What to do about the river roads?

The Storrow Pool is all fun and games until the top of a bus is peeled back, sending nearly three dozen people to the hospital.

Is there any way to prevent this in the future? Clearly, the signs aren't working. Bring back the cowbells the old MDC used to attach to poles across onramps? Station troopers at every entrance? Suggestions?

Here are some thoughts from Twitter last night as the events unfolded:



Free tagging: 


Bigger concern

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The leaks in the inbound Storrow tunnel have taken to forming significant ice stalactites above the right lane. I have heard there have been days where they were so bad that the right lane was effectively closed.

return the river highways to local roads

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Return the Storrow and Memorial highways to 2 lanes each way local roads with stop lights and crossings, which would dramatically reduce their upkeep and maintenance costs, and would also allow the State to return the parkland it took to the Charles River park systems, which at times is a few feet from river to highway. Plus, zero overpass accidents. Win, win, win.

Dealing with Low Clearence

Up to this point, I mostly like the existence of low clearance as it enforces Parkways to be Parkways by design. Granted, none of the River Roads can be truly seen as recreational roads rather than just a highway. Yet, if it going to exist, then I am attached to the last vestige of a parkway being a parkway. Without the low clearance, all the signs and even enforcement would not keep the last principle of a parkway.

However, that line of thought sounded cool until a bus of people gets hurt and we're lucky if it not any worse.

Plenty of people can be hit with a whole smorgasbord of signs, lights, bells, and alarms but they will somehow not connect the dots. I can tell you a news story of a guy where people ignore despite all the drastic action.

So, the expensive solution is to give up the last incidental enforcement-by-design and raise the clearances.

Or how about let's put up a low clearance sign. People can ignore signs, not recognize cowbells as a warning or sneak pass officers while distracted or inattentive. But no one is going to keep driving if the roof of one's vehicle knocks down a sign and is now dragging it in front of the windshield.

Sign smack in the face

The ramp he likely used to get on that road would have seriously smacked the bus as he entered the road.

I for one would love to just get rid of Storrow Drive and provide better links to the nearby federal highway designed for such vehicles. I cannot see spending the likely HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of dollars to raise the bridges here. I'm not joking or exaggerating about that expense, either - think for a minute what you are asking here. There are maximum slopes, there would be serious regrading of the roads coming on and off, etc. It really isn't that simple, and would be a monumental boondoggle on an already dated and redundant roadway.

One possible answer is to require professional drivers to be professionals. Do you have to pass a map navigation test to get a license? If not, why not? Seems to be a critical safety issue - and not just for Storrow Drive. If you are being paid for your skill and expertise in piloting a large vehicle safely, is it too much to ask that you demonstrate some skill in knowing where you are going?


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The real answer to this problem and that of the multi-hundred million dollar tunnel repair is to close Storrow drive as a parkway and change it back into a at surface road, reconnecting the back bay with the Charles.

We can funnel the parkway onto the pike, so lets get done it.

I think I got misunderstood here

I do not support the idea of changing the clearance.

I was setting up a comparison to the alternative idea of a low clearance sign. And when I said low clearance. I don't mean a sign with some stuff hanging off it to make a big smacking sound. Nor just a sign that says low clearance. I mean a literal 9ft over-arching post-sign that if something 9ft or taller hits it, then the sign will detach and now the driver will either have to keep dragging a sign on his windshield or stop.

Unlike cowbells, rubber signage that smacks the vehicle at a hit, police, or more signs, you can't miss a reverse football shape post dragging across the windshield.

I do note that it may only sound good on paper. Such a thing that easily falls over the vehicle when hit may also means it will fall over too much at a decent wind gust or something similar.

Neither "Cars Only" rubber baby buggy bumper

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panels that flap in the breeze nor generic "Low Clearance" signs (with no actual clearance given) tell the professional driver the vital information they need - the actual clearance of the low overpass they may hit if they continue.

Sadly, as long as the DCR continues to have this aversion to placing proper warning and guide signs designed, fabricated, and placed in accordance with estabilshed national standards for traffic signs (for the totally illogical reason that proper signs are not asthetically compatible with their outdated concept that these roads are "scenic parkways" intended for pleasure drivers), these types of incidents will continue to happen.


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CARS ONLY means CARS ONLY. It is fairly clear. It doesn't matter why they are CARS ONLY it matters that it is CARS ONLY. That means No Trucks, Buses, Horse Drawn Carraiges, Bicylces, Pedestrians, Unicycles, or Pogo Sticks. ONLY CARS. It not like the sign is black letters on black background facing the opposite way of oncoming traffic and covered by 6 trees and a tarp. It's your responsibility to read it as a truck or bus driver no matter what.

Show me in the Federal sign standards

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(which Massachusetts - including the DCR - must legally comply with) where a yellow on black non-reflective sign is acceptable to convey a traffic restriction. Drivers (even professional ones) tend to disregard traffic signs that appear "homemade" - even if those signs "whack" their vehicle.

Just look at the evidence. Consider how many overheight vehicles have struck bridges on Storrow Drive alone since the "rubber" signs were first installed in the 1970s. But let's go ahead and say "well, every one of those drivers was 100% at fault here."

Yes, the driver bears most of the responsibilty for causing this crash. But a state agency that installs traffic signs based on asthetics and "innovation" instead of established standards also bears some responsibility as well.

Compare cowbells to signs

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I don't understand how cowbells would be any better than signs.

The sign must have made an immense noise when the bus whacked it last night. I don't know how a cowbell would have made any difference.

Great...a noise...

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So, you're a bus driver who clearly doesn't see a sign that's about to hit the top of your bus (otherwise, why would you hit it?). So, now you hear a thwap and *maybe* even a scraping sound as it slides over your roof. What was it? Who knows, bus still drives fine, nobody's honking or screaming. You wouldn't even think to stop and there's no sign after the flaps above the road that say "that sound you heard was a low clearance warning that you totally just missed, dude".

In other words, if you hit the signs, it's too late to read them, now isn't it?

Also, why are the signs yellow on black? Above headlight level at night, they're next to useless. Make them road hazard sign orange and red. Don't put them on chains, put them on a levered beam. If they go horizontal by force, set off a boat-sized air horn mounted on the back of the sign facing downwards so it goes off in the driver's ear. Something that tells the brain "NO!", not "meh".

Put up a series of 5-6 low

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Put up a series of 5-6 low bridge signs in a row, so that an overheight vehicle makes a real clatter. And have a sensor that triggers a red light before the tunnel entrance.


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Full stop at entrances, put these back up over the entrance lanes:



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I like the idea of doing something at the entrances. Adding the signs that hit too-tall vehicles there would help. Not sure if this is still true, but in the past no commercial vehicles of any kind were allowed on this road, even vans. There are no businesses that need access to Soldiers Field Extension once you get to Harvard Stadium.

We cannot make every road 100% safe.

It might help if the state police, who have a speed trap starting early Saturday morning, (conveniently outside their barracks farther west) would patrol the roads a little more.

There already are signs that

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There already are signs that hit too tall vehicles. I don't just mean a little thwack on the roof. They are GIANT rubber banners that hang precisely at windshield height of buses and trucks that say in GIANT letters that are highly visible day or night (especially when they completely obscure your view as you hit them) that say CARS ONLY. Literally, if you try to drive under one you will see NOTHING for several seconds but CARS ONLY out the front window. No view of the road, or anything else but CARS ONLY can be seen. Not to mention the loud THWACK as you hit such.

The only way to make this even more evident is to have the sign be concrete on poles instead of rubber on chains. And that would just move the injuries up from the bridges to the location of the sign itself.

There really isn't much more you can do in the area of signage. I suppose you could put the same sign up that is already at every entrance again and again every few meters along the road but that would make for a very ugly sight.

You could de-highway Storrow drive - replace the underpasses with intersections and lights. But then there WOULD be trucks and buses on it all the time which would be bad.

So really the best solution is to just hold national stupidity tests on a regular basis, shooting people who fail to pass before their stupidity can affect others.

"CARS ONLY" does not imply

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"I might hit a low bridge". There are many streets and roads that have commercial vehicle restrictions, not because the road is inadequate for the heavier vehicles, but because the selfish "me first" residents on those roads managed to get a truck restriction posted.

With respect, I'm hardly excusing this driver's negligence

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The fact the driver was apparently placing "blind faith" in a GPS receiver alone tells me that perhaps they aren't properly qualified to be a professional bus driver. And, as others have pointed out, there appear to be questions about his "hours of service".

However, this latest accident, although much more severe than the others of late, is hardly an isolated incident on Soldier's Field Road, Storrow Drive, or Memorial Drive. Therefore, I do not consider blaming this crash soley on "driver negligence" and just walking away to be a reasonable response.

Every crash like this has an immediate cause (what directly caused the crash) and one or several proximate causes (what contributed to the crash occurring). If you are serious about investigating crashes like this, with the goal of reducing such crashes in the future, you need to look at both.

In this case, it's fairly obvious that the immediate cause of the bus striking the overpass was the failure of the driver to exit at Western Avenue (to access the MassPike/I-90). In my opinion, the key proximate cause of this crash was signing that failed to inadequately inform the bus driver of the hazards of entering Solider's Field Road to begin with - the "Low Clearance" sign with no actual clearance given; the rubber "Cars Only" sign that is non-standard (they're not even black on white) - and IMO looks "homemade"; and the "No Trucks or Buses" sign that wasn't even visible until after the driver had committed to taking the entrance ramp. Also, IMO, the secondary proximate cause of the crash was an inadequate advance sign on Soldier's Field Road for the Mass. Pike.

In other words, had the entrance signing to Soldier's Field Road been clearer, the bus driver may not have gotten on the road in the first place. And, had there been better advance signing for the MassPike, the driver may not have missed the turnoff. Speculation, perhaps. But not unreasonable.

Since this latest crash, most every blog I've seen or person I've talked to about this matter has echoed the same refrain "But there are plenty of signs, how could this happen?" My response to that has been "Yes, but are the signs effective enough?", and have proceeded to point out (in several posts here for example) how, in my opinion, the existing signs are actually inadequate for conveying the messages they're trying to tell commercial drivers.

Lastly, I stand by my comments regarding the placement of generic "NO TRUCKS" vehicle restriction signs. Over the past 30+ years, I've traveled on many through streets and highways within Massachusetts (in a passenger car) posted with truck and/or bus restrictions where I could find no legitimate reason from a highway design or engineering perspective(i.e. low clearance, excessively sharp turns, weight restricted bridges) to justify those restrictions. If I've figured this out, you can bet that many commercial drivers have as well.

And that's one of the things about traffic signs. If you put up signs that aren't justified by the roadway conditions, sooner or later drivers will figure that out and disregard them. The only problem is that drivers will then also disregard those same signs at other locations where the signs actually serves a legitimate purpose there.

Like This one?

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Paul L has the story, in the frontpage post above Adam linked to. Apparently this guy hit the lottery, against all odds, of everything wrong with Storrow/soldiers field.

Improbable, but as we now see possible.

Wow, that's a horrible

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Wow, that's a horrible warning sign.

First, Its extremely vague. There is NO actual listing of height anywhere.

Second, the lower part is MISSING., so the driver had no audible warning.

To quote Calvin

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(from when Susie found Hobbes and returned him):

ThankYouThankYouThankYouThankYouThankYouThankYouThankYou ...... ThankYouThankYouThankYou

for proving my point

How about proper training?

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The Federal Railroad Administration requires that train engineers be qualified for the specific route on which they're operating their train so that they're familiar with signals, crossings, construction zones, speed limits and areas with show orders. Maybe it's a good idea for bus drivers to be held to a similar standard.

I get your point.

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However, Billy Bus Driver (first cousin to Billy Big Rigger) already had a GPS unit. Sad to say, but these days, people (even "professional" drivers) who use both paper maps and GPS units are a dying breed.

Someone get a W12-2

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There is only one sign that is needed:

W12-2 is shown as a diamond-shaped sign. It shows an upward-pointing black arrow above the notation "12'-6"," which is above a downward-pointing black arrow.

What's with all the custom signs. These stand out to truck and bus drivers.

Well, if the signboards are

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Well, if the signboards are not working properly at the area, I think blinkers and of course, the olden ways like cowbells can be used to avoid further accidents in the area. What happened in the previous day was terrible and hope that it never happens.