Tag Archives: Bike

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.

Rally for Bike Lanes

19 Oct

Bike safety advocates rally for protected lanes as city points to lack of rollout specifics in plan

 

Bike safety advocates rally Wednesday in front City Hall. (Photos: Tom Meek)

The Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group organized a bike rally Wednesday on the steps of City Hall to urge faster progress in the installation of protected bike lanes – asking the city to follow its own 2015 Bike Plan, which it interprets as calling for a 20-mile bike network by 2023 with just around five miles of lanes in place and only a half-mile more planned for the fall.

The plan is not on track, said one of group’s organizers, Nathanael Fillmore.

The city, though, differs with the group’s interpretation.

“The 2015 plan details an aspirational concept [but] does not indicate a specific numerical goal for the amount of miles of protected bike lanes across the city. It is intended to be a guide and reference for long-, medium- and short-term infrastructure projects,” said Bridget Martin, communications manager for the Community Development Department, in a Wednesday email.  

“We are planning to start an update to the Bicycle Plan this fiscal year to include a more detailed implementation plan, taking into account recent experience with quick-build projects, input from community stakeholders and available funding,” Martin said.

Those experiences have been mixed. Lanes in Harvard Square and on Cambridge Street have drawn loud opposition from some businesses and residents. On Monday, while appropriating $5 million to redesign traffic flow in Inman Square, where cyclist Amanda Phillips died in 2016, city councillors were still hearing objections from people who thought the changes were about Phillips. Mayor Marc McGovern felt it necessary to send a tweet clarifying that she was killed after the redesign process began.

Reaction to the push for bike lanes after the death of Phillips and others included complaints of “bicycle bullies” and even its own term: “bikelash.”

Bikes were laid on the lawn to help illustrate the average 160 collisions involving bicycles seen annually in Cambridge.

The Bicycle Safety Group, which formed in the wake of Phillips’ death, remained focused on safety Wednesday. Bikes lay on the lawn at City Hall to represent the 160 bike collisions in Cambridge annually over the past 10 years, according to police data. The group says 40 percent of the incidents could be prevented with the installation of protected bike lanes, but just 1.2 miles of city bike lanes are in that category, mostly along Massachusetts Avenue immediately south and north of Harvard Square, and on Cambridge Street between Inman and Harvard squares.

The rally also boasted a marching band that bent popular tune lyrics into anthems about protected bike lanes, and saw about 140 bicyclists, activists and supporters gather to hear speakers including city councillor Quinton Zondervan and state Rep. Mike Connolly, who each pledged support for improved bike safety and infrastructure.

Vice mayor Jan Devereux, who could not make the rally, had a supportive statement read pointing to a Nov. 27 public hearing to discuss progress on bike infrastructure, including the next steps in creating a protected bike network and other infrastructure improvements.

A “micromobility” conference coming Nov. 3 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could be another source for ideas, councillor Craig Kelley said. The five-hour event, “Transportation Transformation: A Conference About the New Urban Mobility,” is co-sponsored by Kelley and includes Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, among other experts.