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South Coast Rail Stations Vision 1Wide, smooth sidewalks with lush planting strips separating walking and driving areas. Inviting lamp posts and benches. Buzzing shops, restaurants and mixed-use developments. These are characteristics of walkable, smart growth neighborhoods. They are becoming more common throughout southeastern Massachusetts as municipalities implement seven years of projects funded by MassDOT Technical Assistance grants (TA).

A view of Route 6 at the “Octopus” looking west. Today the roadway is a busy vehicular intersection (top), but it will soon include new pedestrian and bicycle enhancements and plantings (bottom). (Images courtesy of the City of New Bedford and VHB)

A view of Route 6 at the “Octopus” looking west. Today the roadway is a busy vehicular intersection (top), but it will soon include new pedestrian and bicycle enhancements and plantings (bottom). (Images courtesy of the City of New Bedford and VHB)

MassDOT has partnered with South Coast communities to implement the South Coast Rail Economic Development and Land Use Corridor Plan since 2008. The Corridor Plan integrated transportation with economic development, housing, and environmental planning for the first time in Massachusetts. MassDOT developed a technical assistance program to help communities prepare for new transit with the smart growth approach outlined in the Corridor Plan, creating walkable areas around each new station.

To develop the Corridor Plan, communities identified Priority Development Areas (PDAs) and Priority Protection Areas (PPAs) that would promote a smart growth approach to land use planning. PDAs range from small-scale neighborhood projects to large mixed-use developments. Communities selected PDAs based on a variety of key factors: access to transportation, available infrastructure, an absence of environmental constraints, local recommendations, and more. Municipalities have used TA funds to implement zoning changes, streetscape improvements, housing production plans, and master plans at PDAs throughout the region. Other communities have been able to focus on their identified PPAs and created or updated Open Space Plans and bike/pedestrian paths.

Building on MassDOT’s grant program, New Bedford used a 2012 year TA grant to fund the design of streetscape improvements at a busy downtown intersection locally dubbed the “Octopus.” Named for the many roads that converge at a single juncture, the intersection links Downtown New Bedford with the proposed Whale’s Tooth Station area, Clasky Common, and the Quest Center/Armory District. Originally designed without pedestrians or bicycles in mind, the “Octopus” is on the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District’s list of most dangerous intersections. The TA-funded study sought to increase pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular access, improve safety and enhance connectivity between neighborhoods.

A brick ribbon and additional markings will visually establish a pedestrian walking zone that is still drivable for vehicles in front of the New Bedford Fire Station on Purchase Street. (Image courtesy of the City of New Bedford and VHB)

A brick ribbon and additional markings will visually establish a pedestrian walking zone that is still drivable for vehicles in front of the New Bedford Fire Station on Purchase Street. (Image courtesy of the City of New Bedford and VHB)

Based on the design funded by MassDOT, the City decided to move forward with the upgrades, including:
• Shorter, more visible crosswalks and more efficient countdown signals for pedestrians
• New striping, including shared lane markings for bicycles
• Widened, ADA-accessible sidewalks and brick ribbons to designate pedestrian zones

Changes will become evident soon enough, as many improvements will be completed within the 2015 construction season.

“The ‘Octopus’ will soon be an inviting pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular connection, which would not have been possible without MassDOT’s TA,” said Jill Maclean, New Bedford City Planner.

TA grants have provided southeastern Massachusetts with a unique opportunity to shape future growth that will come with new commuter rail service. Encouraging walkable areas around future commuter rail stations will help advance regional economic goals and improve pedestrian and bicycle linkages to station areas. South Coast Rail will not only provide transportation connections – it will bring jobs and housing, breathing new life into neighborhoods.

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