Globe Watch

In Somerville, a difficult crossing to bear

Intersection lacks signals, controls

As are others in the area, this crosswalk on Washington Street at the intersection with Medford Street is faded. As are others in the area, this crosswalk on Washington Street at the intersection with Medford Street is faded. (Christina Pazzanese for The Globe)
By Christina Pazzanese
Globe Correspondent / April 11, 2011

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Reader Jason Sawyer says he has essentially given up trying to cross what he calls the least pedestrian-friendly intersection in his neck of Somerville.

“I am wondering why there are no pedestrian signals at the intersection of Washington Street and McGrath Highway in Somerville,’’ Sawyer wrote in an e-mail. “This is an extremely complicated intersection. The intersection includes on- and offramps to McGrath, a bus lane, and an intersecting road that runs parallel to [and below] McGrath.’’

Although Washington and Medford streets have crosswalks, there are no signals that allow pedestrians to time their crossing and no pedestrian control over the lights, making it hard to know when it is safe to go, he wrote.

“Crossing Washington is extremely hazardous — with all the ins and outs, it’s hard to time the lights. Usually I wait for the green on Washington and run across, coming to another hazard with those making a right on red coming off McGrath,’’ Sawyer wrote. “I’ve given up on the intersection. When I commute by bus [and therefore need to cross Washington], I get off at an earlier stop to avoid this mess. Help!’’

With the high volume of traffic on Washington and Medford streets, a hopscotch of old concrete medians that divide six travel lanes, and the rusty, forbidding elevated highway that hides a semi-rotary, this intersection is tricky to navigate for drivers, never mind pedestrians.

Crosswalks are faded and do not provide much reassurance for those worried about vehicles whizzing by at highway speeds. Those who cannot walk fast enough to get across within the light cycle are left stranded on one of the medians to wait for the next crossing opportunity. And because pedestrians cannot see the color of traffic signals for vehicles headed toward Washington Street, guessing whether it is a good time to step into the crosswalk is hazardous.

The city and state respond
Somerville spokesman Michael Meehan said the city would love to see this intersection improved with new signals, “zebra-stripe’’ crosswalks, and changes to the confusing layout of travel lanes, but the area is under control of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Adam Hurtubise, a MassDOT spokesman, responded in an e-mail. “We are considering improvements to the intersection, but we are in the early stages,’’ he said.

One improvement could be in place soon. The timing of traffic could be altered to make it easier for pedestrians to cross. The department will review traffic counts and traffic patterns to make sure changes will not cause additional traffic backups. Hurtubise said the timing could be changed by the end of the summer.

Globe Watch appears every other Monday. Readers with problems they would like addressed can send e-mails to

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT)
Francis DePaola
Acting Highway Administrator
10 Park Plaza
Suite 3170
Boston, MA 02116

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