Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

August 14, 2018

Tight spot on Huron Avenue

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling — Tags: , , , , , , — jsallen @ 1:01 pm

I am expanding here on comments which I made on a post in the Cambridge Bikes Facebook group.

The overhead view from the post shows a stretch of Huron Avenue near Sparks Street.

Huron Avenue and Sparks Street, Cambiridge, Massachusetts

Huron Avenue and Sparks Street

I see here a retrofit to a car-centric street design in an attempt to accommodate bicyclists of all ages and abilities, a popular goal of bicycling advocacy.

This stretch is downhill right to left in the overhead view. A common explanation for the buffer (diagonally-striped area) to the left of the bike lane is that it is to protect cyclists from overtaking motorists — but it places the bike lane in the door zone. A bike lane in the door zone is unsafe for any bicyclists, but it is worse here. Motorists don’t have x-ray vision. A look in the driver’s side mirror won’t show a bicyclist until rather late on a right-hand curve: bicyclists are hidden by the parked cars behind. Bicyclists can travel as fast or nearly as fast as cars here, also worsening the dooring hazard. and do best to merge out and ride in the stream of motor traffic. This also improves sight distance for motorists who might (horrors!) have to slow a little to follow a bicyclist.

On the other side of the street, the bike lane leads bicyclists into the right-hook zone at Sparks Street in the expectation that all right-turning motorists will yield. The green-painted crossing is an attempt to accommodate bicyclists who do not check for traffic behind them, whether due to lack of skill, a stiff neck, inattention or misplaced trust. But, not all motorists yield. A bicyclist needs to be extra careful here, casting a look over the shoulder, and preferably merging left to block a right-turning motorist or let that motorist pass on the right.

Is it actually possible to design safely for all ages and abilities here? A speed hump could help by slowing motor traffic. Removing parking spaces would make a big improvement, but parking spaces are sacred to residents and business owners, and illegal parking (as in the bike lane on the south side) is tolerated as a minor sin. Moving the legal parking to the uphill, soutth side, would reduce the dooring risk. On the south side, bicyclist are traveling more slowly and sight lines are better.

But above all, a major change in motorists’ behavior is needed — a cultural change: reduction in speed, and respect for bicyclists who safely far enough from the parked vehicles to avoid dooring. Attempting to bring about bicycling accessible to people of all ages and abilities using paint first, without the public will to step up enforcement, gets things backwards. In the mean time, children might ride slowly on the sidewalk, but grownups do best to use defensive driving techniques, as I have described.  The major motorist behavior change can be expected (with autonomous vehicles) — in a decade or three.  If  shared use becomes dominant with motor vehicles, there also will be less need for parking spaces and that would be good too.

March 14, 2018

The Marcia Deihl bicycling fatality

Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley has obtained a copy of the crash reconstruction report in Marcia Deihl’s fatal collision with a truck on March 1, 2015, and posted the report online. I thank Mr. Kelley for performing this public service.

My understanding is that a Freedom of Information Act request was necessary to obtain a copy. That is not as it should be. The public needs to know the how and why of crashes, to avoid them and guide policy.

Quick summary: Deihl rode out of the driveway on Putnam Avenue from Whole Foods, collided with the front bumper of the truck, which was headed east in the lane closest to the driveway, and went under its front wheels. Here. You can see the ghost bike in the image. (It is before the driveway but the crash occurred at or after the driveway.)

Half-trigger warning: this post isn’t relaxing reading and neither is the report, but they don’t include any gruesome images, or except for the last few pages or the report, descriptions more graphic than what you have just read.

So, what about the report?

Unfortunately, the investigation leaves questions unanswered, which it might have answered. Only in the synopsis at the start of the report does the State Police investigator repeat part of the report of Cambridge Officer Sullivan who interviewed the truck driver at the scene. Sullivan’s report says that the driver “checked to his right but didn’t see anything but snow so he started to pull over. He stated as he was pulling over he started to put on his hazard lights. He felt a bump and thought he ran over a snow bank.” He also said that he was pulling over to park and then walk to a construction site to see if it was ready for the dumpster he was carrying.

The report doesn’t raise, or answer, the question whether the driver was looking ahead prior to pulling over, as he was approaching the driveway. There was also no discussion of the role that snowbanks might have played in blocking sight lines. You will probably recall that the winter of 2015 was the snowiest one ever recorded in the Boston area. 94.4 inches had fallen from Jan. 24 through Feb. 22, 2015.

Deihl pulled out of the driveway either just as the truck was passing, or she passed it. The initial point of impact was the front of the truck and — as identified by a GPS recorder in the truck — it was going only 5 mph at that point (slowing to a stop).

One thing that calls out to me in the report is the intensive examination of the truck but cursory examination of the bicycle (p. 12 of the PDF, p. 7 of the report). What if, for example, Deihl’s brakes had failed? Were the steel rims of Deihl’s old English three-speed bicycle wet? Steel rims are as slippery as ice when wet, and rim brakes barely work then. The temperature reached 30 F on the day of the crash, which occurred at 3 PM, but snowmelt might have wetted the rims. Or did the bicycle have a coaster brake, in which case wet rims wouldn’t have been an issue? Did Deihl skid on packed snow or ice? Also the autopsy report is rather perfunctory. Medical condition leading to loss of control? — last page of the PDF. “Bicyclist rideout” crashes like this one are rare after childhood, suggesting to me that something unusual went wrong.

The key to this crash would seem to be why Deihl came out of the driveway and collided with the truck, rather than stopping to let it pass. But the trucker also pulled over to the right — Deihl may have turned right assuming that the truck would clear her. — page 9 of the PDF.

Deihl was required under the law to yield to traffic in the street before entering it from a driveway. If she pulled out of the driveway ahead of the truck, the trucker could have prevented the crash as long as it was not too late for him to avoid the collision by braking or swerving. He was at fault if he failed to look. If Deihl was passing him on the right, she would have been close to the side of the truck and probably in its right-side blind spot. And sight lines may have been blocked by a snowbank.

It’s incredibly frustrating that:

  1. The investigator didn’t know what he is doing in a bicycle investigation (scenario repeated with the Anita Kurmann fatality in Boston later the same year);
  2. It took a FOIA request to see the report;
  3. Advocates use these tragedies to justify whatever pet projects they have. (Sideguards, says Alex Epstein. They would be irrelevant in this collision with the front of a truck: more about them here. Separate bike traffic from car traffic, says Pete Stidman. Just how would a sidepath have worked on a day when the street was lined with snowbanks is another valid question. Most likely, it would not have been usable. Comments by Epstein and Stidman are here. Neither of them had seen the report when they made their observations.)
  4. Advocates are avoiding adequately informing bicyclists about the hazards of trucks and how to avoid them.

Well, the advocates at the American Bicycling Education Association are an important exception. I am proud to be an instructor in its program. An animated graphic on safety around trucks is here and if you click on the title at the top of the page, you can find out how to sign up for a course (online or in person) which will cover that topic and much more.

I thank Paul Schimek for many of the observations in this post, and for drawing my attention to the availability of the crash report.

And again, I thank Craig Kelley for making the report available.

February 16, 2018

A look at the Brattle Street bikeway

In 2017, Cambridge installed a two-way separated bikeway on Brattle Street between Mason Street and Brattle Square. In the video here, I take a look at part of that bikeway, from Church Street to Brattle Square.

This is a high-definition video. For best viewing, start the video playing, click on “Youtube”, and then click on the Full Screen Icon — the square at the lower right.

September 24, 2017

Not left, Felton

OK, I couldn’t resist the palindrome, but this is a serious post anyway.

Site of near-collision at Cambridge and Felton Streets.

I nearly left-crossed another cyclist today, on my bicycle, as I turned left from Cambridge Street onto Felton Street. It could have been a very serious collision. He came storming out of the shadows past the black parked SUV in the photo, on the new separated bikeway. I wasn’t looking in his direction at the right time to see him in time to yield. (I had to look in different directions to yield to street traffic, sidewalk traffic in both directions, crosswalk traffic — and now, this parking-screened conflict. “He came out of nowhere,” someone else might say but the Transporters in Star Trek are fiction: he came from where not visible in time reliably to allow yielding.) The short stretch where parking is prohibited before the intersection is supposed to make it possible for left-turning drivers to yield. The bikeway is really only designed for bicyclists riding slowly. It doesn’t work to yield to a cyclist going 20-25 mph.

Startled, I yelled WHOAH! as I crossed just in front of him. He yelled back “I have the right of way.”

His sense of entitlement doesn’t exactly reflect prudence, but if I’d collided with him, I would have been held at fault.

In 45 years bicycling in Boston-area urban traffic, I’ve never collided with a motor vehicle, but I’ve had a couple of near-collisions with other cyclists: both in Cambridge, both at night: a near head-on on the path along Memorial Drive in front of the MIT dorms — the other cyclist had no headlight; the other, I was riding westbound on Harvard Street and a cyclist traveling the wrong way on Dana Street or Ellery street crossed at speed a couple of feet in front of me — also, no headlight.

The new installation on Cambridge Street gives bicyclists the sense of entitlement to enter intersections from screened conflicts, at speed. Bicyclists and motorists turning left here need to be extra-cautious. I don’t see how it would be even possible for the driver of a long vehicle turning left to see a bicyclist in the bikeway in time to yield.

Bicyclists riding fast are much safer riding with the motor traffic, but now the travel lanes are too narrow for motorists to pass bicyclists, and only the very strongest bicyclists (or those with electrical assist) are able to ride fast enough that motorists won’t want to pass.

I was on my way to the Bow Tie Ride when this incident occurred. The Bow Tie Ride was a tame affair indeed, average speed around 5 miles per hour due to the large number of participants of varying abilities. Traffic management by the Cambridge Police and volunteers was very good, but I didn’t have time to finish the ride at that speed and left partway through.

December 1, 2016

A Peanut in Inman Square?

Inman Square is a difficult, pre-automotive, cramped, often congested, diagonal intersection. Thoroughgoing safety and traffic-flow improvements are not possible, short of tearing down buildings to create more travel space, or an expensive grade separation.

Anne Lusk, Visiting Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and a relentless advocate for on-street barrier-separated bikeways, has promoted a proposal for a “peanut roundabout” as a solution to the problems with Inman Square.

A grade separation was built long ago, farther west where Cambridge street runs between Harvard buildings. Though Lusk works at Harvard University, Inman Square does not adjoin the campus, and the political and financial resources of the University evidently don’t come to bear on the Square’s problems.

A Web page from the Boston Cyclists Union describes the “peanut roundabout” concept which Lusk is promoting for Inman Square. Here’s a conceptual drawing from the Web page:

"Peanut Roundabout" concept for Inman Square

“Peanut Roundabout” concept for Inman Square

I do think that the peanut roundabout concept is clever in itself. By eliminating traffic signals, this design might improve traffic flow.

— except for problems for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In the conceptual drawing on the page, to continue across the square in the same direction, bicyclists are directed to follow a circuitous route on separated bikeways, subject to right-hook risks, and turn sharply left after waiting at locations where they would block other bicyclists bearing right. There is no waiting area other than the narrow bikeway in which the bicyclists approach. The page describes the crossings as “European-style protected crossings” — but they aren’t. Strictly speaking, in traffic engineering, “protected” means that conflicting movements are prevented by traffic signals. No traffic signals are shown in the conceptual drawing. Four of the six crosswalks are raised, and these would slow motorists, but there are no waiting areas that would make it clear whether bicyclists will be turning across motor traffic or proceeding straight.

All in all, I cannot imagine how this concept would work for bicyclists or pedestrians without traffic signals for the crosswalks. Signals, though, would result in more motorists in the roundabout blocking other motorists’ travel in the roundabout. The conceptual drawing avoids raising this issue. Few vehicles are shown in the roundabout, inconsistent with the many in the connecting streets.

The conceptual drawing shows door-zone bike lanes leading to and from Inman Square at every approach. Earlier this year, cyclist Amanda Phillips was killed when the opening door of a parked vehicle flung her under a truck — the incident which led to calls for redesign of the Square. She was, however, not in the Square: she was had left the Square. (Identification of the crash location) It has been reported that she was exiting the sidewalk just before she was doored — so, she came from behind the vehicle whose door opened in front of her. What lessons from this crash have informed the proposed peanut design? Apparently none. The bike lanes shown at exits from the Square place bicyclists in the same hazardous situation as Phillips: emerging from behind parked vehicles, rather than where they might be visible with a driver’s-side mirror or a glance over the shoulder.

The page claims that “[s]uch a design could radically improve traffic flows, safety, and the community fabric of crash-prone Inman Square.” It would be useful in evaluating proposals, and claims like these, to have  a traffic capacity and flow analysis, and a crash study.  Instead, on the Web page, there is a list of claimed advantages, with no mention of potential problems and no analysis.

My overall impression of this design as a bicyclist, in addition to the concerns about safety, is that while it might increase appeal to bicyclists who are fearful of riding in mixed traffic, delays will be such that bicyclists who want to get where they are going will ride in the motor traffic. And let’s hope that they understand that safety would require them to ride in line with the motor traffic rather than keeping out of its way, as the designated routes strongly imply to be the key to safety.

The City of Cambridge has put forward two other proposals. A  “bend Cambridge Street” proposal is shown in the image below. Traffic on Hampshire Street would travel straight through, and traffic on Cambridge Street would zigzag. A similar “bend Hampshire Street” proposal is more or less a mirror image of this one. These proposals are similar to what has been done with Union Square in Somerville and at Lafayette Square (the intersection of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue) in Cambridge.

City of Cambridge "bend Cambridge Street" proposal

City of Cambridge “bend Cambridge Street” proposal

The “bend” proposals include traffic signals and require bicyclists and motorists to make left turns. I do think, however, that the blue space in the “bend Cambridge Street” proposal might include bikeways, so  bicyclists on Cambridge Street could continue straight where the street bends left toward the first traffic light and then re-enter Cambridge Street by crossing Hampshire Street at the second traffic light rather than by turning left. (This would not be practical with the “bend Hampshire Street” proposal, because bicyclists would have to turn left across Hampshire Street to enter the blue space). The drawing below shows my proposal. Bicyclists would follow the red arrows.

Bend Cambridge Street proposal with shortcut bikeways

Bend Cambridge Street proposal with shortcut bikeways

The blue areas also might include useful social space — unlike the peanut roundabout proposal, where the extra space would be in the middle of the street.  The two traffic lights in the Bend Camridge Street proposal would, to be sure, increase delay for motorists. Bicyclists following the red-arrow route would encounter only one traffic light.

I’ll admit that I don’t have any more thoroughgoing answers to Inman Square’s problems other than the two I’ve already mentioned — tearing down buildings or creating a grade separation — which are not going to happen. I’ll be trying to think of other possibilities, and please, you do also.

March 31, 2015

Web page includes two videos of Cambridge bicycle infrastructure

Please check out this Web page,with two of four videos illustrating exciting new developments in Cambridge bicycle infrastructure. Can you identify the locations?

Exciting new technology demonstrated at a Cambridge bicycle facility.

Exciting new technology demonstrated at a Cambridge bicycle facility.


June 3, 2013

Coming up at the Cambridge City Council on Monday, June 3

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:06 pm

Coming up at City Council on Monday, June 3

During a municipal election year, it is common that the content of City Council Orders is at least in part motivated by the need to identify or, in some cases, create issues that will distinguish the author of the Order. The same can be said of matters taken up by the City Council committees and more. Controversy and alarm are sure to draw more attention than more mundane matters. There’s now just four weeks to go before nomination papers become available for City Council candidates, and it’s a good time to look at the actions of our local elected officials through a campaign-tinted lens. With this in mind, here’s a list of some of the more interesting agenda items on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-38, regarding a report on measures the City can take to prevent the transport of ethanol. [Meeting Notice with response from Congressman Michael Capuano]

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a working group of up to eleven people charged with drafting a community response to the Mar 29, 2013 report issued by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as it relates to ethanol transport and the impact on the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Maher and Councillor Decker

There’s no doubt that this is a significant issue that deserves a thoughtful response, but it’s true that an atmosphere of fear is something that can be nurtured and exploited for political gain. The state legislature has taken some steps to stop trains bearing this particular hazardous cargo, but the letter from Congressman Capuano makes clear that federal jurisdiction in interstate commerce may trump any such efforts, including actions targeting things other than the transportation of such cargo. It’s not surprising that residents may be fearful, especially with news stories from elsewhere about train derailments and their consequences.

Should this plan go through, the most likely route would follow the Fitchburg Line through North Cambridge and Porter Square and then through Somerville en route to the Chelsea destination. The Grand Junction branch passing through Cambridgeport and East Cambridge is a possible alternate route. Perhaps the most potentially dangerous locations for any route would be at-grade crossings. On the preferred route, this includes Sherman Street in North Cambridge and Park Street in Somerville.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-33, regarding a report on adding a RSS feed to all City web pages.

This item will be carefully scrutinized by Councillor Cheung, John Hawkinson and Saul Tannenbaum, but probably not by legions of other residents.

Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-78, regarding a report on expanding the number of parks/playing fields with public toilets; Awaiting Report Item Number 12-132, regarding a report on incorporating permanent bathroom facilities at the Cambridge Common, conducting a study for permanent bathroom facilities in all squares and providing a list of all locations were portable bathroom facilities are currently located; Awaiting Report Item Number 12-150, regarding convening a task force to look into the creation of providing permanent public restrooms at high volume locations; and Awaiting Report Item Number 13-55, regarding a report on efforts to develop a working group to review public bathroom issues.

As the text of the Manager’s report indicates, this responds to four separate Council orders. Though the idea of bathroom facilities may seem like a not-so-hot topic, it has actually brought out a lot of people during the Public Comment period of meetings over a span of quite a few years, and good answers are not so easy to come by. This is also not just about the Cambridge Common. In past years there was a lot of discussion about creating public toilets in the major squares, but nothing really happened for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, people still "have to go" and you can’t change that via legislation. It does seem clear that the City administration is taking the matter seriously and that some accommodation will follow.

Manager’s Agenda #28. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-60, regarding a report on the feasibility of donating old computers to non-profit agencies in lieu of recycling them.

This is clearly a good thing, but one has to wonder why sensible efficiencies like this should require City Council orders. The City of Cambridge is often seen as a leader in "sustainability" efforts, and one major part of this involves waste disposal and reuse options. It seems to this writer and long-time recycling advocate that all City departments should be ensuring that surplus equipment is disposed in the best possible way, and reuse certainly seems a better choice than other alternatives.

Unfinished Business #14. Report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 3, 2013 to discuss an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create a new Section 6.100 Bicycle Parking, and to create a new definition for Bicycle Parking in Article 2.000, modify the yard standards in Article 5.000 as they relate to bicycle parking and modifying various sections of Article 6.000 to remove references to bicycle parking. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 6, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Mar 19, 2013. Petition expires June 17, 2013. May 6, 2013 substituted language referred to Unfinished Business and remained on Unfinished Business.

I suspect this will be ordained at this meeting. The proposed ordinance could be made better by including a requirement for secure bicycle parking for all redevelopments. At the very least, there should be a requirement that there be no net loss of potential bike parking below an established minimum for both residential and commercial buildings.

Resolution #17. Thanks and best wishes to Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray for his service to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.   Councillor Decker

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Tim. I’ll never forget the evasive answers you gave me at a City Council committee meeting back when you were still the Mayor of Worcester. You haven’t changed a bit.

Resolution #30. Congratulations to City Manager Robert W. Healy on his fellowship at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.   Mayor Davis [Press Release]

How do I schedule an appointment with Professor Healy during office hours later this year?

Order #1. That the Executive Assistant to the City Council confer with the Dedication Committee to consider the request from Wayne Ishikawa for a street corner dedication in honor of Michael Shinagel.   Councillor Toomey

I tip my hat to my former boss, Harvard Extension School Dean Michael Shinagel. The Extension School has been providing affordable educational opportunities for residents for a century and Michael Shinagel served as Dean of the Division of Continuing Education for 38 years from 1975 through 2013. [Harvard Magazine article, Sept 2012]

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff, City of Boston, state transportation officials and Longfellow Bridge construction project managers to determine if it would be possible for pedicabs to transfer passengers from the general MGH/Charles Street area of Boston to the general Kendall Square area of Cambridge and back again.   Councillor Kelley

This is an excellent idea. Still unresolved, however, is the question of where pedicabs should ride on streets where the City wants install so-called "cycle tracks." The pedicabs often consume the entire width of these bike lanes, and in order to accommodate the sidewalk "cycle tracks" roadway widths are often narrowed to the point where motor vehicles and cyclists can no longer safely share a travel lane in the road. It’s even worse for pedicab drivers who will have no option other than to "take the lane" or ride the sidewalk. This conflict will likely not be an issue on the Longfellow Bridge.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the State Auditor’s Office to determine if the state of Massachusetts will fund the costs incurred by the city when it assesses and establishes full and fair cash value for tax-exempt properties within the City of Cambridge even though the city cannot collect taxes from said properties.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

As the Order states, the City cannot collect taxes from said properties, so how the assessment takes place is unimportant to the City. The simplest solution is to simply ask that the owners of tax-exempt properties submit estimates of their "full and fair cash value." There will be no tax collected anyway, so there’s no practical need for more than a good estimate. This also applies to the valuation of City, State, and Federal properties within the city.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on May 22, 2013 to review the status of positions reporting directly to the City Council.

The purpose of this meeting was to take up the issue of the appointment of the City Clerk and the City Auditor. It’s about time that the word "Interim" should be removed from "Interim City Clerk Donna P. Lopez." Jim Monagle is also expected to be reappointed as City Auditor.

Unfinished Business #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-90, regarding a report on Executive Session to discuss lawsuits. [City Manager Agenda Number Seven of Feb 25, 2013 Placed on Table on motion of Councillor Kelley on Feb 25, 2013.]

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig Kelley notifying the City Manager and City Council of his intention to move to take Calendar Item #10 from the table to enable discussion of various lawsuits against the City.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom alerting her colleagues of her intention to pull Awaiting Report Item Number 12-90 (Unfinished Business #10) to discuss pending lawsuits.

My speculation is that these fundamentally identical communications originated on Brookford Street and that Public Comment will once again feature bitter commentary from one of its residents. City Manager Robert Healy will retire four weeks from today. The City will move on without skipping a beat, but some multiple-decade critics may never move on. – Robert Winters

Addendum: At this meeting the City Council accepted a late committee report from the Government Operations & Rules Committee and passed the following Order:
ORDERED: That the former site of the Cambridge Police Department which is now the new location for the Cambridge Community Learning Center, the Cambridge Housing Authority and the Multi-Service Center be named the “Alice K. Wolf Center” and that a suitable dedication ceremony be planned by the Executive Assistant to the City Council and the staff, and be it further
ORDERED: That the Deputy City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council with a plan for either a suitable plaque or a sign for the “Alice K. Wolf Center“.

December 3, 2012

Enjoying? the Concord Avenue “raised bike lanes”

The Cambridge City Council meeting on December 3, 2012 is to address issues of debris on the Concord Avenue “raised bike lanes”. These replaced conventional bike lanes at street level. I put the term “raised bike lanes” in quotes because a bikeway behind a curb is not a bike lane. By definition, a lane is at street level, so it is possible to merge to and from other lanes. Rather, this is a nonstandard bicycle path.

This post supplements comments which I posted on my own blog before Concord Avenue was reconstructed. The photos here are stills from video shot during a ride westbound at mid-day on November 20, 2012, with moderate motor traffic and very light bicycle traffic.

First photo: Crosswalk just west of the Alewife Brook Parkway rotary is backing up motor traffic. This already generates traffic jams with light bicycle traffic. The City expects the bikeways to attract more cyclists and to lead to a major increase in bicycle traffic.

Crosswalk backs up traffic on Concord Avenue

Crosswalk backs up traffic on Concord Avenue

Next photo: The westbound bikeway crosses 8 streets and 24 driveways in 3000 feet. The most persistent hazard on the westbound bikeway is of “right hook” and “left cross” collisions. The van in the photo not only is turning across the bikeway; it also might be hiding another vehicle preparing a left turn from ahead. The bikeway places bicyclists where they are defenseless against these threats. I say more about them, and how to avoid them, in my earlier blog post.

Right hook and left cross threat on Concord Avenue bikeway

Right hook and left cross threat on Concord Avenue bikeway

Next — bus stop. When the bike lanes were at street level, bicyclists could pass a stopped bus on the left, or wait behind it. Motorists also usually could pass a stopped bus. Passing would have been even easier with bus turnouts on the westbound side, where there is only one travel lane. Now that the roadway has instead been narrowed, converting the conventional bike lanes into “raised bike lanes”, buses must completely block the travel lane, and passengers getting off a bus step down directly into the path of bicyclists. A 2007 research study in Copenhagen showed an increase in bicyclist-pedestrian collisions of 17 times, and of injuries of 19 times, when bus stops were placed outside bikeways like this. More about that study.

Bus stop on Concord Avenue, with green paint

Bus stop on Concord Avenue, with green paint

That study was published well before construction on the Concord Avenue bikeway began. Not only that, the City’s bicycle coordinator repeatedly points to Copenhagen as a model of what Cambridge should do.

To resolve conflicts between bicyclists and passengers descending from buses, the City first painted bicycle markings. Those markings, however, suggest that bicyclists have priority, and these markings also may not be directly in front of a bus’s door when it opens, to warn the passengers. At some later time, green carpet painting was added. This is normally used to indicate where motorists yield to bicyclists (see Federal Highway Administration interim approval), but here it is intended to indicate where bicyclists must yield to pedestrians, a confused and contradictory message. This bus stop is at a driveway. Traffic has worn away some of the green paint and you can see the bicycle marking which was painted over.

Bicycle marking under green paint at bus stop on Concord Avenue

Bicycle marking under green paint at bus stop on Concord Avenue

One problem to be discussed at the City Council meeting is that snow clearance is not practical on the westbound bikeway, because of its repeated ups and downs. Ice also puddles there. Here’s a photo from another blogger, dr2chase, showing winter conditions on the westbound bikeway. dr2chase’s blog has many more photos.

dr2chase's photo of winter conditions on the Concord Avenue bikeway westbound

dr2chase’s photo of winter conditions on the Concord Avenue bikeway westbound

dr2chase also has made the point that snow clearance is much more practical on the eastbound bikeway, which has only one driveway entrance in its entire length. Here is his photo illustrating that:

drchase's photo of the eastbound bikeway in winter

drchase’s photo of the eastbound bikeway in winter

The bikeway on each side is designated as one-way. People are likely to use both of them for two-way travel, and not only in snow season, because a cyclist must stand in the street to lift the bicycle over the curb of the eastbound bikeway at most locations. Also note the seam between asphalt and concrete running down the middle of the photo above. It is intended to separate bicyclists from pedestrians. It won’t, especially with two-way bicycling, and over the years, it will deteriorate so it traps bicycle wheels. dr2chase and I have both made the point that a properly-designed, designated two-way bikeway on the south side of Concord Avenue, adjacent to Fresh Pond Park, would have made good sense, connecting with the existing bikeways in the park and crossing only one driveway in its entire length — at a signalized intersection. I also would have liked to keep the street at its previous width, with street-level bike lanes, to allow efficient through travel and make it possible to reach the eastbound bikeway without lifting a bicycle over a curb.

The next photo illustrates the crossing-the-street issue. Note the driveway at the right rear, and that there is no break in the curb on the far side of Concord Avenue. To cross without stopping in the street, and to avoid having to double back, cyclists will most likely ride eastbound in the westbound bikeway. That is illegal and hazardous: motorists pulling out of side streets and driveways look in the opposite direction for traffic.

The mailbox adjacent to the 5-foot-wide bikeway adds a nice touch as well. Nick it with your handlebar, and you go down hard. Even without such obstructions, 5 feet is minimal for one-way travel. This mailbox is one of a large number of fixed-object hazards adjacent to the bikeway.

Mailbox, and curb on far side of Concord Avenue

Mailbox, and curb on far side of Concord Avenue

Not all hazards are fixed-object hazards. There are these trash barrels.

Trash barrels on westbound bikeway on Concord Avenue

Trash barrels on westbound bikeway on Concord Avenue

Behind the trash barrels, you may have noticed a car discharging passengers. A cyclist who regularly rides Concord Avenue reports that delivery vehicles also now stop in the bikeway.

Car stops in bikeway to discharge passengers, on Concord Avenue

Car stops in bikeway to discharge passengers, on Concord Avenue

My next photos show what I call the X-merge, or double-cross merge.

Normal traffic law requires a driver to maintain a constant lane position when another driver is overtaking. Here’s an excerpt from the Massachusetts law:

Except as herein otherwise provided, the driver of a vehicle passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction shall drive a safe distance to the left of such other vehicle and shall not return to the right until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle; and, if the way is of sufficient width for the two vehicles to pass, the driver of the leading one shall not unnecessarily obstruct the other.

Bicyclists may overtake on the right, according to another section of the law:

…the bicycle operator may keep to the right when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way…

When a bicyclist is directed to merge from right to left at an arbitrary location, and a motorist to merge from left to right at the same location, they are both violating the law. Green paint here is used to direct cyclists and motorists to operate illegally.

X-merge on Concord Avenue

X-merge on Concord Avenue

I avoided right-hook threats by merging in behind the stopped car so the next vehicle turning right could safely pass me on the right.

Avoiding the X-merge on Concord Avenue

Avoiding the X-merge on Concord Avenue

Before Blanchard Road, a traffic island narrows the roadway. The bike lane, between the through travel lane and right turn lane, is too narrow to allow safe clearance on both sides. Note in the photo below that the narrow median on the far side of Blanchard Road allows much more room to the left of the bike lane. The traffic island predates the reconstruction: the bike lane has been shoehorned in by narrowing the other lanes. Concord Avenue is wide enough to accommodate turning traffic without the island’s being so wide.

Wide traffic island at Blanchard Road narrows bike lane on Concord Avenue

Wide traffic island at Blanchard Road narrows bike lane on Concord Avenue

Well, enough. You get the idea. I’ll finish with a couple of quotes. Here’s one from MarkS, commenting on dr2chase’s blog post:

I don’t know why they wasted the time and money to put these tracks in in the first place. I find a bike lane much more convenient, and in some ways safer — clearly safer than that abomination on the north side of Concord Ave — the “outgoing” side. And, if ever we decide to re-design the situation, the expense of doing so will be significantly — and that’s an understatement — more than it would be to just re-paint the lines where the bike lane would have been.

Here’s another quote, from dr2chase:

…the west-bound side is about the most ineffective botch I have ever seen. But the eastbound side is quite nice (with the exception of the scary-high curbs). One extremely-low-traffic intersection, no driveways, hence none of those risks, and so wide that (with current bike/ped traffic levels) there is little harm in riding the wrong way on the good side. Technically illegal, but vastly safer, and I cannot fault someone for making the safer choice.

I agree! And have a look at the video online!




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