WINCHESTER - Changes are coming to parts of Highland Avenue after the Select Board agreed to move forward with Toole Design Group for design plans for 11 median islands from Forest Street to Mt. Vernon Street.
Erica Guidoboni, Professional Engineer from Toole, described Highland Avenue as a wide road with 8,000-12,000 vehicle trips per day that is also heavily used by cyclists, Speeding is an issue in the area, especially in the middle stretch of Highland Avenue where the road is less curved (the 85th percentile speed is five miles above the speed limit, though Toole obtained that data three years ago before the town lowered the speed limit to 25 MPH).
Guidoboni said the tools available to curb speeding include horizontal deflection or shifting the roadway, vertical deflection or adding in speed humps, street width reduction, and route restriction. She called horizontal deflection and street width restriction the most appropriate measures to take.
Therefore, she recommended median islands, noting how they won’t impact drainage or cyclists. They will create spot narrowing by being spaced 400 feet apart, but not across from any driveways, fire hydrants or side streets. Each island will be 20 feet long and three feet wide.
Guidoboni said similar islands in Westwood on Canton Street lead to a reduction in speed by 3-5 miles per hour (with no noted crashes).
When asked by Select Board Vice-Chair Anthea Brady about adding in crosswalks, Guidoboni said it could work if the desire existed. In fact, she proposed adding in a crosswalk at Hillcrest Parkway.
Chair Rich Mucci asked if Toole took any data since the town lowered the speed limit and Guidoboni acknowledged they hadn’t. However, with this being a high priority project, according to Select Board member Michael Bettencourt, the board offered no qualms about moving forward with Toole’s recommendation.
“This seems like a great solution,” Bettencourt said.
When asked how much it would cost, interim Town Manager Beth Rudolph said an estimate back in February came to $190,000. She said the town should put in a capital request now.
“That’s lower than I thought you’d say,” Select Board member Mariano Goluboff joked.
Because this was a public hearing, residents who live in the area mostly spoke in favor of the recommendation. One, former Select Board member Susan Verdicchio, said she was encouraged by the decision. She did offer some concerns including not widening the sidewalks and how that might affect pedestrians and cyclists.
She also encouraged Toole and the town to look into adding flashing beacons at crosswalks, especially at Hillcrest Parkway. Guidoboni said there is only one planned for Stone Avenue and Rudolph added how this is a first step and the town could add them in later.
Ben Keeler, Chair of the Traffic and Transportation Advisory Committee, said his committee took this project on four or five years ago. He noted some improvements were made when the town lowered the speed limit in the area. He appreciated Toole’s recommendation, but asked they do it in line with the DPW so the islands can be maintained.
One change motorists will need to make involves parking or stopping on the street, as that will cause an issue if done across from one of the median islands. There won’t be enough room to go around a parked or stopped vehicle. However, Goluboff said this could be addressed with signage.
There’s also not enough room for a dedicated bike lane, so cyclists and motorists will have to share the road (or cyclists and pedestrians will share the sidewalk).
One resident shared a concern regarding people who simply refuse to slow down. He asked, somewhat rhetorically, what the town can do besides adding police and giving out tickets. The hope, though, rests with this recommendation.