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Cambridge Moves Ahead on Plan To Redesign Massachusetts Ave.

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Staff Reporter

As plans for new development at University Park move forward, the City of Cambridge andthe Mass-achusetts Highway Department are simultaneously going ahead with a separate project to redesign Massachusetts Avenue in front of MIT.

The major traffic route is scheduled to undergo a "full depth reconstruction" beginning in the spring of 1998, according to Catherine Daly Woodbury, a project planner for the city's community development department. The street will be completely torn down to its subsurface and repaved.

The city has so far finished 75 percent of the design work, which it will send to the state for a review. Final preparations for construction will start after that, Woodbury said.

The road is too uneven because of separate repavings that have been made over the years, Woodbury said. In addition, trolley tracks may exist beneath the road surface, which may cause more problems.

As part of the multi-million dollar project, slated to run along Massachusetts Avenue from Main Street to Memorial Drive, several streets will be rerouted and the traffic pattern will be changed.

The most obvious change that will be experienced by MIT will be the elimination of parking on the west side of Massachusetts Avenue. The change will facilitate the introduction of bicycle lanes on both sides of the street. The alternative of reducing the width of the sidewalks in the area of MIT is unworkable because of the high level of pedestrian traffic, Woodbury said.

Other changes planned for street

Parking will be preserved on both sides of Massachusetts Avenue past Albany Street. In this area, the number of traffic lanes will be reduced to three, with two going toward Central Square and one going towards MIT.

The change will facilitate a smoother transition into the Central Square area, where the redesign of Massachusetts Avenue has reduced the number of travel lanes to one in each direction.

New bicycle lanes will connect the lanes constructed at MIT to those at Central Square. The western sidewalk of Massachusetts Avenue will be reduced by two feet as a result.

The most prominent change to motorists will be a complete redesign of the Main Street intersection, which is currently extremely dangerous because of its layout,Woodbury said.

In the redesigned plan, Main Street will curve into Columbia Avenue, and a new road will be constructed from Sidney Street across Massachusetts Avenue to Main Street. "This will make the intersection safer,"Woodbury said.

Traffic lights will allow motorists to turn from Main Street onto Massachusetts Avenue.Currently, traffic cannot turn left at that intersection.

To facilitate the redesign, the Shell station located at the corner of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue must be purchased and demolished, Woodbury said. "Construction of the road is contingent on acquisition of the property," she said.

The Massachusetts Highway Department, which is administering the construction of the project and providing all funding, is currently in acquisition talks with the owners of the station.

The current path of MainStreet in the area will become a park in the final phases of the project.

Fewer cosmetic changes planned

The city does not plan to make the same cosmetic changes to the path of Massachusetts Avenue that it made in Central Square.

The area of Massachusetts Avenue between MITand Central Square is currently "not a very inviting area,"Woodbury said.

To fix this problem, "trees will be planted where there are no trees," Woodbury said. The city and state also plan to introduce standard sidewalk designs and curb cuts for handicapped accessibility.

At 77 Massachusetts Avenue, the city will introduce a "curb extension," which will increase the width of the sidewalk through the parking area of the street,Woodbury said. The increase in sidewalk will decrease the total width of the intersection and allow pedestrians to see beyond parked cars, improving safety.

Curb extensions will not be used at most other corners along the project area, however, as the levels of pedestrian traffic are not as high as in Central Square, Woodbury said.

Traffic lights along the project will be upgraded, and a new signal will be erected at Landsdowne Street for traffic exiting the University Park development. In addition, old-fashioned light poles will be used along the route to beautify the area, Woodbury said.

MITconcerned about redesign

"We're concerned about what [the City] is proposing," Director of Planning O. Robert Simha MCP'57. MITis worried about the paths of the travel and bicycle lanes in the area of MIT and is concerned for pedestrian safety, he said.

MIT "continues to have discussions" with the city about the location and positioning of the lanes in the area, Simha said. "We're concerned with the safety of our community."

Simha said that MITonce considered pedestrian bridges across Massachusetts Avenue to reduce the risks to pedestrians. However, the plan was discontinued, as it would have required individuals leaving the main campus to walk up additional flights of stairs to reach the height of the bridge.

MIT eventually hopes to build a tunnel from the StudentCenter to Building 7. The tunnel would "allow us to meet more of our handicapped needs" by providing direct pedestrian access to all of main campus, Simha said.