A new “traffic optimization” study says that synchronizing traffic signals would result in significant relief of congestion on The Great Road.
And many of the steps can be taken soon, at a relatively low cost, the analysis says.
The report, discussed by the Bedford Select Board at its meeting on Dec. 19, also proposes various long-term improvements for a total cost of more than $4.5 million.
According to the report’s summary, “A well-timed coordinated (signal) system along The Great Road, where movements at each intersection are coordinated with one another, would permit continuous movement through the corridor and reduce congestion by minimizing stops and delays.”
The study by specialists from Jacobs Solutions Inc. – a 47-page report plus six appendices – says that steps can be taken now toward this objective at a cost of $220,000. The report targets 2029 for short-term completion and 2040 for the more complicated changes, particularly traffic signals at Willson Park and North and Carlisle roads, and some intersection realignments.
Jeanette Rebecchi, Transportation Program Manager for the Department of Public Works, and DPW Director David Manugian presented the results to the board. According to their cover memorandum, “The next step is for the DPW to gather public comment, update the study based on any final feedback, and return to the board for final approval.”
Indeed, the report stipulates, “This technical analysis will be balanced with public input to ensure that observations from people who live, work, and travel through the study corridor are taken into account.”
“It’s hard to think that we are looking to 2040 – there are changes that seem to be relatively straightforward, like the timing of the lights,” said board member Ed Pierce. Some intersection work is pressing, he added: “at Willson Park, a lot of people don’t even know what they are supposed to do.” He suggested implementing recommendations in “bite-sized pieces.”
Rebecchi acknowledged that “there’s plenty we can do before 2040, starting with our own traffic signal contractor.”
The primary goal of the study, which covered The Great Road from Shawsheen Road westbound to the North-Carlisle roads fork, was to evaluate “operational and safety deficiencies and provide recommendations for short- and long-term improvements,” the document said.
“Reducing traffic delays will improve residents’ quality of life, lower vehicle emissions, and reduce cut-through traffic in residential neighborhoods.”
The Jacobs study incorporated many recommendations – updated with traffic data – from previous examinations: The Great Road Master Plan of 2012, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan of 2015, the complete streets policy of 2016, even a 1967 central business district analysis that concluded, “The Great Road is being asked to perform too many functions at once, with the result that all of them suffer.”
Jacobs personnel conducted their observations of The Great Road corridor, focusing especially on 11 intersections, last summer. The traffic and crash data were amassed in October 2021.
One significant Jacobs conclusion, based on traffic counts and comparisons, is that much of the congestion on The Great Road results from drivers seeking local destinations. Cut-through workforce drivers favor “collector roads” that bypass The Great Road – such as Page, Shawsheen, and South roads – as they try to get out of town.
Manugian cited the traffic-calming policy approved by the Select Board at the same meeting. One outcome of traffic calming in neighborhoods, he suggested, is diversion of cut-through vehicles back to The Great Road corridor, where the Jacobs recommendations would “move traffic more efficiently through the center.”
Major long-term intersection changes recommended include:
- Installation of a traffic signal and removal of the traffic island at Brooksbie Road;
- Elimination of parking all day along the Town Common on The Great Road between Elm Street and South Roads, perhaps even widening the street there;
- Addition of coordinated traffic signals at Willson Park, where Park Row meets North Road as well as at Concord and The Great roads, and also sidewalks and crosswalks. These were all recommended in The Great Road Master Plan.
- Installation of traffic signals, sidewalks, and crosswalks at North and Carlisle roads.
The study anticipates the eventual use of “adaptive signal-control technology, which works from a cloud-based management system and adjusts signal timings in real-time, according to volumes detected by the video system, rather than using signal timings based on a snapshot of volumes based on count data.”
The study also calls for revising lane markings on The Great Road eastbound between Loomis Street and Brooksbie Road, with the possible addition of bicycle lanes.
The report acknowledged the proximity of the site of a new fire station at the intersection of The Great, Bacon, and Hillside Roads. There were no recommendations related to the fire station and no call for a traffic signal. “There has been consideration of a signal there, and with the fire station that will come into play,” said board member Margot Fleischman. Rebecchi said the fire station project wasn’t part of the baseline for the Jacobs study.
Fleischman also pointed out that the study addresses changing pedestrian signals so that they don’t compromise the efforts at improving traffic flow.
“I recognize that these two things are in conflict,” she said.
Board member Shawn Hanegan noted that if the town takes steps to reduce congestion on The Great Road, apps on drivers’ cell phones will direct them to that street. Rebecchi said that concern was raised by the Transportation Advisory Committee, but it was agreed that even small improvements are worth it.
The report adds some “miscellaneous recommendations.” Pierce was skeptical about one of them – right-turn-only from commercial driveways on The Great Road eastbound between the Shawsheen River and Pine Street. Also suggested was a crosswalk on The Great Road at Shawsheen Avenue.
In addition, the study points out that some recommendations from a 1967 study may still be valid. These are grouped as “a series of connectors that have pros and cons that would need to be carefully weighed and discussed with abutters.”
Among these are extending Wiggins Avenue to South Road; connecting the east section of Wiggins Avenue to The Great Road corridor, perhaps via Bridge Street off Pine Street; connecting Alaska Avenue with Page Road, as well as the two dead-end segments of Elmbrook Road on either side of Jonathan Drive.