Mass. Ave. Bridge to get protected bike lanes
MassDOT announced today it will add protected bike lanes to the Mass. Ave. Bridge as part of a wintertime pilot involving signs and traffic barrels.
The number of vehicle lanes on each side will be reduced from two to one, with the goal of slowing motorists down - although the lanes will stay at two on each side at the ends to allow for turn lanes. The new markings and barrels will be in place by 5 a.m. on Monday, MassDOT says.
If the pilot works, MassDOT will work with Boston and Cambridge to create more permanent solutions that make the road safer for pedestrians and bicyclists - as well as motorists.
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All this investment in bike lanes when we can’t get them to properly plow the snow off the road for cars. LOL! How will they get snow off American Legion Hwy bike lanes? I can see these streets being down to half a lane for both cars and bikes.
Somehow snowy winter cities
Somehow snowy winter cities in the EU seem to manage. How do you plow narrow lanes? You buy trucks made to fit said lanes.
The average Boston winter doesn't exactly involve all that much snow and a day after then storm has ended the roads are down to pavement 99.9% of the time.
The snowpocalypse of 2013(?) was an outlier.
Was 2015. I always remember because it was during/after the Super Bowl vs. Seattle, and people were losing their minds over the fact that Boylston St. was getting plowed for the parade, while the rest of Boston got shafted.
I just remember shoveling the
I just remember shoveling the flat roof of the suburban food manufacturer I was working at because I did not want to die while making phone calls.
Snowpocalypse was my fault
I got married in October 2014, and the weather on our wedding day was so mild, so pure, so perfect-New-England-in-fall that I swore I wouldn't bitch and moan no matter how bad the winter got.
Again, sorry about that, everyone.
Cambridge, January 1994
Tip O'Neill dies and his funeral is to be held in the church in North Cambridge where he was baptized, married, etc. Heads of state and former presidents plan to attend.
There is one problem: this was a previous record breaking snowy winter and we had just had a massive snow dump. Snow piles are everywhere.
OSS tells Cambridge DPW that ALL of it has to go. No piles, no nothing left.
Cambridge shuts Mass Ave from Porter to the Arlington line overnight and removes every speck of snow.
People start to wonder why they can't do more snow removal in normal times, clear the sidewalks, etc. like they did for that event.
Tip of the hat to Tip
Ah, the funeral where Tom O'Neil waxed poetic about Verna's donuts. I could use one now.
Snowy winter cities in the EU
Aren't populated by commuters who need to maintain a minimum attendance record at a workplace to retain access to cost-effective medicine.
Good point. We really all
Good point. We really all aught to be driving 4x4 lifted trucks.
Got stuck in my FWD sedan a couple years ago. Sorry boss I was late.
The fastest way around Boston at ….
…. rush hour in a snowstorm is on a bike.
I know from years of experience.
But I do have a softness for a walk around Boston first time it snows to shovel-level every year.
Tires you out
I recall one storm that had backed up traffic and some people had even abandoned their cars on Memorial Drive in about 5 inches of wet heavy snow in which I rode home after my usual stop at TJ's for a few items.
The usual time home (6 miles) was only about ten minutes slower because my speed was reduced in that thick mess.
It is a nice change of roles to be the faster vehicle and passing a lot of slowed traffic.
But that is a rare event.
I agree -- an extent
If you're suggesting they shouldn't reduce lanes or do anything to help cyclists & pedestrians, I strongly disagree.
But I do agree that these protected lanes become worse for everyone in the few months when there's snow and ice. These lanes aren't always plowed. When they are plowed, it's not until a day or two later then the snow has turned to ice and has become compacted. And it's pretty common to be trapped in one of these lanes when it's plowed right up to the point of a giant snow pile which will stick around for months.
Last year I went down hard on a protected lane outside of Harvard Sq. It was plowed but there was a strip of snow in the section with the bollards. When the sun shines, that snow melts and drains toward the curb. This then turns to horrible black ice which isn't treated and is far more dangerous than riding in the road.
I also went down hard in Somerville in a similar scenario -- a bike lane which wasn't treated for ice even if was plowed.
Like many cyclists I'll ride in the road when the "protected" lanes are blocked. But when the road is narrow, drivers do not take kindly to cyclists who aren't using the protected lanes. (Most drivers have no idea the lanes are impassable.) It's also not always clear the protected lane will be blocked when choosing between it and main road.
So yeah, they need to not just think of the summertime riders when planning these lanes. Boston winters are getting shorter but they still last for months.
Some notes in this case
1) In 2015, MassDOT plowed the snow into the bike lane and left it there for the winter. The bike lane was several feet of frozen slush through March on the north side which didn't get as much sun to melt it off.
2) The nice thing about this *very temporary* design is that, if there is a major snowstorm, it can pretty easily be removed and replaced. During Longfellow construction in 2015, MassDOT or its contractors would close the bridge to traffic during the worst storms, haul off the snow, and then reopen in the next day. In this case, they could very conceivably pull up all the temporary markings, plow all the snow off, and then put the markings back, in the case of a major snowfall. I'm not sure if they will, but we'll have to hold their feet the fire.
3) If the bike lane becomes impassable, the rest of the bridge will at least not be a four-lane racetrack, so you won't have to share the lane with Massholes going 60 mph. But let's hope we don't get to that point!
2015 was an outlier on all accounts so I'll give the region a bit of a pass. But every single winter they use some of the protected lanes as snow storage. Last year there was a huge pile right at the corner where the Comm Ave westbound meets the BU Bridge headed to Cambridge. It lasted for weeks. A cyclist turning onto the BU bridge or continuing toward A/B had to dismount and hoist the bike or make a sketchy merge over snow into traffic.
They eventually removed this but it took weeks. Lots of similar cases all throughout the area.
I'm not opposed to the plan for the Harvard bridge and I like the idea of the state removing the bollards in the winter to plow. (Not possible on real protected lanes.) As a cyclist I support anything that makes the roads safer provided it's realistic given actual DPW operations.
What really gets me annoyed is when bike advocates dismiss complaints from year-round cyclists about the problem with these provisions during the winter. (See other comments on this thread.) Some advocates think more about fair weather casual riders than the do those who rely on a bike for daily transport.
Problems with these lanes when it snows and is below freezing are common. Don't talk about bobcat plows if the cities in the area aren't actually going to use them. And don't pretend that a plowed lane is usable if it's left untreated and frequently is covered in black ice.
The real problem is the
The real problem is the inconsistency in bike infrastructure design. Roads are consistent for a reason.
Cant buy a cycle track truck when your cycle tracks are like 1/1000 of your bike infrastructure. So the good infrastructure gets left to die.
I am hopefully optimistic things change under the new mayor.
Again, the problem isn't lack
Again, the problem isn't lack of plowing. It's the snow berms in the flex post buffer, which after any significant storm, become perpetual black ice generators for WEEKS after the general lanes are clear and dry.
This has been a big problem in Cambridge, despite the money and effort Cambridge puts into clearing the cycle tracks.
There's a reason why roads have a crown, and snow gets plowed to the edge. There's not supposed to be a travel lane downhill from a snow pile. Putting a cycle track downhill of an unplowable buffer is just bad design.
They can make it work with the existing underground utilities (you know, correct pitch and all), maybe someone can design a flex post base that sits atop a trench drain. Like, straddling the drain so water can get into it. Then when re-paving, pitch from both the curb and the crown to the flex post line. And make the flex post system easily removed for cleaning out the drains.
Million dollar idea, now to figure out how to get it manufactured and worked into actual use.
Hey! Federal grants are coming up thanks to Build Back Better ...
Drivers, kindly or not …
…. have no say in what part of the road I use. I always choose the safest part of the road and the safest speed. If drivers object, I slow down because being harassed means worse conditions which calls for slower speeds.
Never been hit or shot at in all my decades of cycling this way. Never had a fall in a bike lane. Only two falls in my life. One on a wet board walk under the BU bridge. One on black ice on a JP side street. In both I slid over making a turn, was uninjured and only slightly sore the next day.
Nothing will induce me to use an unsafe bike lane.
Yeah, the lanes on Mass Ave
Yeah, the lanes on Mass Ave next to parked cars just get ignored, I take the full lane.
Same. I consider unprotected bike lanes…
…. especially those next to parked cars or containing gravel or other debris to be nothing more than a possible reminder to drivers that cyclists use roads and a misleading one at that because some drivers really believe cyclists are restricted to those lanes. I only use them to pass stopped traffic and then only at a pace that allows for fast stops in case of opened doors or pedestrian step outs. They are pretty much a waste of paint though they do give the illusion of narrowing the other lanes. They are precursors to protected lanes at best.
My favorite cycle facility is
My favorite cycle facility is an unprotected lane with a buffer between the bike lane and the parking (if any). It solves the problems of dooring and pedestrian step outs, and reduces the chance of right hooks, left hooks, and side street T bones.
There is a benefit to those.
Besides what you said, they allow for easier transition into the other travel lanes. So you can make left turns and pass or allow other cyclists to pass you when the bike lane is crowded. I do like best when there are flex posts. They don’t really offer protection but the broken ones, as long as they aren’t blocking the lane or creating a tripping hazard, are indicators of where you need to be extra vigilant for dangerous road hogging drivers. And they visually demonstrate to everyone just how much drivers are out of control.
I definitely agree about the misleading part, and have had quite a lot of people yell at me for using the lane even to make a left turn. I once had a car containing a couple of middle-aged white men pull up next to me on Mass Ave near the Mapparium where it's four lanes plus a bike lane and lecture me at length about how I was required to be in the bike lane, rather than just using the other lane and leaving and minding their business.
The lanes are better than nothing though, particularly if you bike with children, or if you're older, disabled, or have other reasons why you ride quite slowly. There are a lot of routes I won't take with kids who can't ride 12-15mph, because when there's not a bike lane, people honk and yell that you can't ride there, especially if going 8-10mph. There are a couple communities (Braintree and Waltham stick out) where I've been on roads with a sizable shoulder with or without kids and had tons of people honk and yell to get off the road when they didn't even have to do anything whatsoever to pass me safely. While people don't remotely follow laws regarding bike lanes (municipal employees, postal workers, and utility workers are some of the worst), and none of the municipalities remotely enforce them, they also don't scream at people to stop biking on "their" road if there's a painted lane.
I ride about 10 miles a hour on average.
Slower with a passenger or cargo on the backrack. Or in heavy traffic. There is still no way I’ll ride in those unprotected lanes next to parked cars unless traffic is stopped. Like I said, l I get yelled at regularly. Threats of murder and intentional sideswipes. I know that way they have seen me. They don’t see me on the side next to parked cars.
Never been hit, never been doored, never been right hooked in decades of commuting all over the Boston area. In those decades I’ve seen many changes in driver behavior and perception of cyclists.
There is no one right way to navigate the city streets by bike. Everyone does what works best for them. I’m glad those type lanes exist, better them than nothing and they do work for some. They just don’t work for me.
When traffic is stopped...
...is when you get doored, as a passenger decides to get out and hoof it.
Which is why I ride super slow as I said in my comments above.
Hey, you a cargo bike person?
There are Facebook cargo bike groups for Cambridge/Somerville and Roxbury/Dorchester. Good folks. Come join!
No. I use a bike wagon on occasion….
… or just my bike rack for adult passengers and big enough kids, pets or panniers.
I love the cargo bikes. Wish I had reason and space to own one.
The Mass Ave lanes are better than nothing...
But it aggravates me how they switch every half-block among fully protected, not-adquately-protected-with-a-few-flexposts, and "hurr hurr we painted a stripe."
It's one of many routes that my middle-schooler could safely take alone, except that there are places where UPS trucks and rideshares pull over and hang out in the bike lane and won't move when we ring our bells at them. Yesterday when I rode home from Somerville, I counted 9 occupied vehicles in the Mass Ave bike lane in Cambridge and 10 in Boston, plus 2 unoccupied/not-running ones in Boston that appeared to have used it as a parking space. The city could make a shitton of money by enforcing bike lane laws.
Another one that pisses me off is Columbus Ave. They're protected by the line of cars, but the bike lane plus the striping is wide enough that cars can (and do) pull into the bike lane to "be just a minute," or sometimes to park especially in the winter. They could put some posts up and fix this very easily, but they don't.
It's on the mass ave bridge, just throw the snow in the Charles
Literally just dump the snow in the Charles here, it's an easy fix.
Not for the river ….
… and the wild and tame life that use it.
Because of salt?
Or is there some other reason?
Salt, motor oil, sand, cat litter, trash
Lots of crap accumulates in the snow that we don't want to just be pushing into rivers or oceans. See here for more.
Boston PWD does have the proper equipment to clear snow
Is it perfect and cleared right away? No, but its far superior to years past when the non-protected lanes basically became parking spots.
Back when I lived in
Back when I lived in Bridgewater for a couple years they had a better machine to clear sidewalks. Unlike that baby plow it could actually get through snowbanks.
Basically a bob cat sized snowblower.
Would love to see PWD get em too!
Honestly, it could be a game changer, more for sidewalks and clearing out curbs for accessibility needs that often go ignored.
Hoping the Wu Administration really takes up this effort on better snow removal thats not just focused on roads and leaving other infra as an after thought.
You get what you pay for
Also note: cyclists pay taxes, too. Drivers are not top priority or special.
Drivers pay excise tax
Drivers pay excise tax
And they get much more than what they …
… pay for. As you well know.
Plowing snow into bike lanes
Plowing snow into bike lanes is a logical use of resources. Most bicycles don't get used in the winter anyway.
How many don't use bikes in the winter because the bike infrastructure sucks in the winter?
(In Finland or some other Scandinavian country they just pack down the snow, throw gravel on top, and people bike on that. Love it.)
It's an apples:apples
It's an apples:apples comparison of the same infrastructure at different times of the year.
Even on a snowless winter day, there are fewer bicycles on the same roads compared to spring, summer, or fall. Pointing at Europe doesn't change that fact.
Where do you ride?
When paths are mostly ice-free, there's a smaller, but very much existent daily commuter contingent on the Pierre Lallement, Mass Ave, and Paul Dudley all winter.
The bigger issue than ice is the huge increase of motor vehicle operators using bike lanes as parking lots when the temperature is below about 45ºF. They think the bike lanes only apply seasonally.
But how many people bike up
But how many people bike up until the day before the first snow? (I actually think it's not so few.)
My issue is that a traditional bike lane works much better after heavy snow than a cycle track. If it's not clear, merge left into the general lane. You can't do that if there's a flexpost snowbank to your left.
Yeah but hell will be raised …
… by all those dedicated to parking illegally in the bike lanes.
If you claim they don’t need to be cleared in winter because they don’t take up space, then I guess you have no problem with them existing at all.
American Legion lanes were fine last winter
The city has snow removal equipment designed specifically for more narrow spaces. They have been ploughing bike lanes for years, whether or not you've noticed.
Needs bus lanes also, ASAP
Bus lanes should take first priority. They carry more people, and more kinds of people.
Buses theoretically can carry
Buses theoretically can carry more people.
But if a bus lane has only one route running every 10-15 minutes, the general lane will carry more people.
Only if the main lane is full. Which buses usually are at the same time.
Separate lanes also improve timing for car drivers. With buses not pulling in and out and making stops in a general travel lane, that lane moves with less stops as well.
Again, it's all about the
Again, it's all about the frequency of the bus routes.
A full bus every 10 minutes carries about 50 people. If a general lane can't handle more than 50 cars every 10 minutes, there's something seriously wrong with the road network that bus service can't fix.
Two general lanes with a bus pulling out of a stop every 10 minutes is better for cars than one general lane.
A real bus lane would serve 10 buses per minute. THAT's how to move people efficiently.
If a general lane
Is handling way more than 50 cars in 10 minutes, the question is "Why is everyone on the road at the same time?"
Responding to this, and a couple of comments downthread …
This was a lot of the initial discussion about this: how do we do this, and how do we not eff up transit in the short term, and improve it in the long term.
Short term: we need to make sure there's enough queue space at each end of the bridge so that the lights can process enough vehicles so that buses don't get stuck in long lines of traffic. Now there are times when there's a traffic-pocalypse (especially around Fenway events, which are over for a while) and traffic backs up across the bridge, no matter how many lanes there are, because of downstream blockages. But this is being done at breakneck speed (BCU's petition was sent to the State less than three weeks ago) and the only thing they can conceivably do is road diet/traffic calming. Traffic lights and even lane markings (this time of year) take a good deal longer to procure.
So this is a temporary condition for this winter which will hopefully make things better for bikes and at least not-worse for buses. It helps that traffic is down 10% from the last count many years ago, and probably 20% from pre-covid.
There are three big next steps which we hope will be planned this winter and implemented next spring:
1) Retiming the traffic lights. Right now, the traffic light timing is atrocious, especially at the Cambridge end. There are three lights within about 400 feet. Two of them are run by Cambridge, one by DCR (and the bridge is MassDOT, and the Beacon Street light Boston BTD, so four agencies in half a mile; welcome to Boston). Those three lights have different cycles (110s at Mem Drive, 75s at Amherst St, 80s at the Big Crosswalk) and are the cause of most of the backups that occur off the bridge: a car might hit a red light at each light, causing the queue from Amherst and the crosswalk to back up onto the bridge.
Anyway, there are solutions. The light at Mem Drive is very inefficient. If you go and watch it, you'll see about 20 seconds when basically nothing happens. No one turns right, no one goes straight, just wasted time. It could probably be shortened to 85 or 90 seconds, which would come close to matching the nearby lights (or at least, close enough to set them all to the same cycle and sync them, and optimize them for traffic flow). It also means that today, someone biking or walking along the river waits up to 85 seconds to cross Mass Ave.
2) Along with the traffic light timing, the big safety issue that needs to be addressed are right hook traffic movements by cars across the bike lane. Given the volume of bikes and right turning traffic, off the bridge at both ends, this leads to thousands of conflicts and potential crashes each day (not accidents, it's engineered to have crashes). With the signal retiming, exclusive phases can be added for turning movements and straight through movements, so cars can drive more confidently worrying less about bikes cutting in front of them*, and turning traffic will flow faster.
3) And … buses. Once you've retimed the traffic lights, you can add a bus queue jump using the right turn cycle. So, if general purpose traffic is stacked up in the left lane, buses can join the right turns, but then go straight through to a queue jump box (on the Cambridge end, there's plenty of extra space above Memorial Drive) and get ahead of cars. There's not room for a bus lane on the bridge and safe bicycling infrastructure. The only way to even come close would be to convert one of the existing lanes to a bus lane, but that would either mean buses—and there are about 30 each hour on the bridge—passing close to cyclists, or, if the lanes were in the center, all general purpose traffic in the lane next to cyclists, and that lane would be unprotected. The only way to get protection is to reduce traffic by a lane. But that's okay, the volume allows for it.
So, tl;dr: yes, buses, hopefully next spring.
* Before you yell at me, yes, bikes break the law and run lights, and yes so do cars. Yes, they do. Probably a dozen of them along the Southwest Corridor this evening, unless I am seeing things. Making bicycle infrastructure safer likely makes bikes behave better, so you'll probably see fewer people running the red. Especially if turning traffic has a green light across the lane.
Why are we thinking about
Why are we thinking about maybe fixing the traffic lights now? They only got their current configuration 3 years ago, when the cycle tracks and bus lane through MIT went in. Didn't anyone realize that lights of different cycle lengths would be a disaster, especially when reducing the number of general lanes?
paint and plastic sticks
Light timing yes, right-turning fixes, yes.
But light plastic bollards are merely safety theater on a straight wide lane with no curb parking.
And they introduce problems.
If that is worthwhile merely to make people *feel* safe and increase ridership, I'm willing to hear those arguments, but I'd much rather that money be spent on skills training for ALL road users (especially cyclists) and educational materials and even public awareness campaigns. A culture of competent roadway operation can be self-sustaining eventually.
Education hasn’t done much so far.
Anyone can pass a driver’s test with minimal compression of laws regarding safety and rights to the road.
Aren't there a few traffic laws that frequently get "debated" here? Like when people insist that vehicles always need to yield to pedestrians even if the pedestrian has a big red hand?
Keep at it, but try other techniques, too.
Cars and bikes don't drive.
Considering the engineered conflicts I have seen in recent cycling infrastructure, and the confounding paint etc. that is not maintained, and is ignored by many non-compliant cyclists (because it is also inefficient), I'd like trying to actually use educational techniques starting in public school to modify behavior instead of using confusing surface paint systems and signage as teaching tools.
Or at least BOTH.
Sweep streets and improve pavement surfaces too, for safety.
You can’t have separate bike
You can’t have separate bike and right-turn phases unless you also have either:
1) a dedicated right turn lane, taking a lot of width and possibly reducing the number of thru lanes, or
2) separate phases for straight+right motor vehicles and straight bikes, which wastes a lot of time, especially for bikes
Of course, no protection is possible at unsignalized intersections or driveways. It’s one of the fundamental flaws with trying to engineer a separated bike facility along a city street. It’s also why I refuse to call them “protected” bike lanes, since the only thing I’m protected from is being seen by turning cars.
I don't know what the T and the city are thinking with all these lanes. This is y the traffic will get worse and worse not to mention some of these lanes are causing accidents becauseof a dangerous engineering job. The t has to fix all the handicap ramps because they are not up to standards. Dam give me 6 figures ill do a better job then this .
This is great! Now how about
This is great! Now how about if we make the second lane approaching each end of the bridge bus only?
No Smoot point that!
Make the entire lane bus only. Add more busses too.
While I think legally taking
While I think legally taking the full lane is safest and most responsible, I’d rather see cyclists who are less skilled in sectioned off bike lanes as opposed to riding on the sidewalks of the Mass. Ave. bridge in the way of walkers, runners and those with mobility issues.
Video of bike lane in action