Cities and towns across Massachusetts are implementing innovations on their streets. Quick and creative projects that prioritize people are having big impacts.
These changes are mostly simple: making space for chairs and tables for neighbors to sit and chat, slowing down traffic via cones so kids can play and bike to school, and painting bus lanes for essential workers to travel faster.
And a new report with examples and impact data from 23 municipalities over the course of 2020 and 2021 shows that simple changes have big impacts.
Safety for kids and families
Arlington; Erin Clark
Many of the projects in the report focused on improving safety, particularly near schools and senior centers.
In Arlington, a traffic circle made out of cones – no construction required – dropped the number of people speeding by 65 percent.
In Salem, narrowing a road via new bike lanes encouraged safer driving behaviors (less than 40 mph) in a school zone by 61 percent.
Supporting small business
Outdoor seating created in street spaces previously devoted to driving and parking cars strengthened the relationship between residents and their local downtowns and became a lifeline for businesses.
Amherst; Photo by Erin Clark
In a survey of residents who used outdoor seating in their communities, 75 percent said these areas made them more likely to walk, shop, and dine.
Another survey showed 57 percent of businesses interviewed reported increases in revenue.
In Amherst, transforming 11 parking spots into outdoor dining created space for 80 people; in Great Barrington, closing one block to car traffic allowed for 125 people to eat and socialize together safely.
Making it easier for people to travel without a car
New painted lanes in Everett made trips 35 percent faster for bus riders, many of whom are essential workers who rely on public transit.
Everett; Photo by Ad Hoc
Through new dedicated bike lanes, 5,500 people can now bike comfortably to Pittsfield businesses within 15 minutes of where they live; in Sterling, 6.5x more residents and visitors can bike to Main Street businesses from the Mass Central Rail Trail on a more comfortable route.
Public opinion polling shows that street changes have broad support among Greater Boston residents, with 79 percent supporting more space for outdoor dining, 75 percent supporting new bike lanes, and 71 percent supporting wider sidewalks – even if those changes mean less space for parking and driving.
Read or Download the Report
How Grantmakers and Governments Moved Quickly to Transform Public Spaces
Boston-area voters support changes to local streets
Massachusetts Planning Magazine
Success of Shared Streets and Spaces Program
A suburban mayor's open letter to Boston commuters
Photos of projects from across the state
Municipal Funding Program
Shared Streets and Spaces Grant Program