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Village14 regular Adam Peller was just telling me about an intriguing idea – let’s call it the Highlands Link.

The state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) is working on plans that will extensively change traffic patterns in the southern side of the city in years to come.  Among these, widening Rt 128, adding a new exit from Rt 128 to Kendrick St., reworking the 128/Highland St. exit, re-engineering Needham St., expanding traffic flow on Winchester St. by adding new lanes, etc.  What all these have in common is that they’re designed to add to the total traffic flow and to one degree or another, they’ll make it tougher on pedestrians and bicyclists.

Just last month, the DOT announced a new goal – “a statewide mode shift goal of tripling the share of travel in Massachusetts by bicycling, transit and walking.”.  The Highlands Link is a small tweak to the DOT’s plans for Winchester St, that will help with their goals for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as increase the traffic flow.

This coming year, the city is planning to build the Upper Falls Greenway, a mile long bike and pedestrian trail on the railroad right-of-way behind Needham St.   The initial plan is that it will end at Easy St, right around the very congested corner from Winchester St.

The Highlands Link is a way to extend the route right into Newton Highlands.  There are three pieces to the puzzle.

1. Extend the off-road Greenway trail from Easy St. to Curtis St.  It’s a very short distance but there are a number of obstacles.  The right of way doesn’t extend that last little bit so the city would have to negotiate some sort of access with a private property owner (the Create a Cook building).  There’s also a few small technical/engineering obstacles – getting over or around some utility hardware,etc.  The folks working on the Upper Falls Greenway have considered that option but for now at least the consensus seems to be – let’s leave out this tricky bit and get the rest of the trail built in the next year.  There’s no reason this piece couldn’t be tackled later, with a longer schedule.

2. Where Curtis St. meets Winchester, add a two lane bike track (see photo above) on one side of Winchester St. that would get the walkers/bicyclists safely under Route 9.  Winchester St. is currently two lanes.  The DOT is proposing that it be changed to four lanes.  With a two lane bike track, they could instead increase it from two to three lanes … and work towards their public goal of balancing vehicle, pedestrian and bike traffic.

3. Once under Rt 9, a “contraflow bike lane”  would run opposite the one way traffic on Floral St., right into the heart of Newton Highland to the businesses and T stop there.

The Highland Link could tie together the villages of Newton Highland and Upper Fall, and provide a safe and pleasant pedestrian and bicycle route to/from the businesses in the Highlands and Needham St.    One way or another, that portion of Winchester St. will be re-engineered in the near future for more cars.  Why not include bicycles and pedestrians in the plan too?

— here’s a Google Map that shows the route.