Category: Cambridge

Gearing Up: Plans for Bike Lanes on Craigie Bridge Move Forward

by Dan Murphy • January 31, 2019 • 

Following the end of the public comment period on Jan. 22, the state is now moving forward with plans to install dedicated bike lanes on the Craigie Bridge.

Current conditions on the bridge, which carries traffic on the McGrath O’Brien Highway (Route 28) between Land Boulevard in Cambridge and Leverett Circle in Boston, include six travel lanes with no dedicated bike lanes leaving bicyclists to use travel lanes or the sidewalks and no defined turn lane into the Museum of Science, according to The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

MassDOT and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) unveiled two bike-lane options, as well as planned safety improvements for the bridge, on Dec. 18 at the MIT Stratton Student Center in Cambridge.

New safety measures, which are slated for completion by this spring, include changing speed-limit signs to 25 mph; installing “speed feedback” radar signs; conducting road-safety audit; installing pavement-marking change; and installing flex posts if possible, according to MassDOT.

The design team presented two options for creating bike lanes, both of which would eliminate one traffic lane.

The first option, which was developed in 2008, would create continuous on-road bike lanes and maintain the existing sidewalks while providing two travel lanes in each direction and adding a left turn into the Museum of Science.

The alternative is just like the first option, except that it would create three travel lanes into Leverett Circle and restrict left turns into the Museum of Science.

The final design is expected to be presented in the winter of 2019, wrote MassDOT spokesman Maxwell Huber.

“O’Brien Highway is a key bike route between Cambridge and Boston,” according to a statement from the Boston Cyclists Union. “It’s also eight lanes wide in parts, with a high volume of truck traffic and speeding vehicles. Protected bike lanes are absolutely necessary to minimize conflicts on this road.”

The bridge was the site of a fatality on Nov. 9 of last year when 24-year-old Boston University Meng Jin,24, was struck and killed by a dump truck while biking there.

Stacy Thompson, executive director of the Cambridge nonprofit Livable Street Alliance, is pleased that the state is proceeding with the project, albeit more slowly than was originally anticipated.

“Citizens have been advocating for bike lanes since the late ‘90s…and we’ve been asking for these changes for more than a decade,” Thompson said. “There was a commitment when Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation project was complete that they would install the bike lanes, but there were various delays with that bridge and now that it is complete, we still don’t have the bike lanes [on the Craigie].”

While Thompson said she sees no merit in debating which alternative is preferable, especially since they were developed, at least in the case of the first option, more than a decade ago, she emphasizes that “the devil is in the details,” such as connectivity to the Charles River and whether or not buses can make a left turn into the Museum of Science.

“Having strong biking infrastructure is an absolute must, but they still have work to do so that the bridge can move the most people, which includes improving walking and biking infrastructure,” Thompson said.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone also said he was pleased that the project is moving forward while underscoring the bridge’s potentially hazardous conditions. “I think current situation is unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclist, and I think separated bike lanes should be installed with minimal disruption to current traffic,” Livingstone said. “I’m pleased that MassDOT is doing the public process with all stakeholders involved so that everyone has a say.”

State sees bicyclist unity on protected lanes, but safest path behind museum looks far off

Bicyclists gave feedback to state officials Tuesday on how to engineer safer travel near the Museum of Science, with improvements expected as soon as the spring. But the safest path for people walking or biking – one on the other side of the museum, far removed from car traffic – remains a project without a leader or much hopes of happening anytime soon.

The state called the meeting shortly after bicyclist and grad student Meng Jin, 24, was struck and killed Nov. 9 by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, a jumble of state and city roads near the museum. (“As has been mentioned, this road is so complicated it has three different names,” state Rep. Mike Connolly said of Museum Way, also known as the Charles River Dam Road and state Route 28.) The meeting place was moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s student center from the museum as the number of people expected to attend swelled.

The large room held several dozen state and city officials as well as bicyclists, who stood as the speeches wound down to form a ragged wall of handheld blue fliers saying “protected bike lanes save lives.”

Among them was George Schneeloch, of the Cambridge Bikes! group, who noted that bike lanes protected from traffic by plastic posts or more permanent infrastructure had long ago been called for by city officials. “Where are they?” Schneeloch said of physical lane protections. “We aren’t forgetting about this. It’s on the city’s bike plan, and it’s important to us.” Nathanael Fillmore, of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group, was similarly upset that the road along where Jin was struck might be marked off from traffic only by paint. He called the lack of protections for a mere 4-foot-wide lane “deeply inadequate.” Flex posts were needed as a bare minimum, he said, and concrete separators were better.

But Andy Paul, a highway design engineer for the state Department of Transportation, assured that come the spring there was a commitment for flex posts for the road “where possible.” That excluded stretches such as around the Craigie Bridge, where infrastructure got more complicated with medians and added lanes.

Before the paint and flex posts will come the posting of speed-tracking radar signs in January and a comprehensive road safety audit, the state said. Speed limit signs reflecting a change to 25 mph have already been posted.

Looking for input

The meeting was called the first of several at which the state would solicit input on improvements, with state highway administrator Jonathan Gulliver assuring participants that “we are really, really looking for your input.” Two options were presented as starting points: one from 2008 that adds bike lanes, removes one of five vehicle lanes and adds a left turn lane into the museum; and an update that is the same except for providing three travel lanes to Leverett Circle in Boston and restricting left turns into the museum. There were stations set up where people could suggest their own infrastructure arrangements, demonstrating how they worked by laying down colored paper standing in for different kinds of lanes on a background representing the road.

The idea of moving a pedestrian and bicycle path to behind the museum was liked by many – David Loutzenheiser, senior transportation planner for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, was walking around the meeting showing a plan with a path immediately behind the museum – but everyone agreed getting it done would be complex in terms of design, funding and leadership.

An archive of interest

There’s been “probably three or four attempts” to promote a path or bridge over the past three decades, said Wayne M. Bouchard, chief operating officer of the museum. The most recent was around five years ago, with a model that incorporated a drawbridge to let boats through the locks and would require staffing.

“Our position [at the museum] is always that we’re very excited about anything that will allow more access to the river and make that part of the river come alive. It’s an underused resource, and a huge opportunity for someone to do something big. The challenge is always who’s going to really run with this project, and how’s it going to be funded?” Bouchard said. “Usually there’s a design and discussion – and then things get quiet for a long, long time until someone else comes up with another interesting design.”

The museum can’t even join in fundraising, he said, because “there’s never been an actual proposal.”

Museum involvement looks like the least complicated part of a project that would likely require long-term cooperation among Cambridge, Boston, the state Department of Conservation & Recreation – if a path goes in directly behind the museum on existing land, anyway – and design and construction funding from the state Legislature.

“What’s missing is an overarching process owner. Is it Boston? Is it Cambridge? Is it DCR? Is it the governor’s office? Who would sit above all of this and pull all of the interested parties and government agencies together, and in a way where there would be a plan that would survive the changing nature of politics over 10 or 20 years? It’s going to take a lot of years to get people lined up,” Bouchard said.

Best-case scenario

In his own conversation with Gulliver about a bridge or separated path, Fillmore said the “best-case scenario was five years in the future” even if all permitting went as fast as possible and funding was in place. “Five years is a really long time for us,” Fillmore said.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone, whose 8th Suffolk District includes parts of Cambridge and Boston,  was “a big fan” of the idea, but said current funding for infrastructure solutions by the museum will pay for paint and flex posts – not for putting up a quarter-mile bridge.

Though plenty of stakeholder input about a pedestrian and bicyclist path would be needed first, “if there’s a transportation bond bill for this term in the Legislature, it’s definitely something I would want to include,” Livingstone said.

Cambridgeport Update: BU Bridge and Safety

Cambridgeport Update: BU Bridge and Safety

Last week, I attended the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association meeting, where MassDOT gave us an update on the state of the BU Bridge and how we should address traffic issues moving forward. For those who could not attend, Joe Barr from Cambridge, Jeff Parenti from DCR, and Neil Boudreau from MassDOT came and provided updates.

This is the third meeting regarding traffic issues related to the BU bridge that arose shortly after changes completed on that bridge as well as on Granite Street.  The streets impacted are under the jurisdictions of the three entities.  Granite Street and Brookline Street are under the jurisdiction of Cambridge, the circle and Memorial Drive are DCR’s, and the BU Bridge is MassDOT’s responsibility.  Once you arrive at the lights on the bridge at Commonwealth Ave in Boston, it is Boston’s responsibility to operate them.  Although no one from Boston came, both Neil Boudreau and I had been in touch with Boston officials, who have been very cooperative to find out what was happening and trying to fix it.

First, for Granite Street, Joe Barr announced that Cambridge was finished experimenting with parking and had decided to permanently remove parking on one side of Granite between Rockingham and Brookline Streets.  This will allow two lanes of cars on Granite so that people can make a left on Brookline Street even if those making a right on Brookline are stuck in traffic.  There were several suggestions regarding improving signage on Granite, Waverly, and Rockingham Streets.  Joe agreed to evaluate the suggestions and make appropriate changes.

Second, Jeff Parenti from DCR spoke about his work.  He spoke about long-term and short-term improvements.  For the short-term improvements to the circle, he had his initial thoughts, which are in the attached document.  He is going to come back to CNA’s next meeting on January 17, 2019 and have a more specific discussion on what people think.  DCR will make improvements through adding paint to the circle and signage.  The changes can be made as soon as it is warm enough for paint to dry, probably next March.  In addition, DCR just hired a consultant to start a public process on infrastructure changes as part of Phase III of the improvements to Memorial Drive.  (Phase I was from the Charles River Dam Road to the Longfellow Bridge and Phase II was from the Longfellow Bridge to the BU Boathouse.)  He is looking forward to redesigning the circle as part of this project.  He said that people should think of the circle as a “blank slate” as they imagine what could be there.  If you have comments on the short-term fix, you can email him directly at jeffrey.parenti@mass.gov. Below is his initial thoughts on short-term changes that could be made.

BU_Rotary_Bike_Lane_Concept

Finally, Neil Boudreau from MassDOT spoke about what he had found looking into the lights on Commonwealth Ave.  The lights are designed to adjust to minimize traffic.  This clearly was not occurring at all.  Between the first and second meeting, he said that the problem was that the system was damaged during construction and had only recently become operational.  In the last six weeks, Boston and MassDOT worked to make sure the lights were working as designed.  It turned out there was a communications issue where the lights were reverted to mid-day settings at rush hour.  This meant that there was approximately 15% less green time for those driving from Cambridge to Boston than there should have been.  This has been fixed.  In addition, the signals were adjusted to add a little more green time for the Cambridge to Boston movement.  The combination means that there should be 25% more green time consistently during rush hour than was the case during the worst problem times.  That should help.  Neil said he was continuing to work with Boston to determine if more improvements could be made.  The handout that Neil distributed is below.

BU Bridge Traffic Count Comparisons_Dec 2018

This is obviously an issue that remains to be worked out completely, but I’d like to thank everyone involved who helped us come closer to reaching a resolution. I’m always impressed with the activist nature of Cambridgeport and it’s a great joy of my job to work with the neighborhood to fix issues like these. More updates are forthcoming, but I thought that ahead of the holidays, the people of Cambridgeport deserved some peace of mind that this issue is being worked out.

 

Longfellow Bridge’s biker-safety posts to remain in place for now

By Steve Annear GLOBE STAFF DECEMBER 14, 2018

A group of state elected officials sent a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on Friday demanding a delay in the winter removal of plastic flexposts that separate cyclists from vehicular traffic along both sides of the Longfellow Bridge.

In a letter addressed to MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack, and forwarded to the Globe, state Senators Sal DiDomenico and Joseph Boncore and state Representatives Mike Connolly and Jay Livingstone called for a meeting with staff from the transportation agency “as soon as possible” to address the issue.

“We ask that you delay the removal of any safety measure from the bridge until that discussion concludes,” the letter said.

The request was sent after MassDOT officials announced earlier this week that the safety posts — also referred to as bollards — would come down beginning Sunday to make it safer and more convenient for plow trucks to clear snow off of the bridge during the winter months.

On Friday, after the letter was sent, officials said “given that there are no winter weather events in the immediate forecast,” they would delay the removal schedule.

“MassDOT has made the decision not to remove the bicycle lane flex posts on the Longfellow Bridge this weekend so that it can continue evaluating the stakeholder feedback it has received on this topic,” said Patrick Marvin, a spokesman for the department, in a statement.

The original announcement about removing the posts beginning Sunday was immediately met by harsh criticism from cyclists in the community who regularly travel across the bridge connecting Boston to Cambridge.

Organizers from several bike groups said MassDOT had initially promised in June — when the bridge reopened following years of reconstruction — to keep the flexposts in place for the winter, regardless of snow.

Cycling activists said taking them down will make bike commuters vulnerable to fast-moving vehicles that often break the speed limit going across the bridge.

“We know that about 40 percent of people who ride in warmer months continue to bike through the winter,” Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, said in a statement this week. “And MassDOT is choosing to make their commutes much more dangerous and uncomfortable with this move.”

MassDOT officials said removing the bollards is necessary in order to “ensure that the vehicular travel lanes, bicycle lanes, gutter line, and drainage structures are all cleared at the same time.”

“Additionally,” Marvin said, “keeping the flexposts in place would restrict plow access to the bicycle lanes and would delay snow removal operations in the bicycle lanes until post-storm cleanup activities.”

In the letter to MassDOT, elected officials said they are “incredibly disappointed” that the department is “reneging on its specific commitment” to keep the flexposts in place through the snowy season.

“We are also disappointed that MassDOT has not announced any other safety measures for the bridge to mitigate in any way its removal of the flex posts,” the letter said. “It appears that the safety concerns that you had expressed earlier this year are not being addressed at all with this change.”

Marvin, the MassDOT spokesman, said in a statement Friday that the department looks “forward to reviewing this letter.”

Cyclists upset with MassDOT’s decision said they are organizing an event next week along the bridge to protest the removal of the flexposts.

According to a Facebook event page called “Human Protected Bike Lane on the Longfellow Bridge,” activists plan to stand in line along the bridge, arm in arm, to send “a strong message to MassDOT that cyclists need protection on our bridges.”

The protest is being hosted by the Boston Cyclists Union, the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group, LivableStreets Alliance, WalkBoston, and the Somerville Bicycle Committee.

MassDOT plans to put the flexposts back in place in the spring.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/12/14/beacon-hill-officials-call-massdot-delay-removal-bike-lane-posts-longfellow-bridge/CdOY6M8sCBBjI7oVttnAUO/story.html

Are text-a-thons the future of activism? Cambridge’s Activist Afternoons thinks so.

Boxes of pizza, an aroma of hot coffee and smiling people invested in their phones filled a Cambridge workplace in the heart of Central Square yesterday, but the gathering wasn’t purely social.

As millions of Americans across the country prepared for the midterm elections by reading up on issues and candidates, over 160 volunteers in Cambridge spent the evening before Election Day encouraging voter participation at a text-a-thon hosted by Activist Afternoons.

The gathering was one of many the group has hosted since it launched in the fall of 2017. The first of three around the state, Activist Afternoons hosts weekly events with a different menu of activities – often including meetings, activist training sessions, and text-a-thons – for the Cambridge community at Workbar, a membership-based coworking space on Prospect Street.

Hustling young people to the polls

The members of the five national and local organizations present at the Nov. 5 text-a-thon used Hustle – the texting platform used for Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the 2016 presidential election. For three hours they sent personalized messages to registered voters, reminding them to vote on issues, political parties and candidates this Election Day.

Daniel Curtis, community organizer at Activist Afternoons, said the goal of Monday night’s text-a-thon was to motivate or remind residents of Cambridge and others nationwide to participate, especially younger voters.

“The main objective of tonight is to get in contact with as many people as possible and encourage them to vote, ” said Curtis. “A general concern we have is that, historically, young people are the least likely to vote.”

During the 2014 midterm elections, only 17.1 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds showed up at the polls. That was less than half the turnout of the population at large – 41.9 percent of whom voted – according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 Current Population Survey.

Curtis said he thinks a significant cause of low turnout among young people is the fact that they have never voted before.

The future of activism?

With Gen-Xers and younger generations representing 59 percent of American adults eligible to vote as of April 2018, according to the Pew Research Center, text-a-thon volunteers were hoping that the last-minute mobilization of younger voters has a serious effect on election results.

Among the clicking, tapping and chattering volunteers was state Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, who opted to make calls rather than texting during the 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. event.

“I couldn’t really figure out how to work the texting, so I went with calling,” laughed Livingstone.

Out of the five Democratic organizations represented at the text-a-thon, Livingstone chose to work with the Environmental Voter Project and Justice Democrats groups. He noted that one of the reasons Democratic organizations specifically tend to focus on mobilizing the younger generations is because they tend to be more worried about social issues and protecting the environment.

“Young people are more concerned about social and environmental issues,” said Livingstone, who represents parts of Cambridgeport as well as Boston. “The way we get the Democratic Party to where it needs to be is by convincing people to vote at events like this one.”

“Texting as a medium appeals to younger people and can easily reach tons of voters,” said Labandibar. “I think we will see more voters turn out as result of these texting events.”

Ian Anderson is a Boston University journalism student writing as part of a collaboration between the Cambridge Chronicle and BU News Service.

http://cambridge.wickedlocal.com/news/20181106/are-text-a-thons-future-of-activism-cambridges-activist-afternoons-thinks-so