A city pilot project aimed at making Cummins Highway safer by reducing the number of lanes from four to two and adding dedicated bicycle paths will be extended from Wood Avenue in Mattapan to American Legion Highway in Roslindale by the end of the month. The move comes as the city looks at more permanent changes along the thoroughfare, according to a city official in charge of the project.
In a video presentation posted on Oct. 8, Cummins Highway project manager Jeffrey Alexis said the city hopes to begin construction next year on permanent changes to the road, including the elimination of the median strip, the installation of permanent bike lanes, wider sidewalks, intersection bump outs, better bus stops and new traffic signals and better signal timing.
The ultimate goal is to reduce both crashes and the severity of the ones that still happen by slowing traffic along the thoroughfare and by providing bicyclists and pedestrians - always the most vulnerable in crashes - safer ways to travel along and across the road. The road is currently in the top 3 percent of all Boston roads for crashes, Alexis said.
Alexis said that by month's end, workers will begin replacing the current construction-style barriers erected earlier this year and replace them with flex-posts and markings that should make the road less confusing for motorists. Also, BTD and police will begin issuing warnings —but not tickets — to motorists who use the bike lanes for parking. And a public-works crew will patrol the area to remove trash and debris from the bike lanes.
The current pilot, which runs from roughly Brockton Street to Wood Avenue, will be extended to the intersection with the equally non-highway American Legion Highway, where the city is planning on permanent bike lanes from there all the way to Blue Hill Avenue. Later this year, city planners will spend several months designing permanent changes for Cummins that will likely be installed starting next year.
Alexis said data collected during the pilot to date showed that narrowing Cummins has slowed traffic. Average speeds are down 14 percent between Wood and Brockton, but up 6% on the stretches outside the pilot area, although he added there's still a significant number of people exceeding 30 m.p.h., which is now 5 m.p.h. more than the official speed limit on the street. Even with the slowdown, it now only takes about 30 seconds longer to get between Wood and Brockton, he said.
But the 11 crashes between July 24 and Sept. 20 - two involving pedestrians - show the city still has more work to make the road safer long term. He added that comparisons between a pilot run during a pandemic and earlier years is valid, because total traffic volumes on the road have dropped only about 15 percent from pre-Covid-19 days, which he said is not statistically significant for traffic-planning purposes.
Alexis acknowledged concerns from residents that few bicyclists seem to be using the new bike lanes, but said that's typical for new bike lanes usage. He predicted it will pick up once the lanes are made more permanent, and once bicyclists realize that the debris now being dumped in the lanes will be picked up.