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Mass. Ave./Appleton safety option 1 OK'd amid public disagreement

UPDATED, Sept. 17: The Select Board voted Monday, Sept. 13, to provide safety measures for bicyclists at the Mass. Ave./Appleton Street intersection in the Heights, where cyclist Charlie Proctor was killed in May 2020 after he was hit by an oncoming car. 

Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019
Manager to conduct parking study in October.

The board was provided two short-term options by Traffic Engineer Jayson Gauvin, and unanimously approved option 1 -- rather than the more extensive option 2 -- and to have the town manager conduct a parking study in October and provide the results in November. (4–0 vote; board Chair Steve DeCourcey recused because his sister owns a neighborhood business.) A long-term solution is to add a traffic light, which requires funding. 

“Voting for option 1 doesn’t mean I won’t be voting for option 2 at some point in the future. Some of option 2’s requisites need to be investigated,” said board member Diane Mahon.

Both options aim to improve safety at the Mass. Ave./Appleton Street intersection. Option 1 maintains the existing condition of requiring cyclists to share the traffic lanes with drivers, adding new shared-lane markings to increase driver awareness and direct cyclists to their positioning, eliminating five parking spots on Mass. Ave. Option 2 provides dedicated bicycle lanes on Mass. Ave. to improve biking safety but loses 22 parking spots, with most of the impact on the eastbound side of Mass. Ave.

First voted for option 2

The board had initially voted to adopt option 2, which resulted in a 2–2 split (Len Diggins and Eric Helmuth voted yes; John Hurd and Mahon no), so members then voted on option 1.

See all agenda documents for this issue >> 

In making this decision, Hurd said, “We have to weigh a number of factors, including safety improvements and the impacts on businesses.”

Hurd also suggested fusing the two options. “The plan will come back with additional safety measures to get the best solutions to this intersection until we can get a traffic light.”

This intersection needs to be signalized to make it safer. The majority of accidents have been caused by cars turning left onto Appleton Street and cyclists coming east on Mass. Ave. These accidents occurred because of the speed of the traffic, the design of the intersection and the visibility of bikers. It’s incumbent on drivers and bikers to slow down coming into this intersection. There’s also lots of foot traffic and safety is paramount.”                                                                 -- John Hurd 

“This intersection needs to be signalized to make it safer. The majority of accidents have been caused by cars turning left onto Appleton Street and cyclists coming east on Mass. Ave. These accidents occurred because of the speed of the traffic, the design of the intersection and the visibility of bikers. It’s incumbent on drivers and bikers to slow down coming into this intersection. There’s also lots of foot traffic and safety is paramount,” added Hurd. 

Helmuth said, “We’ll be a bike-friendly town, regardless of what decision we make tonight. Neither option is a perfect solution and won’t necessarily prevent future crashes and fatalities. However, until we have a long-term solution, we need to make a short-term decision, with the long term in view.” 

“A lot of work and consideration has gone into this. There’s lots of passion on this issue, on all sides,” said Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.

A range of views

Family members, neighbors expressed opinions:

Members of Proctor’s family, as well as nearly 50 town residents, voiced their concerns, with a majority favoring option 2. Sample comments include:

“My brother Charlie was killed at this intersection,” said Thomas Proctor. “My family has experienced unimaginable loss, and I’m impressed with the town’s support. His death was not an isolated incident, there were also two other very serious accidents since then.”

Alison Piasecki, Charlie’s former partner, said, “I was 15 feet behind Charlie when he was killed. Further tragedies could be avoided by making this intersection safer. With option 2, the driver who hit him would’ve had to slow down, and not hit him.”

Christopher Cassa said, “One death is too many, and we watched it repeat with two additional serious accidents. Parking cannot take priority.”

Carol McDonald, who’s lived near that intersection her enire life, 67 years, said, “I’ve seen lots of accidents over the years.” 

Leonard Greenberg described the time he bicycled through that intersection and a car didn’t stop. “I’ve since had four surgeries, and lots of physical therapy.”

Linda Epstein, a cyclist who’s commuted through this intersection for 20 years, has had her share of close calls. “I’d be disappointed and deflated if option 1 is chosen, overruling pedestrians and cyclists in favor of drivers.”

Brian Ristuccia, a member of the East Arlington Liveable Streets Coalition, said: “The hazards at this intersection are not theoretical. It’s not fair for the town to favor drivers over those who cannot drive for reasons such as disability. Town residents have the right to travel safely.”

'Price of parking'

Roderick Holland, a Precinct 7 Town Meeting member, said, “Saving parking spaces has value, but the price of parking shouldn’t be paid with lives. Option 2 has an overlooked advantage -- it mitigates the reputation for loss in this town.

Karin Turer supports option 2 because “I’m terrified of that intersection for my fifth grader crossing it twice a day with option 1.”

Abbi Holt, an Ottoman Middle School teacher, also recommends option 2. “I see lots of students riding bikes to school. Middle-school cyclists are typically bad cyclists, and we’ve more bikers now because of Covid and people’s reluctance to ride the bus.”

Arlington High School student Petru Sofio, a cycling activist who bikes to school every day through this intersection, said, “The drivers shake me up, and it affects my learning. We need an infrastructure that protects people from speeding cars. Arlington is a bicycle-friendly community, and it shouldn’t prioritize drivers over bicyclists. Other AHS students agree; 132 use this intersection every day, either on bike or foot, and demand bike lanes.”

Business owners' concerns

However, several area business owners expressed concern about the loss of parking spots, in a town where parking is already a challenge:

Deborah Nowell, an attorney with an office in the neighborhood, said, “Our businesses cannot function without on-street parking.”

Kevin Lam said: “Option 2 may cause drivers to speed up, causing more accidents, and also create economic hardship for business owners who’ll lose parking spots.”

Kevin Fallon, Mill Brook Animal Clinic owner, said, “More than 200 people from my clinic have signed a petition supporting our position. We see 60 to 90 people a day, and I’m concerned how option 2 will affect my business -- asking customers to navigate longer walks from their cars carrying pets in carriers -- where it’ll be economically unfeasible for me. Putting in a new bike lane will not increase safety. The safety concerns are the ones turning left onto Appleton Street.”

Real estate agent Bill Copithorne, who own properties on Mass. Ave., said, “Option 2 eliminates 22 parking spots, which will force my tenants, who rely on their customers, to relocate or go out of business.” 

Jim Doherty, owner of 1211 Mass. Ave., the former Disabled American Veterans Club, where he plans to build a hotel, said, “As a long-term bicyclist, I appreciate the safety, and am a proponent of option 1.” 

See the entire Sept. 13 broadcast on ACMi:

May 6, 2020: Fatal collision of 2 bicycles, car probed


This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Susan Gilbert was published on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. It was updated to add the affiliation to East Arlington Liveable Streets Coalition. It was updated Sept. 16, to add ACMi video window.


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