Don't laugh: Planners look to make routes 9 and 30 on Natick/Framingham line pedestrian friendly

The Golden Triangle Planning Study is looking at improvements to the mall capital of Massachusetts, bordered by routes 9 and 30 and Speen Street.

Among the proposals: Pedestrian bridges across Rte. 9 and Speen Street, which planners think would encourage people to get out of their cars and walk by making it actually safe to do so.

It's the latest study in decades of attempts to do something about the area - going back to the days when the intersection of Speen Street and Rte. 9 was changed into a mutant rotary that became known as the Beetleback after the editor of the then South Middlesex News noticed its similarity on a map to a bug seen from above.

Later, planners considered adding a second deck to Rte. 9, with a tunnel for pedestrians, even as Flutie Pass was being built to remove mall-to-mall traffic from Rte. 9.



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Why laugh?

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Most trips in the US are less than 2 miles in length. The current configuration forces people to make those trips in cars. It also creates an insane barrier for pedestrians and cyclists trying to get across the area.

If anyplace needs a way to get from A to B on foot or self-powered, it is this nutso corridor.

Oh, the goal is worthy, and if they can pull it off, great!

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I'm just having flashbacks to the years and years I spent as a reporter covering first Natick and then Framingham and the endless meetings and kvetching about this sort of issue in the Golden Triangle (I mean, I was there when Doug Flutie cut the ribbon to open Flutie Pass).

Who is walking where

Obviously the natick collection sucks in every way, but Rt 9 separates the malls from a suburban neighborhood, are people going to walk from the neighborhood to the mall? The trip from your car in the lot into whatever store is already a pretty long walk for a shopper.

Don't pick on the Natick Mall

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It's got its awesomeness.

I've known people who have come to the area for conferences and ended up staying at the Crown Plaza across the street. Right across the street. But it may as well be in Wellesley with the forbidding lanes of traffic.

I think putting up a pedestrian overpass at the Natick Mall and another at Shoppers World would help things out.

But let's not miss the big pedestrian news in the area. It looks like construction of the extension of the Cochituate Rail Trail to Natick Center is underway.


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This gets replayed in zillions of places across the country: in a hotel, for a conference, and can't even walk across the street to Buffalo Wild Wingdingz or Olive Garden because there is no way to do so. Stupid, wasteful, and silly.

I have to point out that the

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I have to point out that the issue isn't that there's no way to walk there, it's just that you're not comfortable doing so.

From the Crown Plaza, there's a sidewalk on route 9 to the Dean Rd intersection, where there's a signalized crosswalk across route 9, which leads into a nice wide landscaped path that you can follow right to the mall entrance next to Crate & Barrel.

There are a lot of places in this state that have no pedestrian accommodations, and this is honestly not one of the worst.


As for building a pedestrian overpass, I thought those had fallen out of favor? The consensus in the transportation planning community is that people don't like to use overpasses, preferring crosswalks due to how far out of the way overpasses tend to be. Even with stairs instead of just ADA ramps, an overpass is a lot more walking (and climbing) than just crossing the street. This is especially important for elderly or disabled people who may have trouble with stairs. The whole area could potentially use better sidewalks and crosswalk layouts, and some kind of bike accommodation, but I don't think ped overpasses are the answer.

The most you have to cross at

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The most you have to cross at once is 3.

To cross Mass Ave in the Back Bay you have to cross 4 lanes - but I don't see people clamoring for a pedestrian overpass.

It might encourage more people to walk, but I highly doubt it.

But both of those locations

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But both of those locations are only a short walk away from the aforementioned crosswalk at Dean Rd and the existing sidewalk along the Speen St overpass over route 9. Hey look, a bridge that already carries pedestrians over route 9! A walk via that route from the neighborhood south of route 9 only even requires crossing 2 lanes of traffic before you're at the mall.

Add some RRFB's or other active warning device and you're fine.

People that want to walk and

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People that want to walk and take commuter rail to stupid westborough technology park that's who

I'm all for this

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This is great. Getting some of these nightmares resolved would do wonders to making the area more attractive. It's going to be an issue of growing importance as Boston continues to price out all but the ultra-rich.

Why laugh?

Most trips in the US are less than 2 miles in length. The current configuration forces people to make those trips in cars. It also creates an insane barrier for pedestrians and cyclists trying to get across the area.

Eminently reasonable points.

However, the reason to laugh is the 99% certainty that this project will be fucked-up, half-assed and unusable when it's done.

E.g. "You can't cross here. You have to take three light cycles to cross the other three sides of this intersection."


"You have the right of way, but we have done nothing to discourage drivers from turning right on red."


"You can't cross here at the logical crossing point, but instead, you have to walk 1/2 mile out of your way."


"There is a crosswalk at the end of this highway on/off-ramp but no traffic signal."


"There is a crosswalk across the entrance to this parking lot but no traffic signal."


"None of these pedestrian ways will be plowed, shoveled or salted during the winter."


...even as Flutie Pass was

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...even as Flutie Pass was being built to remove mall-to-mall traffic from Rte. 9

Now there's a statement that had a short shelf life.

I had a fascinating conversation four or five years ago with a consultant whose firm worked for GGP or DDR or whichever of the big developers/management companies was there. I had been chatting with him about some recent shopping trip where I decided to follow the on-property road signs between the Shoppers World side and the Natick Mall/Collective/boutique/borgcube side because a lot of buildings had been added since the last time I had shopped there. Interestingly, the signs pushed me out onto 9 (and I think on other parts of the properties they pushed to Speen St or 30).

I was astounded when he admitted to me - "Oh, yeah, we shoved that traffic out onto the highway. Why would we have all that congestion on the property?"

Wow, ten years of pain and anguish down the drain

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From the time the state agreed to pay for the thing to the time it opened was roughly ten years - about nine of which was spent convincing the owners of the malls (at the time, they were competing companies) that the road would not mean a competitive advantage for their rival and in figuring out whether Natick or Framingham would oversee construction (Natick really wanted the road built, but 90% of the route was in Framingham, where the elected Board of Public Works hated the idea of Natick having anything to do with a project in its town with the blinding fury of 10,000 suns, even though the board members, led by longtime Framingham political boss Tony Colonna, could care less about the road - similar drama played out with the construction of the Jordan's, which was also split between the two towns).

Have you seen the new crossing signals on Rte 38 in Somerville?

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I can't believe they haven't gotten more coverage. The state (presumably DCR) installed what are basically railroad-style lights at two of the crosswalks under 93. They are amazing and work well, giving drivers no reason not to yield the right-of-way.

When a pedestrian pushes the button, drivers see...
Flashing yellow
Solid yellow
Double red
Alternating reds

You now have a chance that 80-100% drivers will stop, whereas in the past maybe 1 in 20 would (and then they would get rear-ended by the driver behind them).

This would work on Route 9 as well...

*EDIT: corrected typo in subject line

That's a HAWK signal.

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That's a HAWK signal.

There have been a lot of complaints about the one on Binney Street in Cambridge. It was so confusing that the city had to hand out flyers explaining how to interpret it. That's a sign that your traffic control device is a failure.

We have those in Quincy Center, too

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They continue to confuse the bejeebus out of everyone. Also, i find they lead to a continuous trickle of pedestrians who wander out even during the solid and flashing red phases, which impedes efficient flow of traffic.


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HAWKs are a fantastic idea, theoretically providing the benefits of a signalized crosswalk for pedestrians, without the annoyance of unnecessary waiting for motorists.

Unfortunately in reality, neither type of road user seems to understand them. Everywhere I've seen them I've seen pedestrians cross during one of the yellow phases, and drivers stop for them. I've also seen drivers blow through them at full speed during the double red phase. I've also seen drivers wait through the entire flashing red phase. They shouldn't be this difficult to comprehend, but people just don't seem to be able to figure them out.

See below

None of the signals used in a HAWK beacon, either for drivers or pedestrians, is non-standards. If people are confused (i.e., if they somehow think "Double Red" means "Drive at full speed through this intersection"), it's not the fault of the signal.

Stop at a red light.

Walk when you have a walk signal.

It ain't rocket science.

Look, I agree with you that

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Look, I agree with you that none of the signals are non-standard by themselves. HOWEVER, using them in that configuration is a NEW standard, and one that people clearly aren't adapting to.

It's worth noting that when HAWK signals were first proposed, there were a lot of concerns within the industry about the flashing red phase, since that signal indication has always been reserved for railroad crossings, and never used for a ped signal before.

It's also potentially confusing for a motorist whether or not they should stop for a pedestrian during the initial yellow phases, and the flashing then solid yellow encourages non-compliance by both parties. Pedestrians and drivers are used to two scenarios: 1) they push a button, the light turns yellow, then red, then they walk. 2) they push a button, it activates flashing yellow lights, then then cars yield and they cross. Thus it's not unreasonable to expect a driver to yield for a ped during flashing yellow, and it's not unreasonable for a ped to expect a driver to yield - they are in a crosswalk after all. Then once this happens, the pedestrian has crossed the road, but the light is turning red. So a driver who thought they were doing exactly what they were supposed to by yielding to a pedestrian in a crosswalk is now expected to wait pointlessly.

As I said before, HAWKs make sense theoretically, but when you look at how people actually interact in the real world, they are seriously flawed.

That's swell

As I said before, HAWKs make sense theoretically, but when you look at how people actually interact in the real world, they are seriously flawed.

Speaking of the real world, it took me about five seconds to google a DOT study showing that HAWKs resulted in a 69% reduction in pedestrian crashes.

So I'll be sure to give your anecdotal assessment of a couple of brand-new signals in the Boston area exactly as much weight as it deserves.

A reduction in crashes

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A reduction in crashes involving peds does not mean the signal is not confusing.

I have never once said that HAWKs are a mistake and should be removed. In fact, you'll note that I said they're a fantastic idea. I've even proposed them on projects I've worked on in the real world!

I just think they can still be improved to be less confusing for road users and work even better. I don't understand why you're so passionate that they're the greatest thing since sliced bread, and yet can't wrap your head around the idea that something can be simultaneously a great idea and still need further improvement.

Finally, my assessment was not purely anecdotal. While I did relate some observations that are anecdotal, I also repeated concerns from colleagues of mine, and ran through hypothetical assessments of driver behavior - you know, the kind of thing that goes into traffic signal design. One of the senior project managers at my firm always asks when we're looking at an intersection if we've considered how we would react as a driver going through it, and how other drivers can potentially react.

You're walking it back (pardon the pun)

Now you're saying (emphasis mine):

I just think they can still be improved to be less confusing for road users and work even better.

Previously you were saying that they're "seriously flawed".

"Work even better" implies that they "work well" (but can be improved). That's a long way from "seriously flawed", at least in my understanding.

I can see how they can be confusing the first time you see one, which is why it makes sense to publicize them and educate the populace. But some of the examples you cite are clearly user error and nothing the designers could do would change that. Specifically, the pedestrian portion of this signal is exactly like every other standard pedestrian signal in the world. You wait when you see the hand and you go when you see the walking guy. If people are walking while the hand is still showing, that's not a flaw in design.

I'm not walking it back at

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I'm not walking it back at all. You just seem incapable of recognizing a middle ground between two extremes.

In my very first comment I said HAWKs are a fantastic idea, which they are. I then went on to say that they are seriously flawed, which they are.

Your statement that the problem is "user error and nothing the designers could do would change that" strongly supports my assertion that HAWKs are "seriously flawed".

If there are persistent cases of user error, and you admit that there's nothing traffic engineers could do to fix that, is that not "seriously flawed"?

It was so confusing that the

It was so confusing that the city had to hand out flyers explaining how to interpret it. That's a sign that your traffic control device is a failure.

No, that's a sign that your traffic control device is new, and that your traffic engineers want to help people become comfortable as quickly as possible.

I assume that the handouts looked something like this:


In which case, there's nothing involved in this signal that isn't already part of the standard traffic law (except, I guess, the slightly ambiguous flashing-yellow).

Flashing Yellow = slow down.
Solid Yellow = Prepare to stop, exactly like every other solid yellow.
Double Red = Stop, exactly like every other red light.
Flashing Red = Stop and proceed with caution (like a Stop sign), exactly like every other flashing red light.

If there's confusion among Massachusetts residents about what any of these signals mean, it's because Massachusetts residents have no fucking clue what standard traffic signals mean (which will come as a surprise to exactly no one).


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New Crossing Signals

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There are two of these in Framinghm, Elm St and Old Conn Path. They're are both at walking path crossings.

What about the old railroad bridge?

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Wasn't there a plan to convert the old Saxonville Branch railroad bed into a rail trail?

We ought to be able to walk straight from Natick Center to the mall, going across Route 9 on the old railroad bridge. We'd still need to get across Speen Street, but that's a much less complicated proposition than crossing Route 9.

Reconstruction has started

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Or at least that's the way it looked when I drove under it last Friday evening.

Like you say, it would be a big connectivity bonus, but the bridge goes away from the commercial area.

CRT status

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The Natick section of the Cochituate Rail Trail is scheduled to be built as a paved trail starting in late 2018/early 2019, and be completed in 2020. For now, the railroad bridge across Route 9 is almost ready for interim use, and the trail itself (the old railbed, unimproved) is open to the public from route 30 to about 1/4 mile north of Natick Center.

That Route 9 bridge will be replaced with a longer, taller structure to allow for sidewalks on route 9 and MassDOT clearance of 16.5' (currently it's under 14'). A new bridge will cross Route 30. See for more information.

Also, a development at the former Sam's Club site (hotel and senior housing) will contribute to improved pedestrian connectivity in that area. Right now that site, and the one to the north, are islands.

The Natick Center MBTA station is being redesigned for full accessibility, with a 15% design expected in a couple of months. After the design is complete, a connection to the CRT will be designed.

All of this is only possible because Adam and I worked at a college newspaper the other day.


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There is some Justice in this world.


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This comment was posted using OCR and an IBM Selectric.


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What are they doing with the current bridge? Something was different last Friday (admittedly I drove under it after sunset.)

Glad to see the project moving forward. The odds are I won't use it, but hopefully a lot of people will.

Route 9 CRT bridge

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temporary improvements to make it passable until it is replaced. The CRT is legally open to the public prior to construction, because it was bought using so-called open space funds that trigger a bylaw provision that mandates public access, so the town is doing these repairs to avoid a situation where people might cross route 9 at grade in an unsafe location. Much of the labor was donated by the carpenters union, and the metal barriers will be re-used after the old bridge is replaced.

Natingham Rail Spur?

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I live in this Natick/Framingham hub (aka Natingham, aka not NaFa or FaNa). I thought my wife and I would hate it; moving from Boston to the burbs. We love it. A new set of sidewalks goes down every few months. The whole place is becoming walkable, one big hub. However, without a rail link. Instead of the Greenway, how'about a rail spur to Natingham? The old rail lines run up against the NE edge of Natick Mall. The Worcester Line has too many stops; Heart to Hub has become a flat dud. Why not break it up into two reasonable lines? The Worcester Line and the Natingham Line?

Saxonville Branch

There's a lot to recommend public transit on the former Saxonville Branch, where passenger service was discontinued in 1936. But that won't be happening using rail, as the tracks were removed 10 years ago and a paved trail is going in over the next few years. The Town of Natick did a study several years ago (see link above) to explore the feasibility of having public transit alongside a rail trail, and there is not enough room for this using conventional transportation modes. Maybe in the future, slow-speed AVs, which would be subject to Town approval because the land in Natick was acquired for non-motorized transportation. Or bicycle taxis.

I think far more people will use and benefit from this line using active transportation (biking and walking) than would using conventional public transit. But the future may bring new choices.

If TJX or the Natick Mall resi compound want rail service

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Then this future greenway is ripped up and replaced with new rail faster than you can say "lukewarm trail". I had to reject a TJX offer because the commute was impossible. Silver to South is bad enough; but that "last mile" would have been terrible. Slow autonomous vehicles; are you high? What, is Natick a Heathrow Airport parking lot? As more Natick-Framingham parking lots fill in with resi and TJX feels the heat of relocation talk, don't be surprised to see a greater rail push. Embrace it, don't reject it. The Wonderbread-CRT greenway planning is setting the course for an even better rail transit prospect

This is something that gets me

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Back when it started, the whole idea of rail trails was exactly what you write- let's use this for something until the rail line needs to be used again (if ever.) Nowadays, the State of New York is shutting down rail lines to convert them to trails. Not cool.

Trails to rails

Rail ridership on the CRT would never come remotely close to what active transportation will provide. And in general, we (MA, USA) are not investing enough in maintaining our transit infrastructure, let alone building new, so building rail (or BRT) on this abandoned corridor is a fantasy for the foreseeable future. And the workforce for major employers (and the residential population) along the corridor is generally enthusiastic about the trail. All that said, the railbanking program under which CSX sold the ROW to Natick preserves it as a corridor for possible future rail use, so never say never.

More laughs

If you click around on the user comments submitted on that planning page, the majority of them appear to be focused on improving vehicular traffic.