Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Southwest Corridor Crosswalks Across Mass Ave and Dartmouth St

By: Sarah Keenan

In 1969, plans to build an 12 lane highway through Boston came to end due to community disapproval. The highway was to be called the "Southwest Corridor". Funds that were already promised to the project instead went to designing an outdoor recreational area known as the "Southwest Corridor Park", today known as the Southwest Corridor. It was open in May of 1987. The park runs from Forest Hills to Back Bay, along the Orange Line. The Southwest Corridor Park is a great place to take a walk, skateboard, or take a bike ride when the weather is nice. Between Mass Ave and Back Bay Station, there are quiet roads with a children's playground and a dog park.

When the SW Corridor Park was first built, there was no crosswalk across Mass Ave that linked the Southwest Corridor.  Pedestrians were expected to walk down Mass Ave to one of the crosswalks already in place, or they could walk illegally and unsafely directly down Mass Ave.  The crosswalk was not included because of the fear that one would interrupt traffic flow greatly.  A signalized crosswalk would interfere with the other traffic signals nearby.  An unsignalized crosswalk would be too dangerous for pedestrians.  However, because of the large detour pedestrians would have to take, seen in the image below, pedestrians ended up walking across the street directly even though there was no crosswalk present.

Mass Ave crosswalk.  Yellow is current path available with the addition of the crosswalk.  Red is the two detour  options pedestrians had to choose from before the crosswalk was added.
Google Map View

The Southwest Corridor ends at Back Bay Station. The case was similar here. When the SW Corridor Park was first built, there was  there was no crosswalk across Dartmouth Street for pedestrians to continue directly. Again, it was expected that adding a signalized crosswalk would interfere with the signalized intersections nearby, and an unsignalized crosswalk would not be safe enough because of the high volume of traffic. Pedestrians were expected to walk all the way to then end of the block to cross legally and safely. The detour is extremely long here, as can be seen in the image below.  Again, pedestrians did not bother with the long detour, and instead walked directly across the street despite the absence of a crosswalk.

Back Bay Crosswalk.  Yellow is current path available with the addition of the crosswalk.  Red is the two detour  options pedestrians had to choose from before the crosswalk was added.
Google Map View
About 10 years after the Southwest Corridor Park was completed, crosswalks were added across Mass Ave and across Dartmouth St.  It was seen that pedestrians were non-compliant at both street.  Having a crosswalk across the two streets would be safer than no crosswalk if the pedestrians are going to cross it either way. A signalized crosswalk was added across Dartmouth St. and an unsignalized crosswalk was added across Mass Ave.

The goal of the crosswalks was to allow pedestrians, bicyclists, and other people to continue their trip without having to go completely out of their way.  The delay should be short, and the crossing should be safe.  The two crosswalks certainly achieved these goals.  The Back Bay crosswalk is very efficient.  The cycle length is very short.  The green time is 24 seconds followed by 10 seconds of walk and 13 seconds of flashing don't walk with a countdown.  Therefore, the longest a pedestrian can be delayed is 24 seconds. However, due to the short cycle length, some vehicles rolled over to the next cycle during rush hour. One thing that improves safety on the crosswalk how far back the stop line is.  It can be seen in the following image.
Far set back stop line at Back Bay crosswalk.
Sign warning pedestrians to wait for walk signal at Back Bay crosswalk

At Mass Ave, the crosswalk is unsignalized.  There are yellow signs warning cars to yield to pedestrians. During my observation, cars willingly yielded to pedestrians at all times. Pedestrains never waited for more than three cars. However, there was some beeping from cars in queue almost every time a car yielded to a pedestrian.  No pedestrians seemed too intimidated to cross. The median also helps as a place pedestrians can stand, so they only have to observe one direction of traffic at a time. There is an option to use the underpass provided by the MBTA to cross the street. I got the impression that it was rarely used after the crosswalk was added.  It does not have an elevator so it cannot accommodate handicap pedestrians or bicycles.
Cars yielding to pedestrians at the Mass Ave Crosswalk
Pedestrians always want to take the shortest route. There is no sense in expecting pedestrians to walk out of their way to get to a crosswalk.  The Southwest Corridor is a nice place to take a stroll and adding the crosswalks certainly helped with pedestrian safety.  It can be seen that crosswalks can be added across busy streets without causing much inference with traffic.

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