Category: West End

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.

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

Esplanade Association Board says ‘Thank You’ to Rep Livingstone

November 9, 2018

By 

The board of the Esplanade Association hosted a reception to thank State Rep. Jay Livingstone for his contributions to the Charles River Esplanade, and to the neighborhoods of Back Bay and Beacon Hill on Thursday, Oct. 25, at the home of T.K. and Lianne Ankner.

At this intimate gathering, Livingstone met with EA supporters and spoke of some of his proudest moments while in the Legislature. He was acknowledged for his contributions to public access to the Charles River Esplanade, including advocacy for the completion of the Fanny Appleton Footbridge, inclusion of Commissioner’s Landing for funding in the Governor’s 2018 Environmental Bond Bill and his active role in planning for the future of the former Lee Pool site.

“As a Friends group to a state park, it is invaluable to have allies in the State House to help secure funding for major improvements to the park or advocate for the removal of impediments to public access,” said Michael Nichols, executive director of the Esplanade Association. “Rep. Livingstone understands the role the Esplanade plays in improving the quality of life for the people in his District and beyond and he has been a strong supporter of the park throughout his years in office. We were thankful for this opportunity to express our gratitude.”

Frances Appleton Pedestrian Bridge Across Storrow Opens to the Public

 

The $12.5 million Frances Appleton Pedestrian Bridge – a 230-foot-long, steel arch span that links Beacon Hill/Charles Circle to the Charles River Esplanade – is now open to the public.

The 14-foot-wide, 750-foot-long, multi-use bridge was constructed as part of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) $300-million renovation of the Longfellow Bridge, which links Charles Circle in Boston to Central Square in Cambridge via the Charles Circle. The Appleton is a signature bridge in the City of Boston with its elegant steel arch span, as well as the first fully accessible, ADA pedestrian bridge over Storrow Drive.

The old, existing footbridge is slated for demolition within the next two weeks, according to Miguel Rosales, the architect for both the Appleton and Longfellow bridges, as well as president and founder of Boston-based Rosales  Partners.

 

“As the designer of the Appleton Pedestrian Bridge, I was thrilled to recently cross it for the first time,” Rosales wrote. “The beautiful bridge floats over the park with stunning views of the Charles River.   It is very light, visually pleasing and the first ADA accessible 14-feet wide link in the area.  The main arch soars over Storrow Drive with a single, elegant gesture, which is inspired by the historic arches of the adjacent Longfellow Bridge.

“I am looking forward to having the bridge fully completed including walking surface treatments, hardscape elements and landscaping including the addition of new shade trees in the next few months.  I am confident that Bostonians and visitors alike will enjoy using the innovative bridge for generations to come,” Rosales wrote.

Michael Nichols, executive director of the Esplanade Association, said, “We are excited that this breathtaking new footbridge has opened to make the Esplanade more accessible to visitors. Representatives from our organization advocated for this vital new connection from the early stages of the Longfellow Bridge restoration and we are so grateful to MassDOT, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, former State Rep. Marty Walz, current Rep. Jay Livingstone, Miguel Rosales of Rosales + Partners, and many other partners for their hard work to finally make the Fanny Appleton bridge a reality.”

DCR Commissioner Leo Roy said, “The Baker-Polito administration remains committed to providing residents and visitors with opportunities to safely visit the Commonwealth’s state parks system. With the completion of the Frances Appleton Bridge, [DCR] is thrilled that pedestrians and bicyclists will have increased access to the Charles River Esplanade. Furthermore, the completion of the Frances Appleton Bridge serves as a major accomplishment, and is a welcome addition to the metro Boston area.”

The bridge is named after the wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the most widely known and best-loved American poets of his lifetime. He used to cross the Charles River from Cambridge to Beacon Hill in the 1840s while he was courting “Fanny” Appleton, and the new bridge complements the historic Longfellow Bridge as a symbol of their union.