Since August, traffic on the Boston University Bridge has worsened, leading to congestion in the Cambridge rotary, adjacent intersection and Cambridgeport streets. Because of a network of one-way streets, many residents say they have found themselves trapped in the neighborhood.
“I’m just trying to get out of my street,” said Nancy Wei, a Rockingham Street resident.
City and state officials have met twice this fall with the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association (CNA) to address traffic problems. While some issues have been identified, neighbors at the most recent meeting stressed the need for further improvements.
Multiple agencies involved
More than 70 residents have emailed complaints to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation [MassDOT] since the completion of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge project in August, according to CNA members Walter McDonald and Carol O’Hare, who have reviewed the correspondence.
″[Traffic has] never been great in anyone’s memory, but it seems to be worse starting after the summer 2018,” said Joe Barr, director of the city of Cambridge’s Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department.
Barr was one of several city and state officials who met with the CNA in September and again on Nov. 1 to address residents’ concerns. More than 40 people attended the latest meeting at the LBJ Apartments.
Along with the BU Bridge, neighbors are concerned about the lack of signs, traffic lights and lane markers for the rotary; drivers from Waverly Street who block the intersection; and a tree on Granite Street affecting cars approaching the intersection.
State Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, who represents Cambridgeport, told the CNA that multiple government agencies have jurisdiction over the areas experiencing these problems. These include: MassDOT, which operates the BU Bridge; city of Boston, which manages the traffic lights at the end of the bridge on Commonwealth Avenue; the state Department of Conservation and Recreation [DCR], which controls the rotary and traffic signals in Cambridge before the bridge; and the city of Cambridge, which manages the roads adjacent to the rotary – Brookline, Granite and Waverly streets.
Livingstone assured the CNA that the officials he spoke to were committed to working on the issues.
“When there are multiple agencies that butt up against each other, like here, you often have all of the agencies running away,” Livingstone said. “But here … every agency is really invested in working together in trying to solve the problem.”
Traffic backup from BU Bridge
A key issue affecting Cambridgeport is the traffic backup on the BU Bridge, often extending around the rotary and blocking the intersection at Granite, Brookline and Waverly streets.
During the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge project, lane adjustments were made to the BU Bridge. Now, most of the road from Cambridge to Boston is a single lane, with two lanes in the other direction.
Hamilton Street resident Stephen Kaiser said extending the single lane has made it more difficult for cars to access the adjacent lanes at Commonwealth Avenue, causing traffic to stretch into Cambridge.
Neil Boudreau, a traffic engineer with MassDOT, has worked since September to identify causes for the increased traffic congestion. He said adjusting the lanes again would cause more gridlock.
Instead, Boudreau plans to monitor congestion on the bridge, including how the Commonwealth Avenue traffic signal affects drivers from Cambridge and whether pedestrians and bicyclists are blocking traffic flow. Boudreau added that while overall traffic volume on the bridge may have increased, the number of cars during peak rush hours has remained consistent since 2012.
One problem on the BU Bridge has already been identified. In speaking with city of Boston officials, Boudreau learned that a traffic detection system was damaged during the bridge project. The system, which recognizes cars waiting at the traffic light, was fixed by the city of Boston Oct. 29, Boudreau said. He did not yet know the impact on bridge traffic.
The rotary and intersection
Another problem involves the rotary itself. The cars backed up into the intersection of Brookline, Granite and Waverly streets also affect drivers who want to head away from the bridge.
Wei, the Rockingham Street resident, said with the intersection blocked, cars cannot turn left from Granite Street onto Brookline Street, causing the Granite Street traffic to back up.
The network of one-way streets means Granite Street is the only way out for some neighbors. Several people at the CNA meeting said cars drive the wrong way on one-way streets to avoid the congestion.
Neighbors would like to see lane markings, signs and traffic lights for cars entering the rotary from Memorial Drive. For traffic approaching the rotary from Waverly Street, neighbors suggested signs advising cars not to block the intersection, with fines for offending drivers.
No DCR representatives could attend the most recent meeting. Jeff Parenti, a former traffic engineer for the city of Cambridge, now works for DCR and is expected to attend the CNA’s next meeting in December.
DCR could look at short-term solutions, including painting lines and putting up signs, Livingstone said. Long-term solutions for the rotary will be included in the third phase of DCR’s Memorial Drive project.
Tree preservation leads to reduced space
The blocked intersection is not the only problem affecting Granite Street.
To preserve a tree affecting sidewalk accessibility, the city of Cambridge routed the sidewalk into the street near the intersection, reducing the lane available for cars taking a right toward the rotary and contributing to congestion on Granite Street.
As a temporary solution, seven parking spaces on Granite Street have been eliminated starting Oct. 29, Barr said, allowing drivers to start lining up sooner for the left turn onto Brookline Street.
Barr said the city would continue to look at other solutions to address the intersection and surrounding streets.