Commonwealth Ave. Carriage Lane

Everyone would probably agree that if Newton can lay claim to a gem of a roadway, it’s Commonwealth Avenue. It is bordered by beautiful houses, parks, and City Hall, and it is part of the annual route of many walk-a-thons and, of course, the Boston Marathon. The central strip of grass, shrubs, and trees is inviting to joggers, and since the roadway re-design about a decade ago, the carriageway has become a destination for walkers, parents with baby carriages, and bikers of all ages and skill levels.

Commonwealth Ave. & Walnut Street

A number of tragic accidents in recent years, though, has made it clear that the carriageway is not perfect. Though walking, jogging, and biking in both directions has become a tradition, the street is marked as one-way, and there are no signs or markings to indicate this common practice. Many streets crossing the carriageway have no stop signs or signals. The carriageway stops abruptly at some street crossings, and linking paths often force bicyclists to enter traffic.

examples of "contraflow" signs for bicycles

Examples of signs that could be used on the carriageway

A group of Northeastern University engineering students under the direction of Dr. Peter Furth created a set of design changes that would make pedestrian, jogger, and cyclist use of the carriage lane considerably safer, and presented it to a group of Newton residents in 2009 as a powerpoint presentation (pdf download).

The proposed changes are inexpensive, and have been amply tested in many cities in Europe and the U.S. and shown to increase bicyclist and pedestrian safety. With a minimum of effort and expense, we could help Commonwealth Avenue achieve in safety what it already achieves in aesthetics.

In 2012, local citizens Jane and Phil Hanser also set out to document many of the safety problems of the Carriage Lane and propose solutions of their own, in a booklet called Safety Along the Commonwealth Avenue Carriage Road (pdf). Jane blogged about it here and here.

Many of these recommendations have also been made in the Newton Bicycle Advisory Subcommittee’s Bicycle Network Plan, and may make the jump from paper to roads in the summer of 2013.