Saturday, October 9, 2010

On cycle tracks

I'm a bit surprised at the vehemence of the comments against the cycler track.
I'm going to continue to disagree with the general theme of the comments though.  I have actually never had problems with the Vassar paths  I find them a pleasure to ride on, and go out of my way sometimes to ride them.  I'm not going terribly fast, and I've never had a pedestrian conflict that wasn't simply resolved with a ding of the bell.  They've also been pretty well plowed when I've been over there in the winter.  I understand that turning traffic is a problem, but to my mind it's just as much a problem with a bike lane as it is a cycle track,  and the cycle track even seems like it would be better, since it's grade separated, and they're going to have to go up and over it, which would slow them down much as a speed bump would.

I understand the normal arguments about the danger of "sidewalk" cycling,  but this to me seems very different- it's just an extension of the street, not separated by trees or yard or parked cars like a normal sidewalk.  Therefore, I think that the cars are going to be just as aware of you as they would be if you were on the same level as they are.  

I know that Cambridge owns a special narrow snow plow that they use on facilities at Fresh pond, and I see no reason why not to expect them to plow this facility as well as they plow that- which in my experience is pretty well.  I suspect it would be much better than a bicycle lane, because it won't get mounded full of snow at the edge of the road.  It's our job as cyclists to help remind them of its importance if they forget.  I bet we can train them pretty quick to clear it in a timely manner.

No, a cycle track will not allow you to stop thinking about cars.  Yes, you will still need to pay attention at intersections and turning points.  But you won't have to worry about people carelessly drifting into you as they talk on the phone, or try to squeeze around a turning car.  And you won't feel like your choices are to either allow people to pass in the lane perilously closely, or to take the lane and go as fast as you possibly can so that people don't get pissed off at you taking up so much of "their" road.

I can do the latter, but there sure are days when I don't want to, and wish I didn't have to.   For all the people who can't physically or emotionally do the latter, I think that the cycle track is a good option.
If you really feel that it slows you down too much and miss the excitement of playing in traffic, Cambridge has no bike lane use requirement, so if you're young and strong of leg and mind, I'm sure you can continue to practice vehicular cycling in the traffic lane.


  1. I wish the mere idea of building a cycletrack could recreate all the delightful time I spent riding in Amsterdam and Germany, but I somehow doubt it to be true.

    However, I'd be willing to give the city and the people of Cambridge/Boston a chance to prove themselves. If it is obviously failing (as Herzog seemed to imply in the last post's comment), well then, at least we gave it a try, and I'll go back to commuting on the hopefully paved Fresh pond path!

    Thanks for the info and updates!

  2. Keep in mind that I don't advocate VC (which I think is defensible as a survival technique but a laughable principle for designing infrastructure) and I like to ride at around 10 mph.

    I think the main problem is that drivers in Boston (and most of the U.S.) are careless when turning right. Until you change this, cycle tracks won't work well.

    Of course, this is a chicken/egg problem so you have to start somewhere. Just where to start I'm not sure.

    However, this project is not such a step in the right direction because they're getting rid of the shoulder on the road, which is a bad on a 30mph+ road.

    If instead, they were doing something like sidewalk-twowaybikeway-shoulder-travellane-turninglane-travellane-shoulder-sidewalk on Concord Ave, I would be overjoyed and would be praising it as one of the most important transportation projects for Belmont.

  3. @JPTWins:

    On the stretch of Concord Ave in question, very few cars make right turns and visibility is pretty good. So statistically, it's not going to be a major hazard.

    On the other hand, the Fitchburg Cutoff Path is going to be fucking amazing. It's a win-win-win project that is really going to be a grand slam.

  4. Personally, I have not found the grade separation on Vassar to be a significant deterrent of cars turning into my path. In my experience, this issue is worse on that particular track than in a typical Cambridge bicycle lane.

    When in Vienna, I like their cycle tracks and use them gladly. But they are designed differently from the ones currently in Cambridge. I think that if American cities want to successfully implement cycle tracks, they have to do so in conjunction with installing bicycle-specific lights in order to make these tracks safe - as it is done in European cities. You will not find a cycle track in Amsterdam designed in such a way, so that bicycles must compete with turning cars.

  5. I like the cycle track on Vassar, but it is true that you have to be careful for pedestrians and around the driveways and parking lots. Especially the MIT Police lot! But this would still be the case if you were in a bike lane, or even in the auto lane. I for one would not want to see stop lights in the lanes---if I'm going to be subjected to that, I might as well just ride in the street. It is also not a part of my regular commute, so I am usually not on it at rush-hour times. But if I need to go over to the Cambridgeport area for any reason, then it is a more or less straight shot from my house down Vassar. Also, I can't imagine that more than a few streets in Cambridge could even accommodate a lane like that.

    It does seem to be almost impossible to have bicycle infrastructure around here than is truly bike-only. Even the lanes attract joggers, delivery trucks, and homeless guys with shopping carts. Peds will stand in them waiting to cross the street.

  6. I'll make a vote for Vasser, as I've always felt more comfortable on that stretch. Never had a problem with tourning vehicles. Though a better separation from pedestrians would be desirable, a bell usually does the trick.
    As for European cycle tracks, yes they have separate signals at intersections, but not at driveways, they are unsignalled like here. You'll note that the cycle track ends before the intersections, probably because Cambridge is still uncomfortable with installing bike signals.
    Admittedly, there seem to be fewer driveways on Europe routes with cycle tracks. This may be that European cycle tracks are on busier streets, while small local streets with more driveways, similar to Vasser, tend to have bike lanes or are shared.

  7. I am totally with you! Apologies to those who hate separated bike infrastructure, but their criticisms are holding back necessary progress - necessary if we ever want to get a considerable amount of people on bikes.

  8. I read about the Vassar cycletrack on a paper discussing early cycletracks and wondered if you'd ridden on it (I don't remember reading this post before). And I'm with you and Dottie, I love separated bike infrastructure. I really do hate riding on the road, but I also really despise driving and spending money on auto I sometimes feel really stuck. For example. I need to get groceries, but the thought of riding on the busy street and getting all wound up, when I'm currently in a very good and peaceful mood....I'd rather do without it. We have infrastructure haters here too, especially amongst many bike advocates. And it kills me. Just because they like riding in traffic doesn't mean I do too, even if I do it.

  9. Sam,
    I actually rode the vassar street cycletrack yesterday evening, and the only stress I had was when I was crossing Mass Ave (with the light) and a biker started to run the red into my path. I bellowed DON'T! and he stopped.
    I find them a very pleasant way to go N&S along this corridor, with better than average snow clearing too. I wish there were better connections through to Cambridgeport over the railroad tracks, but now that I found the "shortcut" I use it quite frequently.