Calling it a last resort, opponents of a plan that would create bicycle lanes on a portion of Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington have garnered enough signatures to put the project up for a nonbinding vote this spring.
The East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee has collected 3,153 certified signatures, more than 10 percent of the town’s registered voters, on a petition to place a question on the ballot in April about the town’s proposal to reconfigure part of Massachusetts Avenue.
Eric Berger, a member of the grass-roots group, said that the town has not given the public enough opportunity to shape the design and that the ballot question is a last resort in a long fight by opponents.
“We’re now desperate to finally get the public in here,” Berger said.
The $5.8 million reconfiguration plan for Massachusetts Avenue along a mile-long stretch in East Arlington would reduce the number of vehicle lanes, mostly on the westbound side of the avenue, in order to install bicycle lanes on each side of the roadway.
Opponents say that reducing the total number of lanes on the avenue from four to three will cause traffic jams and that bicycle lanes are not needed with the Minuteman Bikeway nearby.
The nonbinding question that will appear on the ballot in the April 6 town election will ask whether Massachusetts Avenue should have four vehicular travel lanes in East Arlington, as it does now.
But the East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition is vowing to campaign for a no vote on the ballot question to show support for creation of bicycle lanes and other improvements to the avenue. The coalition is calling the ballot question misleading because it promises four vehicle lanes, but does not mention that keeping all the lanes would mean doing away with the benefit of adding bicycle lanes.
Phil Goff, a member of the coalition, said that while the ballot question is nonbinding, he is worried that it could delay the project or that a vote in favor of keeping four lanes on Massachusetts Avenue could keep the project from moving forward.
Goff said opponents are not respecting a “heck of a lot of support” for the plan shown at Town Meeting, by the Board of Selectmen, and by citizens at numerous public meetings. Backing for bike lanes will be evident when the votes on the ballot question are tallied, Goff said.
“I think it’s going to be close, but I’m confident that it is going to be a no,” he said. Kevin Greeley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said that the town has held about 30 meetings on the Massachusetts Avenue project in the past three or four years and that is why the board turned down the request asking selectmen to place the question on the ballot. He said support for the project has been repeated by selectmen, Town Meeting members, and other residents. “We’re going to stop this one way or the other,” he said.
Opponents of the town’s Massachusetts Avenue plan say they turned to collecting signatures for the nonbinding ballot question because selectmen refused a request in December to put the question before voters in the town election. The East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee said it suspects that officials have colluded to eliminate the public from development of the Massachusetts Avenue corridor project.
Maria Romano, a member of the Concerned Citizens Committee, said citizens never should have had to do the hard work of collecting signatures just to get the town to listen to opposition to the bicycle lanes.
“If they came to us and they talked about it and they dealt reasonably with the people that are going to use it, then this road would have been built already,” she said.
Greeley said the bicycle lanes included in the design are needed to secure state and federal funding for the project. Other work, including sidewalk improvements, is needed to make pedestrian crossings safer in the area. The town will go out to bid to get a contractor for the project this spring, he said.
“It’s a project that needs to get done,” he said.
Berger said opponents of the project would be happy to see the project advance if the bicycle lanes are removed from the design and if four vehicle lanes remain, along with a share-the-road approach for cyclists.
He said he expects a strong majority will vote in support of keeping four lanes on Massachusetts Avenue.