Report on Route 9 reconstruction in Natick

On Sunday, August 24, Natick residents Dick and Jill Miller and I had a look at the Route 9 project, which extends either side of the Oak Street intersection.

We drove the length of the project in both directions, and I shot video of it.

We parked just west of Oak Street. I walked west along the median all the way past the eastbound-to-westbound U turn which is east of Hunnewell Town Forest and west of Oak Street, to check on what the configuration will be once the project is completed, shooting video from time to time.

Good news, more or less: Contrary to some first impressions posted on an e-mail list by a commuting cyclist, once the Jersey barriers have been removed, the curbs will be in the same places where they were before construction, so the roadway widths will be no better and no worse. Over much of the length of this segment, however, widening the roadway could provide a rideable shoulder or bike lane where there is currently none. This could have improved bicycling conditions, but would have required expensively moving out the curbs. During construction, shared-lane markings in the right-hand lane might alleviate the anti-bicycle design where only two traffic lanes and no breakdown lane exist.

A base layer of bituminous (asphalt-based) concrete already has been laid over most of the length of the median. There was a median barrier railing before, as shown in Google Street Views. A plan drawing shows that the barrier is to be replaced, see http://www.natickma.gov/sites/natickma/files/file/file/oak-9_west.pdf .

Dick reports that a local family whose son had died when crossing Route 9 on foot pursued the construction of the inappropriate U-turn lane and traffic signal west of Oak Street — which predate the current project — despite its being possible to make a U-turn at Oak Street. Dick thinks that the U turn is in a wrong location for a pedestrian crossing – even if it offered one. It does not. A pedestrian overpass at the west end of the Town Forest would far better serve the local neighborhoods, but MassDOT had ignored that request. Wethersfield Road and the Mathworks driveway opposite it also suggest themselves as a location for a signalized intersection or pedestrian overpass.

Pedestrian crossings in general are too few. There is no pedestrian crossing between Route 27 and Oak Street, nearly 1 1/2 miles, though there are residential neighborhoods, retail businesses and major employers on both sides of Route 9. We saw pedestrians cross, even during our brief visit.

It occurs to us that the U-turn is superfluous, that providing a pedestrian crossing was a better use of funding at the time of its construction. Dick and Jill heard, earlier in the process, that the rotary at Oak Street is to be replaced with left-turn lanes – subject to the Final Plan. The present work on the median appears largely cosmetic. It is being reconstructed just as it was before. Providing a pedestrian crossing between Route 27 and Oak Street would have been a far higher priority, in our opinion.

Throughout the length of the reconstruction of the median, the sidewalk has been repaved except around most utility poles, which will be removed and replaced with others outboard of the sidewalk. There is new paving around a few poles which are near one side of the sidewalk, and don’t obstruct it significantly. There is, however, a serious issue with construction staging. The sidewalk has been torn up around the utility poles for at least 11 months, see Google Street view from September, 2013: http://tinyurl.com/koqxcg8 . Dick reports that this is an issue with NSTAR coordinating – spectacularly poorly.

If the old poles had been removed before the sidewalk got repaved, then it could all have been repaved at once instead of leaving sections around the old poles unpaved so the poles could be pulled out, and having to come back again to pave those sections of sidewalk. The sidewalk would have been available as a bicycle detour during construction, and wheelchair access could have been provided nearly a year earlier.

Dick, Jill and I also drove west of the project and noticed some sections of sidewalk which are overgrown and barely usable or unusable, including sections leading to/from the new bridge across Lake Cochituate. Much of the vegetation overhanging these sections of sidewalk is poison ivy. There is no sidewalk under the Cochituate Rail Trail bridge (though a path might go up to the trail once it is built). The roadway has sections with shoulders and sections without, as well as on-and on-ramps and off-ramps and driveways. There are “wait here” markers and signs for bicycle traffic signal actuation at intersections, appropriately placed, though this segment of Route 9 certainly can’t be called “bicycle friendly”.

We didn’t check whether the actuators work (which would have been difficult because there was motor traffic to trigger the signals).

In summary, we believe:

1. This is not a good example of a bicycle-friendly or pedestrian-friendly highway reconstruction project, and particularly not during construction.

2. The project has severe impediments to safe bicycle movement during construction and, following construction, only leaves them as they were.

3. It is worth revisiting what can be done to alleviate the worst problems, both interim and final.

4. It is worth revisiting how and why poor design features, spending priorities, construction staging problems and maintenance lapses were allowed.

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Boston’s Western Avenue Cycle Track — correcting the public record

According to official and published sources, Boston’s Western Avenue cycle track:

In reality:

An 0.1 mile segment, only on the south side, was installed in November, 2010, but parking adjacent to it was only allowed later, perhaps as late as October, 2011. This segment was removed sometime before June 7, 2012.

This segment was reinstalled and another 0.1 mile segment near North Harvard Street was installed sometime between July and October of 2012.

So: all in all, over the time period of the Boston Cyclist Safety Report,

  • 0.1 miles of cycle track without adjacent parking existed for approximately 0.9 year, for a total of about 0.09 miles * years of cycle track without parking, on one side.
  • 0.1 mile of cycle track with parking existed for at most 0.8 year, and 0.2 miles of cycle track with parking existed for at most 0.5 year, for a total of approximately 0.26 miles * years — but in only one direction.
  • Total miles * years for the segment, counting both directions is 4.6. The cycle track segments, then, account for only about 6% of the miles * years of the segment, and the claim of safety applies overwhelmingly to segments and times without cycle tracks.

Because the cycle track segments are behind parked cars, it is only possible to travel to or from several driveways on the far side of the street by avoiding the cycle track and riding in the narrowed travel lane, or by threading between parked cars.

The cycle track is unusable for weeks at a time in winter due to snow and ice, while the travel lanes of the street are clear.

A well-known proponent of cycle tracks has stated in a public forum that no bicycle crashes occurred along this segment during the Boston Cyclist Safety Report study period, 2009-2012. There are none in police department data but there is a report of a crash in a separate part of the report based on EMT data.

Bicycle traffic on Western Avenue is rather light; also, most bicycle crashes do not result in a police or EMT call. The Cyclist Safety Report’s reporting method for Western Avenue is probably consistent with that for other road segments: one possible exception would be if Harvard University Police rather than Boston Police responded. It is fair to say that there were few crashes in this segment. It is not accurate to say that this is because cycle tracks were installed, or that there were no crashes.

Sources of reliable information about the locations and time periods for the cycle track:

The following links are to a supporting document, which in turn links to the sources:

Overview

Videos

Google Street Views

Newspaper articles and blog posts

Sources of inaccurate information about time periods, extent and safety of the cycle track:

The links below are to supporting pages on this site, which in turn link to the sources.

Boston Cyclist Safety Report: the study period was 2009-2012. Maps show a cycle track over the full 0.58 mile length of the segment, and the report does not indicate that the cycle track existed for only part of the research time period and on only one side of the street.

Testimony at a public meeting by Anne Lusk, Visiting Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of several research papers on cycle tracks.

A national online database citing an announcement from the Mayor’s Office, an article in the Boston Globe, and a report from the Boston Cyclists’ Union. Neither the boston.com article nor the BCU report state a length for the cycle track, though the database does.

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Separate but equal

3:15 PM, Thursday, August 27, 2014: I’m riding home on the stretch of Western Avenue in Brighton a hundred yards or so short of Market Street. I’m riding outside the door zone of parked cars. This stretch is narrow enough that the City of Boston hasn’t even seen fit to install its usual door-zone bike lanes, where an opening car door would fling me out into the street.

A horn honks behind me. There isn’t any oncoming traffic, and the vehicle immediately passes me, without any difficulty. It is a large white pickup truck with tool chests in the back. The door carries the logo of the Boston Traffic Department.

I catch up with the truck at the traffic light at Market Street. The weather is pleasant and the right-side window is open.

“What was that honk about,” I ask.

“You should be riding over there.”

“That’s the door zone. If I ride over there, and someone opens a car door, I go under your truck.”

“Bicyclists should ride over there. That’s the law” (The driver is talking over me. He doesn’t hear most of what I’m saying.)

“That isn’t the law.”

“You are supposed to ride over there. This is the space for cars.” He is yelling at me.

I’ve lost it. I’m yelling back. But soon the light changes. He drives off and I ride off.

The driver is, need I say, an employee of the City department which installs bizarre bike boxes, door-zone bike lanes, coffin corners and misplaced bicycle actuators and markings, and allows bicyclist booby traps to be placed across streets.

The driver is, let’s get to the heart of the matter here, vehemently instructing me to be a compliant, meek, passive, defenseless second class citizen: to put my own life at risk for the sake of, at most, a few seconds of his precious time.

Boston’s Mayor Menino announced in 2007, with great fanfare, that “the car is no longer king”  — but the City’s program since then has put bicyclists out of the way in door-zone bike lanes — also establishing the public perception that this is Your Space, so Stay out of Ours.  Now that the coffin corners have killed a number of bicyclists, the City has determined also to put the coffin corners out of sight until the moment of collision, behind a row of parked cars, on “cycle tracks.”

There are parallels to these developments in the history of our great country, and I’d think that an African-American — like this driver — or for that matter, a Japanese American, or Native American or Hispanic, or…you name it, any reasonable person might be especially sensitive to those parallels. It didn’t happen this time.

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Massachusetts Motorized Bicycle and “Motorized Scooter” Law — a Mess

Massachusetts law about motorized bicycles is a confused and disorganized mess. I’ll delineate the problems and make recommendations here.

  • the law makes no distinction between electrically-assisted bicycles and ones with gasoline engines;
  • definitions overlap;
  • there are provisions which contradict the general provisions of traffic law, including a requirement always to overtake on the right and a prohibition on riding at night — on motorized vehicles which must have lighting supplied as standard equipment. Every other type of vehicle from a bicycle to a large truck or bus may be used at night, with appropriate lighting equipment.

I found the definitions below in Chapter 90, section 1 of the General Laws. The definition of “motorized scooter” encompasses electrically-assisted bicycles, but it dumps them into the same category as gasoline-powered ones — a big mistake, because an electrically-assisted bicycle does not create a nuisance with noise and pollution when used on paths. The definition of “motorized scooter” overlaps with that of “motorized bicycle” even though they claim to be exclusive of one another.

“Motorized bicycle”, a pedal bicycle which has a helper motor, or a non-pedal bicycle which has a motor, with a cylinder capacity not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters, an automatic transmission, and which is capable of a maximum speed of no more than thirty miles per hour.

“Motorized scooter”, any 2 wheeled tandem or 3 wheeled device, that has handlebars, designed to be stood or sat upon by the operator, powered by an electric or gas powered motor that is capable of propelling the device with or without human propulsion. The definition of “motorized scooter” shall not include a motorcycle or motorized bicycle or a 3 wheeled motorized wheelchair.

The following is in Chapter 90, section 1E of the General Laws. Boldface is mine.

Section 1E. A motorized scooter shall not be operated on any way by a person not possessing a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit, nor at a speed in excess of 20 miles per hour. A person operating a motorized scooter upon a way shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting scooters or bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to all traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the regulations contained in this section, except that: (1) a scooter operator shall keep to the right side of the road at all times, including when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way; and (2) the scooter shall be equipped with operational stop and turn signals so that the operator can keep both hands on the handlebars at all times. No person shall operate a motor scooter upon any way at any time after sunset or before sunrise.

A person operating a motorized scooter shall wear protective headgear conforming with such minimum standards of construction and performance as the registrar may prescribe. No person operating a motorized scooter shall permit any other person to ride as a passenger on the scooter.

Problems with this section:

  • There is no definition of electrically-assisted bicycle separate from that of a gasoline-powered bicycle. Definitions of electrically-assisted bicycles generally include a power limitation and a limitation to 20 mph on speed which can be reached under motor power.
  • The Massachusetts law requires a driver’s license for what is essentially a bicycle.
  • The rule requiring keeping to the right side of the road at all times, even when overtaking, is wildly incorrect and dangerous.
  • Turn signals make sense on a vehicle with a throttle control on the handlebar, but are unnecessary on an electrically-assisted bicycle where motor power is applied as an enhancement to pedal power: bicyclists use hand signals. A stop signal can be appropriate if the vehicle can be propelled without pedaling. (Some electrically assisted bicycles can/others cannot. A bicyclist’s stopping pedaling serves as a stop signal.)
  • The prohibition on riding between sunset and sunset is outrageous and does not apply to any other type of vehicle. Any powered vehicle easily incorporates lighting and reflectors.
  • There is no description of the standard which applies for a helmet: such descriptions exist for bicycles, motorized bicycles and motorcycles.

My recollection is that this bizarre law was rushed through the legislature in response to a fad a few years ago for “mini motorcycles” — vehicles which look like motorcycles but are much smaller — which were being ridden by teenagers. Citing the teenagers for driving without a license, and applying the equipment provisions of law for motorized bicycles, would have addressed this problem in a reasonable way.

In Chapter 90, Section 1C, we also have

Section 1C. Motorized bicycles and motorized scooters shall comply with all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards.

This would require lighting on any motorized vehicle, and so if lighting is required, what is the sense of banning riding at night?

A vulnerable road user’s bill introduced in the 2013-2014 session does not cover operators of motorized bicycles, “motorized scooters” (including electrically-assisted bicycles) or motorcycles, though they are as vulnerable as bicyclists, and motorcyclists have a far higher injury and fatality rate.

House version:

SECTION 1. Section 1 of chapter 90 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2008 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after line [], the following sentence:- ““Vulnerable user” means a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, or non-motorized scooter.”.

Senate version: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/Senate/S1639

And latest Senate version as of August 29, 2014:

“Vulnerable user” means a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, wheelchair, non-motorized scooter, or any non-motorized vehicle, or a person riding a horse.”

My suggestions for the next session: repeal the motorized scooter section. Add a section for electrically-assisted bicycles, defining power and speed limitation and lighting equipment requirements. Include operators of electrically-assisted bicycles, motorized bicycles and motorcycles in the vulnerable user’s bill.

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Columbus Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue Follow-Up

[Note: this post has been updated thanks to Charlie Denison's correct identification of the direction from which the bicyclist approached the intersection.]

This post follows from my previous post about the right-hook collision of a garbage truck with a bicyclist at Columbus Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. The image below is from a Boston Globe article which is behind a paywall, but in case you don’t subscribe, you may also be able to access the Globe through your local public library.

Boston Globe photo of collision at Columbus Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue

Boston Globe photo of aftermath of collision at Columbus Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue

The undated Google overhead view of the intersection shows shared-lane markings, but it is older: note different crosswalk markings and that that construction work is underway.

Google overhead view of Massachusetts Avenue and Columbus Avenue

Google overhead view of Massachusetts Avenue and Columbus Avenue

Here’s a link to the overhead view, which will eventually be updated.

There are more recent Street Views, and they offer some teachable moments.

Let’s look at the four corners of the intersection. First, let’s look at the corner of the intersection where the crash occurred.

We look first to the northwest into Massachusetts Avenue, into the direction from which the bicyclist came.

Massachusetts Avenue looking northwest from Columbus Avenue

Massachusetts Avenue looking northwest from Columbus Avenue, August 2013

The bike lane is the extension of a parking lane, placed to the right of a lane from which much of the traffic turns right, and with a “wait here” marking –  only there is no actuator loop (metal detector).  A bicyclist is approaching in right hook position and another bicyclist is headed away from the intersection on the sidewalk, past doors which could disgorge unwary pedestrians. There is another “wait here” marking in the left-turn lane (near the right side of the image): the only such marking in the entire intersection which is centered inside a bicycle-sensitive actuator loop where it belongs. Here’s a link to the same view, in case you would like to look around.

In the latest version of Google Maps, you may also click on the clock icon in the panel at the upper left to look at earlier Street Views. Here’s the view from July , 2011, the most recent one before the installation of the bike lane. There is no bicycle-sensitive actuator loop in the left-turn lane. This image may also reveal why none was none installed in the bike lane: the lead wires for all the others fan out from just where it would be. Installing it woudl require reinstalling all the other loops.

View from Massachusetts Avenue, July, 2011

View from Massachusetts Avenue, July, 2011

Here’s the link to Google for that image in case you would like to look around.

Now we go 90 degrees clockwise to the next corner. Here is the August 2013 Google Street View from  Columbus Avenue.

Columbus Avenue approaching Massachusetts Avenue, August, 2013

Columbus Avenue approaching Massachusetts Avenue, August, 2013

Near the right curb are a “wait here” marking in the right side of the rightmost lane, and at this corner, a special signal actuator loop (metal detector), bicycle-sensitive — assuming that it’s working — but ahead of the stop line and partly in the crosswalk. This installation also instructs bicyclists to wait in the “coffin corner” where they can be right-hooked.

There’s another bicycle-sensitive actuator loop in the left-turn lane, but its “wait here” marking is also not over an actuator loop.

Here’s a link to the same image in case you would like to look around. If you turn the view 180 degrees, you’ll see that the right-hand lane is the extension of a parking lane. There is also parking after the intersection — so most traffic in this lane will turn right  — though the white box truck under the traffic lights bucked that trend: an opportunistic Boston maneuver. If there is no receiving lane the other side of the intersection, the right lane should be marked as a right-turn lane…

The bicyclist on the far side of the intersection is the same one we saw on the sidewalk before, but this photo was taken a few seconds earlier. He is crossing in the left crosswalk against the light and has diverted to yield to the traffic which has started across the intersection. You may track this bicyclist’s progress by clicking along on the series of Street Views along Columbus Avenue, if you like.

Here for comparison is a Street View from August, 2009. There is no shared-lane marking yet — those were installed sometime in the late summer or automn of 2011 — and if there are traffic signal actuator loops, they have been paved over. Cars are parked illegally up to the corner, and there’s a Post Office truck in right-hook position but apparently stopped to pick up or deliver mail: it has its warning blinkers on. The black car to its left is displaying a right-turn signal and the white Cadillac has merged over onto the median to continue straight through or turn left. A bicyclist looking to continue safely through the intersection would choose a line of travel behind the black car. And, yes a woman with a baby stroller is crossing against the light at the far side of the intersection, and at the left side, one bicyclist is making an illegal right turn on red while another is waiting in right-hook position. This is Boston!

Columbus Avenue lookng southwest, August, 2009.

Columbus Avenue lookng southwest, August, 2009.

You may click on the image to enlarge it, and also here’s a link, in case you want to take a look around starting at this point of view.

We go another 90 degrees clockwise: bike lane with “wait here” marking to the right of a lane with heavy right-turning traffic, but no actuator loop. This bike lane transitions from a door-zone bike lane in the background, behind the white truck. The left-turn lane has an actuator loop and a “wait here” marking not centered over the loop.

Looking down Massachusetts Avenue to the southeast

Looking down Massachusetts Avenue to the southeast

Here, again, is a link to the same view in Google, so you can look around and see earlier versions. I won’t clutter this post with more of them.

Another 90 degrees clockwise and the last of the four corners of the intersection: this time the actuator loop in the right lane is centered in the lane but the “wait here” marking is at the right side of the lane. A bicyclist riding at the right edge can also get right-hooked  before the intersection by a vehicle pulling into the gas station on the corner. The bicyclist in this photo knows better than to wait at the right side of the lane.

There is an actuator loop in the left-turn lane, and a marking which is not over that actuator loop. A typical Boston door-zone bike lane is visible in the background.

Looking down Columbus Avenue to the southwest

Looking down Columbus Avenue to the southwest

Again, here’s a link to the Google Street View so you can look around and run the Google time machine backwards.

All four corners have signs, “to request green, wait on (bicycle symbol)” and No Turn on Red signs.

Now, let’s try to draw some conclusions.

Did the design of the intersection contribute to the crash? That is, did it play a part in inducing the bicyclist to ride into the “coffin corner”?

He’ll have to answer that, and maybe he will,  because he survived, and his injuries were to the lower part of his body, not head injuries.

It is fair in any case to say that the placement of bicycle facilities in locations where bicyclists are out of sight and defenseless against ordinary traffic movements does cultivate unsafe behavior, in two ways:

  • by leading bicyclists into the hazardous situations,
  • and by creating the impression that the government knows what it is doing, and this unhappy compromise is the best one possible. Creating the impression that there’s nothing bicyclists could do for themselves to improve their safety traps them in a pattern of dysfunctional behavior.

The installations at this intersection are, however, not only misconceived. “Wait here” markings which are not over actuator loops reflect either pure incompetence or malice. A through lane without a receiving lane, and replacing correctly-located shared-lane markings with coffin-corner markings reflect — what?

Misconceptions and incompetence are the kinder explanation for all of these problems. A less kind explanation would be that the City is intentionally creating hazardous situations and tallying up bicyclist fatalities and injuries to make a case for the next bicycle facilities trend: “cycle tracks”, which place bicyclists behind barriers. I’d have to be paranoid to advance that explanation, though in fact if not in intention, that the current trend.

I can add that if Boston applies the same level of competence to cycle track siting and design as the City of Cambridge already has applied, we can expect worse problems. And, in fact, designs now on paper point the way to that outcome.

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Window dressing

I have already described the side skirts on Boston garbage trucks as window dressing. Maybe I should concede a little ground on that, as the cyclist in the most recent right-hook crash merely had severe injuries instead of being killed. To prevent right-hook collisions, stay out of the danger zone — more information here.

[Update, August 4, 2014: I have prepared a follow-up post.]

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A Discussion of Massachusetts Rules on Crosswalks

This appeared on the BostonAReaCycling e-mail list. It deserves repeating.

On Jun 29, 2014, at 10:13 PM, David Wean  wrote:

Vehicle operators are required to stop once pedestrians enter the crosswalk (or when they are, IIRC, within 10 feet of the lane the vehicle is in). A concern I have is that treating cyclists the same way we do pedestrians would obligate a vehicle operator (including another cyclist who is riding on the road, I suppose) to stop with very little notice, since cyclists on the path can travel at upwards of 5x the speed of pedestrians.

Under the proposed law would the operator of a vehicle in the road be liable or culpable if they hit a cyclist who was traveling at 20 mph and crossed the road without stopping or looking (in essence creating an implied Yield sign at every crosswalk)?

Under normal circumstances, it seems to me that the current right of way rules (e.g. the general principle that the operator on the more minor road yields to the one in the more major road, and the rules related to stop or yield signs) could handle this.

Can someone provide an example where the proposed law would be necessary?

David


At 08:17 AM 7/1/2014, Andrew Fischer wrote:
David, et al

To answer your question, under the proposed law, the operator of the motor vehicle would be presumed at fault if he struck a cyclist in a crosswalk. The motor vehicle operator could rebut that presumption by proving that the cyclist was more negligent because he came out into the crosswalk at 20 MPH, without stopping or looking.

This would not give the bicyclist the right to ride negligently or recklessly. It would merely reverse the present situation where the motorist gets a free pass for hitting a cyclist in a crosswalk.

Here’s how the law presently works: there are stop signs or yield signs for bicyclists approaching the bike path crossings. These signs were put there by the design engineers to warn cyclists of the approaching intersection and not because these engineers or anyone else ever thought through the legal consequences of the signs. Since the law presently requires motorists to yield only to pedestrians but not cyclists, this creates a presumption at law that the cyclist is at fault when the car, going 20 MPH and never slowing, hits the cyclist in the crosswalk. The notion that the painted white lines afford any protection to the cyclist is illusory.

The proposed legislation would reverse that presumption, affording bicyclists the protection of the white lines marking a bike path crossing, ­ lines that have no legal impact and create a false sense of protection.

This would not give a cyclist speeding through the intersection at 20 MPH without a free pass ­ the motorist could offer evidence to rebut the presumption. But the proposed law would give the painted lines that appear to provide some protection to the cyclist some legal meaning. Besides, some preliminary counts by the BCU show that there aren’t many cyclists who dart from bike paths into roadway crossings at high speeds. It just doesn’t happen much because cyclists aren’t that stupid and suicidal.
I hope I have clarified your question. If not, I hope we can continue this discussion, as I think the proposed change to the law is a vulnerable user protection, the kind Massbike has otherwise pressed as important. This is because between bike and car, the cyclist is far more vulnerable than the motorist and should have some protection, as is the case in the Netherlands and most other European countries where cycling is protected.

Andrew M. Fischer


I responded:

I see one thing missing from the discussion: requirements for yielding right of way. With pedestrians they are clear: a driver (bicyclist too) on the road is required to yield once a pedestrian has set a foot in the crosswalk. That is the traditional law in the USA though, better, other countries, particularly the UK, have established waiting areas just outside the roadway where a pedestrian can stand and the driver is required to yield. Yielding doesn’t always mean stopping, for example if the pedestrian has already crossed to the far side of the roadway.

Bicyclists approach the crosswalk faster and don’t want to lose momentum or have to restart. Often it is not only more convenient for everyone but also safer for the bicyclist not to stop, and to cross quickly, especially when traffic on the road is heavy and gaps are short.

Posting a stop sign for bicyclists on the trail exempts motorists from yielding, as Andrew says, because a stop sign also requires under the law that the bicyclist yield. Then we get the “you go first, no you go first” scenario when both yield, or a crash when neither yields, and the law doesn’t properly cover either case.

I think that stop signs should be reserved for when stops are really necessary and that a different sign for the trail – a warning sign indicating a safe speed at which a bicyclist can keep moving — is appropriate if the sight lines are good enough to allow this. And, also we need a speed limit on the road consistent with yielding and signage to make it clear that drivers must yield.

There is already law that a driver can’t be held responsible if someone runs out into the street and there is not time to stop, but a presumption of negligence would hold the driver in the street (bicyclist in the street too!) guilty until proved innocent. Under our system of law, vulnerability isn’t an excuse for carelessness. Equity would require only that the yielding rules and signage be consistent and clear.

On the other hand, when driving in a parking lot or playground, or school zone or anywhere pedestrians roam, then it is appropriate for drivers to go very slowly and take extreme care. If we extend this requirement to every crosswalk, or beyond that to anywhere a child may possibly chase a ball out into the street, it has very serious effects not only on the concept of justice but also on the efficiency of travel. The ability to maintain speeds on the road above those at which sharing is safe with people who don’t follow rules of travel is unfortunately necessary to the existence of modern society. The alternative is the so-called “shared space” approach to roadway use, we have a de facto example of that in Massachusetts and I have blog posts and a video about it.

 

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My letter to the FHWA about Connect Historic Boston

My letter is online.

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A longer response to Egan

This is a more extended response to the letter from Boston’s Chief Civil Engineer responding to my comments about the Connect Historic Boston project.

My comments are at http://john-s-allen.com/pdfs/CHB_Comments.pdf and http://john-s-allen.com/pdfs/CHB_2014-03_comments.pdf

Mr. Egan’s reply to my letter is at http://john-s-allen.com/pdfs/egan_response.pdf. My shorter response to his letter is at http://streetsmarts.bostonbiker.org/2014/05/15/boston-chief-civil-engineers-reply-to-my-comments-on-connect-historic-boston/

Egan’s response is a non-response. I gave detailed comments, criticisms and recommendations. He did not reply to them.

In particular, Mr. Egan did not respond to my concerns that the project

• fails as a transportation project, because it degrades rather than improves access to the North Station transportation hub;

• addresses the downtown Boston urban area as a tourist attraction, rather than an urban hub, and does not provide direct and convenient routes for bicycle travel;

• nonetheless, the project, despite its name, fails to connect with some of the most important historic sites near its route;

• incorporates known hazardous designs: in particular, a narrow two-way sidepath on a sloping street (Staniford Street), which crosses a wide driveway; a bizarre, curved segment inside an intersection connecting the Causeway Street segment with the Staniford Street Segment; and bike lanes and “bike boxes” which encourage bicyclists to ride in the unsafe position to the right of right-turning motor traffic.. In the Boston area, the majority of fatal motor vehicle-bicycle collisions in recent years have been of this type.

• results in slow travel, delays and temptation to violate the traffic law for bicyclists as well as other travelers;

• Establishes a fixed pattern of segregated space, literally set in stone, which precludes modification to reflect future changes in traffic volume and modes;

• Could be redesigned to provide much better options.

All of these issues are addressed in my comment letters, so I won’t address them at length here.

Having attended the February 26, 2014 public hearing and May 15. 2014 public information meeting about the project, and based on my review of the Connect Historic Boston Web site and extensive Web searches, I can add:

• The project proponents claim that the project will increase bicycle use, but they have not offered any projections.

• Nor have they placed before the public any study showing the effects of the project on traffic volume and level of service for other travel modes. This is a major omission, because the lane reductions, more complicated movements at intersections, and increased signalization due to the project will result in very significant impacts.

• The project proponents have not placed alternative designs or routes before the public for review. There have been some design changes but only one design was presented at each public meeting.

• Though a stenographic record was being taken at the February 26, 2014 25% design public hearing, which I attended and at which I spoke, I cannot find the transcript online.

• As the February 26 design public hearing, no plans, but only conceptual drawings, were presented.

• Other comments besides mine were submitted following the February 26 public hearing, but I cannot find any online unless they were posted by commenters.

• At the May 15 meeting, which was sparsely attended, Mr. Egan asserted that the project had been subjected to extensive public review. Indeed, the project proponents have held a number of public meetings. However, publicity for the meetings was directed to local neighborhood groups and to advocacy groups which were likely to favor the project, lacking outreach to citizens and businesses in Boston and throughout the region whose interests stand to be affected by the project.

• Though detailed design drawings were on display at the May 15 meeting, the 25% design public hearing had passed, and this was not the design public hearing. Though a promise was made that the drawings would be placed online, I cannot find them online.

• A search on the Web sites of the Boston Globe and Boston Herald newspapers finds not one single article about the project – a news blackout. This is astonishing considering that the Globe has a reporter, Martine Powers, whose beat is to address transportation issues, and that the Herald has published incisive articles about the related development project at North Station. There was a single article on the Boston Magazine blog, following my suggestion to the reporter, but it only briefly describes the project without addressing any of the issues it presents.

• I have found no input from the MBTA or MassDOT into the design or review of the project, though it will have very serious consequences for travel on roadways, including for public transit, and as noted, for access to North Station.

• Boston Chief Civil Engineer William Egan cites and footnotes only sources support the case he wants to make.

Let’s look at this situation more closely. Mr. Egan dismisses classic studies as “outdated.” These classic studies examine specifics of design and of crash causation. Their results have been confirmed by newer ones. He dismisses the research record while citing and footnoting documents which have been demolished as deeply flawed and biased, and misrepresenting others. The overall case he is trying to make is for facilities which can be called cycle tracks, without addressing the specifics of what is safe or unsafe about any particular design.

Let’s now go go through Mr. Egan’s footnotes one by one:

In his footnote #1, Mr. Egan cites the Kittleson & Associates Report (Washington DC),
http://ddot.dc.gov/page/bicycle-facility-evaluation, pointing out increased bicycle traffic volume on the 15th St NW left side cycle track. He does not mention the safety issue which the study raises. After installation, crashes increased from 20 in 4 years to 13 crashes in 14 months – over twice as many crashes per month. Taking into account the doubling of cyclist volumes, this represents an increase in crashes of 10% — contrary to his claim of safety in numbers. He also emphasizes the greater increase in bicycle traffic on this street in the evening rush hour – cherry-picking. Videos of actual riding conditions on this path are available at https://vimeo.com/album/1632204. These videos show numerous hazards, chaotic conditions at intersections, and that conflicts at intersections due to the separated bikeway lead to very slow travel unless bicyclists ignore traffic signals. Most did.

In his footnote #2, Mr. Egan cites the study Lusk, A. C., Furth, P. G., Morency, P., Miranda-Moreno, L. F., Willett, W. C., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2011). Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street, to the effect that there were 2.5 times as many bicyclists on cycle track streets as on streets without. This finding reflects not only the presence of cycle tracks, and cyclists’ belief that these were preferable, but also reflects the unfair selection of comparison streets (see comments on footnote #5) and the cycle track streets in many cases the made direct connections for through travel, while comparison streets did not.

In his footnote #3, Mr. Egan cites the work of Prof. John Pucher to the effect that bicycle crash rates decrease as bicycle use increases. It is well known that as the volume of traffic increases, risk per mile of travel decreases. This is an example of Smeed’s law, which has been known for decades, but is no justification for construction of facilities which fail to optimize safety: the proper safety comparison among facilities is for the same population on different types of facilities, and the safety in numbers effect has not been demonstrated with bicycle facilities (see comments on footnote #1). Pucher ranges widely in his citations, but he reveals himself as an enthusiastic promoter of separate bicycle facilities, gullible and unqualified to evaluate research, by his quoting Jacobsen’s study which includes Jacobsen’s infamous descending hyperbolic curve due to faulty math, which gives the same results when fed totally random data, and a series of photos showing various types of vehicles parked in the street and describing the space they occupy as the space needed for travel, among other gaffes. These gaffes are in the document http://www.cts.pdx.edu/pdf/Pucher_PSU_talk_9-28-07.pdf, pages 24 and 30 and I have commented on the Muenster drawing: http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?p=7. More exensive critiques of Pucher’s work are found here: http://www.johnforester.com/Articles/facilities.htm

In his footnote #4, Mr. Egan cites a study referenced by Pucher, to the effect that a larger percentage of female cyclists is associated with a larger bicycle mode share. This does not make a case for constructing the project as designed; it only makes one for increasing mode share. The underlying assumption that women are a disabled population is degrading, and increasing the mode share does not make it ethical to provide facilities which are inherently unsafe.

In his footnote #5, Egan again cites the study Lusk, A. C., Furth, P. G., Morency, P., Miranda-Moreno, L. F., Willett, W. C., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2011). Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street. Injury prevention, 17(2), 131-135 as demonstrating a 28% lower crash rate for cycle tracks in Montreal, relative to comparison streets. Do the people at Harvard School of Public Health know what they are doing? If so, they are intentionally biasing their work. Flaws of the study include describing stretches of paths in parks and away from streets as cycle tracks, including stretches which had not been built yet in the reported mileage, selecting a multi-lane comparison street 10 blocks away with heavy, faster traffic for comparison with a cycle track street which is small and has light, slow traffic, examining short stretches which end just short of busy intersections, giving the length of one of the paths as twice as long as it is, halving its reported crash rate, and neglecting injuries to pedestrians. A detailed rebuttal and a link to the study online may be found at http://john-s-allen.com/reports/montreal-kary.htm. Another review reaching similar conclusions is at http://bicyclingmatters.wordpress.com/critiques/montreal-cycle-tracks/

Other opinions of the Montreal paths have come from Montreal cyclists and public officials. Here is a quote from an article which appeared in a Canadian newspaper, http://www.fpinfomart.ca/news/ar_results.php?q=6375221&sort=pubd&spell=1 :

Growing pains for downtown lanes; Although Montreal has 400 kilometres of bike lanes, there was and still is resistance to the recent segregated downtown one, Kate Jaimet [https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kate-jaimet/43/b12/7b1] reports.
Though cyclists say that biking in the dedicated bike lane is more pleasant, and makes them feel safer, than biking in traffic, [City of Montreal spokesman Jacques Alain] Lavallée [https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jacques-alain-lavall%C3%A9e/14/26b/b21] said there has been little change in the number of accidents since the path on de Maisonneuve was built.

Drivers making left turns on the street which is one-way for cars but two-way for bikes often complain that they have to look everywhere to make sure a cyclist isn’t coming. And recently a cyclist was killed by a bus while running a series of red lights.

Also see:

https://web.archive.org/web/20100630084707/http://communities.canada.com/montrealgazette/blogs/ontwowheels/archive/2010/06/26/dangerous-de-maisonneuve.aspx

During my nearly four decades behind the wheel, I learned the importance of defensive driving – always be aware of the positions of the cars around you, anticipate everyone’s next move before they make it, and even make sure a driver who’s stopped on a cross-street is looking your way before you pass by. When I drive, especially in urban areas, I’m at a heightened sense of alert. Call it a constant state of yellow.

Never did I imagine the absolute code red required for cycling. After years in the relative quiet and safety of a car, I wasn’t prepared for the skill, the reflexes, the 360-degree sensory awareness and slaloming abilities needed to navigate my way by bike between Atwater Ave and The Gazette offices on Peel St. I was no longer simply watching out for traffic or an occasionally inattentive fellow driver. I was now embedded in a circus. Pedestrians moving at one speed, cyclists at another and cars at still another, and each of the performers moving to a different set of rules and in different directions.

Not that I didn’t enjoy some of the thrill. But sometimes I just want to get from Point A to Point B without the high drama. That means without riding on the de Maisonneuve bike path downtown. One of my colleagues was hit by a car last year while cycling on The Path. The inherent danger, or inherent extra danger, on The Path is that the two cycling lanes in the centre of the city are headed in opposite directions, she pointed out. So a driver turning left from de Maisonneuve has to watch out for cyclists coming from the west and from the east. And watch out for pedestrians, of course, and other cars.

I’m happy to say that now, I’ve found my own enlightened path to work. I live in N.D.G. My morning commute gets into high gear along the pitted and cracked portion of the de Maisonneuve path out there, but once I reach Clarke Ave. in Westmount, I strike out on my own. I make a right on Clarke and take that down to Dorchester and to René Lévesque. It’s not only less congested, but it’s a quicker way to reach Peel St. The right-hand lane of René Lévesque is wide enough for a parked car and for me and my bicycle, even with both paniers filled, so I stay out of the lanes of moving traffic. My travel time from central N.D.G. to Peel St. is about 22 minutes, about the same time it takes to drive. And it’s a fun 22 minutes, with an elevated but not racing heartbeat.

Has anyone else quit The Path in favour of another route?

In his footnote #6, Egan cites Lusk, A. C., Morency, P., Miranda-Moreno, L. F., Willett, W. C., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2013). Bicycle Guidelines and Crash Rates on Cycle Tracks in the United States. American journal of public health, 103(7), 1240-1248 to the effect that bicycling on cycle tracks is safer than bicycling on roads. This study dilutes the data for cycle tracks like the ones proposed for Connect Historic Boston by including paths which have few or no intersections or driveway crossings. Using the authors’ figures, these have less than 1/10 the crash rate of the facilities which meet the definition of cycle tracks, but those which do have twice the average rate for bicycle travel. Links to the study, a careful rebuttal by Boston’s former bicycle coordinator, Paul Schimek, Ph.D and the authors’ reply may be found online at http://bicycledriving.org/sidepaths/bicycle-guidelines-and-crash-rates-on-cycle-tracks-in-the-united-states . Schimek has commented on the exchange: “Read my published letter about Lusk et al.’s latest paper claiming increased safety due to cycle tracks, and marvel at their response.”

In his footnote #7, Egan cites Teschke, K., Harris, M.A., Reynolds, C.C., Winters, M., Babul, S., Chipman, M., Cusimano, M.D., Brubacher, J.R., Hunte, G., Friedman, S.M., Monro, M., Shen, H., Vernich, L., & Cripton, P.A. (2012). Route infrastructure and the risk of injuries to bicyclists: A case-crossover study. American journal of public health, 102(12), 2336-2343. This study has been reviewed and debunked by John Forester,
http://www.johnforester.com/Articles/Facilities/Infrastructure%20&%20Injuries.pdf. The central problem is that the one facility described in the study as a cycle track is a bikeway on a long bridge separated by a Jersey barrier, with no cross traffic.

The authors of the study which Egan cites in his footnote #7 gave a presentation at the 2012 Velo-City conference in Toronto. I have posted comments on this presentation at http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?s=Teschke. The graphics for the presentation display the preposterous result that bicycle crashes were 2000% as high on streets without cycle tracks as on streets with them, although the study also reports that more than half of all the crashes did not involve a motor vehicle. There are other absurdities. Also, it is clear from the authors’ presentation at a conference that they do not understand the definition of a collision, or intentionally skewed their data by describing single-bike crashes as collisions.

Mr. Egan does not make his case. He does not answer pressing questions about the project, and none of the works he cites are credible.

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Boston Chief Civil Engineer’s reply to my comments on Connect Historic Boston

I have discussed my comments on the Connect historic Boston project in an earlier post.

No Boston’s Chief Civil Engineer, Bill Egan, has replied — but actually, his reply is a non-reply. He doesn’t address the issues I raised about messing up — rather than improving — bus and taxi access to North Station. Or that the proposed bikeways, despite their name, make a large loop avoiding the historic sites in the North End. Or the faulty and hazardous proposed designs. Or…there’s more.

He quotes only research studies which are all highly biased and have been debunked, and dismisses studies linked from one of my Web sites, giving only one explanation: they are “outdated”. That is just what the people who produce bunkum studies would like to say, so people won’t read carefully-conducted older studies. Not all are so old either.

My comments are described and linked here.

Mr. Egan’s letter is here.

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