COCHITUATE RAIL TRAIL
Design and Construction Issues
visits since 011207; last updated 110514.

Background
General Design Concepts:
   Aren't standard highway designs good enough?
    Chip Seal
   Porous Pavement
   Or Don't Pave
   Raised Crosswalks (Speed Tables) and Speed Humps (not Speed Bumps)
   Roundabouts
   Pedestrian Underpasses
   Bicycle Stairs
   Bicycle Parking
   Courtesy
CRT General Design
CRT Upcoming projects:
   CRT Crossing at at Old Connecticut Path, Framingham
   CRT Crossing at School Street, Framingham
Background

The Cochituate Rail Trail is a proposed 4-mile recreation and transportation corridor which will extend from Natick Center to the village of Saxonville in Framingham. It will provide walkers, joggers, cyclists, and many others with safe and pleasant access to Cochituate State Park as well as to many businesses and offices in Natick and Framingham. There will be a side trail west to the tremendously popular Natick Mall, General Cinema, and Shopper's World area. Another spur will head east into Wayland. Since the CRT will connect to the Natick commuter rail station, the potential exists for a substantial number of people to use the trail for commuting to work.
Map of Cochituate Rail Trail

A key feature of the CRT is that it will be much more than just a bike path or a sidewalk. Like most of the 1,500 rail trails in the USA, it will be a greenway - a linear park where people can relax and enjoy the great outdoors. For most of its 4-mile length, the trail corridor will be 60 to 85 feet wide. This provides enough room for a safe trail with trees or landscaping on each side: "A greenway, not an alleyway."

The Town of Framingham was able to begin ground work on the CRT earlier than Natick. Both towns and Wayland, and many other groups, have rallied to help Framingham begin this regional project.

As of late 2001:
  Framingham has received a $20,000 DEM matching grant and a $100,000 MassPike Tourism Grant to help. The Framingham section of the CRT has been minimally cleared throughout, and there is hope that it will be operational in Summer 2002.
  In Natick, the at-grade and dangerous Lake Street railroad crossing hosts three locomotive-utomobile collisions within a one-year period. One truck is totalled, but no one is injured and no accident statistics appear on the railroad safety record. CSX agrees to reinstitute some safety precautions.
  A glossy CRT brochure, "CRT-shirts", clean-ups and meetings involve and educate the public.

As of mid-2004:
  MassPike opens its fencing in anticipation of CRT use,
and MassPike finally completes its lease agreement with Framingham. But MBTA's approval still is awaited. Framingham remains unable to expend all of its initial $120,000, and unpainted bridge structures continue to deteriorate while reconstruction materials, purchased years before, still await that necessary access agreement. Nissan of Natick's service facility (on Old Connecticut Path in Framingham) agrees to construct a stockade fence to halt repeated dumping onto the CRT. Poison ivy is growing back, where it has been cleared in prior years by enthusiastic volunteers. Public access is delayed for anoher year.
  In Natick, the one occasional continuing rail use is less frequent, and will end in or before 2006. Negotiations with CSX have begun. The CRT project is closely linked with the Natick Mall (which plans to expand onto the Wonderbread Plant property, and to provide major CRT funding), a new Eastern Bank building at the southern terminus of the CRT, and all other projects that will have synergy with this project. The CRT is a major component of Natick's 'Smart Growth" initiative.


General Design Concepts

Aren't standard highway designs good enough?

Seldom. In typical U.S. cities, bicyclists and even pedestrians have been dialed out of highway design for many decades. Neither the roads nor traditional highway engineers are up to the task. Europe is well ahead in some respects, and some U.S. cities are starting to adopt local and foreign designs that work better.

Traditional roadway designs emphasize cars at the expense of bicyclists, pedestrians, the people who live and work alongside the roadway, and often the environment. Thus, "improvements" generally mean more cars at faster speeds. Traffic-calming techniques can be very beneficial, but often are ignored.

The professionals who design bike paths or multi-use paths, and the professionals who design the road crossings of those paths, usually share that car-centric background. More experienced bicycle and pedestrian inputs are often necessary to assure a good design for alternative transporation.

John Allen has excellent critiques of some old and new U.S. designs:
Evaluation of some bicycle facilities and programs in Massachusetts communities.
A realistic look at bicycle facilities, laws and programs.

Also see:
Take Back Your Streets (Conservation Law Foundation, 1998)
"Go By Bike" brochure (MassDOT, 2011)

Chip Seal:

Chip Seal is newly popular as a top-coat for new or repaired pavement; with tight DPW budgets, it's seen as a way to make the surface last twice as long.

Chip sealing coats the road surface with small, sharp stone chips, adding a rasp-like texture. That's bad news for bicycles, because it greatly accelerates tire wear. It's bad news for kids and occasional adults, because a fall results in far worse skin damage. And, by increasing the fragmentation of tire particulates, it may significantly increase heart disease.

Maryland has been using Smooth Seal for similar benefits, without similar harm. But in 2004, Massachusetts DPWs seem unaware of this, and are planning greater use of chip seal.

Under Construction

Porous Pavement:

Porous pavement (one common form of it) is asphalt pavement that has been designed to leak. That removes rain and meltwater before it can freeze and crack the pavement, and it improves safety and the environment. It even reduces road noise. And, it's less expensive: Contrary to the initial opinions of many civil engineers, properly mixed and installed porous pavement far outlasts normal asphalt pavement in the harsh winter climate of eastern Massachusetts.

For porous pavement, there's no better underlayment than typical railroad roadbed ballast. If the Cochituate Rail Trail gets paved, here's a pavement material that will be more safe, and which will remove its own snow and ice without expensive and environmentally-harmful road salt.

What do you get if you add a top course of porous pavement to the old, waterproof under layers? It's called Open-Graded Friction Course. Although OGFC only delivers half of the benefits of porous pavement, it's still so good that it's becoming the preferred re-surfacing treatment for our nation's superhighways. Around Natick, you can see (and not hear!) early OGFC sections on Route 128 between Routes 2 and 3, and on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Grafton and Upton.

Or Don't Pave:

Stone Dust can be used instead of paving.  Various mixes can be added to the natural ground, to make it more durable. And, although some assume it can't work, many soils make good trail surfaces with no special treatment, or perhaps with some stone dust in the occasional muddy spot. Natural trails are easily patched by volunteers; there's no need to await major damage to justify repaving.

A natural trail surface should have good drainage to protect it from erosion. To keep rain and snow run-off from cutting through: channel running water alongside, pipe it under, or use a ford bar (or a water bar) to channel it across. Reduce or protect steep slopes.

When to pave? Very heavy urban traffic may dictate it. Paving makes inline skating possible, and speeds up bicycles (at the expense of dog walkers, baby carriages, wheelchairs and especially birdwatchers). Juxtaposing those speed differences creates additional collisions and near-collisions; bicycle-safety expert John Allen, a valued friend when it comes to safe trail design, explains that high-speed bicycling belongs on roads, not multi-use trails. Dual-speed trails (one fast path, one slow) are greatly liked where they've been tried. (We've visited good dual-speed trails in New Hampshire and Maine, and would like to see some --perhaps the CRT-- in Massachusetts.)

Raised Crosswalks (Speed Tables) and Speed Humps (not Speed Bumps):

John Allen likes speed humps, and recommends their speed table version as one measure that will be helpful at some trail crossings. That's humps, not bumps. Like speed bumps, they are a traffic calming technique that can keep cars, bikes and pedestrians from tangling with each other at trail crossings. Unlike speed bumps, speed humps are more forgiving when hit at moderate speeds. John calls speed bumps "bicyclist killers", because they can cause an unwary bicyclist to fall and risk a fatal head injury.

In effect, a speed hump is a long, drawn-out speed bump on the road, ramping up and back down.  If the top has significant width (say, to carry a bike trail or crosswalk up above puddles and slush), it's called a speed table or (preferred) a raised crosswalk. There will be warning triangles (chevrons) on the ramp up, and the rise is gentle enough to not throw a surprised bicyclist. Early users report that raised crosswalks work very well. They can be incorporated along the Cochituate Rail Trail; for example, where the TJX driveway entrance from Speen Street will cross the trail, at the exit driveway for Eastern Bank in downtown Natick, and perhaps at appropriate street crossings.

Attached is John Allen's photo of a raised crosswalk on Columbia Street in Cambridge, MA. Other local towns using raised crosswalks include Brookline, Lexington and Wellesley, MA. Some good links for raised crosswalks are:
Traffic-Calming Measures - Speed Table (Institute of Transportation Engineers)
Cambridge Traffic Calming Program (Environmental & Transportation Planning Div., Cambridge, MA)
Take Back Your Streets (Conservation Law Foundation, 1998; see "Speed Table" in Chap. 5)
Exception: Portland, Oregon's "speed bumps" are speed humps.

Roundabouts:

The current Natick Mall Expansion plan includes traffic roundabouts. Roundabouts are not the big, fast, circular highway intersections we call rotaries. They are smaller, traffic-calming alternatives to stop lights and they bear special mention. I asked an expert on the subject, Bob White of Connecticut, to shed some light on roundabouts, and found out that he's a big fan of them when they are properly designed. Read Bob's description, here.

Pedestrian Underpasses:

We commit vast expenditures for automobiles. And that makes many crossings unnecessarily dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. Surely we can also invest in a few good separated-grade trail crossings.  Say, one where busy Speen Street separates Natick Mall from the Cochituate Rail Trail. After all, that's where the largest mall in New England will meet one of its most popular rail trals. Both projects may arrive as early as 2007, and that's reason enough to plan now.

Traffic at that Speen Street location exceeded 43,000 vehicles per day in June 2002 and June 2003. It's already higher this year, will be higher still after Natick Mall expands to become the largest mall in New England, and that's not even in the busiest season! Speen Street traffic also weaves more than on Route 9 or Route 30; drivers attempting to navigate its confusions (which include a unique rotary with no loop on its southern side!) look up at signs, sideways and over their shoulders for incoming vehicles, everywhere but at a few small pedestrians or bicyclists. No wonder that, on the entire trail route, this at-grade crossing to a major set of attractions (multiple shopping malls, movie theatres, neighborhoods) is the one that parents don't trust their children to cross safely.

People tend to think pedestrian tunnels are dangerous and uninviting. But well-designed, well-managed tunnels are inviting -- and far safer than at-grade crossings. Separated-grade crossings cause no traffic delays; they conserve gasoline and reduce obnoxious and unhealthful exhaust fumes. Bridges, especially ones over depressions so they do not require ramps at the ends, can be good and even beautiful. In comparison to overpasses, tunnels are weatherproof, do not tempt stone-tossing vandals, and usually are easier to access. (It's easier for an 18-wheeler to climb above pedestrians than vice versa.) In many instances, tunnels also are less expensive than overpasses.  And on the CRT, a proposed Speen Street underpass to the Natick Mall has a very inexpensive assist: The road will be realigned and rebuilt anyway. With good planning, cut-and-fill tunnel construction can coincide with the already-necessary construction equipment, pavement removal and replacement, and traffic rerouting!

John Brennan's photo shows how Seattle, WA has the Burke-Gilman Trail underpass a shopping mall entrance. And far north of Natick, in Toronto, Susan Geiser photographed this far simpler corrugated-culvert tunnel for people.

Bike-ped tunnels exist near Natick. In 2004, MassHighway constructed a moderately-expensive bicycle-pedestrian underpass on the nearby Assabet River Rail Trail (under the Route 85 Connector to Interstate 290, in Hudson at the Marlborough town line). Construction: Precast concrete modules; 85' long x 14' wide (13' at base) x 11' high. Unfortunately for bicyclists, MassHighway zigzagged the 45-angled trail to create a perpendicular (shorter, thus cheaper) tunnel. 

In 2005, the U.S. National Park Service's Minute Man National Historical Park opened its bicycle-pedestrian underpass on the Battle Road between Lexington and Concord, under Hanscom Drive just north of  its Route 2A intersection in a northern corder of Lincoln, MA. Construction: Corrugated aluminum; 124' long x 9.5' wide x 11.5' high.

Like the 75'-wide Speen Street crossing at Natick Mall, each of these nearby tunnels is close to a
traffic-lighted intersection; these tunnels were not necessary for connectivity. Rather, their designers and communities consider them important for safe and inviting connectivity.

Here is a particularly inviting design. While he was Director of Community Development for Natick, Sarkis Sarkisian photographed this inexpensive corrugated-metal pedestrian tunnel (1, 2, 3, 4) under a road that bisects the Village at Venetian Bay shopping mall in Naples, Florida. (Corrugated steel; 50' L x 10' W x 7' H.) Note that its sidewalls house the electrical utilities, leaving a more durable ceiling (especially if topped with a coat of hydraulic cement during the cut-and-fill operation) and simplifying future access for maintenance and upgrade. The mall manager says it was built in the 1970s, is a great success, and he wouldn't change a thing. Right here on the Natick-Framingham border, an adjacent shopping mall provides a similar and similarly-sized corrugated-metal tunnel for a dirty stream. Why not do as much for people?

We should provide a safe, inviting underpass for our bicyclists, pedestrians and wheelchair users here, under busy, traffic-weaving Speen Street, to link the Natick Mall (which will be the largest mall in New England) to the Cochituate Rail Trail (which, unless planners miss this opportunity, will be one of the three most popular rail trails in Massachusetts).

Bicycle Stairs:

A great problem-solver, bicycle stairs are inexpensive, practical, and have no moving parts.

Bicycle Parking:

Bicycle Parking is a critical ingredient in a successful rail-trail recipe. Unless the ride is ONLY a ride, people want to get off the bike to go shopping, eat, swim, visit the library or museum or movie theater. And, on the CRT, to take the train to work. The bike can be chained to a fence, a lamppost or parking meter, or a tree, but none of those are solutions that will hold a lot of bikes in a desirable manner.

A good bicycle rack can look good, will fit more bikes into a given space, will fit the typical bicycle lock, and will hold the bike securely and safely. Its location will be under cover from rain and snow; it will be in public view, to discourage vandalism and to inspire others to bicycle. Free bicycle parking is an incentive to leave the car home - providing public benefits including reducing parking congestion, traffic and pollution, while saving fuel.

What better bicycle parking solution would you recommend here, above the commuter rail station in downtown Natick, at the southern terminus of the Cochituate Rail Trail?

Some communities provide more than individual bike racks. Storage lockers, managed bicycle-parking garages and free "bicycle day-care facilities", free or inexpensive community bicycles , and ways to link bicycles to public transit and to bring bicycles ON public transit are some methods that do work elsewhere, and can work here.

Europe's bicycle usage greatly exceeds Boston's; see these bike parking facilities by railroad stations
in Cambridge, England and in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (1 and 2). Europe provides a challenge and many good examples, as we revive bicycle use here.

Courtesy:
Courtesy makes good trails work. Courtesy between trail users and abutting residents. Courtesy between car drivers, bicyclists (on roads and trails) and pedestrians. Respect the purposes of trails, the fragility of natural surroundings, the peaceful nature of other people's recreation, the need for safety. Carry a litter bag, volunteer, leave trails better than you find them. Share The Road!


CRT General Design

Sorry; the Framingham Planning Dept. has not yet approved our use of its existing plans.



CRT Upcoming Projects

CRT Crossing at at Old Connecticut Path, Framingham:

On December 5th, 2001, a first intersection design at Old Connecticut Path was brought before the Framingham Traffic and Roadways Safety Committee to receive approval and go to 100% design stage. Both town residents and some from beyond protested that the public involvement process failed to share the description and plans in a timely manner. That committee tabled action for a month (to the second Wednesday in January), after requesting better coordination to develop a generally-supported design at the Dec. 18th meeting of the Framingham CRT Committee.

Revised plans were delivered by HTSD, Inc. two hours before the January 16th (3rd Wed.) meeting of the FTRSC. They were filed at that meeting with two cover letters, but all parties agreed further discussion would be tabled until February to allow time for public study and comment. The key parts of that information were updated here on Feb. 2nd to facilitate public review.

Several non-Framingham design-reviewers are already identified, and others are invited to join in. The following message from Bryan Taberner, Framingham Senior Planner includes a description of the initially-proposed design. Online plans and further letters follow.



  Subject: [CRT-Framingham] Intersection Design Memo
     Date: Fri, 7 Dec 2001 12:18:14 -0500
     From: "Bryan W. Taberner" <Bryan.Taberner@framinghamma.org>
 Reply-To: CRT-Framingham@yahoogroups.com
       To: "Mara Yale" <myale@mathworks.com>
       CC: <CRT-Framingham@yahoogroups.com>

Mara:  Earlier today I sent several CRT Committee members and FBPAC
members copies of two main pages of the draft intersection design (full
scale), with the short memo below.  Please let the Planning Department
know if we can assist you further with this issue.

Bryan W. Taberner, Senior Planner
Planning and Economic Development
Town of Framingham
150 Concord Street, Room B2
Framingham, MA 01702-8325

Phone: 508-620-4852, FAX:  508-820-9645, E-mail: bwt@framinghamma.org
 

Memorandum

To:     Tom Branham, Andy Toorock, Ed Kross, Mark Lamkin, Dan Smiley,
From:   Bryan W. Taberner, Senior Planner
Re:     Intersection of Cochituate Rail Trail at Old Connecticut Path
Cc:     William Hanson, FPBAC Chair
Date:   December 7, 2001
 

The Planning Development has been working with HTSD to develop a plan
and related specifications to have pedestrian cross lights and access
controlling devices installed at the intersection of the CRT and Old
Connecticut Path.  Attached are two sheets from the draft plans showing
the proposed design.

Existing plans call for the lights to be constantly blinking yellow
unless a pedestrian or bicyclist uses a pushbutton to activate the cross
light.  A scored cement concrete island will separate the pedestrian or
bicycle traffic as they approach Old Conn Path.  Three bollards will
restrict automobile access; the middle bollard would be removable and
key locked.  In addition to signage installed on Old Conn Path as
described in the plan, additional signage will be installed on the
trail.  These additional signs are not shown as they will not be part of
the intersection construction contract.

If anyone has questions please call; I'm happy to meet with all of you
collectively, or any of you individually.  After presenting your input
to the CRT Development Committee on December 18, and gathering public
comments until and during the December 18th meeting, HTSD and the
Planning Department will update the plans and submit them to the Safety
Committee for their approval.



The two most important DRAFT plan sheets for this Old Connecticut Path intersection design can be seen online here:
Construction Plan (sheet 4 of 6)
Traffic Signal and Signing Plan (sheet 6 of 6)
NOTE: These updated plan versions were filed at the Jan. 16th, 2002 FTRSC meeting for action in Feb. (along with letters from Bryan Taberner for the Framingham Planning Dept. and Mara Yale for the Framingham CRT Committee), but were not posted here until Feb. 2nd. The original versions are still online; to compare, load a current plan, clipboard its URL, open a second browser window, past the URL into it and insert edit its ".gif" to "1.gif" (e.g., insert a numeral one), then click to view that prior version. Plan scales may differ.

Dick Miller's comments on changes from the first round of plans:

  • Changed the lane widths at the curbs from 6' and 10', to 8' and 8' (compared to the normal trail widths of 6' and 6'; these widths do not include the 3'-minimum unobstructed run-off areas on both sides).
  • Swung the crossing more abruptly, in order to cross the street at a more nearly perpendicular angle.
  • Lane dividers will only be surface markings (hopefully, using non-slip paint or tape), rather than a raised concrete island approaching the street.
  • HTDS, Inc.'s $77K estimate for full traffic signaling has resulted in a greatly scaled-back plan; all signal lighting is expected to await future-year funding.
  • Not yet showing on these plans, but Dick (and others?) will continue to request:
  • Continuing the path's center divider markings on the street surface. (We now are assured by State and Federal authorities that this definitely is not precluded by the design standards, and may be more desirable subject to local conditions.)
  • Assurance that the bollards are spaced closely enough to normally block cars and trucks from the path. (Bryan Taberner's Jan. 16th letter says yes, but the bollard locations on the plan may indicate problems in this regard.)
  • Road signage to include bicycle symbols and "Cochituate Rail Trail" logo.
  • New "bituminous concrete" (asphalt) pavement to be porous pavement. (Porous pavement is included in Bryan Taberner's Jan. 16th letter.)
  • Use of traffic-calming devices such as "rumble strips" on approaches to path crossing.
  • Share your corrections and further comments, please!


    Since posting the draft design information on Dec. 7th, we've received good comments including:
    Comment letter from Peter Furth, Professor in Transportation Engineering at Northeastern University and Chairman of Milton (MA) Bicycle Advisory Committee, re traffic signal timing modifications.
    Three photos from the South County Trail in Rhode Island. Bill Hanson, FBPAC Chair: "The design of the roadway intersection is the best I've ever seen. However the rules of use are anti-commuter."
    John Allen has provided e-mail comments and participated in the Dec. 18th FCRTC meeting.

    CRT Crossing at School Street, Framingham:

    Draft plans already exist for this next major intersection design in Framingham. Detailed discussion of it has been postponed beyond the January timeframe. We expect Framingham to share that information here, in the near future.



    This Web page has been created by Dick Miller of the Natick Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the Cochituate State Park Advisory Committee. Please e-mail your comments to him at TheMillers@millermicro.com

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