By Councillor Stephen Winslow
Have you traveled down Centre St. / Route 60 this week and wondered what the new pavement markings are for? These have been painted as part of a collaboration between the City and MBTA to help move Maldonians more quickly and safely in Downtown.
So, what’s happening? This project 1) created dedicated bus lanes and bike lanes on Centre St. and Main St., 2) re-striped portions of Eastern Ave. and added dedicated bike lanes, and 3) retimed and will eventually update traffic signals along Main St. and Centre St. to enable Transit Signal Priority (TSP). These improvements will be implemented in various stages, and the project will be completed entirely in 2022.
The project seeks to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, reduce bottleneck issues at merge points, decrease unsafe peak vehicle speeds, especially near Malden High and Cheverus School, and allow faster, more reliable bus service for residents to have increased transportation options. Data will be collected and evaluated to assess whether the new changes work as designed and will be used to develop plans for more permanent improvements.
You’re probably wondering if taking away vehicle lanes and turning them into dedicated bus lanes and bike lanes will increase traffic congestion. An MBTA traffic analysis determined that a single lane on Centre St. can accommodate 1200 vehicles per hour without causing delays along the corridor. Data collected before the pandemic recorded a westbound morning rush hour average vehicle count of 898 per hour. The eastbound evening rush hour vehicle count was 908 per hour. Both counts are below 1200, meaning the reduction in vehicle lanes should not cause significant delays.
With traffic delays unlikely, these dedicated bus lanes and bike lanes are slated to bring an array of benefits to all roadway users. MBTA bus service will be more reliable for Malden residents because the dedicated bus lanes will prioritize moving more Malden residents, rather than more vehicles. Not only that, but traffic backups caused by buses stopping in traffic to pick-up and drop-off riders will also be eliminated, because buses will be in a separate lane. Bottleneck issues will also be prevented when Eastern Ave. merges into one vehicle lane on the eastbound side. To support first responders, public safety vehicles will use the bus lanes to bypass traffic and reduce their emergency response times. Finally, bicyclists will have a safe lane on which to ride.
Another component of this project is that Main St. and Centre St. traffic signals will be updated to include transit signal priority (TSP). TSP is a new technology that gives buses and equipped public safety vehicles priority when approaching intersections. For example, traffic signal equipment with TSP can detect an approaching bus and keep the light green for a bus to pass through. Lights can also turn red if equipped public safety vehicles need to make their way through an intersection. These improvements will increase the efficiency of buses travelling along key corridors, alleviate congestion issues for vehicles, and decrease the response time of public safety vehicles.
Although these roadway improvements appear daunting, the project has gone through significant public engagement. The Malden City Council also voted to support this project earlier this year in a vote of 9-2. Not only that, but residents identified this project as a priority during the public engagement process for Malden’s Complete Streets Prioritization Plan development. For these reasons and all the aforementioned benefits, I am confident in this project’s potential to improve Malden’s roadways for all residents. If you’d like to learn more about the project, you can visit the city’s Transportation Planning page.