Some Plain Talk about Plainville

The town manager in Plainville, Massachusetts, has complained about a new bike lane which has been installed in connection with upgrading of a casino by the side of Washington Street, US Route 1. He thinks that the bike lane should be removed, because he considers it unsafe. You may hear about this in a news story including video on the TV Channel 10 Web site.

The design of the bike lane is, however, correct in some ways which the town manager and the news reporters do not mention and evidently do not understand. Right-turn lanes are to the right of the bike lane at the entrance to the casino and a Route 495 on ramp, so motorists merge across the bike lane before turning right, rather than cutting off bicyclists as they turn right. There is a buffer between the bike lane and the through lane, for clearance from passing motor traffic. With the new traffic signal at the casino entrance, this section of Route 1 is less of a speedway than it once was.

Photo by Mike George of the Sun-Chronicle newspaper

Photo by Mike George of the Sun-Chronicle newspaper

Not clear in the still from the video on the Web page, but clear in a photo in a Sun Chronicle newspaper article, reproduced here, is that the project includes 5-foot long  slots for sunken reflectorized pavement makers, which can steer the wheels out from under a bicyclist, and should never be installed anywhere except on a limited-access highway. Also, there is no sidewalk.

Comments by the TV reporter that the bike lane starts and ends abruptly might be taken further. A bicyclist must pass an on-ramp, an off-ramp and another on-ramp after the end of the bike lane at the Route 495 intersection. Before each on-ramp, there is a concrete rumble strip, see Google Street View.

Tellingly, while the town administrator complains that bicycling is unsafe, he never mentions the lack of a sidewalk. His approach to safety is to eliminate bicycling, and as walking has already been effectively eliminated, he doesn’t even have to mention it. We can all drive cars, and so we can all be safe.

The TV reporter complains that he has to cut across a travel lane to reach the bike lane. Well, yeah, that is called a lane change, and any bicyclist needs to practice it as a matter of course, because it is necessary on any street, even on shared-use paths when the person in front of you is a pedestrian or a slower bicyclist. The reporter skids his rear wheel at the end of the video. It’s painful to watch — this kind of skid wears a tire out after only a few stops. Whether the reporter does that for effect or just because he doesn’t know how to use the brakes, I don’t know. And, as he skids, his front tire looks quite soft.

Neither the town administrator nor the TV reporter accounts for differing skill levels of bicyclists. In the Sun-Tribune article, Richard Fries of Massbike is interviewed and properly makes the case for education and law enforcement, but also, a situation which looks unsafe and in fact is unsafe for a child, novice or untrained cyclist may be entirely reasonable for a skillful, adult cyclist. Traffic conditions also vary greatly from hour to hour and day to day. I might sometime have the opportunity to put those statements to a test by actually riding through the installation, and if so, you’ll read about that here. I’ll take care though to avoid the slots in the pavement and the rumble strips.

Actually, it does appear that there is another entrance to the casino, on a path through the woods from quiet Mirimichi Street, off Route 152– see Google Earth aerial view. This entrance may have been used only during construction, or it may be for a utility connection or emergency access. An alternate emergency-access route is often required in case a main access is blocked — but also, an alternate entrance is often gated, and often only emergency responders are allowed to use it.

North of  Route 495 interchange, Route 1 actually is, if noisy and unpleasant, easy to ride and walkable, with wide shoulders paved to the same standard as the travel lanes — see Google Street View. South of Route 495, into the built-up part of Plainville, much of Route 1 could be described as a “traffic sewer” bordered by guardrails or by parking lots which come right up to the side of the travel lanes.

Bicycling and walking conditions were once tolerable on most of on Route 1. Degradation has occurred over a span of decades, with the worst insult being the Route 495 interchange. There are also no pedestrian crosswalks at the Route 152 intersection, see Google Street View. Well, there’s a logic to that, as there are no sidewalks to connect to crosswalks. As the area has become more built up over the years, more and more useful short trips might have been made on foot or by bicycle, but instead, they have been shut out bit by bit through highway redesign and non-planning of land use, in a death of a thousand cuts.

The bike lanes are a first, though certainly imperfect and incomplete attempt to remedy the situation. Fully accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians, though, would require a designated bicycle and pedestrian entrance to the casino, sidewalks along Route 1, and preferably an alternate crossing of Route 495 for bicyclists.

Who might cycle or walk to and from  the casino? Employees, and people who had made one too many trips there already and had to sell their cars :-) There are other people with other trips to make, too, including residents of nearby neighborhoods.

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New Product — ShelBroCo Magic Green Paint

Here’s a high-tech product which deserves to be used in every new bicycle infrastructure project. The linked page gives a thorough description and videos!

An example from one of the videos

An example from one of the videos

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Commonwealth Avenue victory?

I submitted the following comments in response to a Boston Globe article reporting on proposed bikeways on Commonwealth Avenue.

Real solutions to bicycle and pedestrian mobility in the Commonwealth Avenue corridor can be found by connecting parallel streets, an initiative which ties in well with the proposed Allston Turnpike Interchange Project. I have commented on these issues at length.

Convenient bicycle travel for the student population in the Commonwealth Avenue corridor isn’t practical on Commonwealth Avenue itself. Why not? Because it has a median with few crossings. Any separated bikeway, or the adjacent sidewalk, will attract wrong way traffic. To follow the right-way rule, a bicyclist will have to start a trip traveling opposite the desired direction, cross the Avenue, travel past the destination, cross again and then double back.

Commonwealth Avenue cross section. This was published in two halves in the Boston Globe.

Commonwealth Avenue cross section. This was published in two halves in the Boston Globe.

The term “protected bike lane” is propaganda. Most car-bicycle crashes occur due to crossing and turning movements at intersections. Hiding bicyclists behind parked vehicles until shortly before each intersection is no solution to this problem.

In addition, the proposed 6.5 foot wide bikeways, between curbs, are too narrow for one bicyclist safely to overtake another. All will be limited to the speed of the slowest. Turning motorists will have to stop and wait for through-traveling bicyclists in the separate bikeways, seriously increasing congestion. Plowing the narrow bikeways is impractical, and in their gutter location at street level as shown in the cross-section drawing, they will catch and refreeze meltwater from snow plowed from the travel lanes.

Shoehorning third-rate bikeways into a major road reconstruction project is a politically convenient but unimaginative and impractical way to go. A bolder, broader initiative is needed, and in the case of the Commonwealth Avenue corridor, real solutions are not hard to envision.

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A letter to a neighbor

March 8, 2015

To my neighbor at [address]:

Aside from the usual traffic interactions, I had two unusual ones this morning while riding my bicycle to and from church.

On my way home, I passed some neighbors who were walking their dogs on Villa Street. One of the dogs tugged at the leash and barked at me. I heard the man holding the leash say: “Sit, sit! I don’t know what’s wrong with you! It’s just a man on a bike!” I rode a few hundred feet and then decided to turn around and ask “can I help your dog understand bicycles?” I stopped 100 feet short of them so as not to agitate the dog again. The man agreed, they walked up to me and the dog sniffed around at me as a friendly dog will. The man said “he’s friendly: he just gets weird around bikes.” Well, maybe now the dog will know better. That friendly interaction made my day.

The other incident was on Bedford Street on my way to church. The traffic signal changed to green and I had just pulled across South Street when a driver behind me leaned on the horn, over and over. It’s clear that this driver wanted to pass me. I lowered my left hand in a slow signal. The honking continued.

TThere were parked cars on the right and approaching cars on the left, on a street narrowed by snow. I wasn’t going to risk my life by sneaking off to the right into the range of a car door which might open and inviting a pass which would barely clear my elbow. But, after a few seconds, the approaching cars had passed behind us and the street widened out. That’s where the driver – you — passed me, just as you would have been able to without the horn honking. Was it worth the aggravation?

I don’t think that I own the road. I extend every reasonable courtesy to other people who are using the road. But you don’t own the road either. The rules are the same for motorists and bicyclists: first come, first served, and pass only when safe. That’s the traffic law. There’s no special right for you because your car can travel at the speed limit, while a bicycle, backhoe with a snowplow, or semi-trailer truck going uphill can’t. I don’t have to pull off the road, stop and wait to let you by, when you will have a safe opportunity to pass in a few seconds. Certainly, if I am causing an unreasonable delay, I’ll pull aside and stop. But if you think that the delay I caused you – much shorter than the delay at the traffic signal or any number of other delays on our narrow, snowbound streets, was unreasonable, please think again.

Sir, your horn honking was harassment, it spoiled my mood for the church service and until I encountered the dog walkers, and what makes it more irksome is that as you passed, I immediately identified you as my long-time, close neighbor. I don’t know that I’ve ever met you, but you have had the same, short, easily recognized license plate number ever since I moved into this neighborhood over 25 years ago. I have walked, driven and bicycled past your home thousands of times. On my way home I saw the same car, same license plate, parked right where I expected, at [address].

So, sir, I am asking for an apology from you unless you have some very convincing reason, on the order of “I was on the way to the hospital to give birth, and the baby was about to come out!” But that didn’t look to be so. Please reserve the car horn for real emergencies, to avoid “cry wolf” situations and bad feelings. I really don’t want to have to think “this neighbor of mine is a jerk!” every time I pass your home, so please respond appropriately, and all will be forgiven.

Very truly yours, your neighbor,

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Boston Police bicycle training

Are the Boston Police getting the training they need to be safe and effective on bicycles?

I don’t think so. I don’t know how they train, but I have seen how they perform.

In another post, I described how a participant in a protest march pushed a Boston bicycle patrol officer over — intentionally or not, it isn’t clear. Evidently, the officers’ task was to prevent the march from spilling out from the street onto the sidewalks. The officer who fell — and others on both sides of the phalanx of marchers — were astride their bicycles, as shown also in the photo below. For crowd control, officers should stand with the bicycles between them and the crowd.

Officers standing over bicycles at December 13, 2014 protest march. Boston Globe photo by John Tlumacki.

Officers standing over bicycles at December 13, 2014 protest march

Some of the officers in the photos have their feet up on the curb. They are sitting on the saddle, not compatible with the best astride-the-bike stopping and restarting technique. The video below shows officers’ awkwardness in basic mounting and dismounting.

Correct starting and stopping techniques are described on this Web page. The video below shows the astride-the-bike technique.

A police officer from another city describes the techniques taught in International Police Mountain Bike Association training courses:

Disengage pedal from your retention. Swing the drivetrain (right) leg across, stand on the left pedal with the left foot, the right foot tucks behind the left at the ankle. You can now coast for a ways or step forward off the bike onto the ground (right foot first) and away from the bike – that is a dismount and exit. It is simple and works whether going fast or slower, in tactical situations, suspect contacts, or normal stops. With practice the rider can use their right foot to lower and engage a rear-mounted kickstand, mounted on the rear stays instead of behind the bottom bracket. With the kickstand down, the rider can walk away from the bike leaving it upright on the stand.

Looking at the videos again it seems they had an assortment of pedal retention, but it appears a number have none at all. That makes mounts, dismounts, and starts even easier to learn and perform, but more dangerous over obstacles where pedal retention helps hold the foot securely on the pedal.

For a simple stop, swing across to the left side, stand on the left pedal and put the right foot onto the ground either in front or behind the pedal – both work. The balance needs to be centered and care used on the front brake. An endo is still possible in that position. Officers are not encouraged to stop with the bike between their legs when dealing with a suspect or an unknown person. You can’t fight or react with a bike between your legs. It is obviously seen as okay at a stop sign, traffic signal, etc. They are encouraged to move forward off the saddle, having downshifted, and put their bike into a power pedal position. We also teach a power slide to dismount. EMS mostly uses road style techniques due to the balance they have with heavily loaded bags.

For starts we  teach the technique you call the cowboy – also the road start where they swing over and straddle the bike, put bike into the power pedal and pedal away, and a modified cycle-cross. Push the bike forward, jump across the saddle and land on the saddle, perhaps not centered, power the first pedal that reaches your feet. I don’t know that we address the issue of starting on an incline unless a student brings it up. We require use of some sort of pedal retention, so that becomes in an issue early in class. Most use toe clips with straps or strapless toe clips.

There’s also the image below — found during an unrelated Google Maps expedition. Boston Police wait at a traffic light to cross into Franklin Park to go on patrol. The officers all have a foot on the low pedal, ready only for a shuffle start, not a power pedal start. An orderly and lawful stop behind the stop line and a brisk restart would have been more appropriate, more polite for the pedestrian and motorist in the photo, and a better example to citizens who ride bicycles.

Police wait in disarray at Elm Hill Avenue and Seaver Street in the Roxbury section of Boston

Police wait in disarray at Elm Hill Avenue and Seaver Street in the Roxbury section of Boston

This image in Google Maps

Here’s a Google Maps image from a few seconds earlier, showing that the pedestrian had to walk behind the group of police officers who had stopped in the crosswalk.

The pedestrian had to make her way around the police to cross in the crosswalk

The pedestrian had to make her way around the police to cross in the crosswalk.

This image in Google Maps.

Boston police also ride opposite the flow of traffic, for no evident reason, and violate the traffic law in other ways. The photo is from Congress Street, downtown Boston, November 18, 2009, 12:30 PM. I observed the officer riding a whole block opposite traffic.

Boston police officer riding opposite traffic in the door zone

Boston police officer riding opposite traffic in the door zone

There’s another example of a Boston police officer riding opposite traffic, with additional comments, on another page.

At the very least, what I have observed does not conform to best bicycling practice, or to good police practice. And it matters, for the sake of the officers’ safety and the effectiveness of their mission.

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Narrow-Gauge Rail Trail, Bedford: safer to walk across the street?

The photo below, from summaer 2011, is a cylindrical panorama: Hillside Road, at the right, is at a right angle to Route 4-225 (the Great Road) at the left. The Narrow Gauge Rail Trail runs from front to rear in the photo, alongside Hillside Road and (at the rear) Bacon Street. (Google map of the location) You can click on the photo to enlarge it and get a better view.

Route 4-225 and Spring Street, Bedford, Massachusetts, USA

Panorama — Trail at Route 4-225 and Hillside Road, Bedford, Massachusetts, USA

There are heavy, steel gates across the trail at either side of Route 4-225, so bicyclists must thread through narrow openings. Someone has posted a sign, “Walk bikes in crosswalk for your own safety.”

Is walking really safer? My take is that it depends on who you are. If your bike-handling skills are lacking, it probably is safer, because you will be able to pay more attention to the traffic in the cross street.

If your bike-handling skills are good, that is, if you can slow nearly to a stop without losing your balance, look around for traffic and accelerate smartly, riding will be safer, because you get across the street sooner, and you are more maneuverable riding the bicycle than walking next to it.

In either case, the bicycle will be broadside to the traffic as you cross in the crosswalk, a much wider target for an errant motorist to avoid than a pedestrian without a bicycle.

My own preference is to avoid using the path here entirely, entering the intersection as a bicycle driver on the street, so I do not have to look behind myself for turning traffic. Car-bike collisions are common when motorists turn in front of bicyclists on paths which run alongside roads.

As to those steel gates: well, they’ll slow down most people, only causing a crash occasionally if someone fails to see a gate, or collides with a post threading through a narrow gap. There are better ways to slow bicycle traffic where a path approaches a street: for example, see the third photo from the top on this page.

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Boston Police tactics at the December 13, 2014 protest

I express my appreciation to the Boston Police for crowd control without excessive force at December 13’s protest march. Anything less would have been very unfortunate, particularly in connection with a peaceful march protesting use of force and police immunity from prosecution.

But there’s a different issue with police conduct at the march. A Boston Globe news story  includes the report that “[t]here was also a brief altercation on Tremont Street near Boston Common, when a protester was pushed into an officer on a bicycle. The protester appeared to become angry and kicked the bicycle’s rear tire, causing the officer to fall. The officer rose and tackled the protester to the ground, but did not detain or arrest him.” The caption to the photo below, which ran with the story, reads “A Boston officer grabbed a protester who had knocked him off his bike on Tremont Street; the officer later let him go without charges.”

Police and protester scuffle on Tremont Street, December 14, 2014

Police and protester scuffle on Tremont Street, December 14, 2014 (John Tlumacki photo for the Boston Globe)

Where this happened: (Google Street View)

Good police practice? If you’re around suspects or people you don’t know/trust, you don’t straddle the bike unless you are riding it. The officer in the back in the photo is also astride his bicycle.

Here’s another photo taken a few minutes earlier:

Boston police bicycle patrol lines up astride bicycle at start of protext march.

Boston police bicycle patrol lines up astride bicycles at start of protest march (John Tlumacki photo for the Boston Globe).

This photo was taken when the march had just started from Boston Common (Google Street View). The police officers were straddling their bicycles, at risk of being pushed over, as one in fact was.

The officers should have been walking alongside the bicycles, keeping the bicycles between themselves and the protestors and using the bicycles as a shield. These officers need to get to an IPMBA Bicycle Rapid Response class.

IPMBA is the International Police Mountain Bike Association, which trains police, paramedics and security guards in effective use of the bicycle.

The IPMBA blog offers an example of crowd control in Seattle. Quoting from the blog post:  “On Monday night, when violence broke out during what had been peaceful protests, police officers, behind a wall of bikes, pushed protesters back in what some say is becoming the cutting edge of crowd control.” There is also a video showing these tactics. The Seatlle protest was not peaceful, and the police response wasn’t pretty either, but on the other hand, it’s quite clear that the Seattle police tactics prevented injuries and property damage.

Police in some Massachusetts communities are trained by an outfit called COBWEB — Cops on Bikes with Education for Bicyclists — which has a very meager online presence. An officer from another city says this about training of Boston police:

“COBWEB has no connection to IPMBA at all. Boston EMS IS IPMBA trained and their Deputy Director Neal Blackington is also past Vice President of IPMBA and a really good guy. I’m not sure if BPD even uses COBWEB, they probably do their own thing. But I’m not sure. I know that Cambridge was using IPMBA years ago, but I have no idea now.”

A deeper examination of bicycling and police practice would have led the Globe to cite poor police tactics as contributing to the incident on Tremont Street, as I have done. Further examination might tell us more about training of Boston police and about COBWEB.

(I have used Boston Globe photos and text in this article as commentary, under fair-use provisions of copyright law.)

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Commonwealth Avenue project: Public meeting of December 10, 2014

I attended the meeting at Boston University about Commonwealth Avenue in the evening of December 10, 2014. It was a day of unusually heavy rain. I got to the meeting about 1/2 hour late because of delays on the MBTA Riverside light rail line. Buses were running between Fenway and Kenmore stations while a barrier was being constructed to prevent the Muddy River from flooding the tunnel, causing millions of dollars in damage as happened 18 years ago in October 1996. (Better late than never…) The train stopped three times and waited for several minutes each time, between stations so I could not get off.

When I arrived at the meeting, Jeff Rosenblum from the Cambridge Community Development Department had already spoken. Pete Stidman of the Boston Cyclists Union was speaking. Stidman used Paul Schimek’s study of crashes on Commonwealth Avenue to promote sidepaths for crash reduction. This was opposite Schimek’s conclusion.

Stidman showed a street cross section with 8-foot parking lanes, 11-foot curb right-hand travel lanes; the other travel lanes would be 10 feet wide. In the image below, bicycle sidepaths (not “cycle tracks” — they are at sidewalk level) are in green. Bicyclists would cross streets in crossbikes adjacent to crosswalks.

If you look carefully at the drawing, you might also notice some odd things about it.

  • For westbound motor traffic, there is what I call a “musical chairs” intersection. Three travel lanes go in, but only two go out. So, motorists would have to merge from three to two lanes inside the intersection, looking back for overtaking traffic while also checking for crossing bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • Cars are shown parked on the median waiting area for the T station, and in one of the sidepaths.
  • Bicycle symbols are strewn around at odd locations.

Charlie Denison (see his comment) has pointed out that the left lane westbound is a turn lane and that the issues with misplaced vehicles and symbols appear to have resulted from an error in formatting the drawing.
(You can click on the drawing to enlarge it, if you like).

Street cross section as described  by Pete Stidman

Street cross section as described by Pete Stidman

By narrowing the roadway to place the sidepaths at sidewalk level, as on Vassar Street in Cambridge, this designs would literally be set in stone.

Stidman praised an intersection design which would set back the sidepaths from the side of the roadway so one turning car would have room to wait and yield to a bicyclist. If a second car or a longer vehicle had to wait, it would block through traffic on the roadway. This already happens with pedestrians, but bicyclists add to the delay, and are at greater risk because they approach the intersection at higher speeds, so they are hidden from turning motorists by other bicyclists and pedestrians waiting to cross in crosswalks. As I’ll discuss later, the temptation to ride opposite the direction of traffic will be irresistible — and entering an intersection opposite the direction of traffic is highly hazardous.

Pete Stidman shows a plan for right-turning traffic to yield to through-traveling bicyclists.

Pete Stidman shows a plan for right-turning traffic to yield to through-traveling bicyclists.

Stidman also cited a New York City report of a 40% reduction in crashes when a cycle track was installed (not saying what kinds of crashes or which cycle track); also data claiming an increase in business on 9th Avenue in Manhattan.

Stidman cites new York report

Stidman cites New York report

The devil is in the details. I’ve said nice things about the 9th Avenue bikeway, especially  its ample width and signalization at all intersections — though it does have flaws. There are other New York City on-street separated bikeways which are thoroughly unsuccessful. I have comments, photo galleries and videos of several New York bikeways online, in case you wish to explore that topic further.

Robert Sloane from WalkBoston spoke next and expressed support on grounds that cycle tracks would make things better for pedestrians. He suggested the MIT campus as a counterexample to the BU campus: both are along the Charles River and with a major highway between the campus and the river, but the MIT campus has internal routes for bicycling, wide sidewalks and sidepaths, on Vassar Street. (Actually, the BU west campus is completely cut off from the riverfront by the Turnpike. East of the BU bridge there are only two overpasses over Soldiers Field Road, one of which has ramps, the other, stairs. The MIT campus connects to the riverfront with several crosswalks.) Sloane said nothing about the potential for internal routes on and near the BU campus, which I think hold great promise and which I have discussed at length on this blog.

A young woman from Massbike spoke, extolling the purported economic benefits of increased bicycle mode share.

A representative of BU spoke, and Traffic Commissioner Gillooly from the City of Boston also spoke. Of note, they both praised the efforts of BU Bikes, the regional advocacy organizations and the commenters, but they made no design commitment. The BU presenter described BU’s efforts to date, consisting of the construction of bike lanes and the reinforcement of their message (motor vehicles keep out, bicyclists stay in) with retroreflective pavement markers.

Followign the presentations, the first commenter came on stage with her 5 year old daughter and supported the sidepaths because they would supposedly make Commonwealth Avenue a safe place for her 5 year old to ride. She described an incident with a close pass from a trucker when she was riding with her daughter.

The first commenter

The first commenter

Most commenters expressed that the sidepaths would improve conditions on Commonwealth Avenue. There were several who described the sidepaths as a solution to the problems with doorings, and having to merge out to overtake vehicles which had stopped in the bike lane.

There were a few commenters who expressed various light criticisms. Nobody spoke up in outright opposition to the sidepaths or described alternatives to them. Bicyclist Rebecca Albrecht was the most negative, expressing that the proposed sidepaths were too narrow at 5 feet and that faster bicyclists would not be able safely to overtake slower ones: sidepaths the Netherlands are 6 1/2 feet, and are being widened to 8 feet. One commenter who lives near the west end of the project objected to the longer walking distances which would be required to cross from Naples Road to Shaw’s Supermarket with the installation of a 1000-foot median barrier.

I had signed up to comment, but having arrived late, I was one of several people unable to comment because the meeting time ran out.

I attended the post-meeting party at Landry’s bicycle shop and talked at length with Jeff Ferris, owner of Ferris Wheels bicycle shop, who also had arrived at the meeting (later than I did — in the rain and by bicycle). Jackie Douglas of Livable Streets was in on the discussion of parallel routes and expressed that “that’s huge” — though Livable Streets was one of the organizations supporting the sidepaths.

I made an audio recording of the part of the meeting I attended and I’d be happy to share it. A video was recorded by Brilliant Gem Productions: contact person is Alex Nenopoulos, reachable at

My opinions remain as expressed in my letter of October 11. Last night’s meeting revealed design details which highlighted the following issues for me, which I’m sure are troubling to the City:

      • Narrow lanes proposed by the advocates and promoted as a way to reduce travel speed will increase friction and the risk of collisions. The lane widths proposed by Pete Stidman are not wide enough safely to accommodate a bus or truck with protruding mirrors. In the images below the truck and bus are nearly kissing mirrors.
      • Also rather than there being a bike lane in the door zone, motorists in the right-hand travel lane will be driving in the door zone. Motorists who have parked will be unable to open a door or safely to walk around their vehicles if there is traffic in the next lane. I’ve modified the illustrations below from ones by Keri Caffrey. The vehicles in the travel lanes are a transit bus and and large truck. In the first drawing, the parked vehicle is a Toyota Camry. Its driver’s side door would strike the side of the bus if opened. In the second drawing, the vehicle is a Ford F150 pickup truck — for better or worse, the highest-selling motor vehicle. Its width is typical of larger vehicles which park on Commonwealth Avenue.
The Toyota Camry's door would strike the side of the bus if opened.

The Toyota Camry’s door would strike the side of the bus if opened.

The driver could not open the door far enough to exit the Ford f150 .

The driver could not open the door far enough to exit the Ford F150 .

        • Reducing the traveled width of Commonwealth Avenue to two narrow lanes eastbound will result in a reduction to one lane whenever a trucker has to stop to make a delivery, or anyone double-parks or has a breakdown, or there is a crash, or as I have already indicated, when more than one vehicle is waiting to turn right.
        • Commonwealth Avenue is a major bus route. How are buses to stop without, again, blocking a travel lane? The sidepath promoters repeatedly mentioned the need to get more people to use public transportation, but they never mentioned how to accommodate bus stops.
        • As Rebecca Albrecht stated, the proposed 5-foot sidepaths would be too narrow by Dutch standards, and certainly too narrow to accommodate bicyclists traveling at different speeds.
        • The claim that the narrow sidepaths would keep bicyclists off the sidewalks is unrealistic, also because the sidepaths are intended for one-way travel. Many cyclists will ride opposite traffic on the sidewalk rather than to cross 5 travel lanes and the Green Line median to use the cycle track on the far side of Commonwealth Avenue. The alternative would be to ride away from their destination, make a U-turn to the opposite cycle track, ride past their destination and make another U turn before finally reaching their destination.
        • Safety claims fall apart due to the unavoidable temptation to ride opposite traffic on sidewalks to avoid crossing cross the avenue twice for many trips. The image below, from  an August, 2009 Google Street View, illustrates the temptation. A light service vehicle, probably one rom Boston University, is traveling eastbound in the newly-installed westbound bike lane.
Light electric vehicle in bike lane on Commonwealth Avenue

Light electric vehicle in bike lane on Commonwealth Avenue

      • The temptation could be removed by providing a parallel route under the Boston University Bridge, as I have suggested. All in all, safe and low-stress bicycling in this corridor could be accommodated on parallel streets, not Commonwealth Avenue. The cycle track proposal, as is common with bicycling advocacy as of late, reflects not vision, looking toward optimal solutions, but opportunism, stuffing compromised and inadequate measures into a funded project.

There is to be another meeting, an actual design public hearing, probably in January.

See also:

Paul Schimek’s Facebook post about Commonwealth Avenue

BU Today story about the meeting

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People’s Pike or People’s Pillar to Post?

How would I like to think of the People’s Pike? I want to see a bicycle path and an adjacent footpath which avoid crossing and turning conflicts, passing under the ramps to the Turnpike and to the proposed West Station, with connections up to the overpasses to get to West Station and beyond, to Packard’s Corner and the Boston University campus.

Early proposals for the People’s Pike all showed it running parallel to the Turnpike where it could go under the ramps, but at the October 15 Task Force meeting, I saw three proposals for a bikeway through the project area. One proposal was for a route near the Turnpike. It would provide a direct connection between North Allston, West Station and the Paul Dudley White path, and it would have grade-separated crossings of least two– maybe all– of the four streets which lead to the Turnpike and West Station.

People's Pike direct route

Option 3J-1: direct route

The MassDOT presenters somehow thought that this would be a bad idea: the path would be next to a retaining wall, and there would be noise from the Turnpike.

I don’t understand why noise would be a major problem.  The retaining wall would reduce the noise, as the Turnpike would be up on an elevated structure for much of the route. Also, there’s been a lot of discussion of noise barriers, and I don’t see why the path couldn’t be pulled a bit farther from the Turnpike. For purposes of comparison, you might take your bicycle out onto Lincoln Street in North Allston. It runs alongside the Turnpike. There’s a noise barrier along part of Lincoln Street too , in case you would like to check out how that works.

Two other proposals were for paths alongside a new Cambridge Street South.

Option 3J-2: path alongside Cambridge Street

Option 3J-2: path alongside Cambridge Street

Another similar option

Another similar option

Somehow, the presenter at the meeting seemed to think that if there is a Cambridge Street South, then the bikeway has to run alongside it. But why, and what sense does it make for the bikeway to take that route — granted, that bicyclists making local trips will still have to use Cambridge Street. But is this a People’s Pike?

As shown in the overhead views, the route would follow the new Cambridge Street South down to Soldiers Field Road, turn more than 90 degrees, and go alongside Soldiers Field Road for a quarter-mile before crossing over to the Paul Dudley White paths. This is a 40% longer route, and need I say that Soldiers Field Road also is noisy? Also, there would have to be spurs to connect to West Station and Packard’s Corner. Trips between North Allston and those locations would be longer. (If you look carefully, you can see an additional Turnpike overpass in the drawings, to shorten the trip from the PDW path to West Station).

There are also other serious issues with travel time, and with safety.

All of the traffic to and from the the Turnpike and West Station, including heavy trucks and buses, would cross or turn at Cambridge Street South.

So, let’s consider: what is a cycle track? Simply stated, it is a bicycle path next to a busy street. Traffic in the cross streets crosses it. Traffic turns across it at every intersection and driveway. Signals at the intersections delay bicyclists. The delay makes the trip more inconvenient for people who are careful, but it makes for trouble for people who are less cautious or who don’t understand the hazards. At the driveways, there are no signals, and turning motorists must be extra-careful to avoid colliding with through-traveling bicyclists. Sometimes sight lines are blocked and it in only safe to inch forward. Not everyone does that.

In urban areas, turning and crossing collisions are the largest cause of serious and fatal bicycle crashes. The same issue can occur with a bike lane, or with a cycle track. If you think that a bikeway alongside a roadway rather than on it solves this problem, you might consider the many bicycle-motor vehicle collisions at street crossings on the Southwest Corridor path where it runs alongside Washington Street.

The Cambridge Street South proposals appear to be for a two-way bikeway on one side of  the street. This design poses the greatest dangers, because bicyclists arrive from more, and more unusual, directions.

There’s a noise and air quality issue too. Where there is a cycle track, there is an adjacent sidewalk, but the cycle track is always closer to the street traffic, and it’s at street level.

On the other hand, the parallel path proposal which would take the People’s Pike under the ramps would work for bicyclists at all skill levels, even children. The path need not be chock-a-block with the  Turnpike, either, because a bicycle underpass only has to be 10 feet high, while a Turnpike underpass has to be 17 feet high.

The MassDOT proposals with a path alongside the Turnpike would still have it cross two streets at ground level — as opposed to the four crossings (plus who knows how many  driveways) for the Cambridge Street proposals, and the one crossing in the Boston Society of Architects proposal at,

One of the Boston Society of Architects proposals

One of the Boston Society of Architects proposals

But let’s think big here: let’s think underpasses at all cross streets. The blank slate for new construction in the Beacon Yards area offers unparalleled flexibility in planning and design, and let’s take advantage of that.

Let me just put the question in the boldest terms: What do you want: a direct route between North Allston, West Station and the Charles River on a path with no street crossings, somewhere near a busy Turnpike frontage road and with the possibility of a noise barrier; or an indirect route alongside busy Cambridge Street and Soldiers Field Road, crossing four or five intersections with heavy motor traffic including bus and truck traffic, and who knows how many driveways?

Call it what you will, but only the one which avoids the cross traffic is a People’s Pike. The other proposals are People’s Pillar to Post, as far as I’m concerned.

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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, mostly.

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. The marker in the image is at the intersection of Weston Street and Eddy Street. Cars are 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.

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 the 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 course, there was other traffic entering from Eddy Street — and there often is.

What would you choose?

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