By Adam Swift
Plans to reconfigure Bennington Street heading into East Boston are a concern for Ward 1 City Councilor Joanne McKenna, who said cutting the four travel lanes to one lane in each direction and adding a dedicated bike lane will paralyze traffic in her Beachmont neighborhood.
At last week’s council meeting, Michael Trepanier of MassDOT presented the preliminary plans for a pilot program for the Bennington Street reconfiguration.
While there will be the elimination of a travel lane in either direction, Trepanier said the main focus of the pilot program is to slow down traffic, increase safety, and potentially tie into larger regional traffic and bicycle and pedestrian traffic initiatives.
“A lot of folks are seeing this project as a bicycle lane project, but first and foremost here is to reduce speed and increase safety on Bennington Street,” said Trepanier.
Trepanier said the project has been done in conjunction with staff from the cities of Boston and Revere, the DCR, and the consulting engineers from the Toole Design Group.
The study area runs from East Boston up toward the area of Donnelly Square where Bennington Street, State Road, and Winthrop Avenue meet, stopping at Everard Street outside the Beachmont School.
The two-way bicycle and pedestrian path would connect to East Boston and eventually run to the boardwalk at Revere Beach, with potential for larger region-wide connections to Lynn and the Northern Strand bike path through Revere and Saugus and back towards Somerville.
Trepanier said data collected shows an average of 10,500 cars travel through the Bennington Street corridor daily with its four travel lanes, with a large percentage of those vehicles traveling above the speed limit.
“What we are proposing is to repurpose one of those travel lanes in each direction and convert that into a buffered median,” he said. “So we are pulling those high speed vehicles apart and we are introducing what we call ‘side friction’ for narrowing lanes. All the pavement will stay essentially where it is to test what happens with Bennington Street when we reallocate this space.”
Trepainer noted that there is little delay with queuing at the signaled intersections along the corridor. While there will be an increase in the queuing, Trepanier said cars will still be queueing for a few seconds at the signals.
There will also be some parking eliminated along Bennington Street, but he said those spaces will mostly be in areas near the MBTA parking lot and in areas with little residential development.
“We are still in the preliminary design stage, we are not even at the point where we would hold our formal 25 percent design public hearing,” said Trepanier.
There have been some informal meetings with neighborhood groups, and Trepanier said the Monday meeting with the council was an attempt to open a dialogue about the design and get feedback and guidance.
“If things go according to plan, we would be restriping the road and resurfacing Bennington Street under MassDOT jurisdiction,” said Trepanier.
Once the pilot program is underway, Trepanier said MassDOY will continue to assess and monitor traffic data along the corridor.
While Trepanier said the outreach is just beginning on the project, McKenna said there should have been outreach from MassDOT sooner.
“People are calling me left and right, asking me what’s going on and I have not been able to answer them,” McKenna said. “I’m just starting to get a grasp of what’s going on.”
Contrary to the traffic statistics offered by Trepanier, McKenna said the loss of two travel lanes could have a huge impact in Beachmont.
“I do think that taking away two lanes into Beachmont is going to paralyze Beachmont,” said McKenna, adding that Bennington Street is also an evacuation route out of Beachmont during emergencies.
McKenna said there are other ways to address adding a bicycle lane along the corridor, including using the current green space along the side of the road. She added that she was against taking any parking spaces from along the street, and that the state could work with the local police department to address speeding issues along the corridor, rather than eliminating travel lanes.