en English
en Englishes Spanishpt Portuguesear Arabicht Haitian Creolezh-TW Chinese (Traditional)


Your Local Online News Source for Over 3 Decades

City Councillors: Putting the cart before the horse on Rt. 60 bus lane project has cost residents dearly

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

City Engineer Yip cites progress in lessening travel time due to recent traffic signalization ‘tweaks’


By Steve Freker


In Malden, many residents and elected officials agree: Putting the cart before the horse has adversely affected just about everyone in the city who travels through the heart of the city.

Nearly three years ago – in June 2021 – the Malden City Council voted 8-2 to approve the MBTA-backed bus priority lane initiative which involved a dramatic remake of the city’s Route 60/Eastern Avenue/Centre Street travel artery. The vote accepted a Shared Streets grant from the MBTA, which included transforming Route 60/Eastern Avenue/Centre Street from two full travel lanes to just one lane for all vehicles, a full bus-only lane and a mini-lane for bicyclists. At the time of the vote, it was agreed that part of the overall plan was to have the main traffic signals on the travel route – particularly those at the busiest intersection in the city, at Centre Street/Route 60 and Main Street – examined and calibrated to ensure that traffic did not become gridlocked due to the new, one-lane travel configuration.

This work was to be done first – before any other part of the project was undertaken. Cue the “horse,” the traffic signalization. The “cart” here was the direct street painting and sign-labeling on the roadway. The latter part of the project was completed within months, or even weeks after the key City Council vote was recorded. As for “the horse”? That part of the Malden version of the time-worn proverb was addressed just recently, over two and half years after an as-forecast curse of traffic congestion has at times brought Malden Square to a standstill.

A full explanation of the issue was sought and received at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting by one Councillor who was not even a voting member at the time of the 2021 vote, which has caused undue turmoil on the sole facet of traffic movement, or lack thereof. “I’m like everyone else sitting in traffic that doesn’t seem to ever move and swearing, just like everyone else,” Ward 7 Councillor Chris Simonelli said Tuesday night. “I just want to know how and why this all came about.”

At Councillor Simonelli’s official request, Malden City Engineer Yem Lip and new-to-City Hall Transportation Planner Jack Witthaus appeared before the Councillors to discuss all of these issues and answer questions. Perhaps the most important news of the night came when Lip revealed that, in fact, work has been done in the past several months on replacing and renewing signalization in and around Malden Square at the light station.

At another meeting last year, Councillors found out that a problem with traffic signals was that they were incredibly outdated, to the point they were only able to be calibrated with a rotary phone, if it all.

Lip reported a major news item: “Traffic is now three minutes quicker westbound on Route 60 in the morning, which was the area of the most concern.”

Councillor Simonelli said that was the major focus of the meeting. “My intention on requesting this appearance [of Lip and Witthaus] was to basically find out what happened with the lights. That is what we all want to know.

“Who gave permission to put down the paint before the lights were fixed?” Simonelli followed with another question.

Lip said the MBTA grant money was in place quickly and when it was discovered the traffic lights apparatus was faulty, antiquated and far from a quick fix, the decision was made to go ahead with other parts of the project. “Fixing” the lights through calibration as soon as possible was always the intention, Lip said. “We had the plan. We followed the plan,” Lip said.

“So, when you discovered the lights couldn’t be fixed [in a timely manner], you figured at least we could do that part of it,” Councillor Simonelli said, referring to painting the bus lines and cutting down to one lane of traffic.

When Lip confirmed that scenario from Simonelli, the Councillor asked, “Are the lights working now?”

Lip again replied in the affirmative. “Yes, they are and west-bound traffic on [Centre Street/Route 60] is moving three minutes quicker.”

Ward 2 Councillor Condon said, “The signalization has helped the traffic flow, but they are finding different routes. They are flooding our neighborhoods with a different type of traffic – West Street, Pearl Street, etc. – and it’s not just my ward, it’s all over.”

Ward 4 Councillor Ryan O’Malley said, “Can we do like Medford does with signage reading ‘Residents only between certain hours’?”

Witthaus is new to Malden, a native Californian who designed and implemented traffic plans in both the private and public sectors: in the second-largest city in all of Silicon Valley and in and around Stanford University. He is the first Malden municipal transportation planner, coming out of retirement to work in this city, his first primary task being the implementation and oversight of the comprehensive, state-funded Complete Streets Program.

Before Lip addressed the specific Centre Street/Route 60 situation with the City Council on Tuesday night, Witthaus gave a detailed explanation and status update of the Complete Streets Program, which he now oversees as transportation planner within the city’s Office of Strategic Planning and Development. As part of the state grant-funded Complete Streets Funding Program: “a Complete Street is one that provides safe and accessible options for all travel modes – walking, biking, transit and vehicles – for people of all ages and abilities.” Witthaus explained that on behalf of the city and through the guidance from the data and resident response gleaned from numerous public forums attended by residents, he has adopted a stance of taking a “human-based” approach while formulating a Complete Streets approach to the city’s travel planning, as opposed to a motorized vehicle-based lens primarily.

Ward 3 Councillor Amanda Linehan said, “I appreciate you centering this [Complete Streets] work on people.”

“A human-centered approach is the best way to go,” she said.

At the end of the presentation, Simonelli said he was very pleased with the information he and his colleagues received. “There will always be growing pains and as Councillor Peg Crowe has said, we don’t know if it will ever work [Route 60]. But we will continue to communicate and we appreciate the important and up-to-date information that was shared tonight.”

Contact Advocate Newspapers