Honked at again

I was bicycling home from church on a Sunday afternoon recently.

The church I attend, First Parish in Waltham, has a parking lot on either side, but also the public school parking lot across the street doesn’t get much use on a Sunday, and handles any overflow.

As I rode home, I headed south on Eddy Street and turned right on a green light onto Weston Street, a two-lane main street with a moderate uphill grade and single-family residences on either side.

Weston Street is wide enough for easy bicycle-motor vehicle side-by-side lane sharing if there is no parking. If vehicles park along Weston Street, it becomes too narrow for safe travel at the 35 mph speed limit even with motor traffic only: parked vehicles block sight lines for residents pulling out of their driveways.

So, parking is prohibited at all times along Weston Street, with one exception.

A Lutheran church stands on the corner of Eddy and Weston Streets, and it has only a small parking lot. The special exception, indicated by signs which are faded by now almost to illegibility, allows parking in the block in front of this church on weekends. Many people attending its services park on the street. Some of the faithful park in the next block too.

The Google Maps satellite view below was taken on a Sunday. You can see the cars parked  in the church parking lot, and front of the church, and in the next block. You might also go directly to Google Maps to look around, though the satellite view you see then might be from a different day.

Weston and Eddy streets, and hte Lutheran church

Weston and Eddy streets, and the Lutheran church

I turned right from Eddy Street onto Weston Street. A few seconds later, the traffic signal changed and traffic started up Weston street behind me.

Here was my choice as I saw it:

  • Ride in the door zone and risk being flung out in front of overtaking traffic by a car door opening in front of me or a person walking out from between cars –
  • or control the travel lane and be safe, but get honked at.

There was oncoming traffic too, so the drivers behind me couldn’t pull out partway across the double yellow line to pass me.

I chose to ride outside the door zone and walk-out zone of the parked cars, not wanting to collide with any good Christians, or be flung out into the path of an overtaking car.

The first driver in line behind me honked the car horn at me.

After I’d passed the parked cars and merged over to the right, the second driver honked while passing me.

I was going about ten miles per hour. That is as fast as I could go. I might have delayed the people in those cars behind me by 15 seconds.

The safe choice is becoming more difficult. Boston used to have an “every man for himself” sort of traffic culture. Drivers were used to other drivers who bent the law to get ahead. (It was always, of course the other driver…) This was somewhat of an ego thing, I think, with origins in the Bluebloods vs. Irish cultural and political struggles of a century ago — but also, drivers often had to edge out into narrow and congested Boston-area streets, failing to yield right of way, sometimes blindly, to avoid waiting interminably for a gap in traffic. In a somewhat perverse way, this was an egalitarian culture, and it worked well for assertive, law-abiding bicyclists. Yielding to a visible, predictable, law-abiding bicyclist was less of an annoyance than yielding a motorist who was butting into line in traffic.

That is changing. More and more drivers have been trained that bicyclists belong in the door zone, by the dozens of miles of door zone bike lanes which cities and towns in the Boston area have been installing. And, every year there is a new crop of students at our colleges and universities, who don’t know any better than to fall into the trap which the cities and towns have set for them.

Oh, and now, rethinking the situation, there was a third possible choice: I could have waited at the green light on Eddy Street, then through the red light so I could start up Weston Street on a new green. I’d then get past the parked cars before the traffic behind me on Weston Street started to move. I wouldn’t be delaying anyone except myself — unless, of coruse, there was other traffic entering from Eddy Street — and there often is.

What would you choose?

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Commonwealth Avenue and the BU campus

The Boston cyclists Union and Livable Streets are promoting cycle tracks for Commonwealth Avenue.

The bicycle industry’s Astroturf advocacy organization, Peoplefor Bikes, is asking people to sign a petition in support of them.

Not a good idea. Cycle tracks on Commonwealth Avenue won’t prevent the most common car-bike crashes (crossing and turning collisions, doorings — though some doorings will be replaced by walk-outs and other types of collisions). No treatment of any kind on Commonwealth Avenue can provide convenient and attractive bicycle routes through the Boston University campus. Paul Schimek has a different proposal for Commonwealth Avenue, and I have extended that to look at the more general issue of bicycle mobility around the campus.

For details:

Paul Schimek’s study of crashes on Commonwealth Avenue is published here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/240561402/Comma-Ve-Report-Sept-22

My comments on Commonwealth Avenue and the BU cmapus are online here: http://john-s-allen.com/pdfs/Allen_2014-10-11_comments.pdf

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Bike Lane Goes Under

A new version of Google Street View allows views of the same location at different times, very helpful in tracing the history of road projects.

The view below of Massachusetts Avenue eastbound, just east of Harrison Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts is from August of 2009. Through lanes shift from left to right following a bus stop and before the start of a left-turn lane.

Massachusetts Avenue eastbound east of Harrison Avenue, 2009

Massachusetts Avenue eastbound east of Harrison Avenue, 2009

The Google Street View in the image below is from July, 2011, showing a a recently-installed bike lane. The travel lanes now go straight. To allow a third lane to start earlier, bike lane stripes duplicate the taper of the previous gore (no-drive zone) into the curb. A very similar photo was posted by DotBikes (bicycling advocacy organization for the Dorchester section of Boston).

Vanishing bike lane at Massachusetts Avenue east of Harrison Avenue

Vanishing bike lane at Massachusetts Avenue east of Harrison Avenue

The Street View photo below is from a little farther along the street and was taken in November, 2011, several months after the installation.  The sign on the second lamppost reads “left lane must turn left” but for the Google camera and for drivers who sit high in the cabs of their vehicles, a solar panel for a Hubway kiosk obscures the sign.

Signage following installation

Signage following installation

The next year, the Hubway installation had been pulled a few feet farther from the sign, and in 2013 it had been moved somewhere else entirely.

The tapered bike lane is still there three years later in this view from May, 2014. This view shows the intent of the design, with the dashed line as the bike lane tapers out: motorists merge right into the right-hand lane, pushing bicyclists to the curb. Bicyclists are encouraged to ride along next to the curb, though the curb lane is not wide enough for side-by-side lane sharing.

Bike lane as of 2014.

Bike lane as of 2014.

A little farther along as of May 2014, there is a “share the road” sign, followed by a shared-lane marking placed close to the right side of the lane.

Share-the-road sign and SLM near right side of travel lane

Share-the-road sign and SLM near right side of travel lane

The design intent is quite clear here: where the bike lane ends, bicyclists are supposed to move over to the curb so motorists can overtake them in a lane which is too narrow for safe overtaking. This installation promotes unsafe edge riding, ironically through use of the shared-lane marking and share-the-road sign which are meant to promote bicyclists’ riding centered in the lane.

A better installation here would simply terminate the bike lane and place shared-lane markings in the  center of the right-hand lane after the bike lane ends. It’s also fair to ask why the sidewalks here have to be so unnecessarily wide.  If you look back through the photos, you’ll see vehicles parked on the sidewalk including one large truck unloading. The sidewalk is so wide that these are no impediment to pedestrians. If not for those wide sidewalks, there would be room for side-by-side lane sharing here. I suppose that it’s fair to ask where the trucks would unload, but actually there’s enough room for off-street loading zones too, the sidewalks are so wide.

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I-90 Interchange project announcement

Governor Patrick makes the announcement

Governor Patrick makes the announcement

Governor Deval Patrick announces commitment to a major expansion in the I-90 Interchange project, 2:40 PM, September 18, 2014, Beacon Yards, Allston section of Boston, Massachusetts. The abandoned rail yards are now a 22-acre wasteland in the middle of the City of Boston. Funding, 1/3 from the Commonwealth, 1/3 from Harvard University and 1/3 from an unnamed third party will expand the project beyond repacement of an aging Turnpike viaduct, to construct West Station, providing rail access to the Boston University campus; improved rail service; bicycle and pedestrian connections including crossings of the barrier which the rail yards have imposed for many decades; This is the biggest development project in Boston since the filling of Back Bay over 100 years ago. I bicycled 7 miles each way in the rain to be there for the announcement, and I don’t regret it one bit!

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A British study clarifies the problem with trucks

I thank Bob Shanteau, California traffic engineer and cyclist, for this link.

The paper, from the U.K., puts numbers on the problem with bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities in collisions with large trucks.

A quote:

Lorries are involved in around 4,200 fatal accidents in Europe every year, according to the European Transport Safety Council. In Belgium, 43% of cycling fatalities involve lorries, while in the Netherlands it’s 38% and 33% in the UK. Lorries cause more than 50% of cyclist deaths in some cities, like London.

And another:

The analysis highlighted the time lapse between drivers checking mirrors, making observations through a window, and then pulling away. ‘If this time period is four seconds, this is enough time for a cyclist to undertake the HGV, with the driver being unaware of his or her presence,’ the paper says.

Bob posted the link on facebook, and a discussion is underway.

The study recommends that trucks be designed for better visibility.

That would help if the bicyclist is next to the cab, or in front of the truck, but a bicyclist who has not yet advanced as far as the cab is only going to be visible in a mirror, or not at all.

Knowledgeable bicyclists avoid riding into this trap, but the cities of Boston and Cambridge — now increasingly, other communities, invite bicyclists into it with bike lanes striped up to intersections and past driveways where trucks turn right.

The cities’ actions place all the responsibility for preventing the collisions on the truckers’ seeing and avoiding bicyclists whom, as the study shows, they often cannot see.

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Report on Route 9 reconstruction in Natick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary, we believe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

In reality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cycle track allow access to/from several driveways on the opposite side of the street only by threading between parallel-parked cars.

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

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

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

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



Google Street Views

Newspaper articles and blog posts

Sources of inaccurate information about the cycle track:

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

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

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

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

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Separate but equal

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

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

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

“What was that honk about,” I ask.

“You should be riding over there.”

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

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

“That isn’t the law.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following was enacted as Chapter 396 of the Acts of 2004 and is in Chapter 90, section 1E of the General Laws. Boldface is mine.

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

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

Problems with this section:

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

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

In Chapter 90, Section 1C, we also have

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

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

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

House version:

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

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

And latest Senate version as of August 29, 2014:

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

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

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Columbus Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue Follow-Up

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

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

Boston Globe photo of collision at Columbus Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue

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

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

Google overhead view of Massachusetts Avenue and Columbus Avenue

Google overhead view of Massachusetts Avenue and Columbus Avenue

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

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

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

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

Massachusetts Avenue looking northwest from Columbus Avenue

Massachusetts Avenue looking northwest from Columbus Avenue, August 2013

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

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

View from Massachusetts Avenue, July, 2011

View from Massachusetts Avenue, July, 2011

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

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

Columbus Avenue approaching Massachusetts Avenue, August, 2013

Columbus Avenue approaching Massachusetts Avenue, August, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Columbus Avenue lookng southwest, August, 2009.

Columbus Avenue lookng southwest, August, 2009.

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

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

Looking down Massachusetts Avenue to the southeast

Looking down Massachusetts Avenue to the southeast

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

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

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

Looking down Columbus Avenue to the southwest

Looking down Columbus Avenue to the southwest

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

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

Now, let’s try to draw some conclusions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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