Monday, April 19, 2010

The Intersection of Eliot Street and Capen Street in Milton, MA

Submitted by Jack Nguyen

Capen Street is a dead end road where its end is the Capen Street T Station. At the other end, it intersects with Eliot Street. This is a local road that has turned into a shortcut for me and many other drivers to avoid the overflow of traffic on River Street.

At first glance, this intersection is filled with traffic calming techniques. It is a raised intersection with stop signs (on all three legs) and flashing red signals on Eliot Street with Pedestrian signals for people who want to cross Eliot Street on the West Leg only. There are two crosswalks, one for the West Leg (people going to the playground) and the other for people crossing Capen Street. That Street does not have a pedestrian light to protect pedestrians when using the crosswalk. That is fine because Capen Street experiences low volumes due to the fact that it is a dead end street.

However, people who are not familiar with the history with this intersection would say that this intersection is "overkill" because of the flashing red signals with the stop sign. To the west of this intersection is Hinckley Street and to the east is Valley Road. Both sides have stop signs. There is enough distance in between the stop signs to speed right through this section. As I recall in early 2006, the intersection was not raised. I was able to fly through this section at 40 miles per hour (mph). The speed limit for this street is 30 mph.

Soon the Capen Street intersection was raised to reduce speeds. It was put at this particular intersection because of Shield's Park. Many families come here with children and play everyday. So having cars moving too fast is dangerous. The intersection was raised around the summer of 2006. However, myself and many other drivers were still able to achieve 40 mph before and after the speed hump. The only reason for that is the speed hump is too long. First I would go 40 mph then see the speed hump and slow down to 20 mph and speed up again midway through the hump and regain the 40 mph in about 2 to 3 seconds. So the raised intersection was not doing its job.
Then the town decided to put stop signs at this intersection. However most people did not see them since the trees hid them. Also at night, they were almost impossible to see since they were so high off the ground. This happened around the end of 2006 to beginning to 2007. In the end, drivers would just ignore the stop signs.

Finally without warning, the flashing red signals were put up. These were accompanied with push button pedestrian signals. In a driver's perspective, after stopping before the speed hump, there is not enough road for the driver to speed up to 40 mph. As a result, the goal of calming this intersection was achieved. However, about 99% of the time that I drive through this intersection, it is always flashing red. There was only one time when the flashing red became a full red with a walk signal for a pedestrian to cross Eliot Street. I only saw that happen once and never again. So the pedestrian signals are not that effective. Those should be taken out since pedestrians are protected by the crosswalk and having the signal is unnecessary.

What the town could have done this many other ways that would be inexpensive:
  1. The town could have put the light there in the first place and not raised the intersection. That would have calmed down the whole street a lot.
  2. Instead of having one raised intersection, there could have been two short speed humps before and after the intersection at about 250 feet or more apart.
  3. Make the lanes narrower. Both sides of traffic are able to reach 40 mph with these 12 foot lanes.
  4. Add a median refuge.
  5. Make a bike lane for one side only.
  6. Since the light is there, why not time it with an all pedestrian phase? This would serve the pedestrians better.
As a result the geometry of Eliot Street is made for 40+ mph. However it is still a local road with many children on it. So the "overkill" of traffic calming would make sense, but this intersection could have been calmed without being excessive and have harmony between its actual uses, intended uses, and design.

1 comment:

  1. Jack,
    I like your recognition that with all-way stop, a pedestrian signal is unnecessary. The historical progression leading to overkill is interesting. When "modern" traffic calming (raised intersection) was done too cautiously, it didn't work, so the Town had to go a traditional, regulatory means of speed control, all-way stops.