Starts & Stops

After years of confusion, Newton offramp gets a fix

The Mass Pike’s offramp to West Newton has a new sign clearly directing drivers who want to make right turn on red.
John Blanding/Globe staff
The Mass Pike’s offramp to West Newton has a new sign clearly directing drivers who want to make right turn on red.

It has been six months since this column delved into the tactical quagmire that is the Massachusetts Turnpike offramp to West Newton.

That intersection, it seems, is now sitting pretty.

A refresher: For westbound Pike drivers, the Exit 16 offramp leads to a merge onto Washington Street, punctuated with a traffic light. This traffic light posed a dilemma to drivers, because the roadway curves to the right. For many drivers, it remained unclear whether they should consider the intersection a right-turn, where motorists could proceed through the red light after stopping if they were in the right lane. Or, did the intersection constitute a “throughway,” where people in every lane needed to wait for a green light to proceed?


For the neophyte travelers unlucky enough to find themselves at the front of the queue in the right lane, it was a dilemma fraught with anxiety: Act with caution, wait for the green light to make the right turn, and they’d get an earful from furious drivers behind them. Or continue through the intersection while the light is red, and they ran the risk of being ticketed for breaking the law.

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Last November, a slew of readers and public officials weighed in. MassDOT said the intersection constituted a straight, albeit arced, thoroughfare; Newton police said it was a straight-up right turn.

Residents were split, but many who believed they had the freedom to turn on red pointed out the most significant piece of evidence in their favor: Everybody else does it!

After years of controversy, the Newton Traffic Council finally came up with a solution: a sign to indicate exactly who was allowed to turn, and when.

Patrick Baxter, Newton transportation engineer, made the suggestion; the five members of the Newton Traffic Council voted unanimously in favor.


Now, the new sign on the traffic pole reads “Right Turn on Red After Stop — Right Lane Only,” a clear set of instructions if there ever was one.

The installation actually happened back at the beginning of this year — but the lack of e-mails offering news of the change suggests, perhaps, that all who had previously complained are now pleased with the new clarity, because people seldom write in with comments when they’re happy.

I spotted the new sign on a drive to West Newton this week, and it seemed to be working just fine — until I saw a driver boldly take a right-on-red turn from a position in the center lane.

Even the most well-conceived sign, it seems, doesn’t fix everything.

Cambridge warns bicycle riders to ‘Be Wicked Smaaht’

We all knew it was coming.


Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation came out with cheeky missives on electronic highway signs, instructing drivers to “Use Yah Blinkah.”

Some drivers chuckled; others rolled their eyes. Many, many took photos on their cellphones as they puttered in traffic. And Highway Administrator Frank DePaola deemed the effort a success, saying the agency had finally figured out how to cut through the “white noise” of public service announcements with “uniquely crafted messages.” He signaled that there would be more “Good Will Hunting”-style PSAs to come.

Now, it seems, the tactic is catching on at other government agencies.

The phrase “Be Wicked Safe!” appeared on electronic message boards in Cambridge this week, brought to you by the Cambridge police and their new bicycle safety campaign. That epistle could only be outdone by the even more dreadfully worded phrase, “Be Wicked Smaaht!,” which also appears on the message boards.

Never mind the controversy over whether the Bostonification of “smart” is spelled with two As or one.

The signs, which also feature the phrases, “Drivers: Look 4 Bikes” and “Bikes: Look 4 Motorists,” are part of an effort to commemorate National Bike Safety Month, said Cambridge Police spokesman Jeremy Warnick.

The signs appear at three spots in Cambridge: Porter Square, Lafayette Square (near Central Square), and Inman Square.

And Warnick readily admits: The messages were inspired by the popularity of MassDOT’s “Use Yah Blinkah.”

They’ll be on display through the end of the month.

So, for those who think this kind of endearing, but mostly just mortifying trend will soon recede in the rearview mirror: No way. Not even close.

T general manager gains national spotlight

Here in Massachusetts, we’re more accustomed to seeing MBTA managers make their appeals for more transportation funding to the folks in the State House right here in Boston. But this week, Beverly A. Scott, MBTA general manager, went all the way to Washington to make her case to the big guns for more investment to fix our train system.

On Thursday, there she was on C-SPAN — or, to be exact, C-SPAN 3 — as she appeared before the Senate Housing, Transportation and Community Development Subcommittee to deliver a seven-minute speech on the need for more funding for the T. Scott gave a brief history of the transit authority, from the 1830s origins of the commuter rail system to the horse-drawn omnibuses that once crisscrossed Boston.

But she saved her biggest shout-out for the Green Line.

“This project will in fact wind up, for us, filling what has been a missing transit link serving some of the most densely populated communities, honestly, in the United States — right now, those communities of Somerville, Medford, Cambridge.”

Using perhaps one of the more colorful, and Boston-specific, analogies to have graced Senate chambers in a while, Scott beseeched federal legislators to provide funding not just to fix existing service, but to invest in new transit opportunities.

“We cannot wind up only looking at the hole and not the doughnut,” Scott said.

Martine Powers can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.