Readers' Ideas About Davis Square Streetscape Improvements Vary Widely

What some commenters said about planned changes to Davis Square's streets and sidewalks.

Based on readers' comments, there's little agreement about how—or even if—to improved Davis Square's streets, sidewalks and public spaces.

The city held a , and some of the recommendations include altering the shape of roads and sidewalks, improving traffic-light signals and using materials other than brick for sidewalks.

To change or not to change

While some commenters welcomed changes to Davis Square, others feared change could make life worse for drivers and pedestrians.

"What's with all the traffic changes … the ideas don't sound good to me. Don't fix what ain't broken," said Somerville Home Owner.

Nancy wrote, "Adding lights? Removing the slip lane? Narrowing traffic lanes on Elm? I walk and bike Davis, too, but these changes would surely just create more general congestion. Eesh."

Other's disagreed. "As a resident of Davis Square, I am completely frustrated in the set-up for pedestrians," wrote JJ. "It is broken, it should be fixed. Crossing the street 3-4 times just to get from one point in the square to the other is insane."

"It's a nightmare. I'm glad the city is working on it!" said Benjamin Mako Hill.

Thoughts on "slip lane" removal

Nancy's comment about the "slip lane" refers to a recommended change to the square that would eliminate the special traffic lane, outside , that allows drivers to turn left from Highland Avenue onto Elm Street.

Under the proposal, the city would eliminate that lane and convert it into a pedestrian space.

Hill likes the idea, commenting, "The addition of a nice pedestrian plaza would be an incredible benefit for the local businesses, like Mike's, by making the area more open."

He later wrote, "Right now, the whole slip lane is unusable for anything except the occasional car going through … the regained space from the slip lane would still be a huge net positive."

Others, like Chris Devers, thought removing the slip lane would create a traffic nightmare. He commented, "Turning left from Highland to Elm without that cutout seems like it would be extremely awkward—that's like a 200 degree angle or something, and many vehicles (e.g. delivery trucks) won't have a small enough turn radius to get onto Elm without plowing into the front of the ."

A point of agreement, sort of, on bricks

Commenters seemed somewhat united on a desire to keep bricks in Davis Square, as opposed to converting sidewalks to concrete or something else.

Jennifer D wrote, "Removing the brick??? Come on! It is a historical aspect that gives character to Davis Square. So what's the plan, rip it out and make it look generic, like any other square?! Ludicrous!"

Ron Newman wrote, "I like the brick, but it's a difficult surface to maintain, as the bricks loosen and become uneven over time. If I were using a wheelchair, I'd probably hate it."

Matt C thought the city could keep the bricks and make sure sidewalks aren't uneven. "The brick is great and adds character," he wrote. "[R]ather than replacing it with concrete they can update it to more modern brick paving technology—that way they can address the concerns of loose, uneven walkways while maintaining the character."

Quick note

One commenter suggested the city hire professional traffic engineers to work on some of these issues.

The city is working with urban landscape planners Crosby/Schlessinger/Smallridge and traffic engineers Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates, Inc.

Chris Devers August 09, 2012 at 07:13 PM
To be clear, I'm willing to consider that the proposed changes, including reconfiguring the slip lane, could be a net-positive change for Davis Square. The people working for the city that I've met at Resistat meetings generally seem to know what they're doing and want to make Somerville an even better place to live & work, and seem to be competent enough to pull off their ideas well. So I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on something like this. And yes, having a wider sidewalk & outdoor dining in front of Mikes & Blue Shirt Cafe seems like a nice idea to me. I'm just confused about how it's going to work, traffic-wise. The maps on this article seem to do a good job of illustrating how the reconfigured roadway might look, and it does seem to be better than what I was imagining. I'm still not totally convinced that the current configuration is “broken”, but if a new configuration can indeed improve traffic flow for cars, bikes, and pedestrians, then why not?
Chris Orchard (Editor) August 09, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Thanks for those additional thoughts, Chris. I thought you and the others made some thoughtful points, so I wanted to provide a quick rundown of what some of you all said. Thanks again.
Chris Devers August 09, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Sure, I appreciated the writeup — thanks. I just wanted to make it clear that I'm more “confused” than “concerned”. I can't imagine that the City would actually suggest making it complicated to get from Highland to Elm, but the way the proposal was described (verbally, without the schematic diagram) had me wondering how it was going to work :-)
Candy Leonard August 09, 2012 at 07:44 PM
I'm amazed there aren't more pedestrians hurt in Daivs - esp on the weekends when there are more people from the suburbs in town - on foot and in cars. People from the burbs drive through squares like they're on 93, and pedestrians from out of town look scared and confused.
eila August 10, 2012 at 04:02 PM
In 2010, it seemed that most stakeholders agreed: going forward, bricks would be used as ornamental edging instead of pedestrian surfaces. Right now, Davis square is a place where rolling and walking pedestrians of all ages living with visual, mobility and ambulatory impairments have to take every step with vigilance, heads down. That's the opposite of a welcoming streetscape! If bricks are used as a highlight-- rather than a hazard-- would Davis Square still be a fresh and vibrant commercial area?
Anne August 10, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Wait, did the right turn lane from Highland to College disappear? I didn't hear anything about that, just noticed it right now in the map.
Charlie Denison August 10, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Note that the maps attached to this article are not the official proposal from the City. I provided them previously on a blog post where I was communicating my OWN suggestions for Davis Square.
Somerville Home Owner August 10, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Thanks for the diagrams... it makes more sense and it looks better than I imagined. But I'm still concerned that traffic on Highland will get backed up more.


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