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Dialogue of Civilizations Project might lead to Bicycle Lane

September 14, 2009

By Caitlin Castello, Town Correspondent

A design proposal for enhancing bicycle safety on the "carriage lane" along Commonwealth Avenue was presented to Newton residents Thursday night by four Northeastern civil engineering students who have been studying sustainable transportation in the Netherlands.

About 30 residents attended the meeting, sponsored by Bike Newton, where the students outlined problems they found with the carriage lane and proposed possible solutions.

The presentation grew out of a monthlong seminar the students attended in the Netherlands. Their assignment was to apply what they learned there to someplace in the United States, said their faculty supervisor, Peter Furth, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

The students identified four obstacles that stand in the way of making the carriage lane as safe as possible for bicyclists. The carriage lane disappears at four major intersections: Centre Street, Walnut Street, Washington Street, and Lexington Avenue. The minor intersections were not designed for safe bicycle traffic, there are frequent stop signs on the carriage lane, and two-way bicycle traffic needs to be legalized, the students said.

The students developed four possible solutions:

-- Enhance signage at minor intersections by relocating or adding stop signs and lines, and possibly adding bicycle traffic signs.

-- Move the stop signs on the carriage lane to the cross streets for bicycle traffic consistency.

-- Add bicycle traffic signals at four minor intersections.

-- Close some openings in the median and reconfigure the carriage lane in the intersections where it disappears. The students also proposed extending the carriage lane 2,000 feet so it meets the Charles River foot bridges.

Two of the students, Adam Blaser and Christopher Leitao, said they had some difficulty applying what they learned in the Netherlands to their proposal for Newton. They said the biking culture and the terrain are much different.

"It was hard to bring over what they do there to here because of the amount of bikes," said Blaser.

Vanessa Allen, a Newtonville resident who takes her children to school on a bike, said she was in favor of some of the options the students proposed.

"The proposal sounds great. For me, having the signal lights for bikers and walkers would be very helpful. Their bike lane proposal is phenomenal,"she said.

Other residents at the meeting expressed grave concerns about the idea of redesigning the carriage lane. Many were concerned about changes of the traffic flow, how the new signage would change commutes, and safety.

"I think it's an interesting concept. It certainly is going to need a lot of study and a lot of cooperation from the residents and the bikers." said Paula Dorfman, an abutter to the carriage lane.

Lois Levin, president of Bike Newton, said this proposal is just an idea and is independent of the construction being done on Commonwealth Avenue.

"We've never addressed the issue of bicyclists at all,"said Levin. "I think that is what we are trying to do now. If we don't do this systematically, then bicyclists are going to everywhere and anywhere. The idea is to figure out ways to accommodate bicyclists, not to inconvenience others. I think there is a lot of space there and there are many options of what we can do."

Caitlin Castello can be reached at

More information can be read here.