Tag Archives: Safety

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.

Battle Over Bike Lanes in Cambridge

3 Dec

 

Fritz Donovan, presiding officer of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association, speaks at a Wednesday group meeting on bicycle concerns. (Photos: Tom Meek)

A neighborhood group gathered and voted Wednesday seemingly to form a committee urging city officials to reevaluate and fix recently installed bike lanes it felt weren’t addressing traffic-safety goals. It was similar to the conclusion of a Monday meeting held by a different group.

There was overlap in attendance between the Monday “Safe Streets for All” meeting in East Cambridge and the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association meeting held Wednesday, but Fritz Donovan, the neighborhood group’s presiding officer, said this was “a neighborhood initiative that had been set up before.” More than 60 people attended the earlier meeting; nearly 100 gathered Wednesday at a Spaulding Hospital meeting room, including association members, bicyclists and other concerned citizens.

After many speakers and a near-unanimous association vote to set up a committee, there was little time to discuss how the two groups might collaborate or cooperate in getting more bicyclist traffic enforcement, “revisiting” the installed bike lanes on Brattle and Cambridge streets and playing a bigger role in future installations. Continue reading