Report on Longfellow Bridge public meeting, July 10, 2013

I attended the Longfellow Bridge public meeting on July 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I endorsed the widening of the Charles River Dam road.

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

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

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

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

Reid reopens July 19? (Don’t know).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIT planning: alternate bus out of Kendall?

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

*********

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

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

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2 Responses to Report on Longfellow Bridge public meeting, July 10, 2013

  1. anon says:

    “the consultant stressed that there will be a lot of public outreach — e-mail advisories, Red Line alerts, a hotline for phone messages. ”

    I’ve been keeping an eye on this project. Yet the first I heard about this weekend’s Red Line diversion was a poster in a station that went up Wednesday.

  2. jsallen says:

    I’ve been getting e-mails, but then I signed up for them at the public meeting.

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