Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Anderson Bridge Hearing Report

This hearing was part of the MEPA process, which is a State level process for flushing out any kinds of "environmental" issues prior to the actual permitting with all the regional authorities.   "Environmental" in this context includes not only wetlands protection but historic preservation.   Any big project has to go through this,  and it's a bit of a sideline to the main process- in that I feel that the decisions have mainly been made, and this is what DOT plans on doing.

The Good news:  They did a traffic study which showed that 60 percent of the traffic over the bridge is Cambridge bound,  and that the traffic counts supported a reduction from 4 lanes to three, with one Boston bound lane and two Cambridge bound lanes.  This gives 10' to put into two bike lanes, one each way.
Importantly, Cambridge has signed up to make JFK the same way.

Part of this project is fixing the signal timing on both ends of the intersection, including going to concurrent walk signals so that you can walk on green, instead of waiting for a dedicated pedestrian cycle.  This is supposed to greatly increase the efficiency of the light, and help ease the 4 to 3 lane conversion.
They're also going to fix that awful corner on the SE corner of the bridge by extending the sidewalk, eliminating that awful tiny non ADA "refuge"  and making the right turn lane off Storrow a hard 90 degree turn so that cars aren't speeding around the  eased corner.  It will also improve visibility for peds and bikes coming around the corner.  Additionally they are moving the crosswalk so that it's more or less a straight shot with the Storrow side bike path.
There will be fewer improvements on the Cambridge side, just the light timing, and the elimination of left turns onto Mem drive from Southbound JFK.

The Bad news is that they are very adamant about making the lanes 10'6".  Because of that, the sidewalks will be reduced 9" on each side from what they are.  I don't buy the logic that they need to widen the lanes from what they are, especially since wider lanes lead to increased traffic speed.  But it doesn't sound like that's something that's negotiable to the DOT,  and in all honesty, this bridge is short enough that cars aren't going to bomb across it like they do Mass Ave and Longfellow.

Much of the meeting turned into a discussion of the possibility of creating grade separated bike/ ped facilities which go under the bridge in some way.  This effort has been spearheaded by the Charles River Conservancy,  and you can find out more information on their website.   I do think that this is a great idea,  and I feel that it could be done in a way which is respectful of the historic nature of the bridge.
However,  that's a long dialog with the historic preservation authorities,  and they could delay or outright prevent it from going forward.   I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about preservation and safety and where the line between improved facilities and the preservation of historic buildings should be.

In short,  although I think it's a great idea, with a lot of potential, I'm not sure that this is a project that can be forced into the scope of the bridge repair.   I think that it could potentially be done as a standalone project, but I'm not certain that it's worth the delay and rush and potential for bad design to try to shoehorn it into this project.   There are significant technical challenges on the Storrow side,  due to the steepness of the bank and some big existing water lines which would have to be relocated, and a whole series of retaining walls,  which the historic preservation authorities are very opposed to,  and rightly so- because if they're badly designed and not made attractive, they would really detract from the beauty of the bridge.  
Personally I think we should continue to support it, and ask the DOT to plan for it in order to make it as simple to do as possible later, but I don't think it's realistic for it to be included in this scope of work.

There were a couple of people who spoke up on behalf of drivers, basically saying, "it's crazy to reduce the numbers of lanes, especially when I never see any bikes riding there".  I think that the moderator herself quashed that pretty well by saying that it's hard to judge how many bikes there will be without any sort of facilities in place now.   I spoke up to say how thrilled I was with the new bike lanes, and the improved connection between Allston and Harvard sq.  Three other bikers spoke up, and the crowd seemed overwhelmingly pro-bike.   I'm sure though that a lot of drivers are going to roll their eyes and be outraged about this reduction in lanes, and I think it's good that Mass DOT is willing to take on that political liability to make a safer facility.  I just hope that we can avoid the kind of opposition that they're seeing in NYC in the conflict over the Prospect Park West bike lane/ traffic calming project.  It only takes one Rob Anderson.

As an aside,  after last weekend's little thaw that finally cleared the bike lanes of snow (Hip Hip Hooray!),  we got a cold snap that returned commute time temps to the mid 20's.    But still I saw just tons of bike traffic.  Tonight riding home at 7:15 ish, there were 5!! other bikes at the intersection of Main and Mass Ave. at Sidney Street.  Not even peak commute hours.  It seemed like there were bikes everywhere.  I even saw a lime green Jolly bike with red skirt guards downtown- so cheerful and springlike!

One more thing I forgot,  someone from the city of Cambridge planning dept spoke up in support of the changes, but did make a statement in favor of signalizing Hawthorne street (you know the scary crosswalk from mem drive to the park next to Longfellow Park?- the one that feels like a cross walk on a freeway?)  This would provide a detour for people turning onto Mem drive either way (as does DeWolfe Street).


  1. thanks for the write-up!

    Once the snow melted, Cambridge really showed its true colors. I can't believe how much refuse and branches and dirt and rocks were in the bike lanes that i rode in (Sparks St blue-painted lane and most of Mass ave south bound near Harvard Square).

    on the whole, it was really the snow, not the cold, that kept me off the bike for so long. now, there's no excuse. oh, except for the ice that I fell on yesterday!

  2. I've threaded the eyes of enough needles in crossing the Anderson bridge, that I would've rolled my eyes at the driver's comments and then cheered when the moderator stepped in.

    I'm a little ambivalent about the light timing idea since I can see that actually reducing the efficiency of Boston bound car traffic (since high pedestrian traffic will prevent cars from turning onto Storrow) but I wasn't at the meeting so I'll go with the decision then wait and see.