Shared Streets

22 May 2020

What are Shared Streets?

The city is planning temporary changes to city streets to give people more space to get around in their neighborhoods car-free and safely during this time. While it remains safest to stay distanced from others during this time, we know people need to travel from their homes to make essential trips to grocery stores, food pantries, or medical appointments. Additionally, getting fresh air and exercise can be hard to do at home. In the early mornings and evenings when it's cooler outside, you can use shared streets to walk or bike and make trips to essential services.

These streets will remain open to local vehicle traffic, deliveries, and emergency vehicles, while discouraging drive through vehicle traffic. With slower speeds and fewer cars, these residential streets will be prioritized for bicyclists and pedestrians to navigate and maintain physical distance (at least 6 feet!) while making daily car-free trips to schools, grocery stores, and other essential locations.

This approach, implementing shared streets with quick-build materials throughout the city, is new to all of us. We're implementing it in phases and with flexible tools (think temporary signs and cones) in order to be sure that we get it right and that we can be responsive to residents' needs and experiences. We're working on an interactive map that we will continue to update throughout this process. As we see how the streets are working, get feedback from residents, and adjust to the changing business operations and commuting patterns during this time, we anticipate making changes to shared streets.

Use the feedback channels on this page to tell us what you think - what's working well and what could be improved.


Why is the city doing this now? Why were these streets chosen as part of the network?

We are implementing Shared Streets now as part of the city's comprehensive response to the pandemic. COVID-19 exacerbates existing inequalities that we see around our city. While some of us are able to limit our potential exposure to the virus by working from home and getting essentials delivered, many people do need to travel outside their homes during this time. Specifically, low income and other underserved communities may not have a choice other than walking, biking, and taking transit to access jobs, groceries, healthcare, and other essential errands. Nearly 1 in 4 households in Somerville do not have access to a car, and 2 in 4 households have access to only one vehicle. Providing a walkable and connected network of streets that people can use to get around the community without a car is a key element to keeping us all safe and healthy.

The overall vision of Shared Streets is to create multiple north-south and east-west connections across the city to help people walk to essential destinations (the grocery stores in the city,

the public schools that are functioning as food pantries during this time, and some of the medical buildings in the city or immediately on the border). A recognized challenge that we are attempting to solve is the lack of adequate space for walking on sidewalks during this pandemic time combined with the recognition that residents need to walk to make essential trips.

Some larger roads around the city do have generally wide enough sidewalks for walking and maintaining appropriate social distance, but many of the smaller, residential streets do not.

As we were planning out the shared street layout within the city, we used the following framework to guide the selection of the initial streets:

- There should be connections within each ward that connect to essential locations within that ward (grocery stores, food pantries, medical offices, etc.)

- Shared streets should be on residential streets

- When segments of the shared streets do have to cross a major road we suggest connections on the map that help people cross at signalized crossings. If people have to walk along a portion

of a busier road to reach the next shared street segment, we suggest connections where the majority of the existing sidewalk is a minimum of 8 feet wide.

We recognize that these connections across or along major roads create gaps in a fully connected shared streets network. As we continue to implement shared streets, monitor their function, and hear what residents want and need, we aim to make continuous improvements and explore opportunities to add shared streets in other areas, expand sidewalks along major roads, and improve/create a safer network for bikes.

How do shared streets work for people driving?

Shared Streets will be closed to through traffic - people driving should not use Shared Streets unless necessary to reach a final destination. Shared Streets are open only to local traffic (abutters, their visitors, and deliveries) as well as for emergency services, street cleaning and trash/recycling collection. Shared Streets will be marked with city signage and barricades at key entrances and with temporary traffic calming treatments along the street. All drivers using Shared Streets should drive slowly and safely, and should expect to see people walking and biking along the street.


How do shared streets work for people walking or biking?

People can safely distance themselves from neighbors when walking, jogging, and biking along these streets and should always maintain at least 6 feet of space from others and remain aware of their surroundings at all times.

All Shared Streets allow two-way travel for bicycling, and people biking should expect to ride slowly and carefully, sharing space with pedestrians. People should use their best judgement when using Shared Streets to avoid crowding, and should use other quiet neighborhood streets if Shared Streets appear too busy.


What about vehicle traffic that needs to use these Shared Streets?

Shared Streets remain accessible for abutters, deliveries, emergency services, street cleaning, and trash/recycling collection. People driving should not use Shared Streets unless absolutely necessary to reach a final destination. People driving should travel slowly and expect to encounter people walking and biking on the roadway.


Are Shared Streets safe?

Shared Streets will utilize city signage, cones, and barricades at key entrances and with temporary traffic calming treatments along the street to reduce vehicle speeds. Regardless of travel mode, all users of shared streets must remain aware of their surroundings at all times and should travel slowly and carefully. Facial coverings are required and group activities are prohibited. People walking should not wear headphones unless they plan to remain on the sidewalk.


Won’t there be crowding on Shared Streets?

City Staff will continually monitor Shared Streets to ensure that crowding does not occur. By using temporary and flexible materials like cones and saw horses, Shared Streets can be easily modified or removed if needed.


What can I do to help?

You can do a few things to help with our Shared Streets initiative -

  • Amplify the Shared Streets message by downloading, printing, and posting informational signage ("Shared Streets Signs" PDF under Important Documents) along the Shared Streets corridors - on poles, your own parked vehicle, and/or other tools on-hand (neon pedestrian at play figures, traffic cones, etc.).
  • Use #SomervilleSharedStreets to post photos of users’ experiences on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
  • Report any issues, such as signs that have been knocked down on 311 (more information below).
  • Help us maintain the streets. We'll be out daily to monitor how they're working and the placement of cones and signs, and you can help too by putting cones back where they belong if they get moved.


How can I provide input or report a problem?

In addition to giving us feedback right on this page (by taking the brief survey, adding to the map, or asking us a question), you can also email us at Transportation@somervillema.gov.

You can also always give feedback by contacting the City’s 311 Constituent Services Division by calling 3-1-1 (TTY 866-808-4851) or 617-666-3311 from outside the City. You can reach 311 via the 311 mobile app, twitter (@311Somerville), or email (311updates@somervillema.gov).


Are other cities doing this?

Yes. The City has been observing and learning from dozens of small and large cities around the world that have closed or limited through traffic on certain streets to provide more space for physical distancing. We are staying in touch with our national peers on strategies and best practices for addressing the mobility impacts of the coronavirus and ensuring that residents can access essential services by all modes of transportation.

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