My comments on the Fore River Bridge

I submitted the comments below in response to the Massbike comments here:

http://massbike.org/blog/2012/02/24/massdot-make-the-fore-river-bridge-better-for-biking/

The comments below are a slightly expanded version of ones I left on that Massbike blog post.

I see that the page now indicates “comments are closed”. Well, not only closed, but mine were deleted.

Brief summary: bicyclists and pedestrians could better be accommodated when this bridge is reconstructed, by striping bike lanes and having a single, wide sidewalk. On shorter bridges, it is preferable to have a sidewalk on each side to minimize pedestrian trip distances, but that is hardly an issue here. The bridge is long, and it would be easy to construct an underpass for sidewalk connections at each end. Guiding principle: every time a longitudinal barrier is installed on a bridge, its effective width decreases because of the width of the barrier itself, because of shy distance (you don’t want to ride or drive close to a curb or guardrail) and because of the loss of flexibility in use of the bridge’s width. That is why I am for the single, wide sidewalk and it is one reason among several that I oppose the “cycle tracks.”

March 24, 2012

Thomas F. Broderick, P.E.,
Acting Chief Engineer,
MassDOT,
10 Park Plaza,
Boston, MA 02116
Attn.:Michael O’Dowd,
Project File No. 604382

Dear Mr. Broderick:

I am writing in response to comments made by the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (Massbike) about the Fore River Bridge project. I regret not having responded within the comment period for the recent public hearing, but Massbike only made its comments public after the comment period had closed.

Massbike has made the following points in its comments, posted at this web address:

http://www.massbike.org/2012/02/23/massdot-make-the-fore-river-bridge-better-for-biking/

• A “bike-accommodating shoulder” is insufficient with 32,000 vehicles a day going 40 mph (at least) over the bridge;
• At these speeds and volumes, five feet is insufficient for most bicyclists;
• The shoulder needs to be expressly designated for bicycles;
• As is, many bicyclists will use the sidewalks instead of the “bike-accommodating shoulder”. This increases the chances of a bike-pedestrian crash.

In response:

A 12-foot travel lane adjacent to a 5-foot bike lane or shoulder, adjacent to a curb, is ample even with 50-mph traffic — 17 feet in all! This exceeds Massachusetts standards and is way more than has been proposed in many other locations, for example the Craigie Bridge, with 10-foot travel lanes and 4-foot bike lanes. Also, with bike lanes or shoulders, bicyclists, moped and motor scooter operators (who are also allowed to use bike lanes) will be able to merge partly or completely out into the adjacent travel lane to overtake. The bike lane might even by widened to 6 feet by narrowing the adjacent travel lane to 11 feet.

Massbike specifically recommends “cycle tracks” behind curbs. There is no reason to expect that cycle tracks would be any wider than bike lanes, but then, the width is no longer ample. Riding near the curb adjacent to the roadway poses the risk of a front-wheel diversion fall, while the curb will do nothing to exclude the rare hazard of an out-of-control motor vehicle. The curb will prevent cyclists who go off into the roadway from getting back up — so, when there are large numbers of users, faster ones are prevented from overtaking and merging back in. This is especially a concern on an arched bridge where speeds are high as cyclists descend, and as the popularity of mopeds, motor scooters and electrically-assisted bicycles is increasing. Mopeds and motor scooters are slower than other motorized traffic, but they are not allowed on paths: legally, a cycle track is a path. It is a nonstandard in both the AASHTO and Massachusetts guides, in that it is not far enough from the roadway, or separated from the roadway by a bicycle-safe barrier.

A second curb also greatly complicates snow removal, meaning that snow will end up piled on the cycle track. A second curb requires relocation of storm drains, and provides a second gutter where trash, snow and ice can accumulate. There is additional expense in construction as well.

Rumble strips aren’t mentioned, but I must mention them in case MassDOT is thinking of installing them. They would reduce the usable width of the shoulders and in my opinion would create more problems than they would solve here. If installed, they should be immediately adjacent to the travel lanes, of minimal depth and width, and have gaps to allow merging.

I further must ask what is the need for a sidewalk on both sides of this rather long bridge. A sidewalk on one side could be twice as wide, accommodating bicyclists who would prefer not to ride on the roadway — a legitimate concern. There would, certainly, need to be caution and speed warning signs. The faster cyclists should be directed to the roadway. A single, wider sidewalk would be easier to keep open in winter.

In response to Massbike’s comments (not quoted here) about the Whittier Bridge, I actively supported the separate two-way shared-use path on one side of that bridge as a member of the Massachusetts Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board (term-limited off the board, January, 2012). The path is a workable solution where most traffic is recreational and adequate width is available, though it will be hard to keep open for bicyclists through winter. It connects to paths at both ends, so it doesn’t add any access problem they don’t already have. I’d like to see access for bicyclists and light motorized two-wheelers on shoulders on that bridge too, though it may be too much to ask for. The Fore River bridge is different: it is in an urban area and will carry substantial utility cycling traffic. It is important that its bicycle, moped and motor scooter accommodations be kept open through winter.

The Fore River bridge, with no crossing or turning movements, does not pose the hazards of the new Concord Avenue bikeway westbound, which crosses 24 driveways and 7 streets in 3000 feet, flying in the face of decades of safety research. I’m appalled that Massbike regards that bikeway as a positive example — my comments are here: http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?p=859

I agree with Massbike that the scope of the project should be expanded to address access at the ends of the bridge. The crossing and turning issues are at the ends, especially at the rotary, and need to be addressed, preferably by providing an alternate route away from the rotary and connecting the ends of the bridge with local streets. These issues also need to be addressed for pedestrians.

The Google map: http://tinyurl.com/ylfvove shows the situation on and near the bridge. There are streets at the west end of the bridge that come up almost to the bridge sidewalk, and there appears to be room for an underpass. At the east end, there are connecting paths and an underpass already, though there may be the need for a couple of additional connections to enable the use of a single sidewalk, and bicycle connections from the roadway to streets on both sides of Route 3A.

Thank you for your attention.

Very truly yours,

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