Gallivan-Morton changes get public airing; ‘safety’ called the main purpose

The scope of the Gallivan-Morton street work is outlined in this MassDOT graphic.

With a complete design overhaul for the intersection of Morton Street and Gallivan Boulevard in place, state transportation officials last week briefed community members on a plan to prioritize safety and improve traffic flow across the hazardous crossroads.

The stretch along Route 203 contains a particularly perilous crossing in front of the Boston Fire Dept. Engine 16 firehouse and the Norfolk Hardware and Home Center, a block from the Charles H. Taylor Elementary School on Morton Street. Department of Transportation (MassDOT) officials say new medians and lane reconfigurations should keep cars moving along the key artery without the cross-lane turnings that have led to numerous crashes over the years.

At the meeting at the Mildred Avenue Middle School last Thursday, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) officials said they expect construction to begin in the spring of 2018.

The plan for the $3.2 million project was entirely redone after attendees at earlier public meetings objected to the initial design, MassDOT spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard said. Planners had considered a roundabout in the center of the crossing, but concern over pedestrian circulation led to the current signalized proposal.

“Safety was the biggest factor in designing this project,” Goddard said in a an email to the Reporter. “MassDOT is working hard to address issues and to improve traffic flow.  We are thrilled to see this project moving forward and approaching construction.”

Engineers plan to install a traffic signal at the Morton-Gallivan intersection. Left turns will be disallowed from Gallivan Boulevard onto Woodmere Street or eastbound Morton, as cars would have to cross two lanes of eastbound Route 203 traffic and an eastbound Morton Street lane.

“That turning maneuver was considered hazardous because visibility of the eastbound Morton Street traffic may be blocked by the eastbound Route 203 traffic,” Goddard said.

Officials considered adding an exclusive left turn lane at that site, but roadway limitations would have necessitated removing a full lane, and reducing the westbound route to only one lane of through traffic.

Attendees at earlier public meetings expressed a preference for prohibiting a turn rather than winnowing down to a single lane. Instead, a protected turning lane will be added for eastbound Morton Street vehicles. Another signal is planned for the intersection of Morton and West Selden streets, where vehicles will use an exclusive left turn lane onto West Selden.

Engineers plan to coordinate the signaling between eastbound and westbound Route 203, so the two directions will have a green signal at the same time to avoid traffic backups.  

A lane along westbound Morton Street will be eliminated to add bicycle paths, officials said, resulting in a loss of six on-street parking spaces between Selden and Fairmount Streets. Parking along eastbound Morton Street will remain in the current design.

An audit showed 35 crashes at the intersection between May 2009 and December 2012, with 18 people injured. According to MassDOT, there were 20 more crashes between 2012 and 2014 – overlapping with some of the earlier estimates – nine of which left people with injuries.

The vast majority of crashes occurred on dry pavement, according to the audit, with cars colliding at angles and head-on, rear-ending or sideswiping other cars, and 20 percent involving single vehicles.
The roadway reconfigurations will require temporary easements from private property owners along westbound Morton Street, MassDOT officials said. Anticipated right-of-way takings, which could number up to 35, would only apply to city-owned land along the stretch.

Conversations around accessible but protected bike lanes and pedestrian crossings consumed much of the question and answer portion of the meeting.

Cycling advocates asked for some additional protection or delineation for the bike lane. Vivian Ortiz of Mattapan Food and Fitness said the group is trying to get people aware of the possibility of bicycle commuting.

“People are interested in cycling, but they’re afraid to cycle,” she said. The Neponset River Greenway extension, which is expected to be completed in the spring, will allow cyclists to leave the path by turning onto Central Avenue and making their way to Morton Street, she said. “They’re going to be terrified of this,” Ortiz said. “If we do not have protected bike lanes, this is not going to work.”

A Z-shaped crossing design at the Morton-Galivan intersection has been reconfigured to more effectively allow pedestrians to shuttle themselves across. The crosswalks will be set closer to the intersection to deter drivers from trying to pull into the crosswalks, and the signaled crossing will have an exclusive pedestrian phase.

State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and state Representatives Russell Holmes and Dan Cullinane expressed their support for the design, citing the intersection’s dangerous conditions and the changes made after year of public review.

Legislators secured $750,000 to engineer the redesign in 2010, with $3.2 million allocated to undertake the project set aside last year.

“The money is real. This money is happening,” said Cullinane at the meeting’s close. “It’s been designed at numerous meetings and public comments after the fact, during meetings, in every way shape and form... Is this project going to fix everything that we’ve heard discussed tonight? No. But what we’ve known for far too many years is that these represent some of the most dangerous intersections, not only our community but probably the entire city, and we have close to $3.2 million invested in making these intersections safe.”

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