Public Works planning to implement green infrastructure in Cummings Highway redesign

Road signs for bikes and pedestrians. (Photo by Robert Ruggiero/Unsplash)

By Joe Pohoryles
Boston University News Service

BOSTON — Boston’s Public Works Department unveiled redesign plans for Cummins Highway this week, pointing out specific improvements for the section between River Street and Harvard Street.

According to the project’s webpage, the redesign proposes upgrades to the roadway, including but not limited to new sidewalks and safer bike lanes and crosswalks. According to project manager Jeffrey Alexis, the highway has not been updated since the spring of 1955. Both residents and the city agree safety is the biggest concern.

“The most important part for Cummins was improving the safety of the streets for everyone,” said Daniela Sánchez Zamora, one of the Zoom meeting moderators on Wednesday. Zamora works in the Active Transportation division of the Transportation Department.

Speeding is a major concern on Cummins. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation reported that incidents of speeding on Cummins were 1.5 to two times higher in March 2020 than they were in March 2019.

Deborah Gregson, a local resident, said the layout of Cummins makes commuting both dangerous and a hassle. Gregson bikes 3 miles to work instead of driving because the MBTA website often estimates the drive would take 45 minutes. She said that the unsafe bike lanes and unclear parking instructions cause traffic that slows everyone down.

“There’s always confusion. People never knew where to park,” Gregson said during the meeting. “I would have to dodge around them and into traffic to get around, including police officers last week were parked in the bike lane.”

Other citizens at the meeting echoed Gregson’s concerns, but Zamora said that due to the long design process, which includes getting community feedback and construction time, the improvements cannot be made until next year. The city has budgeted $12 million for the reconstruction, but Alexis said the cost is climbing. 

Another large part of the reconstruction is implementing green infrastructure to reduce emissions and manage the increased risks of flooding due to climate change, according to Alexis.

Dave Queeley, the director of eco-innovation for the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, presented data and plans to implement green infrastructure at the meeting.

Queeley has done work in other neighborhoods to make roads safer while implementing green infrastructure. His company installed bump-outs that contained rain gardens at a five-way intersection with just one stop sign on New England Avenue.

The bump-outs helped control traffic flow, while the rain garden grew trees and plants that attract birds and insects to create a “nice, pleasing aesthetic presence.”

“Slow streets not only offer an option for traffic calming, but they also offer the opportunity to insert green infrastructure in different ways,” Queeley said. 

There is no guarantee that those specific bump-outs will be added to the Cummins Highway reconstruction, but the project team will be working to implement similar concepts while listening to public feedback.

Alexis said the public works department is aiming to begin construction in fall 2022 or earlier.

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