Neighborways are residential streets supplemented with low-cost, quick-build interventions designed to reduce traffic speeds and volume. In other parts of the country they are called neighborhood greenways or bicycle boulevards. They aim to connect key neighborhood locations, such as schools, parks, and neighborhood squares, with streets prioritizing low-speed non-motorized users. Pavement murals, stencils, painted bumpouts at intersections, increased signage, and flexposts create visually distinct streets, emphasizing the safety of cyclists and pedestrians, while encouraging sidewalk activity for children and adults alike. In addition to traffic calming benefits, neighborways can activate communities and creativity, rallying residents around painting projects to get and keep people on the streets. In some instances, neighborways act as proof of concept for cities and towns, generating enough excitement and use to warrant the cost of a hard infrastructure solution, such as speed humps, traffic islands, or neighborhood traffic circles.
Formed in 2015, Neighborways is a volunteer organization that convenes community members to open a dialogue about safety in neighborhood streets, brainstorm site-specific creative solutions to problem areas, fund and implement these ideas, and maintain pavement paint. The group partners with municipalities, local businesses, business associations, main street groups, developers, schools, and/or residents, relying on funding from local arts councils and grant organizations, as well as crowdsourcing through platforms such as neighbor.ly. Since its inception, Neighborways has helped to install safety features in seven neighborhoods: four in Somerville, two in Boston and one in Everett. The group is also planning two new neighborways in Revere.
To be eligible for a neighborhood traffic management and calming program in Somerville, the City Traffic Commission requires that:
- the street should be primarily residential in nature and meet various traffic, speed, and physical specifications,
- a petition indicating at least 9 residents, or 33% of the residents on the street (whichever is lower) support the implementation of a traffic calming device, and
- the requested action is consistent with federal, state, and local laws.
However, due to the volume of interest in neighborway installations, the City of Somerville is considering adopting regulations that expedite the permitting process. For sample language, please see: Implementation: Neighborways.
On one project in Somerville, Neighborways partnered with Lesley University College of Art and Design and residents to design street murals, including one in the Spring Hill neighborhood (pictured below). Modest reductions in automobile traffic speed were observed, but only in the first few weeks after the intervention. Once drivers got accustomed to the painting, speeds returned to their previous levels. Other street paintings in the City did result in durable speed reductions. In addition, the City will be piloting using flexible posts for traffic calming which showed great potential to reduce car speeds in recent tests.
Regardless of the impacts on vehicle speeds, neighborway efforts yield increased interaction between residents, more sidewalk activity, and residents themselves perceive that cars are going slower even if the data doesn’t always back that up. Residents noted that collective street painting helped to build a better sense of community, and that people seem to smile and engage in conversation more.
 Kelsey, Patrick. “Neighborhood Street Painting as a Traffic Calming Strategy: A Case Study of the Neighborway Project in Somerville, Massachusetts.” February 2017.
Each municipality in Massachusetts has an independent process for enacting traffic calming mechanisms. To initiate the process, navigate to your municipality’s Public Works or Transportation Division’s website and locate the Traffic Calming Request Form. Because neighborways are low-cost, resident-initiated projects, your city may have different standards for initiating paint-based interventions than those involving the installation of hard infrastructure such as speed bumps, posts, or permanent changes to the curb. In most cases, these regulations do not differentiate between the two processes. As such, you should reach out to someone in those departments and acquire the necessary information.
For a neighborhood to be eligible for calming mechanisms that physically alters the roadway — such as speed bumps, traffic islands, or rotaries — municipalities often require proof of resident interest, as obtained by submitting a Traffic Calming Request Form. The municipality will then determine whether the road is eligible for traffic calming interventions by assessing the following information:
- Street classification (typically, only local roads are eligible);
- Traffic volumes;
- High traffic speeds as compared to posted limits;
- Physical data (# of lanes, width, grade and alignment, parking);
- Proximity to community facilities, schools, parks, and businesses;
- Accident data reports, and other relevant reports;
- Status of each street as emergency vehicle, bus, truck, or bicycle route; and
- Pedestrian crossing volumes.
In Somerville, the City has developed a separate process for approving neighborways; and this framework can be replicated in other municipalities to help clarify and formalize the process for residents interested in initiating similar projects. To acquire a neighborways permit in Somerville, the application must include:
- the final design and location for streetscape improvement,
- a summary of outreach activities conducted including, but not limited to, flyering and organizing informational events that encourage residents to get involved with the street painting process,
- a summary of both the support for and the opposition to the street painting and must describe the efforts that have been made to bring opponents into the design process,
- signatures from residents of 66% abutting properties or 30 signatures, whichever is fewer (only one signature is permitted per household)
- a Ward Alderman?s signature, and
- a Public Event License.
Repainting street murals requires a similar permitting process, including all requirements listed above except for resident signatures. After receiving a neighborways painting or repainting application, the City Clerk’s Office forwards the materials to Traffic & Parking to verify signatures and then along to appropriate departments for sign-off.
Funding may be available through your local arts council or through MassDOT’s Complete Streets program, provided designs include significant traffic calming mechanisms such as flex posts.