Comments on the Charles River Basin Connectivity Study

I have prepared extensive comments on the Charles River Basin Connectivity Study and submitted them for review.

I strongly support many aspects of the study, but there are some details I would change, and there are some opportunities which the study does not address — just for example, making the large “no man’s land” inside the rotary south of the North Beacon Street Bridge accessible as parkland.

My comments are available online at http://john-s-allen.com/pdfs/John_Allen-Charles_River_Basin_Connectivity_study_comments.pdf

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Is This Street Wide Enough?

I have posted a video of a group of avid recreational cyclists riding on Hampshire Street in Cambridge, in the middle of the day.

Ah, once again, bostonbiker.org won’t let me embed a video, but you may view it in glorious full-screen high definition at the link below:

Is This Two-Lane Street Wide Enough? from John Allen on Vimeo.

The cyclists in this video are riding on a stretch of Hampshire Street which was the subject of a study of the effect of various lane stripings on cyclist behavior, a study which I have reviewed. The study concluded that bike lane striping led bicyclists to ride safely, farther from parked cars. My review showed that statement to be inaccurate, due to misrepresentation of bicyclists’ distance from the parked cars. Another reviewer, Wayne Pein, has reached the same conclusion.

My video shows behavior consistent with the study once the numbers have been corrected, all the more distressingly because most of the cyclists in the video are middle-aged or older and have years of experience. For the most part, however, that experience has been in rural areas and outer suburbs rather than in the city.

My video also bears on the proposed reconstruction of Beacon street, in Somerville. Beacon street is the extension of Hampshire street, and has the same profile and character. An earlier post on this blog offers my comments on Beacon street.

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Comments on Connect Historic Boston

I’ve posted extensive comments on the Connect Historic Boston project. I am concerned about: safety issues; increase in bicycle travel times and congestion of motor traffic; the project’s degrading rather than improving access to North Station; its being designed as if Boston were a tourist attraction rather than an urban center, while on the other hand it bypasses some of the most obvious tourist destinations in order instead to construct “cycle tracks” — barrier-separated bikeways behind curbs.

Let me make it clear: I approach infrastructure projects with an open mind. There are in fact some cycle tracks that I have said nice things about. These, however,  require a much more ample and careful design, and are a preferred and practical option only under a limited number of conditions. Two examples are on 9th Avenue in Manhattan, and on University Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin. For Concord Avenue in Cambridge, I expressed support for a separate bikeway — a two-way bikeway on the south side. The westbound bikeway which Cambridge constructed crosses 24 driveways and 8 streets into an industrial area in 3000 feet. The design goal is quite obviously to construct something which can be called a cycle track, rather than to build functional infrastructure.

The design of the Connect Historic Boston project is being rushed to completion. (Compare with the Longfellow Bridge project, one which will have equally large impacts and had a public process that went on for a couple of years). Input on the CHB project from advocacy groups occurred without public involvement for over a year, and since then there has been very little media coverage. There have been community meetings to sell the idea, where attendees have almost all been bicycling advocates who are not aware of the design issues. Most were recruited by the Boston Cyclists Union.

What was called a 25% design hearing lacked the detail which would allow a meaningful evaluation. There was nothing about signal timing, capacity, travel times etc., only a description of the proposed bikeways. One thing I’ve learned since attending the public hearing is that the level of service at Lowell Square is predicted to be F in the morning and evening rush hours. How are bicyclists supposed to get through on the very odd route proposed for them?

I have additional comments online, prepared following the public hearing.

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Close Encounter on Washington Street

Hmm, Bostonbike stripped out the video I intended to embed here, but you can still click on the link below.

A Close Encounter on Washington Street from John Allen on Vimeo.

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Report on Belmont Community Path Public Meeting, January 22, 2014

The Selectmen of the Town of Belmont appointed a Community Path Advisory Committee about a year ago, and held a public meeting about the Community Path, which I attended last night. The Community path would go east-west through Belmont, and would be a segment of the Mass Central Rail Trail, which when complete, would run from Alewife Station in Cambridge all the way to Northampton.

Google map of the project area, for reference is http://goo.gl/maps/oHEjl

The Community Path table of contents Web page is at http://www.belmont-ma.gov/Public_Documents/BelmontMA_BComm/CPAC/

Maps of potential routes are at http://www.belmont-ma.gov/Public_Documents/BelmontMA_BComm/CPAC/belmont-community-path_potential-routes_20131129ir.pdf

I have photos of Channing Road and the rail line at http://john-s-allen.com/galleries/Belmont%20Bikeway/index.html

I have older comments and documents about the Belmont Bikeway under the Belmont heading at http://bikexprt.com/massfacil/belmont/belpath.htm. My opinions have warmed in favor of an off-road path west of Belmont Center since I wrote those comments, because of Belmont’s willingness to consider (and spend money on) other path alternatives besides the circuitous and hilly McLean option. I still support Pleasant Street/Alexander Avenue as an additional through route which avoids the difficult intersections around the railroad bridge in the middle of town. This route is much more promising following recent improvements to Pleasant Street. The block of Alexander Avenue west of Leonard Street is still one-way. It cries out for a contraflow bike lane.

I can report following the meeting:

  • Support for the Community Path was nearly universal at the meeting. A few people who commented expressed reservations about one issue or another, (usually privacy) but even abutters spoke in favor of the trail. Residents understood, based on the example of the Minuteman bikeway, that crime, noise and property values were non-issues.
  • Through Belmont Center and to its east, the preferred option, by far, is on the unused width of the rail corridor between the Belmont railroad station and Brighton Avenue.
  • Plans were shown for that route including various safety and privacy/screening options.
  • An underpass under the rail line at Alexander Avenue between the  Winn Brook neighborhood north of the tracks and the High School south of the tracks also was mentioned, and clearly, most residents support this. .
  • Another possible route through and to the east of Belmont Center would be on Concord Avenue and around Claypit Pond (past the High School) to Hittinger Street. This would, however, not be consistent with the trail elsewhere, and would be longer. (I currently ride Waverly Street to School Street Cottage Street to Concord Avenue and onward to Hittinger Street to make this connection, but it is not consistent with the connecting trail segments. I would hope though that a contraflow bike lane is installed in the segment of School Street which was recently made one way during morning and afternoon school bus unloading/loading times.)
  • A third option would be on lightly-traveled Channing Road, but this also poses challenges at intersections, particularly at Cross Street and Leonard Avenue at the west end, and also at the east end with a connections through private property.
  • Several options were shown west of Belmont Center: mostly north of Pleasant Street, over the hill on the McLean Hospital property; or along the Fitchburg branch rail line; or mostly south of the rail line using lightly-traveled streets and passing through the Belmont DPW yard. These options are less well-defined. See the document iwht maps of potential routes for details.
  • Several residents spoke up for a flat route and for neighborhood access all along the trail — in other words, not the McLean route — but the flatter routes have some issues with making good connections and with privacy of abutters.
  • I found some of the details of the Concord Avenue and Channing Road options troublesome, involving intersections with delays and hazards. The most glaring example was a proposal to make Channing Road one way except for the last block at the east, which is a dead end, and construct a two-way, one side of the street raised cycle track. Channing Road is a residential street with very light traffic east of Cross Street. The cycle track is proposed to be 12 feet wide in the one-way segment and  a totally inadequate 7 feet wide in the two-way segment, and it would cross numerous driveways. Its effect would be to legitimize wrong-way and sidewalk cycling, which have been proven hazardous. The appropriate treatment on such a street is a low speed limit and traffic calming.
  • Several commenters said that they were terrified to ride on roads. Certainly, this is an issue for children and novice cyclists, and some of the main streets in Belmont are no picnic for bicyclists, but on the other hand, improvements to local streets are needed to make connections to the trail. One commenter spoke up about inexpensive “bicycle boulevard” treatments — “all you have to install is flowerpots.” There is already a treatment much like this in Belmont, shown in http://bikexprt.com/massfacil/belmont/belpath.htm (second from last photo on the page, with accompanying text) and in fact, bicycle boulevards should be practical to create connected routes on man residential streets in Belmont. Riding on streets, and pedestrian improvements outside the trail corridor, do need to be addressed if for no other reason than that construction of the trail will also increase cycling and walking elsewhere. There is nothing about this in the project documents.
  • Everything which has been proposed is conceptual as of now. There is no decision about which route will be improved, and there are no final designs.
  • As the Selectmen readily admitted, there also is no money allocated to build any of this. I expect that eventually there will be, but in the mean time, low-cost and no-cost measures such as educational campaigns and bicycle boulevard treatments could improve cycling conditions in Belmont, and set the stage for access to the trail once it is constructed.
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My Comments on the Cambridge Street Bridge project

My comment letter may be found at this URL. It is a PDF file.

I agree with many of the suggestions made by other commenters, though not all, and I made some additional suggestions.

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About the shared-lane markings on Brighton Avenue…

I’m commenting here on the November 20, 2013 Boston Globe/boston.com article about “shared lane markings on steroids” on Brighton Avenue in the Allston section of Boston, as shown in this Boston Globe photo:

Shared-lane marking betwene dashed lines on Brighton Avenue

Shared-lane marking between dashed lines on Brighton Avenue. Boston Globe photo: fair use, as commentary.

The article is here: http://www.boston.com/news/local/blogs/starts-and-stops/2013/11/20/boston-bikes-debuts-sharrows-steroids/PXrtrx9c1YO6T0JOCn3vFJ/blog.html

I have known Brighton Avenue for decades now as a cyclist, motorist and pedestrian. Also, I am a member of the Bicycle Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which reviewed and approved the experiment being conducted on Brighton Avenue. The opinions I state here are my own.

There’s a backstory to this installation. Brighton Avenue had wide roadways and a narrow median till approximately 1999. It was possible for motorists safely to overtake bicyclists in the right-hand lane. Then the old Green Line Watertown Square branch tracks were removed and a wider, landscaped median was installed. Details are here:

http://bikexprt.com/massfacil/boston/brightonav.htm

The boston.com article states:

In coming months, Boston Bikes staff will take a census of how many cyclists use that stretch of road to determine whether the “sharrows on steroids” increase ridership. Next spring, they will paint the area between the dashed lines lime green, and conduct another ridership survey.

Freedman’s office will report their findings to the federal government.

Those sentences convey only one goal of the experiment which is being conducted. Its main purpose is much broader, to determine the effect of the markings on cyclists’ and motorists’ behavior. Will it induce cyclists to ride in the middle of the right lane, safely away from car-door openings and other road-edge hazards? Will it induce motorists to merge left and overtake correctly in the next lane? More detail about the project may be found here, from BostonBikes:

http://www.bostonbikes.org/2013/01/brighton-ave-to-get-priority-treatment/

Money quote from that article:

“It was determined that to install a standard bicycle lane would require the removal of the median, a project estimated to cost upwards of $4 millon, and would take years to implement.”

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My comments about Arlington Center

I’ve posted extensive comments about the proposed design for the Arlington Center gap in the Minuteman Commuter bikeway on my personal blog. In my opinion, the proposed design fails for bicyclists of all ages and levels of experience. I suggest designs which, in my opinion, would succeed.

There will be a public meeting about the design at the Senior Center behind the Robbins Library in Arlington at 7 PM tonight (November 6, 2013). I hope to see you there. Click here to open my comments in a separate browser window or tab..

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About Bob Zeeb’s crash

Bob Zeeb was a teacher in the Newton Public Schools, a colleague of my wife’s. I feel compelled to set the record straight about his unfortunate death in a bicycle crash.

From an e-mail message sent out today by Livable Streets:

Bike4Life was founded by the Zeeb family in memory of Bob Zeeb who died in an avoidable bicycle incident in 2009 caused by poor signage and road conditions. Sponsor the Zeeb family (photos below) or another rider to help improve our roads and keep our loved ones safe.

The most detailed news report I’ve seen of this crash, with a photo, is from the Arlington Advocate.

Quoting:

Robert Zeeb of Newtonville was cycling from Alewife Brook Parkway toward Lake Street, when it appears his bike struck a hole containing a submerged electrical box that was missing its metal top, said State Police spokesman David Procopio.

[...]

Shortly after the accident, the stretch of sidewalk was partially covered in leaves and an orange safety cone stuck out of the concrete hole. It is not clear at this point if the safety cone was there before the accident. A metal MassHighway lid for the electrical box lay a foot or so away.

The crash occurred on the sidewalk along the north side of Route 2 shown in this Google satellite view — in the section where there is a guardrail, and directly under a streetlight pole.

The crash had nothing at all to do with signage, or bad road conditions — it happened on a sidewalk — or for that matter, with any ordinary bad sidewalk conditions. The crash most likely resulted from a criminal act, sabotage. The orange safety cone raises some unanswered questions, though it is hard to imagine why anyone working on an electrical box in a sidewalk wouldn’t simply put the cover back when finished.

Oddly enough, Livable Streets has a different, more nearly accurate explanation for the crash on a Web page:

Bob was regularly cycling 50 miles a day and hoped to make a cross-country trip in the summer of 2011. He died November 10, 2009, as the result of a bicycle accident due to a missing electrical utility vault access plate.

Yes, signage and road conditions could be improved, and so could sidewalk and path conditions, but I find today’s e-mail certainly inaccurate, and a distraction from the true story which might bring the culprit to justice, even at this late date. The e-mail also would lead uninformed readers to the conclusion that the fatality resulted from a collision with a motor vehicle, promoting fear of riding on the roads where, instead, it should serve as a lesson to avoid riding through leaves, a puddle, mud, snow etc. where the riding surface is not visible.

Postscript, September 20, 2013:

This Google Street View includes the large tree trunk and odd, angled sapling in the Arlington Advocate photo and pinpoints the location.

In case Google updates its Street View, here is the one from January, 2012:

Location of Zeeb crash

Location of Zeeb crash

Here’s the Advocate photo. (There’s a larger version of it in the article).

Zeeb's bicycle at crash location

Zeeb’s bicycle at crash location

A few more thoughts have occurred to me:

In the Advocate photo, the wheels of the bicycle appear intact, suggesting that Zeeb crashed not from the front wheel’s going into the hole, but from its being deflected by the cover plate. If the orange safety cone was in the hole before the crash, it is unlikely that Zeeb rode into the hole. He would have ridden far enough to one side or the other for a pedal to clear the safety cone.

One end of the sidewalk is opposite Whittemore Avenue in North Cambridge, and the other end is at a pedestrian overpass over Route 2. There are no connections in between. The sidewalk apparently served to connect West Cambridge with a business district on the south side of Route 2, before the Alewife MBTA station project made other connections in the early 1980s. The sidewalk is in rough condition except where it was rebuilt on the new bridge over the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway in 2001-2004.

Also, as is very common in Massachusetts, the sidewalk is between the guardrail and the roadway. Though no motor vehicle was directly involved in Zeeb’s crash, the guardrail placement may have allowed a motor vehicle to dislodge the cover plate.

Where was Zeeb coming from? Where did he intend to go? In which direction was he traveling?

It is striking just how difficult this stretch of sidewalk is to reach.

At its east end, there is no traffic signal, crosswalk or wheelchair ramp to ease the crossing of Alewife Brook Parkway. A cyclist could possibly also reach the east end in the parkland between Alewife Brook and the Parkway, or on the Parkway, or from the intersection of Route 2 and the Parkway. The last two options involve riding on busy multi-lane arterials and are not very consistent with continuing the ride on a sidewalk or with discretionary, pleasure riding. (See Google satellite view. Alewife Brook is under the trees at the left, and past it, the new greenway is shown, under construction as of the date this image was captured. I’ve copied the image below because Google renews its imaging from time to time.)

Alewife Brook Parkway at Whittemore Avenue

Alewife Brook Parkway at Whittemore Avenue

To enter the west end of the sidewalk, a cyclist would have to ride along Route 2, then take the bicycle up and down the stairways at the deteriorating pedestrian overpass, or else know how to reach and follow an unmarked path in the woods. (See Google Street View. I’ve copied the Street View image, below, as it will be replaced in time).

Route 2 overpass

Route 2 overpass

In the Arlington Advocate photo, the bicycle has been moved since the crash, but it is facing east. Was Zeeb riding westwards, as news reports suggest? Witness statements might provide an answer.

If Zeeb wanted to go to the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, then perhaps he did not know that this sidewalk did not connect to it. Zeeb was retired; he had time on his hands; he rode 50 miles per day. Wouldn’t he already know of the numerous other ways to reach the Minuteman? Perhaps he was just exploring?

The problem, however, is not one of signage, because it is not usual to post signs indicating where a route does not go.

The new Alewife Brook Greenway, installed since Zeeb’s crash, improves the connection from Massachusetts Avenue to the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway on the north side of Alewife Brook, but it does not connect to the sidewalk. I’ve advocated in the past for a more direct connection between the Linear Park in Cambridge and the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway.

It would be very interesting to see the report on the investigation, which might shed some light on questions about this crash.

[Arlington Advocate and Google content are included under fair use provisions of US copyright law.]

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Report on Longfellow Bridge public meeting, July 10, 2013

I attended the Longfellow Bridge public meeting on July 10.

The meeting started with an overview of the project by representatives of the consultants, then a description of Phase One of the project. Detour of outbound motor traffic is via Leverett Circle, where there will be signal timing and ped safety improvements. The route will continue on Land Boulevard and Binney Street. The reason for this westbound route is that it is one trucks can take.

Motorists (but not trucks) may take Memorial Drive to the ramp from the downstream side of the Longfellow Bridge, where traffic will go either inbound or outbound – but motor traffic across the bridge is only inbound (into Boston). The Red line will run except for 25 weekends during the project. Also there will be an inbound detour route when the Red line is out of service. MBTA buses will then run from Park Street, around the Common and past the State House, and via Leverett Circle to Kendall-MIT.

Comment on this during comment period: could the MBTA use a different pickup point for a shorter route? Answer: this is the route they always use.

During Phase One, bicyclists will have bike lanes in both directions on the downstream side of the bridge. The one headed toward Cambridge will be a contraflow lane with a 5-foot buffer. At some times during construction, bicyclists will have to use sidewalks; the consultant suggested walking bicycles then. During the comment period, someone stated that it is unlikely that bicyclists will walk.

Traffic management plan: the consultant stressed that there will be a lot of public outreach — e-mail advisories, Red Line alerts, a hotline for phone messages. Many meetings. Lots of changeable message boards and static signs farther from the bridge. 23 pan-tilt-zoom cameras will be added. Boston already has 300 but there will be none in Cambridge, which doesn’t want them and doesn’t have the communications infrastructure.

Charles Circle is reconfigured for Phase 1 so inbound traffic on the downstream (normally outbound) side of the bridge crosses under the Red line tracks to continue on the upstream side of Cambridge Street. This poses difficulties for bicyclists

One change from the project which may result in a permanent improvement for bicyclists is widening of Charles River Dam Road.

A length of the median on Main Street in Cambridge is being taken out so that Boston-bound traffic can cross over to the downstream side of the bridge. Cambridge insisted that traffic headed from Main Street to Memorial Drive westbound cross over the bike lane leading to the bridge rather than merging across it.

Boston will install 23 pan-tilt-zoom cameras to monitor traffic. The city already has 300. Why none in Cambridge? That city doesn’t want them and doesn’t have the communications infrastructure. The project team will be watching for congestion during initial traffic analysis, 2 weeks. Prediction is for good levels of service on Mass Ave but poorer in Leverett Circle area. All traffic signals are hooked up to Boston’s Traffic Management Center; the goal is to learn, and change signal timing and message boards based on what is learned. There will be an incident action plans, police deployment plan; police will be deployed at 40 locations. coordination with other projects.

David Watson of Massbike was first to comment. He was concerned that only the design for Phase One for the Cambridge end of the bridge had been put online. Would more plans and the traffic management plans be made public? Reply: they will be available online soon, with the state’s OK. Are there other plans relating to bicycles that might be put online? Watson would like to hear mroe about Charles Circle. Is there anything you can do to navigate through all the right-turning traffic? Less confident cyclists are to the right of two right-turning lanes, sometimes three.
Watson’s written comments are online at http://massbike.org/blog/2013/07/13/longfellow-bridge-construction-begins-amid-traffic-concerns/ How would restriping on the Charles River Dam impact bicycle traffic? Bike facilities as part of the final design?

I commented next and endorsed Watson’s comments. I emphasized a point he also made: the “Kendall crossover” where cars would turn right across bikes going straight.. This would require motorists to look back into their right rear blindspot, rather than taking advantage of available road space to merge across the bike lane. I commented that such conflicts account for the majority of fatalities to bicyclists in the Boston area. This manufactured conflic also requires motorists to stop and wait for bicyclists to overtake on the right, where a merge would allow everyone to keep moving.

I expressed concern aobut westbound bicyclists in Charles Circle having to cross four lanes of turning traffic (headed for Leverett Circle and Storrow Drive westbound, and suggested that bicyclists should be approaching Charles Circle on Cambridge Street adjacent to the median, so as not to cross all this traffic.

I endorsed the widening of the Charles River Dam road.

There were a number of other comments from individual citizens, civic groups and representatives of businesses. I report here on some of them, not all. A stenographer was present at the meeting, in case you want to review every word.

One commenter wondered whether two-way bus traffic would be possible on the bridges – two 14 foot 9 inch lanes for buses? Shared bus-bike lanes? Answer: 14’9″ is at wider part of the bridge, but there’s a pinch point at the Boston end due to the extended Charles Street Station platforms. (And also, two-way motor traffic o nthe bridge would mean no bike lanes.

A Better City, a business organization wants more information. Hospitals are concerned about access for ambulances. TD Garden events, etc. Robust transit mitigation plan is essential, to relieve pressure on the Red Line. ABC has discussed partial 2-way use of bridge in stage 1.

Paul McDonough, representing a Cambridge business: Binney and Land isn’t done. Reid overpass reconstruction at the BUS bridge adds to the congestion. He looks out his window and the bridge is backed up east toward Memorial Drive and under the bridge.

Reid reopens July 19? (Don’t know).

Steven Smith, representing the Boston Marriott Is the map of diversions to be made available – the hotel would like to give guests the best info available. Answer: all will be posted on Web site. People will be able to take the bus from Kendall.

Jim Healy, Boston Duck Tours — gridlock at Museum Way (at the Charles River Cam bridge). What to do about this?

A comment, which brought some laughter: “On Saturday, the first day this kicks in, you’re gonna have the Yankees playing the Red Sox and you’re gonna have a Justin Bieber concert at the Garden.”

Jim Gascoigne, Charles river Transportation Management Association — Unless you enforce do not block the box, we’re sunk. You have to do what you can to make the buses move. If they can’t get out of Museum way we have to run buses up and down McGrath Highway, with bus stops there.

A Mr. McNally, representing A Better City — one way would be to have two-way traffic is from North Station.

Mass General Hospital representative: When do we get a complete transportation management plan? Get 2-way traffic on the bridge. (My whispered comment to Watson: widening the landing would allow 2-way traffic but no bike lanes.)

Jon Adams, commuter cyclist. bus/bike lanes? Answer: detour only weekends.

Representative of transitmatters.info. reinforced the idea idea of bus lanes on CRD road. How tight is turn radius for buses? Plans for Red line?

Another commenter: manage expectations. Think about using changeable signs to give an idea of travel times.

MIT planning: alternate bus out of Kendall?

A Mr. Zamor, Cambridge resident and air quality expert: air quality will be horrible in Kendall Square when buses replace the Red Line. Monitor this? Oxygen cardiovascular crises occur when there are bus diversions. There’s a well-established association of heart-attack timing and intense mobile exposure. He appreciates the efficiency of bicyclists getting across but it is not a healthy place. Better if bicyclists are not on the same road. (Then what?)

*********

I left the meeting to catch a train home while comments were still continuing. On the way out, I suggested, not entirely in jest, to a couple of other people who were leaving that ferryboats might be one answer to some of the problems.

Also, seriously, the whole traffic mess could have been avoided by building a new bridge alongside the old one and then tearing down the old one, but this is a historic structure, and we just don’t do things the easy way here!

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