Somerville, Reading and 40R

March 16, 2010 Posted by Michael Frechette - No Comments

Earlier this month, the City of Somerville held a public meeting to present and receive feedback on the latest design development for improvements to Union Square.  The consultants hired by the city, Howard Stein Hudson traffic and civil engineers, proposed some interesting solutions for this area, which is plagued by excessive traffic and a lack of useful open space.  In addition, the MBTA is planning an extension of the Green Line into Union Square, (see ‘future plans’) and this poses some opportunities and obstacles for this area, which were addressed by the presentation.  The consultants’ PowerPoint slides from the March 1st meeting can be found here.

A view of Union Square’s infamous jersey barriers. (via

Some of the proposed changes include increasing two-way vehicle traffic and better synchronized stoplights, wider sidewalks, more continuous bicycle lanes and possible off-site parking garages.  The Square’s infamous network of concrete Jersey barriers will (mercifully) be removed.  Many of these changes are likely to improve the usefulness of Union Square as a destination for the Square’s many businesses, residences and outdoor public events (such as farmers’ markets and the Fluff Festival), and reduce its role as a conduit for automobile traffic.

Proposed Street Section with bike lanes, trees and widened sidewalks, by Howard Stein Hudson

Proposed Open Space Plan, by Howard Stein Hudson

The Union Square meeting got us thinking about our new office space in Reading center, where we moved last November.  Here at the corner of Main and Haven streets, (just a few blocks from the Reading MBTA Commuter Rail station,) we are now within a 40R “Smart Growth” Overlay Zone.  This zone is a provision that allows for mixed-use zoning where it was previously not allowed by zoning.  In the interest of spurring diverse and vibrant nodes of activity, 40R allows cities to grow in a sustainable way around existing infrastructure.  In effect, it is a tool for towns to undo some of the damage caused by sprawl-based, automobile-reliant single use zoning methods which often prevail in the suburbs.  Financial incentives are provided by the state, and over 30 towns in Massachusetts (including Reading) have enacted Chapter 40R to create Smart Growth zones.

Reading Smart Growth District showing MBTA & OSA office locations. (via Town of Reading)

Reading center is home to a diverse community of residents and businesses, and we are enjoying being a part of this busy locale.  More in-depth information on 40R can be found here on