can be used for 15-minute parking to pick up or drop off passengers or goods. See Article XV Sec 15.2 of the Traffic Regulations for more details.
  • An additional loading zone is available on Magoun St. between 6AM to 10AM to accommodate City Paint, which has contractors who may need to arrive early to pick up supplies.

The City considered doing metered parking instead of a loading zone in the morning-only bus lane, but consultation with the Fire Department determined that the lack of space by the curb and long-term parked cars would be a problem for fire truck response. We still feel this should be further evaluated, especially for e.g. 30 minute metered parking, which would still require each parked car’s owner to be close by.

What is the impact on resident parking?

The City, in their current design, is converting 20 parking spots into metered parking on side-streets, from 10AM to 6PM. This is spread out over 5 streets, for an average of 4 residential parking spots repurposed per side-street. Residents with cars should be able to find parking slightly further away, given the small amount of removed parking.

In addition, from 6PM to 10AM the metered spots will be available to residents for overnight parking. Given the small numbers of lost spots, if even a handful of neighbors commute to work, the reduction in parking will correspondingly be even less impactful.

In addition to the steps taken above, it’s worth noting that there are a large number of private parking lots behind many buildings on this stretch of Mass Ave, which could be rented by businesses and residents:

A full map of North Mass Ave parking lots can be found here.

How will parking needs for seniors and people with disabilities be accommodated?

Many people, including seniors, are capable of walking a block or two from their car to their home. However, for those residents who have disabilities that cause mobility issues, the City has a process for providing assigned disability street parking. You can read more about that process here.

What do residents in the neighborhood think about this plan?

While no polling has been done about this plan specifically, bus and protected bike lanes have polled very well among residents. Most recently, MassINC’s polled residents in the greater Boston area in June 2021, and residents expressed 75% support for protected bike lanes and 67% support for bus lanes, even if some parking was reallocated for that purpose. In 2018 Cambridge polled residents asking whether more protected bike lanes should be built in Cambridge, and 60% expressed support (64% online) with only 26% opposed.

Additionally, Cambridge Day reported that “public comments at the meeting were largely supportive of the design” at Sept 14’s community meeting about this project.

Quick-build projects have some limitations on what the design can be. Why not delay the project and use construction instead, which provides more flexibility?

Quick-build designs rely on paint and flexposts and sometimes repaving areas to make them smoother to bike on. In general curbs at the sidewalk or the median can’t be moved as part of a quick-build project. Moving curbs is an intensive process which requires construction equipment to dig up the ground, taking time and money and involving risks such as possible interference with underground utilities. Construction projects often take multiple years, while even the slowest quick-build projects are done in weeks to months. The construction process can also be disruptive and has its own negative impacts to businesses.

The 2020 Cycling Safety Ordinance sets a ~5 year timeline in order to make our streets safer for people biking as quickly as possible. By using quick-build to implement protected bike lanes and bus lanes on this section of Mass Ave, they can be completed by winter. Every week that bike safety infrastructure is delayed is a week when people riding bikes get injured, so quick action is key to preventing serious injuries and deaths on our streets.

Additionally, the project provides other benefits such as the bus lanes which will make trips faster for riders of the 77 bus, one of their 15 key bus routes according to the MBTA with high ridership. Implementing this quickly will benefit bus riders and help make it more convenient to switch away from driving to get around.

Construction-based designs can be superior in some ways due to the flexibility they allow. The City intends to upgrade all quick-build protected bike lanes to more permanent designs over time as is feasible.

Project constraints

As part of the 2020 Cycling Safety Ordinance timeline, protected bike lanes must be installed on most of Mass Ave by April 2022, other than a few stretches that have a different process. Some of those stretches are labelled “MassAve4” by the City, which includes the segments between Harvard Square and Porter Square and between Porter Square and Dudley St. Central Square will also be reconstructed separately within the 5 year timeline. The City has recently installed a stretch of protected bicycle lanes between City Hall and Harvard Square and is adding additional small stretches throughout the city.

With winter coming up, now is the time to do street work that cannot be done during the winter. For example, applying thermoplastic to asphalt doesn’t work below a certain temperature, around 40 degrees.

The 2020 timeline does not require reconstruction; instead, all work can be done quickly and cheaply (“quick build”) using paint, occasional sign changes, and installation of flexposts or bollards. Actual installation can be done over a few nights.

For larger, multi-million-dollar reconstruction projects like the upcoming redo of River St, the City uses a much more extensive process, given that roads only get reconstructed every few decades. For example, the River St. project involved more than a year of planning, with multiple public meetings and a standing community group to provide feedback on designs. For agile quickbuild projects like this stretch of North Mass Ave, a more light-weight process can be used, since small adjustments can be made afterwards. In addition to being done quickly, quick build projects have the additional benefit of not impacting traffic flow for long periods of time, which is often a necessity for construction work.

The City has a site explaining the various requirements and timelines of the Cycling Safety Ordinance here.