Gilooly’s presentation

Deputy Commissioner James Gilooly’s presentation about the planned separate bikeways on Commonwealth Avenue is online at the URL below. I am preparing a version synchronized to his talk about it at the 2015 Moving Together conference and will announce that here when I’m done.

Gilooly, J. (2015, 11 01). Commonwealth Avenue Phase 2A… Retrieved June 25, 2016, from

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The 2015-2016 crop of bills in the Massachusetts legislature

My opinion on these proposals, in general: all well-intentioned, but the the law of unintended consequences comes into play with some.

S. 1117, sponsored by Sen. Brownsberger of Watertown, by striking out the words “16 years of age or younger”, would require bicyclists of all ages to wear a helmet, and would encourage bicyclists to wear fluorescent clothing above the waist. The helmet requirement as it presently exists for children and youth is not enforced, and the bill establishes no requirement, only encouragement, of fluorescent clothing. I favor, and wear, a helmet and wear bright-colored clothing, but this legislation would have little effect other than to give defense lawyers more to hold against bicyclists. There is a particular problem with bike-share programs, with which it is inconvenient to provide helmets. Though the next clause in Chapter 85, Section 11B prohibits violation of the helmet rule from being used as evidence in a civil case, public opinion can sway juries. What actually increases helmet use is promotional campaigns.

S. 1818, sponsored by Sen. Creem of Newton, would require a taillamp on a bicycle at night, and eliminate the requirement for a rear reflector. We still sometimes call the small lights on a motor vehicle “parking lights,” but they are rarely used for parking, because the vehicle is equipped with retoreflectors. Retroreflectors work somewhat less reliably on a vehicle in motion, but still, if a taillamp is required, it should be in addition to a rear reflector, as a taillamp can fail without the cyclist’s noticing it. The bill would make it legal for a cyclist to use a helmet-mounted headlight, a reasonable provision, and increase the fine for bicyclists’ offenses from 20 to 50 dollars — usually of little importance, as enforcement is very rare, but a real hardship for people are cited and who ride bicycles because they are impoverished.

H 3706, sponsored by Rep. Howitt of Swansea, would prohibit bicyclists from wearing headphones — and evidence for headphone use could be introduced in a civil case, so the bicyclist is more likely to be held at fault even in a crash which was caused by someone else. Also, there are very important uses for headphones on bicycles, for example in teaching, in police work and in team management in races, and most headphone laws allow a headphone at one ear. This one makes no exception whatever. I have written detailed comments on headphones and headphone laws — please have a look.

H 3081, sponsored by Rep. Sannicandro of Ashland, a so-called “Idaho stop” bill, would make it legal for bicyclists and motorcyclists to cross intersections on a red light if the light is “inoperative due to the size of the bicycle or motorcycle.” The problem is that many traffic signals are controlled by vehicle sensors which do not respond to bicycles and motorcycles. Problems with the Idaho stop law are that it can be unsafe to cross without a functioning signal, that public opinion of bicyclists is lowered, incentive to implement technological solutions is reduced, and bicyclists are encouraged to run red lights whether operational or not. Additionally, this proposal makes no mention of motorized bicycles and motorized scooters, categories intermediate between bicycles and motorcycles. Technological solutions have been known for decades,  become better every year, and any legislation addressing the actuator issue should include provisions to require better actuators. I have already written about the Idaho stop law, see this, and about traffic-signal actuators, see this.

S. 1809, sponsored by Sen. Brownsberger of Watertown, is titled “An Act providing for the safety of bicyclists traveling on bicycle paths”, by requiring motorists to yield to bicyclists crossing in crosswalks. That is appropriate, though motorists usually cannot see bicyclists in crosswalks in time to yield to them if the bicyclists are traveling at typical speeds — the bicyclists must slow or stop. So, this law legitimizes stop signs at crosswalks, and resolves an existing confusion where they are installed. A second provision is intended to improve the safety of pedestrians by requiring bicyclists to yield to them. If a bicyclist collides with a pedestrian, either or both may be injured, so this does tend to protecting bicyclists. It is unclear whether the bicyclists who are required to yield are in the crosswalk or on the street — probably, then, both. I have hosted an earlier discussion of crosswalk laws as they apply to bicyclists on this blog.

H 3072, sponsored by Rep. Rogers of Cambridge, would prohibit standing or parking in a designated bike lane, sidepath, or shared-use lane. This would be unenforceable, as double parking is endemic and truckers often have no other option when loading and unloading. The discrepancy between law and common practice is so large that I was moved to write a satirical article about it. Prohibition of stopping in a bike lane would encourage stopping outside the bike lane, so bicyclists run the gauntlet between unloading vehicles and parked cars, as described here. Parking or standing in a barrier-separated on-street bikeway is difficult to prevent, because construction of one usually is accomplished by narrowing the roadway. Prohibition of parking or standing in a shared-use lane means, in effect, prohibition on all streets, as bicyclists are permitted to use all travel lanes — though probably meant to apply only to lanes with shared-lane markings. Whether there is another lane in which bicyclists — and motorists — can overtake is not accounted for in this bill. Bicyclists’ learning how to negotiate to change lanes is a real solution, but education is not mentioned.

S. 1808, sponsored by Sen. Brownsberger of Watertown, is the same as H 3072, already mentioned.

S. 1850, sponsored by Sen. Lewis of Winchester, would establish a “share the road’ license plate, similar to other specialty license plates in Massachusetts and to “Share the Road” plates in other states. This is a good publicity measure. Funds raised through this measure would be allocated to a nonprofit organization or to municipalities for “Complete Streets” efforts. Questions might arise as to where the funds go, but that issue may be addressed elsewhere.

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Is it all right?

At the Boston Bicycle Safety Summit, February 23, 2016, in a small breakout group, Cyclist Jonathan Traum drew a sketch like this:

Right-hook conflict illustrated

Right-hook conflict illustrated

(Thanks to John Schubert for this version, which looks like Traum’s, only neater.)

Traum indicated that the right-hook conflict shown in the illustration was a serious problem, with bike lanes which encourage bicyclists to overtake on the right.

MassDOT engineer Lou Rabito replied with by-the-book advice as in the AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) guide to bicycle facility design, that it isn’t OK with a right-turn-only lane, but it is OK with a lane which carries both right-turning traffic and through traffic.

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Arlington Center Safe Travel Project update

Arlington Center has presented a major problem for the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway (rail trail) since its opening. For people who are not familiar with the situation in Arlington Center, the rail line passed diagonally through the middle of town, crossing the two largest streets in Arlington within a couple hundred feet of their intersection. The connecting segment of the bikeway was not built. The project represents an attempt to remedy that situation.


I have discussed Arlington Center before, in blog posts and with a video, and in case you wish to review my comments, here are links to them:

My comments as of January 2012 — my comments on the project as it was being described at that time.

Arlington Center Westbound: Avoiding the Right Hook — describes a safe and convenient route through Arlington Center westbound for a cyclist operating as a driver in mixed traffic, with a video — which also shows cyclists who have unfortunate misconceptions about how to be safe. Not mentioned is that a similar route is possible eastbound, using the street adjacent to the rail trail to enter Mystic Street.

Further Suggestions for Arlington Center (as of November, 2013) — this gives my proposal for a route which I think would be most satisfactory for casual and young cyclists.

More recently, I attended a public meeting on March 23, 2016 at Arlington Town Hall. The main presenter at this meeting was Nathaniel Curtis, who works for the consulting firm for the project, Howard Stein Hudson. Dan Fielding and Chris Lahey from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation were also present, but did not speak.

The drawing below, from a 2013 presentation, shows the the design proposal at that time. The rail line followed the white, interrupted swath from lower right to upper middle, and beyond. The short stretch of blue at the lower right is the start of the eastern segment of the bikeway, ending at a small street, Swan Place. Massachusetts Avenue is the east-west street.  Mystic Street heads south at the lower left and Pleasant Street heads north at the upper left. The start of the western segment of the bikeway is the wide green strip to its left.

Arlington Proposal as of 2013

Arlington Proposal as of 2013

Changes — the main stem

I’ll first discuss the main stem of the project, Massachusetts Avenue between Mystic Street/Pleasant Street and Swan Place.

The proposal has changed somewhat since 2013. Some of the more troublesome features have been modified. You may compare the newer image below (from the town of Arlington Web page about the project) with the older one above.

  • The impractical sharp turn in the bikeway (middle right, above) has been made less sharp.
  • At the lower right where bicyclists enter from the street, the green bike lane now proceeds from the street rather than from the sidewalk.
  • At the upper left, the bikeway continues across the intersection rather than jogging to the right.
Drawing showing new bikeway alignment

Drawing showing new bikeway alignment

Other problems remain.

  • Though parking stalls are not shown in the newer drawing, they still exist near the top right where the bike lane is spaced away from the curb. The bikeway runs next to the parking spaces, largely in the door zone. Bicyclists crossing Massachusetts Avenue will be outside the field of view of motorists’ rear view mirrors until rather late, and potentially also hidden by vehicles waiting for the traffic light ahead.
  • Right-hook conflicts remain at three points already already mentioned, one at the upper left and two at the lower right in the drawing.
  • The eastbound bikeway (at the bottom of the picture above) crosses one or two commercial driveways — it isn’t clear whether there are two — with additional conflicts.

At the meeting, Mr. Curtis indicated that risks to cyclists will be reduced by the elimination of the six parking spaces on the south side of Massachusetts Avenue. That is likely so, by improving sight lines for motorists using driveways, though conflicts still exist. The south-side bikeway is the straight one in the image below.

Looking west across Swan Place

Looking west across Swan Place

The driveway barely visible at the near side of the building at the left in the image serves traffic exiting a drive-up ATM at the Cambridge Savings Bank. The Google Street View below, from August, 2011, shows this driveway as seen from Massachusetts Avenue. The blue sign at the left, reads “EXIT ONLY – Drive-Up ATM Entrance On Pleasant Street”, and there is a a one-way arrow on the pavement only in the ATM lane. There is no arrow  in the adjacent part of the driveway which serves the  parking lot in front of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post (the gray building in the background). It is unclear to me whether vehicles entering that parking lot also must enter from Pleasant Street.

Cambridge Savings Bank and VFW Post drievway

Cambridge Savings Bank and VFW Post driveway, August, 2011

In September, 2014, on the other hand, there was an arrow painted so as to indicate more clearly that this is only an exit driveway.

Cambridge Savings Bank driveway, August, 2014

Cambridge Savings Bank and VFW driveway, August, 2014

Whether vehicles are effectively prevented from entering this driveway is of concern, because entering vehicles pose a risk of right-hook collisions with bicyclists in the bike lane. At the March 23, 2016 meeting, Mr. Curtis described only exiting traffic.

A second driveway serves both entering and exiting traffic for the Kickstand Café and Anton’s Cleaners; apparently also the VFW post.

Driveway to Kickstand Café and Anton's Cleaners

Driveway to Kickstand Café and Anton’s Cleaners

The curb and grading plan on page 20 of the project plans shows the driveway unchanged, but the traffic signs and pavement markings plan on page 33 (as in the image below) shows a sign (SOUTH 3 EAST 2A) planted squarely in the middle of this driveway, and the drawings on the main Arlington page about the project (included above) do not show this driveway at all. Is it to be eliminated? If so, that eliminates crossing and turning conflicts at the driveway, but only by moving them to Swan Place, where the parking lot has another entrance. Motor traffic on Swan Place, used by bikeway traffic, also is increased, and removal of the driveway probably has a negative effect on the businesses served by the parking lot.

Part of page 33 of the plans showing sign planted in driveway

Part of page 33 of the plans showing sign planted in driveway

Next, let’s move east, to Swan Place, where the eastern segment of the bikeway ends. MassDOT and the consultant propose to install a pedestrian hybrid beacon  (also called a HAWK — High-intensity Activated crossWalK — beacon) facing Massachusetts Avenue. This combines some of the features of flashing lights used at a railway crossing with those of a conventional traffic light. The beacon’s sequence, with lights that blink yellow, then go to solid yellow and red, then blink again, is unusual and can confuse drivers who are unfamiliar with it. I have commented on the very similar installation at 41st and Burnside in Portland, Oregon — useful as background information.

There are to be a stop sign and bicycle signal head (conventional traffic signal with a bicycle symbol in the signal face) facing Swan Place. The beacon is to be actuated by video detection of bicycles and by pedestrian pushbuttons.

In this connection, meeting attendee Scott Smith has pointed out an inconsistency in the plans: Sheet 34 of the 100% plans shows a Bicycle Use Ped Signal sign, while the equipment list on sheet 26 includes video detection and a bicycle signal.

Commenting at the meeting, I suggested LeddarTech LED ranging detection, which is more reliable than video detection. I got no response to this suggestion.

I understand that an ordinary traffic signal was proposed earlier for this intersection. One possible reason to use a pedestrian hybrid beacon here that it might reduce delay for traffic on Massachusetts Avenue. That is especially so near the end of the phase when pedestrians are crossing. If they have finished crossing, the pedestrian hybrid beacon allows drivers to start up, by going into flash mode. But then, so can a ranging system, by sensing when the pedestrians have finished crossing.

A pedestrian hybrid beacon is meant to be used at mid-block crosswalks. Section 4F of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the U.S. national reference on traffic signs, signals and markings, strongly discourages using a pedestrian hybrid beacon at an intersection with a street controlled by a STOP or YIELD sign:

The pedestrian hybrid beacon should be installed at least 100 feet from side streets or driveways that are controlled by STOP or YIELD signs…

The “should” is not an absolute prohibition — that would be a “shall” — but it is strong.  The problem is this: if traffic is approaching the stop sign, it, unlike a traffic signal, doesn’t indicate when that traffic can cross safely: that is, if traffic is waiting in that street, the beacon could change and traffic could start up at any time, and the stop sign doesn’t say when it will. It is really only safe to enter at the stop sign when no traffic is approaching or waiting in the cross street.

A meeting attendee, Joe Barr from the Cambridge Traffic and Parking Department, made the point that FHWA specifically prohibits a HAWK beacon in connection with a bicycle signal, as proposed here. That is in an FHWA interim approval, and it is a “shall”.

Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons: Bicycle signal faces shall not be used in any manner with respect to the design and operation of a pedestrian hybrid beacon.

I’m not quite sure what is the rationale for this prohibition. It may result from caution in connection with an interim approval. At a crosswalk of a shared-use path, a bicycle signal could allow bicyclists, who are faster than pedestrians, to enter later. One problem might be that the bicycle signal could confuse or entice pedestrians into entering too late, though the same problem can occur with any traffic light.

But this is an intersection of a street with a street, and so there is another problem: there is no conventional signal face intended for motorists. The proposed installation asks drivers entering from Swan Place to second-guess or to take guidance from signals which aren’t intended for motorists — the bicycle or pedestrian signals. Also, the beacon, unlike a conventional traffic signal, cannot have separate right- or left-turn phases, and so it does not protect against motorists’ turning across the path of bicyclists proceeding eastbound on Massachusetts Avenue.

All of these complications suggest to me that a conventional traffic signal installation, or a conventional traffic signal facing Swan place, might be better. This would not be prohibited in connection with a pedestrian hybrid beacon on Massachusetts Avenue.

Uncle Sam Park

I’ve already discussed issues with the westbound bikeway segment leading to the northeast corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Mystic Street. Now let’s have a look at Uncle Sam Park, on the northwest corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Mystic Street.

The  proposed terminus  is clearly better than the present terminus on Mystic Street in mid-block at a sidewalk — yet there are some serious questions remaining.

The curve in the path at the top of the image below (from page 10 of the plans) does not meet AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) guidelines. The curve radius is much too small.

When path traffic is heavy, bicycle and pedestrian traffic traveling in multiple directions will mix at the northwest corner of Mystic Street and Massachusetts Avenue in what I expect to be a free-for-all. An abrupt narrowing of the path just before the intersection is shown in the plans, apparently to preserve an existing tree (lower middle of the image below, from page 10 of the plans). Cyclists and pedestrians can be expected to trample the grass here, or if they go around on the narrow paved strip, they will be changing direction abruptly, increasing the likelihood of confusion and collisions. This is especially a problem, as westbound cyclists and pedestrians will be entering from the left of eastbound ones. The westbound cyclists cannot be expected to stop, and some will be in a hurry to cross before the light changes. Eastbound cyclists will not stop or slow if the traffic signal favors them.

Uncle Sam Park planting plan

Uncle Sam Park planting plan

There is also a visibility issue between cyclists and motorists. The motorists will be coming from behind cyclists, on the left. This problem is exacerbated for cyclists who avoid riding on the grass. Traffic-signal timing here is intended to prevent conflicts, but opportunism and mistakes are likely.

Cyclists are directed to enter the intersection in lightly-dashed bike lanes ahead of boldly-striped crosswalks. Page 23 of the plans shows curb ramps placed in a compromise position, partway across the striped bike lane and partway across the crosswalk (see image below). Cyclists will generally prefer diverting into the crosswalk rather than hopping up or down a curb.

Crosswalks at Massachusetts Avenue and Mystic Street

Crosswalks at Massachusetts Avenue and Mystic Street

Two-Stage Turn Queuing Box

The two-stage turn queuing box near the southwest corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Pleasant Street proposed for eastbound cyclists is still in experimental status with the U. S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is supposed to be used only if a study is conducted in connection with the installation. The purpose of the rule requiring experimentation is to evaluate the  effectiveness of a new traffic marking, sign or signal, and what design features are important.

Intersection of Massachusetts Avenue with Pleasant Street (foreground) and Mystic Street (background).

Intersection of Massachusetts Avenue with Pleasant Street (foreground) and Mystic Street (background). Two-stage turn queuing box at middle left.

I am a member of the Bicycle Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which developed the two-stage turn queuing box proposal currently in process with the FHWA. In fact, I am one of two people who drafted that proposal. I make that point because I want to stress that I am not opposed to two-stage turn queuing boxes, though the opinions here are my own. I think that two-stage turn queuing boxes have appropriate uses. There are, however issues of design and of suitability at this location. Four issues came up at the meeting:

  • Is the box large enough to accommodate the volume of bicycle traffic, and will individual cyclists on longer bicycles (longtail cargo bikes, tandems, bicycles pulling trailers, etc.) be able to make the sharp turn required by the box?
  • Is this a safe way to accommodate cyclist left turns in this intersection with a motor traffic volume of 47,000 vehicles per day?
  • Does this installation achieve optimum travel time — that is, low delay?
  • Will cyclists using the rail trail, and particularly, casual cyclists and children, feel confident in making their left turns in this way — and so, will this installation in fact solve the problem of cyclists’ riding on sidewalks?

Some of those questions can be answered through analysis of traffic-signal timing; others, only through experimentation. Some may already have been answered through experimentation at other locations, and could point the way to whether an experiment here would be approved. I would submit in any case that this is one of the most challenging locations for a two-way turn queuing box that I have encountered.

Traffic-signal timing

Traffic-signal timing is more or less the elephant in the room with this project. There are many signals in a short a distance along Massachusetts Avenue, and a new one is proposed. There are many different movements — through, left, right, bicycle, pedestrian — accommodated in separate signal phases. These factors result in short times for green lights and walk signals.

Data pages 24 and 26 of the plans, and time-space diagrams on pages 30 and 31, indicate how long the waits will be for through travel on Massachusetts Avenue and Mystic Street/Pleasant Street. The diagonal swaths in the diagrams on these pages 30 and 31 show the windows during which drivers can pass through the entire stretch without having to stop for a red light, when traveling at 30 miles per hour on Massachusetts Avenue, or 25 miles per hour on Mystic Street. Drivers who miss these windows will have to wait through as much of the rest of the 110- or 120-second signal cycle as remains until the window opens again.

The example below is the most favorable one for Massachusetts Avenue. Motorists traveling at 30 miles an hour have a 30-second window in one direction, 38 seconds in the other, out of the 120-second cycle. Other diagrams on pages 30 and 31 show shorter windows. One is only 7 seconds long.

Tim-space diagram

Time-space diagram

On two-way streets, it is not possible to sequence closely-spaced traffic signals for longer windows or for continuous travel. If the signals favor one direction, they will cause more delay in the other direction. The higher the travel speed and the longer the signal cycle, however, the more green time. Many pedestrian and bicycling advocates promote lower speed limits and shorter signal cycles, which run contrary to the goal of more green time.

Page 26 indicates that bicyclists will get a 24-second green at Swan Place but pedestrians get only a 10 second walk signal before it goes to a flashing don’t walk. That is appropriate, as pedestrians are slower.

Of note, the plans include no time-space diagrams for motorists turning, or for bicyclists, or for pedestrians. An important issue for me is how long it will take bicyclists to get through the entire installation. Clearly, they are going to encounter two traffic signals, whether traveling east or west. Delay — and particularly, delay when there doesn’t appear to be conflicting traffic — strongly affects the willingness of many bicyclists to obey traffic signals. The data to run an analysis exists in the plans, but I’m under pressure to complete this report, and so an analysis will have to wait for later.

The timings work only as long as traffic is flowing smoothly. They fail when traffic is congested. I am not aware of any level-of-service analysis which would show how the installation would perform under congested conditions. Mr. Curtis spoke about adjusting the signal timing, but he did not mention a level-of-service study.

It can be said though that bicyclists following the designated routes and using bike lanes will not face congestion as motorists do — unless motor traffic congestion is so bad that it backs up into the intersections.

Discussion following the presentation

Much of the discussion following the presentation at the March 23, 2016 meeting was about construction staging issues and their effect on local businesses. At times, travel lanes on Massachusetts Avenue and Mystic Street will be blocked for reconstruction of the median. Construction crews will need space for their equipment, and particularly for the work on Uncle Sam Park, however, this would appear to require only a few parking spaces in the municipal parking lot adjacent to the Rail Trail west of Mystic Street.

One citizen was unhappy with the bisecting of Uncle Sam Park by the Rail Trail. Another asked whether there would be a direct connection from the Rail Trail to the sidewalk (such as is now the only connection at the end of the Rail Trail); Mr. Curtis was uncertain about this, but as already mentioned, the plan is for “grass pavers”.

Another issue is the use of the sidewalk on Swan Place by an auto body shop for parking, and dumpsters which occupy part of the width of the sidewalk, as in the Google Street View below.This picture also illustrates the right-hook risk with the white truck entering Swan Place from Massachusetts Avenue.

Looking up Swan Place toward Massachusetts Avenue

Looking up Swan Place toward Massachusetts Avenue


Mr. Curtis indicated that there was no room for change in the project: it is going to be built as shown in the presentation, and that it had been “vetted”.  Yet four features of the project — the stop sign and the bicycle signal in connection with a pedestrian hybrid beacon, the two-way turn queuing box, and the sharp turns in the bikeway at Uncle Sam Park — do not conform to national design standards. These issues, the inconsistencies in the plans and the number of other questions and safety issues which still remain, lead me to ask to what degree the project has actually been vetted, and by whom.

Mr. Curtis also repeatedly referred to the two-stage turn queuing box as a “bike box”. That is not the correct name. A bike box is a different type of installation.

All in all, the impression I get is that MassDOT and Howard Stein Hudson are treading in unfamiliar territory and have pulled innovative but questionable designs out of a hat, whether they meet standards or fit the context — these designs must be good because they are new, right?

(Projects in Massachusetts get away with violation of the national design standards because of a strong sovereign immunity law, which limits the awards in lawsuits over design issues. However, violation of standards can affect release of Federal funding.)

The name of the project, Arlington Center Safe Travel Project, makes an assumption about safety which I find questionable, and directs attention away from concerns about the actual safety and practicality of the designs proposed.

All in all, I still strongly favor the proposal I made in my earlier comments, Further Suggestions for Arlington Center. My proposal much simpler, it removes fewer parking spaces, it avoids door-zone issues and the two-way turn queuing box in the middle of the busy intersection. It offers a connection which is consistent with what casual cyclists, parents and children expect and find elsewhere on the Minuteman.

The diagram from my proposal is repeated here, but for details, please read the proposal in full. I’m open to suggestions for improvements.

Proposed route for bikeway through Arlington Center

My proposed route for a bikeway through Arlington Center


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Spam, and lost comments

Spam has become such a problem in WordPress blogs that I don’t have time to read through all the messages which have the Aksimet spam filter has marked as spam: I just delete them.

Recently, in  the moment between when I clicked “delete” and the messages disappeared, I noticed one which was a serious comment about Massachusetts traffic law.  Oops, gone. also deletes messages marked as spam on a regular schedule, so I don’t even have the opportunity to review some of them.

So, if you have posted comments on this blog and they have not been posted, please accept my apologies. Please in the future keep copies of your comments so you don’t lose them. If they don’t show up, you may send them to me by e-mail. My e-mail address, in a form readable by humans but not spambots, is here.

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For a real People’s Pike

“People’s Pike” is a group of citizens with concerns about the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s I-90 Allston Interchange project, the main goal of which has  been to replace the deteriorating Massachusetts Turnpike viaduct. The People’s Pike group is concerned mostly with improvements to the project for local access. A new commuter rail and bus terminal has already been promised, but the  management of traffic entering and leaving the Turnpike, and development of the adjoining 23-acre Beacon Yards, an abandoned railroad yard, raise many questions. An active task force with many People’s Pike members has met repeatedly with project planners and contractors, but many issues remain unresolved. I published the comments below as a post on the People’s Pike Facebook page. In the interest of finding a wider audience for my comments, I publish them here as well.


Bicycle and pedestrian access, and as suggested at last week’s Task Force meeting, bus access too, across the tracks at the new West Station are laudable improvements. So is the proposed replacement of the Franklin Street bicycle/pedestrian overpass.

A bicycle and pedestrian overpass over Soldiers Field Road is also certainly nice, but all of the connecting east-west routes which the project planners have proposed cross multiple multi-lane streets carrying traffic to and from the Turnpike.

Last week’s Boston Redevelopment Authority presentation showed a grid of 6-lane streets, with bicycle and pedestrian amenities alongside them, typical of what is built when there is no other choice but to put them in street corridors at grade level.

This is the story I’ve seen, over and over, at one meeting after another, with minor variations. There was no People’s Pike in the proposals at last week’s meeting, but instead, People’s Pillar to Post, with long waits at intersections and bizarre swerves across three lanes of motor traffic to prepare left turns.

It doesn’t matter whether the bikeway is behind a row of parked cars, as in the Boston Redevelopment Authority proposal shown at last week’s meeting, or in a nice green linear park on one side of New Cambridge Street, as shown at the MassDOT public hearing late last year. The heavy cross traffic at the intersections guarantees danger and delay. (Delay for motorists, too, not just bicyclists, I might add. There are only so many seconds in the minute, and dividing them up more ways to accommodate conflicting traffic streams gives each of them less time, and requires wider streets to hold the backup…)

The Mass Pike and Soldier’s Field Road at North Harvard Street and downstream of it have grade separations now and will have them in the new plans. There is a grade separation for the Paul Dudley White Path under the BU Bridge, and there is one planned at the Anderson Bridge.

If there is to be a People’s Pike, it too should have grade separations where it crosses the heavily-traveled streets which lead to and from the Turnpike. If not, we’re right back to the situation we have now, only with even more problem intersections.

We aren’t retrofitting an existing street network here. We are constructing an entirely new cityscape, offering the opportunity to do it right. The added cost is minor if the plan takes advantage of elevation changes which will be necessary anyway for West Station and the Turnpike ramps.

As the Beacon Yards project is on Harvard University property, I don’t think that I am being presumptuous in pointing out that there is already an important grade separation on the Harvard campus — in Cambridge, the Cambridge Street tunnel. That must have been very expensive to construct, as the four-lane street had to go below ground level, but Harvard and the City determined that it was worth the cost. Taking a path over or under a couple of Turnpike ramps is a much smaller challenge.

[Task-force member] Ari Ofsevit has already put forward a proposal for a connection from West Station to the Charles River, not crossing any streets. That is half of a People’s Pike, and it could be extended with all-important links to the Boston University east campus and to Cambridge.

At the other end of the project, there is width under the Cambridge Street Bridge for a path on one side or the other of the Turnpike, maybe both sides, with some careful design. Do we need  a Turnpike ramp extending  under the bridge, taking up the present empty space on the north side of the Turnpike? Will the railroad under the bridge on the South side need to have 4 tracks, as at present? If the answer to either of these questions is “no”, there you have it: a grade-separated connection from North Allston into the project area. (The south-side connection would use the Franklin street overpass — I like the north-side idea better, because the route is more direct.)

The signalized crossing at Lincoln Street also is tolerably good, if a tunnel under the Turnpike remains, as at present.

The remaining issue is of connecting the west end of the project with West Station on a grade-separated path. And while we’re at it, making this into a linear park.

That is the laudable goal which People’s Pike originally set out, and I don’t think for one second that any of us should settle for  less.


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What’s wrong with this picture?

As hunting seasons are introduced to control the deer population in Boston suburbs and nearby parklands, I’m reminded of an article which appeared in the alumni magazine of Middlebury College, one of my alma maters.

The article told how Middlebury College sanctions students’ involvement in hunting, and described the usual controversy over hunting which occurs from time to time. This photo appeared on the cover of the  magazine.

Cornwall, Vermont (November 21, 2013) - Middlebury College student hunters John Montgomery, Katherine McFarren, and Alexander Cort (L-R). (Photo © 2013 Brett Simison)

Cornwall, Vermont (November 21, 2013) – Middlebury College student hunters John Montgomery, Katherine McFarren, and Alexander Cort (L-R). (Photo © 2013 Brett Simison)

On one side of the controversy, there’s concern about cruelty to animals, dangers to people and access to firearms. 

On the other side, anyone who understands Vermont (including, famously, Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders) knows and accepts that hunting holds the deer population to a tolerable level, provides a food resource and is deeply ingrained in Vermont culture.

So, what’s wrong with this picture? You might give yourself a minute to think about it before you continue reading.


Not the usual controversy, no. It’s that two of the three young people are shown carrying firearms unsafely.

This, I might add,  as sanctioned by Middlebury College, a reputable institution of higher education.

That nobody involved in their hunting activity prevented the error, and nobody involved in producing the magazine article caught it, is appalling, whatever your opinion about hunting or firearms may be. That point wasn’t made until comments from an alumnus appeared in a later issue of the magazine, and online.

I could draw parallels with the issue of the general public’s (and Middlebury student population’s) understanding of bicycling.

The article is available online.

This applies specifically to Middlebury College as well. An article appeared in another issue of the alumni magazine about a student who suffered serious head injury on a campus path when struck by another whom she did not see, because both were riding bicycles at night without a headlight. That a college campus, with the ability to reach its student population and to enforce safety requirements, did not enforce the requirement for a headlight, is disturbing and all too typical.

The article about that incident also is online. It makes no mention of lighting — enforceable by the College on its campus and also a legal requirement on public roads.

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My opinions on the bills before the Massachusetts General Court

I can’t go to the Wednesday, January 6 hearing on transportation bills, because I’ll be out of town on business, but here’s my take (and be sure to read through to the last bill on which I comment: it’s one of the most important, and we should oppose it). My opinions are based on my long experience with legislation and as an expert witness in lawsuits over bicycle crashes, but are open to discussion.

S. 1807  (and also S. 1979 and H. 3073): Clearance when overtaking: Support this bill. It can be enforced if there actually is a collision. Then the motorist clearly wasn’t providing enough clearance unless the bicyclist swerved out (and that will be a topic of debate in civil cases and insurance claims). Crossing the centerline to pass is the norm, and in my opinion it should be legal. It is already legal in several states. The current law.

S. 1808  (and also H. 3072): Prohibiting parking in bike lanes: poorly worded in that it is selective and applies only when there is a bike lane or shared-lane marking. The Massachusetts Driver’s Manual indicates that double parking is prohibited, see page 104 in Chapter 4, but rings hollow. I searched the Massachusetts General Laws and couldn’t find a law against it (!) That’s one reason this provision is proposed to go into Chapter 89, a chapter with no related provisions, of which sections 4, 4A, 4B and 4C (and all the others) are only about driving, not about parking.

The Massachusetts Highway Department regulations, section 9.03 here, are the basis for the statements in the Driver’s Manual but they apply only on state highways, and the question of what is a state highway is a tangle based on property ownership and easements. A highway’s having a state highway number does not make it a state highway. (Ever notice the “state highway ends” signs on entering a town? Those are posted to identify whether state or local police have jurisdiction.) Except on state highways, parking regulations are up to the individual cities and towns.

Double parking outside the bike lane is worse than parking in the bike lane, see my comments on advice to do it in New York City. But, this bill appears to overturn the municipal regulations. It may even prohibit motorists from pulling into the bike lane to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

Truckers must make deliveries, and the police will not enforce against that. Double parking is endemic and this bill won’t put an end to it. A congestion charge, or demand-sensitive pricing of public parking would, along with some serious improvements in public transportation, but free or cheap parking is an ingrained entitlement which people aren’t going to give up any time soon. If there is to be a general law prohibiting double parking (which could be enforced under some circumstances, with police discretion) then it should not be selective like this bill.

S. 1809, bicycle path intersections: support. We have a real problem with confusion about yielding rules at crossings. See my blog post about this. The current law.

S. 1810 (and also H. 3019): Convex mirror: support. Truck side skirts on the other hand are not the panacea they are made out to be: The “lateral protective devices” which the City of Boston has been installing are window dressing, see my comments. If side skirts are to be effective, they must be better designed, but they still are only a partially effective mitigation device like a helmet or seat belt, not a way to prevent crashes. The problem needs to be addressed through education. That’s the very quiet elephant in the room, because it flies in the face of bike-lane designs which convey a false expectation of safety to bicyclists overtaking on the right. See my blog post about how bicyclists can avoid being run over by trucks.   The current Chapter 90 section 7.

S. 1816: Support the Vulnerable Road User Safety Commission, but I’m wondering how effective it will be because its duties overlap considerably with those of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board. There is opportunity for dialogue but also the likelihood that some representatives of state agencies will not show up. (I’ve been on these Boards again and again and that has happened, again and again.) A lot depends on who represents advocates at the meetings.

S. 1818, taillights: Push for amendment. Taillights are good, I always use one at night. Lights are becoming more and more affordable year by year, but this bill is poorly worded. The bill would hold a person with a rear reflector and no taillight negligent in an overtaking collision even if the reflector is clearly visible. This problem of presumption of negligence could not be avoided without a phase-in period and a massive publicity campaign. Also, the bill removes the requirement for a rear reflector, a very poor idea because a taillight can go out without the cyclist’s being aware of it. The bill should be amended also to require a reflector (as at present) to allow it to be amber, which is much brighter than red, and to fund education and publicity. The current law.

S. 1850: I support share-the-roads license plates but what is the money they raise supposed to do? I regularly attend Bicycle-pedestrian Advisory Board meetings but I had never heard of the Complete Streets Advisory Committee (yet another committee with overlapping duties!). Chapter 90, Section 2E of the MGL as at present is here. Chapter 90I, to be amended, is here.

S. 1879: redundant with S .1807, passing clearance bill..

S. 1890: increases traffic fines. This is a two-edged sword. It brings fines up to date. Would raising the fines make traffic-law enforcement a higher priority for police, because the enforcement would pay for itself? That makes economic sense, but on the other hand, traffic-law enforcement has also been applied as a form of discrimination in various places around the country, and this has been a contentious issue. There should be some affordability provision.

H. 3019 — redundant with the convex mirror and “lateral protective device” provisions of S. 1810

H. 3037: appears to be a bill to sell off rails and bridges which might be re-used for rail trails. Oppose unless someone can provide a good explanation why it doesn’t do that.

H. 3071  — standardizes crosswalk markings. Support.

H. 3072  — redundant with parking in bike lane bill, S. 1808.

H. 3073  — redundant with S. 1807

H. 3706  — prohibiting headphone use by bicyclists. Discourage headphone use but also oppose this bill. It restricts our rights in important ways without giving us anything in return or any exceptions to the restrictions. It provides a golden opportunity for motorists’ defense lawyers to hold cyclists responsible for crashes caused by others. I have served as an expert witness for a woman who was struck from behind by a motorist when riding straight along a street, and she lost her civil case because she was wearing headphones and not riding in the gutter approaching an intersection with a poor sight line to the right. The incompetent driver kidney-punched her with the right-side rear-view mirror. The jury decided that she should have dived out of the way on hearing a car approach from behind.

One presumption underlying efforts to ban headphonea is that they exclude sound from outside. That is true of some headphones but not others. Beyond that, the effect on the ability to hear depends on how loud they are played. A compromise bill might prohibit only headphones which exclude sound.

Motorists are currently prohibited from wearing headphones, but there is no law against their driving with their windows up or playing a car audio system at high volume.

Headphones have special advantages for bicyclists in requiring little power to operate and in avoiding noise pollution.

The bill has no exceptions for important and safety-related uses of headphones by bicyclists: to instruct people in an on-road class using two-way radios; to give directions to companions; by bicycle-mounted police and ride marshals for communication among themselves, etc. I have written a detailed article about bicyclists’ sense of hearing and headphone use. The current law, with no headphone prohibition.

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The Globe Screws Up on Nighttime Safety

The Boston Globe has published an article titled “Survival Guide for Running and Biking in the Dark.” This picture appeared with the article: you need it to understand my comments.

Illustration by Janne Iivonen, for the Boston Globe. Fair use as commentary under copyright law.

Illustration by Janne Iivonen, for the Boston Globe. Fair use as commentary under copyright law.

The article addresses issues of retroreflector placement and motion, while not discussing when retroreflectors can work, or cannot work at all. The bicyclists in the illustration do not have the headlight and red rear-facing retroreflector or taillight required by law.

Retroreflectors shine light back toward the source, so they look bright to a driver whose headlights are aimed at them. Retroreflectors can be very useful when that condition is met — usually, for a driver approaching from the rear — but they do not substitute for lights. The illustration perpetuates the illusion that they do, showing retroreflectors shining brightly from a viewpoint where they would be completely dark.

The bicyclists in the illustration are already directly in front of a car, and would need headlights to have been visible in time for the driver to yield right of way. The runners approaching the intersection are outside the car’s headlight beams, and their retroreflectors would shine weakly if at all for the driver of the car.

A driver entering from side street, pulling out of a parking spot, backing out of driveway — or a pedestrian stepping into the bicyclist’s path — does not have headlights aimed at a bicyclist’s reflectors. The bicyclist must have a headlight to be visible under these conditions.

The statement in the article in particular, “[d]on’t put all your faith in lights: Flashing lights are better than nothing but not sufficient by themselves” implies that reflectors are more important than lights, and promotes flashing lights. The USA, unlike for example Germany, has no government regulation of bicycle headlamp beam patterns. Many bicycle headlights these days are blindingly bright. A flashing headlight cannot reliably light the cyclists’ way, is hard to track, and risks triggering seizure disorders in people susceptible to them.

For more detail on nighttime equipment, please see the discussion of reflectors and of bicycle headlights which I have posted elsewhere. Massachusetts law on nighttime equipment for bicyclists is here.

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Mass Ave, Arlington, and two approaches to bicycling

This article is about Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington, but at a deeper level, it is about two very different approaches to bicycling.

I’ll start by recalling Massachusetts Avenue as it used to be.

Massachusetts Avenue was striped with two lanes. They were very wide, because there once was a streetcar line down the middle. The Avenue was wide-open and free for me and for other bicyclists who understood how to ride safely in a wide lane — keeping a constant distance from the centerline, allowing only enough space to our left for motorists to pass easily and safely. In this way, we kept enough space on our right to avoid walk-out, drive-out and right-hook threats.

Here’s a photo I took from the back seat of my tandem bicycle, in 1985.

Cycling on Massachyustts Avenue, Arlington, 1985

Cycling on Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, 1985

This location in a Google Street View, as of December 2011 — not much different. My photo is not in the segment which has recently been restriped, but the street cross-section is similar and it’s the only photo I have.

Riding this way worked fine for me and other confident bicyclists. On the other hand, for bicyclists who ride at the edge of the street in fear of being struck from behind, and for children who are incapable of reliably following the rules of the road, Massachusetts Avenue was highly uninviting.

In early October of this year (2015), I rode to Arlington for an appointment with my dentist and found a newly-repaved, wonderfully smooth Massachusetts Avenue, still without lane stripes. I rode it the same way I always did.

The dentist told me that I needed a filling replaced, and I made another appointment.

Thursday, November 12, I rode to Arlington again, to get the tooth filled. Turning the corner onto Massachusetts Avenue from Chandler Street,  I  encountered a woman stepping out of her car, just as I called out to myself, in astonishment, “door zone bike lane!” Because, there it was, stretched out in front of me, and she was standing in it, a door-zone bike lane. The woman asked me why I said that, and I told her.

She told me that she had her own problem with the Massachusetts Avenue installation: she is a member of Arlington’s Disabilities Commission. Raised planters on the sidewalks, surrounded by granite curbs, are so close to the edge of the street that disabled people cannot unload wheelchairs from their vans.

But, let me get back to my own story. See for yourself, about the door-zone bike lane. Chandler Street is the one-way street coming in from the right in the photo below, one block east of Lake Street. If a car door opens in front of you, and you are riding at normal speed for a bicyclist, there’s no way to avoid the door except to swerve left. If the right-hand end of the handlebar nicks an opening door, that will sweep the bicycle out from under you to the right and topple you to the left, into the path of overtaking traffic. Riding in the door zone also leads to walk-out and drive-out hazards, right-hook and left-cross collisions.

Massachusetts Avenue at Chandler Street

Massachusetts Avenue at Chandler Street

This location in a Google Street view, as of August, 2014

Here’s another example, looking to the west just after Winter Street.

Northbound, truck unloading

Westbound, truck unloading

This location as of September, 2014

Winter Street is opposite and slightly west of Lake Street, at the same signalized intersection. At the left in the photo are the  three eastbound lanes –left turn, through  and right-turn lanes. If you look past the truck, you can see cars parked up to the edge of the bike lane, even though it weaves farther toward the middle of the street after it passes the start of the left-turn lane.

Yes, the unloading truck is parked in a bus stop. The driver had no other choice. A bus at this bus stop would occupy part of the bike lane, the same as the truck. Riding safely past a stopped bus here requires controlling the travel lane, to be far enough away to avoid going under the bus if it pulls out.

From a public meeting early in the design process, I recall plans for a  single travel lane and bike lane in each direction and a median, which could leave bike lanes outside the door zone and included more curb extensions than are in the final design. (Plans are accessible on the Town of Arlington Web site. The early plan I recall is here. The final plan is here.)

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation Project Development and Design Guide describes and advises integrated multimodal development: consideration should be given to walking and bicycling, as well as motor traffic. This project, however,  was designed primarily to increase capacity for motor traffic: the width of the street has been divided into more lanes — as many as four lanes at some locations. There are two or three lanes at the few spots where there are median pedestrian refuges. The bike lane gets squeezed in against the parked cars.

It has been common practice for decades on Massachusetts streets and highways to stripe an increased number of lanes to increase capacity for motor traffic. A segment of a street or highway with two wide lanes would be restriped with four narrow lanes. A paved shoulder would be converted into a travel lane, sometimes only before intersections, sometimes for miles at a stretch. A left-turn lane would be added, by narrowing the through lane.

Streets striped this way can still work for bicyclists who possess the confidence to ride in the middle of  a narrow right-hand lane, so motorists will wait for a safe opportunity to pass or pass in the next lane.

Now, with the bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue, the same basic formula has been applied, except that the bike lanes got squeezed in. They are either entirely or partially in the door zone, except where there is no door zone because there is no curbside parking. The photo below is of one of the places with the most room , at the west end of the project.

North end of project

West end of project

The dashed lines in the photo below are supposed to indicate that motorists should merge into the bike lane before turning right, but what effect will those dashes have, with the huge right-turn arrow in the next lane?

Mass Ave at Marion Street

Mass Ave at Marion Street

This location in Google Maps, without bike lane, as of September, 2014.

The bicycle symbol in the bike lane is for a traffic-signal actuator. I’ve been calling out for bicycle-sensitive traffic signal actuators for decades, but the devil is in the details. The placement of this one encourages bicyclists to ride up to the corner, into right-hook territory, the “coffin corner”.

The “coffin corner” is the wrong place to wait, regardless. A bicyclist who reaches the intersection when no motor vehicles are waiting should wait in the lane to the left of the bike lane, so any motorist intending to turn right will pass on the right or wait behind. A bicyclist approaching the intersection when motorists are waiting might move ahead cautiously and slowly in the bike lane, but should not move up next to, or pass, the first vehicle waiting in line. It could turn right without the driver’s ever having noticed the bicyclist. These are basic principles of survival, unawareness of which has cost several  bicyclists their lives in the Boston area over the past few years.

There are a couple of places where the bike lane is correctly placed to the left of a right-turn lane. Here’s one at Lake Street, a block before Chandler Street. I was standing facing east, directly opposite Winter Street.

Right-turn lane at Lake Street

Right-turn lane at Lake Street

The right-turn lanes require the removal of a few parking spaces, and so they become the object of political battles. The parking spaces get removed only where right-turning traffic is heavy and a strong case can be made for right-turn lane to avoid traffic congestion. But only one motor vehicle is necessary to right-hook a bicyclist, at any intersection.

Edge rider on Massachusetts Avenue at Varnum Street

Edge rider on Massachusetts Avenue at Varnum Street

Now I’ll address the issue of different riding styles. The photo above, from Google Street View, is of of a bicyclist on Massachusetts Avenue who is keeping near the right side of the street. He is only marginally far enough from the parked cars to avoid dooring. The last parked vehicle short of the corner has been concealing him from the view of the pickup-truck driver who has pulled out far enough to see traffic approaching in a more normal lane position. If you click on the street surface in the street view online, you can follow this bicyclist most of the way down to Alewife Brook Parkway. You will see that he weaves left to pass around the front of the pickup truck, ducks into a gap between parked cars and passes several parked cars in the door zone. He disappears from the Street View for a while when he runs a red light and the Google camera car waits, but he reappears when it catches up.

Judging by this bicyclist’s size, his equipment and his riding on Massachusetts Avenue, he is an adult, regular bicycle user, yet he is riding contrary to basic principles of street safety.  He is stuck in the edge-riding paradigm. That is how I rode too, for my first few years in Boston, until I read the book Effective Cycling, and learned to use the streets safely.

The next photo, as a counterexample, is a Google Street View showing a woman on a motor scooter waiting to turn left onto Lake Street. Her choice of the motor scooter, her confident use of the left-turn position and her clothing — especially the slippers — suggest that she is from Taiwan, where motor scooters predominate in street traffic, or maybe from mainland China. She is operating as a driver, the same way I do it on my bicycle. Good for her!

Left turn from Massachusetts Avenue onto Lake Street

Left turn from Massachusetts Avenue onto Lake Street

Google Street View online

The new installation on Massachusetts Avenue makes no special provision for bicyclist left turns. The legal options are to turn left as a driver, as this woman did, or to use one of the few crosswalks.

At the far right corner of a few intersections in the Boston area, two-step turn queuing boxes have been installed: spaces for bicyclists to turn their bicycles 90 degrees to the left, wait, and then cross. These can be useful where a conventional left turn would be especially difficult, or is illegal. But they are practical only at intersections where a traffic signals stopa the cross traffic, and they increase delay because it is necessary to wait for the signal at both stages.

Now, let me draw some conclusions and make some projections.

Is the restriping with more travel lanes necessary to handle motor traffic volume?

There is a lot of excitement in the urban planning and advocacy community these days about how a smaller percentage of young people is getting driver’s licenses.  There is also excitement about how more people are choosing to live in cities, or inner suburbs, so they will drive less. But nonetheless, with an increasing urban population, more people will be driving. My dentist told me that large apartment complexes are being built nearby. They all have parking garages. So, even if the percentage of people driving falls, their number will increase. It would take a major upheaval to get them out of their cars and onto bicycles, and onto the #77 MBTA bus which runs on Massachusetts Avenue.

How will the restriping affect safety?

I’m not an expert on motor-vehicle safety. I think that the redesign may improve it by slowing traffic: on the other hand, the street layout is more complicated. Time will tell. The curb extensions, clearly-marked crosswalks and new traffic signals are well known to improve conditions for pedestrians.

Bicycling safety is a different issue. As the example of the edge-riding bicyclist shown earlier illustrates, it’s hard enough convincing bicyclists to control the travel lane when necessary. But now, advice is painted on the streets reinforcing the hazardous behavior. The bike lanes direct bicyclists to ride into hazards, and also recruit social pressure from motorists to enforce that behavior: horn honking, yelling out of car windows and close passes. A bicyclist who rides outside the bike lane is perceived as a renegade, an outlaw, though there is no law against that in Massachusetts. I never used to get abuse in the Boston area for taking the lane position I need in order to be safe. Now I do, and frequently.

The door-zone bike lanes reinforce the incorrect belief that being struck from behind is the main hazard, and that riding in the door zone must be the best we can do,  even though close calls quickly build a prevailing sense of unease about in the door zone.

Many bicyclists I see on the streets of the Boston area these days have no idea that they can operate as bicycle drivers, actively communicating and cooperating with motorists using lane positioning and hand signals. Only the few bicyclists who know better think otherwise. A passive approach to safety prevails: helmets, riding on paths, edge riding while on streets. Few understand that our safety as bicyclists is something cabm abd should, take into our own hands. Doing or teaching that is becoming more difficult as road markings increasingly promote unsafe behavior.

The door zone bike lanes are also seeding a generation of motorists with the belief that This is My Space Over Here, and That is Your Space, and so, Stay Out of My Space.

I used to see all this as only leading bicyclists down a descending spiral of poor behavior. But it’s worse now. The bike lanes, the special space, are seen as an improvement — by bicyclists, motorists, public officials and planners. But inadequate bike lanes don’t solve the safety problems, and riding on the road as a bicycle driver is believed to be worse, and so we must move in the other direction, to barrier-separated on-street bikeways. I see the advocacy community now increasingly  pushing for them.

Barrier-separated bikeways are to be installed on Commonwealth Avenue in Allston, so we’ll get to see how that works out. I don’t think that is a good solution there, I think that there are better solutions, and I’ve explained why. I’ll have more to report when that actually happens.

But on Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington, I don’t see any such thing happening.  The design which has only  just now been implemented reflects existing demand for on-street parking, and projections of traffic volume which are probably realistic barring a major social upheaval. I do expect the volume of bicycle traffic to increase, but then it won’t fit into the bike lanes . Aside from their safety problems, they aren’t wide enough for one bicyclist to pass another. They may have made Massachusetts Avenue appear more attractive to some bicyclists, but if the crash rates on Commonwealth Avenueand the results of several safety studies in other cities offer any example, they do not offer safety.

There was some opposition to the Massachusetts Avenue project during the planning phase but  that opposition was, was, in my opinion, a distraction, from an Arlington resident and his supporters who suggested that bicyclists could use the Minuteman Bikeway instead. The bikeway is very direct way to get from the center of Arlington to Alewife Station, but the bikeway gets farther and father from Massachusetts Avenue as it heads south. The opposition was reminiscent of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby’s suggestion that bicyclists should stay off the streets and go for a nice ride in the Arnold Arboretum.People aren’t going to go a mile out of their way, riding two sides of a triangle, to reach a destination on Massachusetts Avenue.

I supported the Arlington project, based on the early plans I saw, until I saw on November 12 how it turned out in the end. I don’t live in Arlington, so I didn’t pay it much attention after I saw the early plans.

I’d have been satisfied enough with the final design if the bike lane stripes had been omitted — or if there were only two travel lanes, so bike lanes could be placed outside the door zone — but that would reduce capacity for motor traffic, and capacity for motor traffic was clearly a major concern in the design of this project.

All in all, unfortunately, I don’t think that there is any good, practical, moderately-priced solution for Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington. Perhaps sometime, the USA will take the bull by the horns and work to solve its transportation problems. I can envision a subway under Massachusetts Avenue, or under the Minuteman, projects of the same scope as the 1980 Red Line extension to Alewife. These improvements would have some hope of decreasing traffic volume.  But major improvements require raising taxes to pay for construction and maintenance. Heavy taxes on motor vehicles and fuel are an important factor in promoting bicycling in the northern European countries which are often held up as examples. Don’t hold your breath for that to happen in the USA. Or, maybe, do hold your breath, as the traffic goes by!

As for myself, I’m going to continue to use a safe lane position when I ride on Massachusetts Avenue. In most places, motorists have a passing lane, or if not, the right-hand travel lane is wide enough to share. But not everywhere, and where it isn’t, riding in a safe lane position will be more difficult, thanks but no thanks to the bike lane striping and the attitudes it fosters.

I encourage other bicyclists to do as I do. You may need to grow a thick skin to cope with horn honks, but your safety is more important, and it builds character.

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