Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 30, 2010

Concord Avenue: City’s position, and comments

On April 27, Kelly Dunn, Community Relations Manager of the Cambridge Department of Public Works, sent the e-mail below to a number of people. One was Jessica Eckhardt, who lives near the project area. The sections below in quotes are Ms. Dunn’s e-mail and the other sections are Ms. Eckhardt’s and my response.

Dear Jessica,

Thank you for your input and suggestions regarding the cycle tracks on Concord Ave.  I hope I can address some of your concerns.

A few years ago a comprehensive planning study of the area was completed.  The Concord-Alewife Study examined the current support system for pedestrians and cyclists in the area, and looked at how we might enhance access through additional connections in the Alewife Quadrangle.  I encourage you to take a look at the study:  http://www.cambridgema.gov/cdd/cp/zng/concalew/concale_plan_all.pdf

We like what that study says, but on the other hand, your statement changes the subject. That study contains no mention of “raised bike lanes”.

As projects move forward, we hope to be able to implement some of the connections noted in the study. Regarding the overall design of Concord Avenue, there are a few things to note. The reconstruction that will happen is a complete right-of-way reconstruction, with reconstruction of sidewalks, curbs and drainage systems; this would happen in any case and is not being done specifically to create the raised bike lane.

So, the “raised bike lane” just sorta happened?  No, the City is consciously taking advantage of the need to reconstruct the street and sewers to create the so-called “raised bike lanes”.

Why the quotes? By definition, both technical and vernacular, there is no such thing as a “raised bike lane”. Any lane is part of the roadway, at roadway level. A bike path is separate from the roadway, and standards for safe design apply to it too.  Under the proposed design, neither the street nor the paths meet design standards that apply in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The raised bike lane is just that: bicyclists will be in the exact same location as they are now.

That statement turns attention away from the issues by discussing location instead of behavior. The statement makes a host of assumptions, first of which is that cyclists only need to ride in the bike lane. Yes, you can be in the exact same place, but your options are very different if you are behind a curb.

Consider access to and from the eastbound “raised bike lane.”  To reach it from most entrances on the north side, cyclists will have to cross most of the way, dismount, lift their bicycles over a curb and remount. Eastbound cyclists on the south side will have to hop down a curb at most places to turn left. The difficulty and danger of crossing the street will strongly encourage wrong-way riding, a practice which Cambridge has correctly disparaged in the past and is ignoring with this project.

Also, cyclists may now merge out of the bike lane to allow motorists to turn right without conflict. This option is denied with the “raised bike lanes”.

This is not a sidewalk path and bicyclists and pedestrians are separated by a street furniture zone, where street trees and street lights are located.

We do anticipate pedestrians spilling over or choosing to use the “raised bike lane” for travel – also cyclists using the pedestrian strip. In some places, the available width for both is only 10 feet. Still, the most disturbing issue with riding on a sidewalk-level facility is not so much the conflicts with pedestrians. It is the conflicts with motor vehicles — when riding the right way and much more so when riding the wrong way.

No matter what the design, the north side of Concord Avenue cannot be a safe location for the novice and child cyclists the City wants to attract. There is heavy turning and crossing traffic, at way too many locations. We have suggested extending the multi-use path on the south side — which has its benefits and drawbacks — the most notable benefit is safety for the inexperienced and child cyclists, with only one driveway crossing in the same distance.

At intersections and driveways, the facility is a regular in-street bike lane.

This is inaccurate and reveals a serious misunderstanding. The design drawings show the facility coming down to street level within a few feet of each street or driveway. To operate as a bike lane, it would have to come down at least 100 feet farther away, so that cyclists and motorists could negotiate lane position before and after the intersection. The City is not unfamiliar with this concept, which it used in its Vassar Street project. With, on average, one driveway or street every 100 feet, allowing merging distance around intersections and driveways would leave the westbound facility a bike lane just as it is now, for almost the entire length of the project.

There will be added signage reminding motorists to yield to cyclists.

Right-turning motorists will have to stop and wait, rather than merging into the bike lane before turning. Expect congestion, and mistakes. Signs or no signs, left-turning motorists will be unable to see past vehicles in the westbound lane. The best a left-turner can do is to creep forward until his or her vehicle’s hood provides a warning to cyclists that they need to yield.

There is nothing about the design that changes where cyclists travel over a standard bicycle lane.

This statement ignores the need to cross the street, among others, as already discussed.

Turning movements are always a concern, on all roads, whether there are bicycle facilities or not. There is no evidence that a raised bike lane with this design would make the situation worse; to the contrary, it increases the visibility of the cyclist, as well as decreases the likelihood of other dangerous behaviors such as motor vehicles parking in the bike lane.

That is an astonishing statement. Such evidence has existed for decades. It follows from human factors analysis (e.g, that drivers do not have x-ray vision, as already discussed), and from safety studies on both sides of the Atlantic. See for example this review of research results. And, a recent, extensive study in Copenhagen confirmed substantially-increased crash rates for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike.

If everything about positioning is the same, how can a height difference of 6 inches — or less, when the facility slants down before a street or driveway — make the cyclists more visible, especially to left-turning traffic? Will the child cyclists be more visible? Will any cyclists be visible when to the right of vans, trucks and buses?

As to your concern about motor vehicles parking in the bike lane, there is ample parking in the adjacent industrial area, and besides, the bike lane is too narrow to park in. Parking there is rare, illegal and subject to fines and towing. If there is no bike lane, any illegal parking will be in the travel lane instead or with one wheel up over the curb in the “raised bike lane”.

It’s important for cyclists to feel safe; especially riders with children and others who would not choose to ride on major streets with high volumes and high speeds of traffic.

We find it very distressing that the City proposes to attract unsuspecting cyclists including children onto a facility that crosses 24 driveways and 7 streets in 3000 feet, with known and serious crash risks, by making them feel safe — when the option exists for a path with only one, signalized intersection on the other side of the same street. Is it acceptable to make people feel safe when actually creating hazards for them? There is a vernacular term for this action: “Pied Piper” and also a legal term.”attractive nuisance.” We vote to re-examine the project on the basis of true safety, rather than an illusion of safety.

The City is committed to supporting and promoting sustainable transportation, and making it available and accessible to all. Raised bicycle lanes have been proven to be safe, effective facilities, which enable more people to choose to bicycle.

We support sustainable transportation too. We ride our bicycles almost every day, and we desire real safety improvements. Please cite your sources and clarify whether you are stating that a “raised bike lane” with so many intersections and immediately behind a high curb has been shown safe.

The project will also have important benefits to other users, especially pedestrians, who will have a greater buffer from motor vehicle traffic and improved street crossings. It is also expected that narrowing the curb-to-curb width of the street will help to reduce speeds, which are currently excessive.

Then we would be trying to use the cyclists and the car-bike conflicts as a shield, sacrificing one group for the benefit of the other. See especially the table on page 3 of the Copenhagen study, which was limited to the most carefully-designed street-corridor separated bicycle facilities. It found streets with these facilities more hazardous than other streets — for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike. Many features of the Concord Avenue design increase the hazard far beyond that of the Copenhagen facilities. Please, Ms. Dunn, show us your evidence to the contrary. We can’t just take your word for what you say, when public safety is at stake.

Yes, speeds are sure to decrease when the motorists are brought to a complete halt to wait to turn right across the “raised bike lane” and to a crawl to try to avoid collisions when turning left.  Speeds could easily be controlled with traffic enforcement or with other measures, for example, raised pedestrian crossings.

One of the primary goals of the project is to improve conditions for people walking and biking on Concord Avenue, while maintaining vehicular capacity.  The number of travel lanes will remain the same as today.

A “raised bike lane” is not a bike lane. The number of lanes will be reduced by two. A cyclist, who has the right to use the roadway under the laws of the Commonwealth, will no longer have eastbound and westbound bike lanes on the road. Also, capacity for motor vehicles will be reduced because motorists will have to stop before turning right, and will have to creep forward (we hope) while turning left, to yield to cyclists they can not see.

The conditions for cyclists and pedestrians will deteriorate with the snow in winter and no place to put it.  Even if the “raised bike lane” is cleared, it will remain partly coated with slush and ice.

A community meeting was held last spring and the project has been reviewed by community groups, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian committees, the disabilities commission, and the committee on public planting.

The Cambridge bicycle program likes push the envelope by imitating European practice. People who are not familiar with the research literature can easily be convinced that the grass is always greener in Copenhagen, and that all such innovation is positive. This project also plays into the widespread public misperception that bicycling on sidewalks is safe. Some European designs are faulty, and this project in addition reflects a poor imitation of European practice. It will create a situation far worse than possible alternatives, and a perception of safety without really increasing safety. That is not positive innovation.

I (Jessica) am requesting meeting minutes and a copy of the flyer that was supposedly distributed around my neighborhood. I also ask why Massbike was not informed of the construction project.

If you would like, I can add your email to my public notification list; you can also check the progress of upcoming work at our website as well: http://www.cambridgema.gov/TheWorks/

Thank you again for your comments.  I will be sending out periodic construction updates at the work progresses.  If at any time you run into issues, feel free to contact me or Dan Vallee, project manager.

Sincerely,

Kelly

Kelly Dunn

Community Relations Manager

Cambridge Department of Public Works
147 Hampshire Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
T:  617.349.4870
F:  617.349.4814

kdunn *at* cambridgema *dot* gov

www.cambridgema.gov/theworks

[All contact information here is already available on the Internet; e-mail address has been altered to avoid contributing to harvesting by spam robots.]

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