Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 15, 2011

Concord Avenue, Under Construction

I just rode Concord Avenue last Sunday to see what was happening there.

I had thought that the construction project would have been completed by now, but it isn’t.

The image below is of the east end of the section under construction. I find a bit of irony here in that the “Bikes May Use Full Lane” sign is placed at the start of a project which intends to get bicycles off the road, and also it is nonstandard — diamond-shaped like a warning sign which is supposed to be yellow, but white like a regulatory sign, which is supposed to be rectangular (as with speed-limit and no parking signs). The message is a regulatory message: it is law.

Looking west at the east end of the Concord Avenue section under construction

Looking west at the east end of the Concord Avenue section under construction

Construction barrels divide the narrowed roadway into two lanes, rather than the three planned for when construction is complete. As the westbound bikeway is incomplete, I rode west on the roadway. Motorists still were able to overtake me without leaving their lane, as they were when the roadway was wider, with three travel lanes and a bike lane on either side. I was passed by a number of cars, no problem. I had one conflict with a driver who moved out of a side street into my path. Such conflicts will be much more common when bicyclists are riding in sidewalk space.

The road surface was very bumpy because the street has not yet been repaved. The effort is going into construction of the bicycle sidepaths at this time.

I shot video of my rides. It’s HD video and you will want to view it full screen to get all the details. This is the link to the video of my westbound ride. And here is my eastbound ride.

One other thing I hadn’t expected is that the south-side (eastbound) path was almost completely empty, except for me, though it was nearly finished, and unobstructed — on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon when there was heavy bicycle and pedestrian traffic in Fresh Pond Park and on the Minuteman path.

I can say that if much traffic does appear on the south-side path, the situation will be very confused. There is no buffer between the 5′ wide bikeway (closer to the curb) and the wider walkway away from the curb. There was supposed to be a 2-foot-wide buffer, as I recall. Also, the concrete pavement of the pedestrian section, farther from the curb, is smoother. The bumpier asphalt pavement adjacent to the curb is supposed to be for eastbound bicyclists, in defiance of AASHTO guidelines, which require a 5′ spacing or a barrier, and also in defiance of normal path and road rules, which require riding on the right side. The City’s scheme would have eastbound bicyclists riding on the left side of the combined bikeway and walkway. Meanwhile, there also will be westbound bicyclists using this path to avoid the much worse path on the other side of the street, and probably keeping to the right as is usual.

As the path is behind a high curb, bicyclists who want to cross Concord Avenue will have to wait at the crosswalks rather than to merge into the roadway. At the few crosswalks, there is no waiting area (for example, at 1:24 in the eastbound video). Because the bikeway is between the walkway and the street, bicyclists and pedestrians who are waiting to cross the street will block the bikeway, and other bicyclists will have to divert onto the walkway.

As the concrete pavers of the pedestrian section and the asphalt of the bicycle section age and settle, a step could develop between them, just as on the parts of the Charles River paths, widened with asphalt next to the old stone retaining wall along the riverfront. Many bicyclists have gone down as a result.

Many aspects of the Cambridge bicycle program can be described as ideologically driven, and defying national and state design standards. Placing a longitudinal seam along a bikeway, and directing traffic to keep left, are merely incompetent.

Other than what I have described in this post, the project looks as though it will turn out as I expected, with the foreseeable problems I’ve already described in my earlier post; the right hook and left cross conflicts, inability to cross to the south side at most locations without dismounting in the street to lift the bicycle over a curb; resulting wrong-way riding on the north side, etc.

The party line about the Concord Avenue project, which I have in writing from two City employees (here and here) and verbally from a member of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee, is that “bicyclists will be riding in exactly the same place as they are now.” This statement turns a blind eye to the encouragement of wrong-way riding, and the keep right/keep left confusion. It ignores bicyclists’ crossing and turning maneuvers, and motorists’ being trapped by the curbs and forced to turn across the path of bicyclists; it denies that motorists block sidepaths so they can see approaching traffic in the street. Saying that “bicyclists will be riding in exactly the same place as they are now” is like saying that a bird in a cage, hanging in a tree, is in exactly in the same place as a bird sitting in that tree and free to fly off.

What really burns me up is that the City employees designing bicycle facilities appear to have no concept of how bicyclists actually are going to use them, or of the potential hazards. It’s all about “build it and they will come” and that means, build just anything they think will attract novice cyclists and children, and to hell with design standards and safety research. I see shoddy and incompetent mimicry of European designs, and astonishing hubris. So far, the Concord Avenue bikeway is half built with one side completely open, and very few bicyclists have come, except for me, and I was there on a discovery tour.

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1 Comment

  1. I work on Concord Ave. and bike commute most of the time. I agree with your harsh assessment of this project. I need to turn left into work from the eastbound side of the road in the morning, and left onto Blanchard from the westbound side of the road in the evening. The new facilities don’t (eastbound)/won’t (westbound) accommodate either of these movements without a great deal of unnecessary awkwardness, so I’ll probably continue to use the roadway most of the time. It remains to be seen how much motorist harrassment that’ll earn me. When the westbound path opens, I’ll experiment with riding it vs. not during my evening commute and see how the conflicts go.

    In the short time since you took that video, they’ve started constructing a couple islands at the very end of the incomplete westbound path, further separating the sidepath from the rest of traffic. Photos here:

    https://picasaweb.google.com/100557942262910432715/ConcordAveConstruction20110925?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCIS63dyel6Tv4AE&feat=directlink

    The islands begin just before the 777 Concord Ave. driveway and end just before the Sancta Maria driveway. Just the last two driveways. I’m unsure if the the island arrangement is worse or better than the rest of the sidepath; at this point it just seems totally out of the blue. It also seems to be in contradiction to Cambridge’s previous claim that “bicyclists will be riding in exactly the same place as they are now.”

    After the islands, it looks like the sidepath will end in what’s currently a right turn-only lane, without much distance remaining to merge left. I’ll be curious to see whether the city rearranges the lanes when they repave so the rightmost one is through/straight. But even if they do that, left-turning cyclists coming off the sidepath will likely have little choice but to cross as pedestrians.

    Comment by Nick Goffee — September 26, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

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