Tag Archives: Safety

Rally promotes safer bike lanes, other solutions that protect riders across city lines and statewide

20 Sep

By Tom Meek Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Lily Linke speaks Saturday at a Safe Streets rally she co-organized in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

More aggressive pushes for bike lanes and other safety measures were promoted at a weekend rally in Somerville inspired by the August death of Stephen Conley, 72, in a “dooring” incident with a car.

The Saturday rally for Safe Streets at Seven Hills Park in Davis Square drew speakers that included state Reps. Mike Connolly and Erika Uyterhoeven, Somerville city councilor Willie Burnley Jr., former Cambridge vice mayor Jan Devereux, Cambridge city councilor Burhan Azeem and several residents.

Burnley, a first-term member and “proud member of the carless,” announced that he was calling for a safe streets ordinance similar to Cambridge’s Cycling Safety Ordinance, which requires miles of protected bike lanes to be installed on an aggressive timeline. The frequent need to remove parking to make room has created a divide with some residents and businesses; many speakers acknowledged the controversy but said it steeled their resolve.

“We know there’s a backlash,” Connolly said. “Unfortunately there are lawsuits and a degree of Nimby-ism. Certainly everyone’s entitled to their opinion. But I can tell you, as an elected official, we’re not going backward. We’re going to achieve Vision Zero.” The term refers to street engineered to be safe enough to cause zero deaths.

A crowd gathers to listen to speakers at Saturday’s rally in Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Azeem spoke more directly to challenges in Cambridge. “It’s hard when you’re sitting across the table from a small-business owner who says, ‘You know, if you take away my parking, it will shut down my business,’ but this [bike law] is literally life or death,” Azeem said.

Uyterhoeven shared her own story of long recovery after being hit by a cab in Boston while bicycling, and she encouraged activists to keep pushing until bike lanes were statewide – raising the issue of complications across city lines. Somerville’s portion of Webster Avenue has a protected bike lane, for example, but it ends at the back of a parked car at the Cambridge line to morph into what cyclists and transportation experts call a “door zone” bike lane of just a painted line next to parked cars. “Municipal structures don’t make those cross-city collaborations very easy. But they’re still critical to do,” Devereux said, cited Webster’s disjointed solution.

Another idea Burnley said he was working on with Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne was the prospect of using 311 tickets as a means of ticketing cars parked illegally in bike lanes. Like when failing to pay a toll, a ticket for the infraction would be mailed to the violator. A petition to decriminalize jaywalking circulated before speakers took the stage.

Among the residents speaking were Nadav Tanners, widower of doctor and social activist Leah Zallman. who was walking in Davis square when she was killed by a pickup truck in November 2020; and Cambridge Bicycle Group member Janie Katz-Christy, who talked about the perils and challenges of cycling with children.

The event was organized and hosted by husband and wife Seth Hurwitz and Lily Linke and drew around 100 people, including several cargo bikes laden with children.

Linke and Burnley wore bright red jumpsuits. The outfits were “not coordinated,” Linke said, “but the idea was the same: ‘Stop’ traffic violence.”

Latest fatality of a bicyclist because of ‘dooring’ brings reminders of the lifesaving Dutch Reach

23 Aug

Bike Safety Measures Needed

By Tom Meek, Tuesday, August 23, 2022

A mobile traffic sign in Somerville promotes the “Dutch Reach” technique for bicyclist safety. (Photo: The Dutch Reach Project via Twitter)

Bicyclists are calling urgently for Somerville to install more protected bike lanes since the Aug. 12 death of Stephen Conley, 72, from a dooring on Broadway near Teele Square.

“Protected bike lanes prevent this kind of crash,” said George Schneeloch, a member of the Somerville Bike Safety group. “The city must work urgently to prevent future fatal crashes like this one by installing protected bike lanes in both directions on Broadway, so that bicyclists are kept clear of car doors.”

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne has committed to immediate safety changes, but not to a timeline for bike lanes, Schneeloch said. The commitment was reported Aug. 16 by StreetsblogMass.

There’s another solution that could have prevented the Conley crash, though, and doesn’t rely on potentially expensive infrastructure changes: the Dutch Reach, a method of opening a car door using the farthest hand from it.

The Dutch Reach prevents swinging a car door open fully and forces drivers’ heads to turn and see more of the surrounding conditions, said Michael Charney on Monday.

Michael Charney in a screen capture from “All Things Bike with Fred Thomas” in October 2019.

Charney, 76 and still getting around mostly by bike, is a retired physician and bicycling safety advocate who lives in Cambridge just outside Somerville’s Union Square – and credited as the originator of the term “Dutch Reach” and vital in getting adopted worldwide.

A dooring is when a driver opens a car door without looking and a cyclist crashes into it, often getting thrown into traffic. Massachusetts law says, “No person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians.” The fine for such a violation is up to $100.

Doorings account for 20 percent of bike crashes in Cambridge, according to city development officials. Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police, noted in a Tuesday email that July saw three doorings in Cambridge, and a severe dooring in Kendall Square in April that led to riders on a tandem bike being taken to a hospital after first aid was applied by officers on site.

The number of Cambridge bicycle crashes involving a “dooring” in 2020 was six, or 9 percent of the 66 total bicycle crashes reported to Cambridge police, but the number of citations issued for opening a door when unsafe that year was 58, Warnick said. In 2021, those figures were nine (or 12 percent of the 76 total bicycle crashes reported to police) and 50, respectively. Police see the pandemic as a cause for the drop from the typical 20 percent, Warnick said.

But data collection is complicated for doorings, said Charney and Galen Mock, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. There are arguably accidents where near-doorings result in a fatality when the rider swerves into a traffic lane and is hit by a passing motor vehicle, but a dooring would likely not be recorded as a factor in the crash. A pending state Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities would standardize how bike crash data is captured and categorized, Mock said in a Monday email.

Coining a term, starting a movement

The Dutch Reach, while an invention of the Netherlands, was introduced in this country by Charney after he was shaken by the dooring death of cyclist Amanda Phillips in Inman Square in June 2016. Charney launched the Dutch Reach Project by sending a series of “Dutch Reach haikus” to the Cambridge and Somerville police departments – and it was Somerville that took the haikus to heart and placed mobile traffic signs with Charney’s poems flashing on them. Charney’s work helped convince Massachusetts to include the Dutch Reach in its driver’s ed programs starting in 2017. Charney said he has gone on to speak via Zoom with cycling safety organizations as far away as Malaysia and India.

“I practically fell off the chair realizing that this is such a simple solution,” Charney said on the Maine-based “All Things Bike with Fred Thomas” in October 2019. “Dutch reach was my coinage, and it worked out very well for various reasons – one is ‘teach the reach,’ ‘preach the reach.’ What wasn’t appreciated by me at the time that I coined it was that there’s a whole string of [other phrases such as] ‘Dutch treat,’ ‘Dutch uncle,’ also there’s a thing ‘Dutch ding-dong’ that have outré connotations and create a buzz among millennials … Though there’s nothing dirty about the Dutch Reach. It just saves lives.”

Other paths to safety

Charney also endorsed the concept of a “road hierarchy” that places less legal onus on the most vulnerable on the road, starting with pedestrians, then cyclists, motorcycles and scooters, cars, SUVs and vans and, as the most dangerous, trucks and buses.

Another safety measure Charney suggested where there are “door zone bike lanes,” meaning those separated from parked cars only by paint on the road: Cyclists can “take the lane.” Riding in front of cars can be intimidating for cyclists, as motorists tend to get frustrated with slower-moving traffic and might honk or harass them, especially if there’s a bike lane available. But in Massachusetts a cyclist has the right to assume a full traffic lane on nearly all municipally maintained streets, Charney said.

Charney calls his solutions no-cost but partial, as he feels there’s no single cure-all for road safety, but many baby steps to safer roads – including that  “motor vehicle technology, sensors, cameras and computers, keep getting smarter and will be another partial solution to greater road safety.” But always check your mirrors, use the Dutch Reach and slowly, and look for fellow road users, he said.

Of Lanes and Games

7 Mar

City will miss cycling safety law’s May 1 deadline on changes to traffic through Porter Square area

By Tom Meek and Marc Levy Saturday, March 5, 2022

A bicyclist rides south through Porter Square on Jan. 25. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The city will miss its May 1 deadline to install quick-build separated bicycle lanes on Massachusetts Avenue through Porter Square, the city manager will tell the City Council on Monday.

Community engagement requirements, the need for more time to develop and install infrastructure to make up for the loss of current parking spaces and complications in scheduling contractors combine to make it impossible to meet the demands set by the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance, City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said. The letter was included Thursday in the agenda packet for the next council meeting.

The bike lanes between Beech Street and Roseland Street are to be done in quick-build fashion using road paint and plastic flex-posts, with parking meters and loading zones moved to side streets to make up for some loss of spaces on Massachusetts Avenue. But a quick-build bus-and-bike project in November that cost parking spaces, angering businesses west of Porter Square, forced a reconsideration of how the Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department moved ahead with community engagement and mitigation efforts.

Continue reading

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.

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.

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.

Porter Square Redesign

11 May

Protected bike lanes aren’t in final proposal for traffic changes coming to Porter Square

 

A human wall formed at an April 26 bicyclist protest in Porter Square to dramatize the need for protected bike lanes to city transportation officials. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Final plans for traffic safety improvements in Porter Square were presented Tuesday, updated from a form presented Jan. 18 but not erasing fully the strong opposition by residents and cycling activist groups.

The presentation had the square’s current five-phase traffic signal cycle (including one for pedestrians only, and another to leave the mall parking lot) still being replaced by a simpler three-phase cycle.

A left exit from the Porter Square shopping plaza through a zebra-striped pedestrian pavilion will remain; the January plan showed it being eliminated, with the exit blocked by cement planters – a proposal called cheap and ugly by many in attendance.

In addition, a pedestrian island between lanes of traffic where Somerville Avenue meets Massachusetts Avenue will remain, shifted a bit toward the T stop and widened some. The move is meant to better distribute motor vehicle traffic and allow for implementation of buffered bike lanes, which have gridded white paint separating bicycle and motor vehicle traffic. The buffered lanes are planned for both sides of Somerville Avenue.

“We want to move forward with this plan,” said Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, to a crowd of about 75 at Lesley University’ University Hall, “but that does not preclude future safety enhancements.”

The project would run “over the next few months [during] construction season,” he said.

Barr said plans were altered based on input from the community and an April 26 protest by the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, but he still received criticism from cycling activists who felt their message went unheard.

“Worthless,” is what one angry attendee called the plan, and city councillor Quinton Zondervan asked senior traffic engineer Patrick Baxter repeatedly why there could not be plastic flex posts – the primary demand of the April protest – where the city planned to put buffered bike lanes. An April 30 council order, though passed with some debate, also hoped for more extensive steps toward bike safety.

Baxter said trucks coming trough the snaky area would shear off posts in the curves, drawing criticisms from one upset cyclist that the city was “prioritizing trucks over bikes.” As part of the April protest, people formed a human wall in the Somerville Avenue bike lane buffer area to prove protected lanes were possible – and cars and bikes passed by without incident, using the lanes on either side of them.

Changes to the square were spurred by two deaths in 2016: Psychotherapist Marcie Mitler, 63, was hit by a car at 5:56 a.m. Feb. 18 while walking at Somerville Avenue and White Street, and died later at Massachusetts General Hospital; Ironwood Pharmaceuticals employee Bernard “Joe” Lavins, 60, was hit by an 18-wheel truck at 8:08 a.m. Oct. 5 while bicycling on Massachusetts Avenue across from the shopping plaza and pronounced dead at the scene.