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Along Mass. Ave., times are a-changin'
Adam Auster, who writes a blog called Word on the Street, discusses three experiments underway in town in a post titled "Innovation Ave."
Because of immediate relevance to town issues, the viewpoint is published here in full with the author's permission.
Our sleepy town has suddenly become a hotbed of experimentation in transit and public space, raising both hopes and eyebrows.
A dockless bike-share system, Lime Bike, debuted last week, and the distinctive yellow-and-green two-wheelers can be found all along Mass. Ave.
For a month this fall Arlington will try out some changes to Mass. Ave. to speed buses on their way during the morning rush hour.
Further up Mass. Ave., in the center, Whittemore Park will see a 3-month trial run as a beer garden starting in a few weeks.
Only a faddish fool would say that all change is good, but isn’t openness to improving things something to celebrate?
For a month this fall, traffic cones and other temporary markers may reconfigure the inbound side of Mass. Ave. during the morning rush hour, from Lake Street to the Alewife Brook Parkway.
The purpose is to test measures that promise to move buses faster through traffic.
The process of deciding what changes to test is under way, starting with a public meeting at Town Hall on May 16 that drew 120 participants.
Measures that might be tested include a dedicated bus lane, priority signalization for buses, and lane configurations to allow buses to jump ahead of cars that are queued up at traffic signals.
There is no specific plan yet, however. The measures will be implemented using traffic cones, signs, outreach and education, and enforcement.
These changes are sure to be disruptive to motor vehicles. Business owners in East Arlington, and cyclists, have also expressed concerns about the impacts of some measures on parking and bicycle commuters, respectively.
Are these fears justified? Are the benefits real? A trial period lets us find out without making any permanent changes.
Unlike Boston’s Blue Bikes (formerly Hubway), Lime Bikes do not require dedicated docks for parking an recharging of electronics.
Instead they lock in place. A small solar cell charges their GPS transponders, which Lime Bike uses to track where the bikes have rolled off to.
Users can locate bikes with a smart-phone app that, when linked to a credit card, allows riders to unlock a bike for a small fee.
The model has been met with a lot of skepticism. Will the bikes litter sidewalks and block pedestrian and handicapped access? Will parked bikes become a nuisance?
Will they create conflicts with neighboring Cambridge and Somerville, which have exclusive contracts with Blue Bikes?
These are good questions—and are all things that have happened with other dockless trials elsewhere.
Whittemore Park—the green square in front of the Dallin museum at the intersection with Route 60—will turn into a kind of beer garden this month, in an experiment that will last through September.
This plan has provoked a good deal of debate on the Arlington List and other online media, over issues from public access to public drunkenness.
Other concerns include the propriety of entering into a relationship with a private business, Aeronaut (the brewery that will sell the beer in the park), where people will sit, where they will pee, and where people will park their bikes.
The idea is supposed to be a twofer: a public amenity that will draw foot traffic and cause people to spend money in Arlington Center.
We’ll see about that, and about the other issues, because at the end of the pilot program, there will have been more than a score of beer-garden afternoons.
Try Something New
And that is really the point about all of these pilot programs. Unlike the Mass. Ave. project, or the design for the new high school, these changes are temporary and involve no brick and mortar on the ground.
They should not, obviously, be stupid, but they do not need to be perfect either for us to learn something useful from them.
If you fear they will be harmful, a trial period is a good time to gather the evidence that supports that view.
This viewpoint was published Sunday, July 8, 2018.
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