Newton’s Department of Planning and Development provided the first update on the Albemarle Road Traffic Calming Project in over a year and invited public comments and questions in a webinar on Monday. The project is expected to be complete by August 2023, according to Josh Ostroff, director of transportation planning in Newton and the project manager.
“Newton believes that projects should be built to meet the needs of residents,” Ostroff said.
This project looks to address traffic and safety issues on Brookside Avenue and Albemarle Avenue from Washington Street up to the Charles River Greenway, with a focus on the middle section of the corridor on Albemarle, Ostroff said.
Newton Planning received a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation under the Shared Streets and Spaces Grant Program to install changes with a limited budget under $200,000, according to Ostroff.
“If we were fully redesigning the roadway, we’d be spending substantially more,” Ostroff said. “But this is also a learning opportunity so that we can experiment with measures that we believe will improve safety and travel conditions for everybody that uses it.”
This intersection is very complex and the planning committee has many goals for the space, according to Ostroff.
“So our goals, as I said, are to increase safety and accessibility, reduce speeds, reduce conflicts between people who are driving and parking and biking and walking and crossing the roadway, and adding back bike lanes, so that people can more safely travel and transit between Albemarle and Brookside,” Ostroff said. “This is a very complex area with a lot going on.”
Creating safe transportation for drivers and children crossing this intersection is a key motivation for this project, according to Ostroff.
“Safety is a top priority, and into a corridor like this that serves multiple schools, recreation areas, residential neighborhoods, and as the through channel for north-south traffic, it’s critical that we focus on preserving life and health for everybody,” Ostroff said.
With the number of concerns in the area and the limited budget, over the last year the transportation committee has gone through several drafts of how to make the intersection safer, according to Jessica Mortell, senior placemaker at Neighborways Design, who said the time that has gone into the project has paid off.
“This has been really helpful in our design process to look and consider all of the different needs and the trade-offs, and we went through so many different iterations and options we did through $200,000 and we’re looking to implement that before the school year, next year,” Mortell said. “So by August this year, we need to spend those funds ideally.”
While there are issues getting federal funding, the city hopes to make some low-cost, short-term improvements like enforcing a 20 mph safety zone, installing “do not walk” markings in the intersection, painting medians, and installing flex posts in the area, according to Isaac Prizant, a transportation engineer with the city.
The city is also working on creating more accessible and easy-to-access parking options so that parking is not overflowed in the Albemarle area, according to Ostroff.
“We want to make people aware of opportunities to park that don’t necessarily involve using Albemarle,” Ostroff said. “So there are many public parking spaces, hundreds of spaces, within just a five or 10 minute walk of anyone’s destination.”
Ostroff said this change will require a commitment from the entire community, but the city is willing to work closely with Newtonians to make this possible.
“We want everyone using the road to be safe,” Ostroff said. “That might come at the cost of some convenience or learning new styles of parking but I have a lot of confidence in the ability of Newtonians to adapt to change. So I think this is what we’ll be asking people to do. But we want to make it as easy and fun and painless as possible. So we’ll have food trucks demonstrating how easy it is to bet in annual parking.”
Newton resident and parent Neil Halin thanked the committee for its work and agreed with the need for these changes.
“I’ll tell you that I have been to the Public Safety [and Transportation] Committee several times during my tenure in Newton and been rebuffed asking for several of these improvements,” Halin said. “And I’m so happy to see that there is movement.”
Newton resident Bill Connell echoed the need for change to make the area safe for children again.
“I went to Horace Mann Day Junior High, played on that field growing up,” Connell said. “We could walk, run, ride bikes, race, heck we didn’t worry about cars at all, except for mushing on the back of one in a snowstorm. So I mean, I’m hoping all this is going to make it a lot quieter and kill some of the traffic.”
Ostroff welcomed people to send further public comments to his email before April 17 and mentioned the Planning and Development Department will be on the agenda for approval of the Calming Project from the Public Facilities Committee on April 19.