Tag Archives: Bike

Of Bike Lanes and Politics

4 Oct

With the installation of protected bike lanes comes a fast-moving issue for council race

By Tom Meek Friday, October 1, 2021

A bicyclist travels in a quick-build protected bike lane in Central Square. (Photo: MassAve4 Impacts Analysis)

A springtime study about bike lanes replacing on-street parking continues to send out shock waves, and is now playing a role in November’s elections.

Citizens groups have been formed, petitions are circulating and candidates are getting endorsements around the MassAve4 Impact Analysis report and other issues relating to the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance. Passed by the City Council in 2019 and updated in October 2020, it calls for around 25 miles of protected bike lanes to be installed throughout Cambridge within five to seven years.

When released in April, the MassAve4 report triggered panic among business owners and residents who feared that nearly all on-street parking spaces would be removed in favor of quick-build protected bike lanes along Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard Square to Dudley Street, including Porter Square. The city quickly assured that it was only studying the effects of achieving the ordinance’s goals with quick-build options such as flex posts, signs and road markings rather than curb cuts, sidewalk and road surface alterations that would demand more planning, cost and resources and be less likely to meet the law’s timeline.

The city has not released a plan, but by May the city manager expects to identify where quick-build bike lanes will work and get City Council approval for a timeline on installing other kinds of bike infrastructure, according to the MassAve4 project page. Outreach and community engagement will be part of the process. If the city fails to have a plan approved in 2023, quick-build lanes along the corridor will be mandated by the ordinance.

Mass Ave. 4 All

In the interim, the Porter Square Neighborhood Association, several businesses along the corridor – The Abbey, Guitar Stop and Ward Maps among them – and the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group have banded together to form the Mass Ave. 4 All group, which is sponsoring a petition to reject the impact analysis report and to urge the city to try again on reimagining Massachusetts Avenue. Members have posted alternative design suggestions on the site and encouraged residents to contact City Council members and project planners.

Cambridge Bicycle Safety pushed for the ordinance but found the MassAve4 report troubling.

“Our vision is for there to be continuous protected bicycle lanes for the full length of Massachusetts Avenue,” member Nathanael Fillmore said, “as well as improvements to ensure efficient and reliable bus service, a safe environment for pedestrians, a thriving business corridor and a pleasant and welcoming place for all residents to spend time.”

Bicyclists rally for safe infrastructure at an Oct. 17, 2016, rally at City Hall, before the creation of a city Cycling Safety Ordinance. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Fillmore praised the city for its change of approach when kicking off the northernmost stage of the ordinance’s charge, with protected bike lanes from Dudley Street to the city’s border with Arlington at the Alewife Brook Parkway. For that, the city did not issue an impact report, but held an online community meeting to share designs concepts – which also showed a majority of on-street parking being eliminated, but with 15-minute pickup and loading zones during certain hours within a bus lane; and with metered parking moved to side streets in key locations. Before the Sept. 14 presentation, the city reached out to businesses along the stretch to get their input and hear concerns.

Andreas Wolfe, the city’s street design project manager, said Friday that “targeted outreach is taking place as part of the Dudley Street-to-Alewife Brook Parkway section for businesses along that section,” and Porter Square outreach would follow before that project takes place. The stretch from Dudley Street to Alewife Brook Parkway will be complete before the MassAve4 project, because it is entirely quick build and there are no overhead catenary wires powering buses to contend with.

Some felt the process is inadequate. “As a business owner that will be directly affected by this rushed and poorly planned project to install much-needed protected bike lanes, I was never given a real voice,” said Robert Harris, owner of the Season to Taste restaurant at 2447 Massachusetts Ave. “Instead there was a virtual meeting to talk about thoughts and feelings, with 99 percent of the decisions already made, which only highlights the flawed process for this project.”

Save Mass Ave

In the wake of that meeting, the group Save Mass Ave formed and launched a website with materials that tout the approach taken by Mass Ave. 4 All but also promotes candidate for City Council who have not signed onto a Cambridge Bicycle Safety pledge to support the Cycling Safety Ordinance. That includes one incumbent, E. Denise Simmons, and several challengers for council seats.

Save Mass Ave also has its own petition calling for “meaningful engagement and planning with all stakeholders.”

“There are several petitions,” said Ruth Ryals, president of the Porter Square Neighbors Association, referring to the groups’ overlapping online and paper versions. “It is messy.”

On the social media site Nextdoor, some North Cambridge residents and others unhappy about the loss of parking and a process say they feel they don’t have a voice, while bike advocates such as CBS leverage their power disproportionately to control and influence elections and policy. Boston area cycling advocacy groups such as the Boston Cyclist Union promote and canvass for city council members and candidates who support bike safety policy and bike infrastructure as a priority.

Business concerns

This isn’t the first time the rollout of bike lanes has been contentious. Back in 2017 there was pushback from businesses and residents on Cambridge Street to the installation of protected bike lanes that took away some on-street parking. Though the city says businesses have come through bike changes fine in Harvard and Central squares, some have seen big drop-offs in walk-in traffic resulting from a lack of parking, said Guitar Stop’s Jeanne Oster at a Wednesday meeting of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee.

The data can be confusing, though. City surveys show that in Porter Square, for example, the No. 1 item businesses said would help them was more parking, while 62 percent of respondents said they came to shop in the area by foot, with biking accounting for another 19 percent and the MBTA for 16 percent. Motor vehicles checked in at 33 percent.

And for all the infrastructure already rolled out, outdoor dining spaces on Massachusetts Avenue have been retained in their entirety, Fillmore pointed out.

The pledge, which has been signed by seven councillors running for reelection and six council challengers, “is important to ensure continued implementation of the ordinance on schedule and without delay that will lead to further injuries or deaths,” Fillmore said.

“Certainly the bike pledge has an impact [politically], particularly among the challengers who have to decide publicly which side they’re on – we already know where the incumbents stand,” said councillor Quinton Zondervan, a signer of the pledge.

Political overlap

But it can be difficult to draw lines around politicians’ policies. In addition to first-time candidate Tonia Hicks appearing on both of the new groups’ lists, there are candidates such as Paul Toner – who did not sign the pledge but is not opposed to bike lanes or the ordinance’s overall goal of separated bike lanes and safety for all. “I agree with the goals of the Cambridge Cycling Safety Ordinance,” he said in an email, “I believe there needs to be flexibility on the construction timeline in order to gather input from relevant stakeholders, such as neighborhood residents and businesses.”

Separated bike lane infrastructure continues to be implemented – last month it went in along the Mid-Cambridge section of Massachusetts Avenue from City Hall to where Massachusetts Avenue and Mount Auburn Street meet in Harvard Square.

Zondervan thinks there is going to be a natural shift away from trips by single drivers with the arrival of autonomous vehicles and microtransit options such as Bluebikes and electric scooters. “Just as we’ve always said,” Zondervan said, “if you build it, they will come. As we make it safer and easier for people to bike instead of drive, more and more people will choose to do that, and that’s exactly what we need. Also exciting about Massachusetts Avenue in front of City Hall is the clearly marked bus stop lane. It’s exciting to see us prioritize not just bike lanes but also bus lanes. We’re really heading in the right direction prioritizing public transit over private vehicle transport, and I’m just really happy about that and look forward to more to come.”

Bike Lane Impact Report Sends Ripples

22 May

Study of bike lanes showing parking loss alarms, but even bicyclists reject most extreme options

By Tom MeekFriday, May 21, 2021

A bicyclist travels in a protected bike lane in Kendall Square in an image from the city’s MassAve4 Impacts Analysis.

Fallout from a report about quick-build separated bike lanes continued Thursday at a virtual meeting of the Porter Square Neighborhood Association, with concerns from residents and business owners that parking would be eliminated along Massachusetts Avenue north of Cambridge Common.

“The city dropped the worse-case scenario,” said Ruth Ryals, president of the association.

No one at the meeting, bicyclists included, supported the most extreme options from the MassAve4 Impacts Analysis Report that would sacrifice significant amounts of parking along the avenue.

The report, released just in time to beat a May 1 deadline, is a byproduct of the 2020 Cycling Safety Ordinance, which calls for 25 miles of protected bike lanes to be built over the next five to seven years. Massachusetts Avenue is targeted for them as a major route through the city.

The ordinance acknowledges that quick-build bike lanes (defined mainly by flex posts and paint, but still relocating parking spaces, as happened with Cambridge Street) are easier to achieve than construction that involves adding concrete medians and shifting bus wires, which could force changes to the timeline to accommodate logistical challenges.

The city has said the report is not a protected bike-lane proposal, but about their potential effect on parking, but that’s a distinction some found hard to discern in the text. “I read the report and panicked,” Ryals said in her opening comments.

Bicyclists and business owners

Several members of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, the local activist organization that pushed for the ordinance, spoke Thursday, including Rebecca Neuman, Sam Feigenbaum and cofounder Nathanael Fillmore. The positive community and environmental impacts of cyclists and cycling was stressed by Neuman, organizer of a Cambridge Bike Delivery initiative that engages volunteers to deliver food pantry items to community refrigerators in Cambridge and Somerville and to people with limited mobility. Others highlighted cycling deaths in areas with deficient cycling infrastructure – including Amanda Phillips in Inman Square; Bernard “Joe” Lavins in Porter Square; and Darryl Willis in Harvard Square – and shared city-gathered survey results showing that only 20 percent of those responding felt comfortable biking without a protected or separated bike lanes; 70 percent said the lanes would make them feel safer and more likely to take to the street by bike. Feigenbaum, a Harvard Law student, walked the audience through the details of the ordinance.

Fillmore summed up, saying what was illustrated in the report “was too extreme and not necessary,” and walked thorough some possible protected bike lane solutions that would not eliminate parking along the northern stretch of the avenue.

Business owners expressed concern for cyclists’ safety – and began their comments by stating their own use of bicycles and mass transit – but also fear for the economic impact resulting from the study’s findings. “Elimination of parking would be disastrous,” said Jeanne Oster, of the family-run Guitar Stop, opened by her father in the 1960s. Steven Beaucher, of Ward Maps, said if he had no way for people to come in and pick up large maps and the heavy transit signs sold by the store, he’d have to take his business online. He also conceded that losing some parking could be for the greater good.

More agreement than disagreement

Theodora Skeadas, executive director of the Cambridge Local First small-business group, attended the meeting. City councillor Dennis Carlone joined briefly to share his sympathy and concerns for cyclists and local business owners, and pointed out that while the council approves policy such as the cycling ordinance, it does not approve roadway and traffic changes. That work is handled by the city manager and his staff.

The evening meeting showed no signs of the battling among cyclists, residents and business owners seen over bike lane proposals after an initial rapid rollout in 2017. All groups wanted the others to succeed and be safe, and an improved quality of street life and amenities along the avenue. A “road diet” was discussed that including removing some stretches of Massachusetts Avenue median to make room for bike lanes; having the median was called something of a “religious” adherence by long-time residents, but ultimately people at the meeting didn’t consider it vital. Ryals said the avenue still has “that highway feel to it.”

“I came away from the meeting feeling quite positive, since from the discussion it sounded like there are broad areas of alignment between business owners, Porter Square neighbors and bicycle safety advocates – much more agreement than disagreement, in fact,” Fillmore said. He was optimistic roadway changes could be made “in a responsible and technically feasible way that will improve rather than detract from the ability of small businesses to thrive.”

City staff said the next steps would be to determine if quick build lanes are possible, and to provide protected bike lane options for review by the public.

The Climb

17 Nov

‘The Climb’: Clever twists along trail of bike ride where soon-to-married bud really feels the burn

By Tom Meek
Thursday, November 12, 2020

If “The Climb” were a pop song, it would be a spin on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”; call it “Bad Bromance.” The dark, witty indie gem begins with the event of the title, a long bike climb through the hills of France as one buddy Mike (director, co-writer Michael Angelo Covino) gives climb and cadence instructions to bestie Kyle (co-writer Kyle Marvin) as they ascend the seeming endless rise. Between the wheezing and puffing we learn that Kyle’s about to be married, and the endurance undertaking is the bachelor bonding event du jour. Then Mike lets out the sucker punch that he’s slept with Kyle’s fiancee – multiple times. “I’m going to kill you!” Kyle huffs, unable to catch up to the object of his ire. “I know; that’s why I told you on a hill,” retorts Mike without care or fear.

With friends like that, who needs enemies, right? Mike and Kyle end up in a French hospital for reasons other than what you’d imagine, where Kyle’s to-be shows up and things really get skewed. Like the cagey recent thriller “Let Him Go” there’s a sudden pivot to a major life event. You expect it to be a funeral or a wedding (I’m not going to tell you which), but you drop into the opposite. “The Climb,” which begins with a masterful long shot by cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, feels contained in location and time, but then the action goes stateside – Upstate New York, to be exact – and spans years. Mike’s something of an alcoholic mess, while nice guy Kyle has moved on and found another mate to marry (Gayle Rankin, also quite good in “Blow the Man Down”). It’s Kyle’s meddlesome mom (Talia Balsam, while George Wendt of “Cheers” plays dad) who draws Mike back into the fold, and sure enough, with another fiancee in the wings, history looks to repeat itself.

There’s not a lot of action in “The Climb.” It’s a character study of just how far one friend can push another. Remember just how much fun it was to wince and smile at the insanely descriptive tactics of Thomas Hayden Church in “Sideways” (2004)? Same here. We never even really find out what Mike or Kyle do for a living – it’s besides the point. The film’s competently made and droll; you can tell these two spent many a nights penning and rehearsing the material together, and given the names are what they are, you wonder where the characters begin and the real Mike and Kyle leave off. “The Climb” is a quick, nasty burn with some clever twists. Some might even find it life-affirming. I’m not sure I did, but I’m curious to see what this tandem comes up with next. 

Wheel Good People

3 Sep

Wheel good people: Riders can see solutions from astride bicycle seats, and really deliver

By Tom Meek

The Agassiz Baldwin Community’s Phoebe Sinclair talks Friday with volunteer riders in the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program. (Photo: Raina Fox)

Efforts to address challenges such as Covid-19 and racial division and to better the community are zooming along on two wheels, undeterred by the death of bicyclist Darryl Willis in Harvard Square on Aug. 18. One effort, the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program, was set up at the onset of the pandemic to address the needs of at-risk elders and others with limited means; another, the Cambridge Bike Give Back Program, was launched in response to George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on Memorial Day and subsequent Black Lives Matter activities.

The Cambridge Bike Delivery concept grew organically among members of the Cambridge Bike Safety Group – an amalgam of local cyclists without any real hierarchy, assembled with the mission of advocating for safe streets in Cambridge – to make home deliveries of meds and groceries to seniors from Skenderian Apothecary, Inman Pharmacy, Pemberton Farms Marketplace and other stores without a delivery services. The logistics “proved to be tougher than anticipated,” organizer Rebecca Neuman said. “We had over 300 cyclists, but it was hard to line people up on dates and times.” Outreach to the elderly became something of a challenge as well, and the effort waned. But Neuman struck up conversations with staff at the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center and Margaret Fuller House, in The Port neighborhood. The Margaret Fuller House runs its own food pantry program, while the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center has just become an outpost for the Cambridge Community Center food pantry. Both programs needed volunteers to deliver food to the vulnerable, so Neuman set up a signup portal to coordinate riders with deliveries on the days the food pantries got shipments.

A rider sets out Aug. 25 with a delivery for the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program. (Photo: Tom Meek)

For each provider there are a dozen to several dozen deliveries on any given pantry day, coming three to four times a week. Neuman, who puts in a few hours each week to keep it all flowing, tries to keep the matches surgical and lean. The loads for the Margaret Fuller House are about 10 to 20 pounds of vegetables per delivery, bulky and heavy loads for which most riders employ a tagalong trailer or large food delivery bag, coordinator and director of finance and operations Cory Haynes said. The hauls from Cambridge Community Services range from frozen foods to baby diapers; one delivery rider recalled having to deliver an ice cream cake during high, humid 80-degree weather.

For the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center and Margaret Fuller House, the venture has been a natural and helpful fit that should carry on post-coronavirus, and Neuman is looking for other ways to use the volunteer army of riders – possibly reenabling curbside composting, which was suspended by the city during the coronavirus lockdown. (Though the mention of odor and stench trailing behind a hard-pedaling cyclist had Neuman and Haynes scrunching up their noses over a Zoom call.)

Bike Give Back

Lonnell Wells, right, put together his Cambridge Bike Give Back program after consulting with friends in the community. (Photo: Lonnell Wells)

The Cambridge Bike Give Back program was started just over a month ago by Lonnell Wells and a collection of friends he calls his “community.” Wells, distraught after Floyd’s murder, looked inward and talked deeply with them about what could be done to fix the country. The giveback program is “Plan B,” Wells said – “something to do for the kid who doesn’t have the bike to ride with their friends, the ex-con who just got a job who doesn’t have the money to ride the T, and a way for people to exercise when you can’t go to the gym.” The process is simple: Wells has taken to social media to ask for “broken old bikes” that he and his team piece together and give to those in need; jubilant photos from pickups and drop-offs are easy to find on social media. At the time of our sit-down, Wells estimated the program had collected more than 30 broken bikes and given back 17.

Wells grew up in The Port – “Area 4,” as he still fondly calls it – and graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, but now lives in Chelsea, has a 10-year-old son and works as a chef at Boston University. He refers to his post-work scavenging expeditions to gather bike carcasses as “demon time.” For the bike assemblies, Wells host parties, for which he does what he does: cooks. Partial to Southern food, Wells likes to make collard greens and sticky chicken, which is thrown back in the skillet with hot sauce just before serving.

Wells did not go into details about Plan A. “Not enough time,” he said at our meeting. But he expressed gratitude to the bike community at large, which he described as supportive of his project. Bike groups are also active in Black Lives Matter organizing: There have been three 800-person Ride for Black Lives through Greater Boston, organized in part by Crimson BikesBoston Bike PartyBikes Not Bombs and Spoke House, at a time organizers would not risk more casual rides. U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley kicked off the ride this past Sunday; there are also weekly MIT-to-Arlington Black Lives Matter rides on Sundays.

The project and scope of the Give Back venture is sure to grow. On Sunday, the program hosts a barbecue at Greene-Rose Heritage Park on Harvard Street near the Fletcher Maynard School. The flyer lists family-friendly scavenger hunts, voter registration and free food.

Getting in two steel wheel in complicated times

31 May

Covid-19 makes bikes more important than ever; It also complicates everything about getting one

A line forms Saturday outside Ace Wheelworks between Porter and Davis squares in Somerville. (Photo: Marc Levy)

When gyms and parks were restricted and shuttered by the coronavirus shutdown, cycling saw a surge as a means of exercise, recreation and transportation – biking by definition has social distancing built into it, a sterling alternative to a crowded subway car where one good sneeze could have a devastating effect. As Massachusetts seeks to get back to normal, bikes will stay important for summer recreation and commuter options. Cambridge just announced a “Shared Streets” initiative to pair with Somerville, and over in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a “Healthy Streets” plan, safer paths encouraging new riders who were formerly deterred by the crush of regular motor vehicle traffic.

If you don’t have a bike and want to get on one, how do you do it with the Covid-19 restrictions still in place? One way is a bike share such as Blue Bikes, but most people will want the comfort and convenience of owning their own steel steed. Buying off Craigslist and the like is one option, but brings with it questions about bike size and other factors – including whether the bike was stolen. Bike stores offer professional advice and a better understanding of quality and cost, help for first-time buyers and assurance of help and service down the line.

Bike stores were deemed “essential” by Gov. Charlie Baker during the shutdown, and most in the Cambridge/Somerville area remained open. Now all are back online with the exception of Quad Bikes, which operates out of a Harvard-owned facility on Shepherd Street. During the stay-at-home mandate, maintenance and repairs were by curbside appointment, and it’ll be largely the same for the first phase of Baker’s four-phase return plan. One of the big challenges presented are hands-on sampling and test rides. Carice Reddien, owner of Bicycle Belle368 Beacon St., near Porter Square in Somerville, a specialist in cargo bikes, e-bikes and family-friendly extension bikes (and just reopened) said, “We’ve been doing socially distanced test rides outside the shop, and it seems to work.” Jason Paige, co-owner of Ace Wheelworks145 Elm St., between Porter and Davis squares in Somerville, whose shop was open for the duration, said, “We do a pretty thorough sales job on the phone, but the first time they ride it is when they pick it up curbside.” That model is flipped from before Covid-19, but Paige said the store has adopted a relaxed return and exchange policy to make shoppers more comfortable with a big purchase. “If you call with a price range and type of style, we’ll make something happen,” Paige said.

The bigger problem is supply and shipping in times of high demand. “Be patient,” Reddien said. “Supplies are low and shops are stretched thin trying to work in new and safe ways.” Paige said Wheelworks at one point had to stop taking orders over the phone because a salesperson would take an order only to have an online shopper beat them to the last SKU. (On the day that I wrote this, the website had a message saying “Sales temporarily suspended.”)

Other stores coming back are trying novel approaches to meet demand and their customer’s needs. Crimson Bikes, the Cannondale retailer at 1001 Massachusetts Ave., Mid-Cambridge, offers mobile visits to your home as well as curbside appointments; Cambridge Bicycle259 Massachusetts Ave., The Port, has something of what shop manager Josh Smith describes as an “Old West countertop service,” with accessories and helmets exhibited at the door for customers to review and try out. Cambridge Bicycle also offers limited test rides.

One thing all agreed on was that the shutdown has been both a boon for cycling. “More people now see cycling as a more attractive and viable thing,” Smith said. Paige said that he’s doing a lot more family sales, with overall sales in units notably up from last year, but accessory sales down. “Families are getting out and biking together,” he said. “That makes me emotional.”

The best way to buy a bike in these socially distancing times seems to start with online research, then a sales call before a scheduled test ride. And to remember, as Reddien said: “Be patient.”

Cambridge goes to 20 mph

30 Oct

Nearly four-fifths of city’s streets turn 20 mph with installation of 660 signs come November

 

Speed limit signs for 25 mph will become more rare in Cambridge this fall, as nearly 80 percent of streets fall to a 20 mph limit. (Photo: Acquaforte via Pixabay)

Beginning in November, the city will begin to reduce speed limits on nearly 80 percent of streets in Cambridge to 20 mph from the statewide 25 mph. The move comes as part of the city’s commitment to its Vision Zero strategy to reduce road deaths.

If a 5 mph reduction seems insignificant, a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that pedestrians are almost half as likely to be killed or seriously injured if struck by a car traveling 25 mph versus a car traveling 30 mph.

The city enacted the measure in January when looking to expand areas designated as “safety zones,” which had been reserved primarily for roads passing by schools and senior centers. The rollout will see 660 “Safety Zone” signs erected starting in East Cambridge and spreading west over a loose three-month period. The map will be updated to reflect progress as the project moves along.

“We’ve heard concerns about speeding from people throughout the Cambridge community,” said Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department. “Reducing the speed limit is an important step toward addressing those concerns. This change will also inform the way that we design our streets and help support our ongoing traffic calming efforts.”

Nate Fillmore, of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, speaks about road safety to the City Council in February 2018. (Photo: Ceilidh Yurenka)

Bicyclists, who have testified to feeling at risk from sharing roads with speeding cars, embraced the announcement. “Changing to the lower speed limit is critical,” said Steve Bercu, a Cambridge resident and member of the board of directors of the Boston Bicyclist Union, “in that it impacts the design speed of all projects going forward.” Nate Fillmore, of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, was more direct on the matter of design: “This change needs to be followed up on with citywide changes to the built environment that reflect the new speed, including narrower lanes, raised crosswalks and protected bicycle lanes on major streets wherever possible.”

One city councillor backing the initiative, Quinton Zondervan, hailed the move. “This will make our city much safer for vulnerable road users, allowing more people to walk and bike, leading to less pollution and a healthier community,” Zondervan said.

Addressing concerns of residents discussed on area listservs, vice mayor Jan Devereux added, “Of course, we will need enforcement to put teeth into this desire to slow down drivers – the lack of speed enforcement is another complaint I hear often. Automated enforcement by camera could help, and the council is on record in support of [a bill] pending on Beacon Hill.” Matters of privacy have always been a concern with camera use enforcement, though it’s the primary mechanism in place for cars without toll transponders on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The big difference between the reduction to 25 mph from 30 mph made optional statewide a few years ago and this city reduction to 20 mph is that signs are needed to mark the deviation from the statewide default.

Enforcement, the city said, would be data driven as it always has been. “When in doubt, go 20 mph,” said the communication from the city.

Chilly Bike Lanes

9 Dec

Pack of end-of-year actions on street safety anticipates bike, pedestrian work in 2019

 

Ground was boken Wednesday for a Watertown-Cambridge bike path expected to be complete in early summer of 2020. (Photos and video: Tom Meek)

The city will have a more comprehensive schedule of bike infrastructure rollouts early next year, Community Development spokeswoman Bridget Martin said, and the state is joining in with a Dec. 18 meeting to discuss options for bike safety improvements on some of its own roadway in Cambridge.

Even before that, the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group is calling for city staff to report back by the end of January on how common speed limit violations are in Cambridge and how the city can better engineer traffic calming; a policy order written with Mayor Marc McGovern, vice mayor Jan Devereux and city councillor Quinton Zondervan will make the request official Monday.

“For example, we know that changing paving surfaces and raising crosswalks helps slow traffic in busy areas,” the group said Thursday, explaining the urgency behind the order: “Over the past 10 years, 16 vulnerable road users – either walking or biking – have been killed in our city. This is a public health crisis.”

The mayor and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale are also set to attend a community meeting next week on pedestrian safety and safer streets, planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Amigos School, 15 Upton St., Cambridgeport.

There have already been several steps taken to separate cyclists from motor vehicles and connect major destinations by bike lane since an October rallyby the bicycle safety group, including a priority bus and bike lane on Mount Auburn Street; separated lanes on Massachusetts Avenue from Central Square through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the Charles River, opened late last month; and Wednesday’s groundbreaking for a Watertown-Cambridge bike path.

The Watertown-Cambridge path, expected to be complete in early summer of 2020, leverages an old railway running parallel to Huron Avenue to better connect cyclists coming from Watertown and West Cambridge to Fresh Pond destinations including the pond, mall and Danehy Park, as well as the Alewife T station and Minuteman Bike Path – good for families and other cyclists unwilling to tangle with vehicles on Huron Avenue and the Fresh Pond Parkway.

The separated bike lanes (alongside a dedicated Boston-bound bus lane) south of Central Square provide more safety in a congested area notorious for its perilous intersections. The project is still undergoing tweaks, said Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, though the bulk of the project was completed and opened for use just after Thanksgiving.

Data from the installations will show whether they increase public safety and get more people out of their cars, traffic officials have said.

The bicycle safety group and other advocacy groups, including Livable Streets and the Boston Cyclists Union, have been loud advocates for safer streets since the Cambridge deaths of cyclists Amanda Phillips and Joseph Lavins in 2016. In November, another cyclist was struck and killed by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, across from the Museum of Science, and state Rep. Mike Connolly called on the state to make changes.

A public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Museum of Science – the location may change as the expected size of the audience grows – will discuss the details of Meng Jin’s death and safety improvements from infrastructure and vehicle safeguard perspectives, Connolly said.

Bike death at the Museum of Scince

10 Nov

 

A bicyclist died Friday after being hit by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, near the Museum of Science. (Image: Google)

A ripple of rage went through the bike community Friday when it was learned a 24-year-old cyclist and Cambridge resident was struck and killed by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, near the Museum of Science.

The truck was reportedly trying to make a turn onto Museum Way shortly before 8:15 a.m., with the cyclist on the right waiting to make the same turn. “When both the truck and bicyclist began to make their right turn, the bicyclist was struck by a tire of the truck,” according to state police.

The bicyclist was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead from injuries from the incident, police said. The crash is under investigation and police are withholding the name of the victim until next of kin is notified. Boston student media identified the victim as Meng Jin, of Shanghai, who expected a graduate degree in economics next year.

The name of the truck driver, a 50-year-old man from Leicester, will not be released until the investigation determines if charges will be filed.

Last month dump truck driver Daniel Desroche, 54, of Methuen, was charged with negligent operation in connection with the crash that killed Cambridge’s Jie Zhao, 27, who was walking at Magazine Street and Putnam Avenue in the Cambridgeport neighborhood.

“This has to stop,” city councillor Quintin Zondervan said. “It is inexcusable that we continue to allow these dangerous trucks to operate on our city streets without requiring them to have guardrails, sensors, automatic braking, collision avoidance, backup cameras and all other technical and other safeguards to maximally reduce the chances of them running us over.” 

Heather Allen, a Cambridge mother of four children who ride, pointed to the dicey nature of the stretch of road, where cars exceed the speed limit regularly and bicyclists are intimidated from taking the full lane, despite being allowed by traffic signs. “It is unconscionable that the Charles River Dam road still lacks bicycle lanes,” Allen said. 

Bike advocate Jon Ramos of Somerville and Steve Bercu of Cambridge, who serves on the board of the Boston Cyclists Union, were more critical of state Department of Transportation oversight of the roadway, where safety improvements were promised for after the Longfellow Bridge was completed in the spring. “Where are the changes?” Ramos said, “How many deaths is it going to take to fix all of your known problem roadways?” Many in the cycling community shared that upset with the agency’s delay – one using the phrase “blood on their hands.”

The agency, through its communications department, said, “We express our sincere condolences to the family of the victim and will continue to work with key stakeholders to ensure ongoing pedestrian, cyclist and vehicular safety throughout this area and around the commonwealth.”

The agency’s plan for safety improvements – still on the books – is mostly for line striping; the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, citing an increasing number of fatalities since 2015, prefers protected bike lanes. Ramos said the solution that would have avoided the day’s tragedy was protected intersections.

Transportation Tomorrow

5 Nov

New ways of getting around don’t get around need for laws and consensus, conference finds

 

An the elevated mass transit pod proposal by TransitX drew attention at Transportation Transformation: A Conference About the New Urban Mobility, held Saturday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Hoping to explore “how people get around tomorrow,” city councillor Craig Kelley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge Innovation Center convened “Transportation Transformation: A Conference About the New Urban Mobility” on Saturday, with panel topics ranging from the future of ride-sharing to “micro-mobility” devices, the need for regulation and even whether urban gondolas seem like a good idea.

Speakers included Kent Larson, director of city science at the MIT Media Lab; Assaf Biderman, founder and chief executive of Superpedestrian, the company behind the Copenhagen Wheel device; and Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department.

Regulation for safety, space considerations and pricing on e-scooters, dockless bikes and similar alternative transportation rippled throughout the afternoon. Barr talked in detail about the complications of policy and enforcement and the search for a way to address all in a broad manner so they were not “reinventing the wheel” – so to speak – each time a new e-transit device hits the streets.

The conference drew around 150 people, many in the urban planning sector., (Photo: Tom Meek)

Audience asked whether the new urban mobility movement wasn’t something mainly initiated by and for a socioeconomic class that was educated, well-off, white and male (statistics showed women behind men in use of the alternative transportation), while panelists pitched the ergonomic and environmental benefits of people-powered transit and e-vehicles shared and unlocked by app. Barr cited a Portland, Oregon, study that claimed a 20 percent migration to alternative transportation as a reliable means for commutes, errands and leisure; Denmark was mentioned as reporting that 41 percent of all work and school trips were made by bicycle or alternative means, and Copenhagen officials hope to see that increase to 50 percent by 2025.

Many of the 150 conference attendees at the institute’s Walker Memorial Building were in the urban planning sector and liked the transportation innovations being touted apart from the panels, particularly the elevated transit pod concept by TransitX and an enclosed e-bike that, like driverless nuTonomy cars, can navigate bike lanes without anyone pedaling.

Officials acknowledged challenges ahead for Cambridge, with its growing population, need to address forms of transit as they arrive and population divided over finding space and funds for alternative infrastructure – whether it’s bike lanes now or monorails in the future.

The conference “underscored that the biggest challenge we face in transforming transportation is not technological or even infrastructure, but changing people’s mindsets, habits and behavior,” said vice mayor Jan Devereux, who attended.

Bus/Bike lane lands as pilot

30 Oct

Bus priority lane is opened on Mount Auburn, speeding mass transit and allowing in bicycles

 

A bus takes advantage of a priority lane last week on Mount Auburn Street. (Photo: State Sen. Will Brownsberger via Facebook)

The first dedicated bus lane this side of the Charles launched Friday, a pilot program in collaboration with Watertown designed to give MBTA buses and local business shuttles priority over cars along the normally sluggish Mount Auburn Street corridor.

A project study revealed that cars represented 97 percent of road traffic and buses just 3 percent – yet those public vehicles carry nearly 60 percent of all commuters along the corridor. Now those bus riders get an austere, red-striped lane that cars are barred from using, though like for bus lanes used by the Silver Line in Chinatown, bicycles are allowed, neatly increasing bike infrastructure in the most bike-unfriendly stretch of Mount Auburn Street.

Because it’s a pilot, the one-mile stretch between the Fresh Pond fork by Mount Auburn Hospital and Cottage Street in Watertown (just beyond Greg’s Restaurant, 821 Mount Auburn St.) had to use low structural impact materials such as paint and signs, but also tweaked traffic light timing so approaching buses would get a longer green than private cars.

City councillor Jan Devereux speaks Friday at the official launch of the bus priority lane. (Photo: The Barr Foundation via Twitter)

The project was made possible through a community grant from the Barr Foundation, working with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Tegin Teich, a transportation planner at Cambridge’s Community Development Department and project manager for the bus priority lane, noted the “impressive coordination across agencies and two municipalities” that included not just the MBTA, but the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The next steps will be collecting data to review; more bus rapid transit red lanes might follow – something “essential,” Teich said, as the city expands.

“We are watching the new bus lane rollout closely,” said state Sen. Will Brownsberger on Facebook. His Second Suffolk and Middlesex District includes Watertown as well as Belmont, Brighton, the Fenway and Boston’s Back Bay. “The Mount Auburn buses are reporting great improvements. Auto drivers are not as happy. We are working to improve the overall throughput for drivers too. We are in a shakeout period.”

Similar transit and safety improvements, including a separated bike lane, are planned for the lower end of Massachusetts Avenue by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this month. A daytime bus priority lane is also planned for the redesigned Inman Square; the idea has been explored by city councillors for Pearl Street at Central Square and requested by bicyclists for Porter Square.