Porter Square Intersection Improvements Meeting Notes

A general sense of frustration and impatience persisted, but no one argued that these changes were bad, just not far-reaching enough.

The City officials took us through the revised changes, which can be seen in the above presentation, taking a few questions throughout, but most afterwards.

The room, 2-150, was pretty full, and seemed to be mostly Cambridge residents, and bike folks. Based on comments, only a couple of Somerville residents present.

First, a few links to local news coverage, and the City’s official presentation:

A summary of the adjustments from the previous plan:

  • The number of light phases stays at the reduced number of 3, greatly simplifying the intersections
  • The left turn out of the shopping center parking lot will remain, and has been worked into the new 3-phase system
    • This means traffic on White St should remain the same, as people wanting to go south on Mass Ave will not need to exit via White St.
  • The pedestrian island at Mass Ave & Somerville Ave remains
    • It will move slightly towards the south (i.e., the Porter Sq Station headhouse)
  • A buffer has been added between the bike lane & the right-turn lane from Somerville Ave, to mitigate some of the danger of cycling there with larger vehicles
    • This is accommodated by the aforementioned movement of the pedestrian island

These changes were directly made in response to feedback from PSNA, cyclists, and the community at large at previous meetings.

Some questions/commentary that came up:

  • Continued disappointment, frustration, and anger at the lack of protected cycle facilities
    • Joseph Barr, director of Cambridge Traffic, Parking, & Transportation, lead with, and reiterated, that a larger redesign of Porter Square is needed, and forthcoming, but needs to be part of a larger vision for Mass Ave in order to best accommodate mass transit in addition to cyclists
  • Some comments on creating designated space for ridehailing pickup/dropoff, to mitigate blocking vehicle and bike travel lanes
  • Some questions about why the right turn from Somerville Ave → Mass Ave needs to remain two lanes
    • The City’s response was that, when they modeled this, the queuing on Somerville Ave became so bad that a backup all the way to Beacon St would happen, creating a gridlock situation
  • A comment by Ruth, asking if the trucks using the Square & passing through need to be so large (e.g., 18-wheelers)
    • State law forbids (and Cambridge has tried in the past to push on this) any prohibition on specific truck sizes, save when the physical contraints truly prevent them
    • Pressure on local merchants, however, may result in some changes for this'
    • One commenter, a local merchant, voiced concern for the tight margins that small businesses have to contend with, and suggested they have to “take what they can get” for delivery services
  • Some comments asking about added a contraflow bike lane on White St, similar to what Somerville has added on Hancock St
    • One commenter suggested moving the White St parking opposite its current place, which would both increase parking, and make a contra-flow lane more possible
    • This would create a calm, direct bike route from Porter Square up to Ball Square
  • Various questions about bus stops, bike/bus lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and similar infrastructure
    • One of the bus stops will be lengthened, and some parking moved, to better serve the 77 northbound (to Arlington), but other changes are out-of-scope for now
    • Future changes will definitely be, and are already being, considered by the City as part of larger changes to Mass Ave