The Needham Times reports that MassDOT is considering revisions to the Needham Street reconstruction plans, based on comments received last fall.  After the public 75% design plan presentation, Complete Streets advocates from Newton, in conjunction with local and regional organizations, reiterated their concern that the roadway design did not meet modern standards for Complete Streets and made one last plea for a safer and more comfortable environment for all modes of transit in the corridor. Similar feedback had been submitted at every public hearing since the start of the public process several years ago, with limited success. Contrary to reporting, it’s not just about bicycle lanes, but a Complete Streets approach.  Suggestions ranged from shortening pedestrian crossing distances, providing continuous bicycle facilities, and improving bike/ped connections at each end of Newton’s portion of the corridor, without which there would be little chance for modal shift. Protected bicycle facilities were among a list of recommendations, along with others requiring simple changes to roadway markings, lane width, turn radii and curbs to support a lower design speed, with particular concern over the unwelcoming section of Winchester Street connecting the N2 Corridor to Newton Highlands and the area’s only major public transit stop one half mile away.  These types modifications should not have significant impact to cost or schedule. This time, MassDOT responded positively to the feedback.

Even with the $14M in proposed improvements, Needham Street faces a future of snarled traffic, according to MassDOT’s estimates. Complete Streets could provide options to reduce vehicle trips resulting in a street more consistent with Newton’s village-like vision and newly adopted transportation plan as well as MassDOT’s own policies.

In the Needham Times report, Needham elected officials sent a message of panic about the possibility of millions of dollars in increased costs and unknown project delays. The piece was short on details, but read more like rumor than news. We’re going to be stuck with these roadway improvements for a long time.  It’s important to be transparent about fixing the design, rather than just engaging in fearmongering. Are there more substantial changes being proposed might cause significant risk or delays? Is there a political play to obstruct the project?

Newton should stand firm in its commitment to Complete Streets. All parties, including businesses, the Chamber, residents, MassDOT, and the municipalities, must work together to ensure this project is started on time with the necessary changes to make Needham Street safe and welcoming.

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