Friday, October 8, 2010

Thoughts after the Bridge

After the Longfellow bridge meeting, I shared a T ride home with Renata von Tscharner,  the founder of the Charles River Conservancy, a member of the "stakeholders" group that put together this meeting, and an incredibly admirable and elegant force of nature. We've met a couple of times at events like this, and I'm sure she didn't know my name, but remembered me enough to chat on the T.

 She had three interesting comments.  Firstly, she noted that I was the only woman who spoke up as a year round cyclist.  I didn't really think about it, but I guess it made some impact.
Secondly, she said that she had seen data that indicated that 80% of the drivers who crossed the Longfellow, made the trip from less than 5 miles away.  I would credit that, as practically the only time I drive it is when I'm heading to 93 North from Cambridge.  That seems like an incredibly potent argument for better facilities.  5 miles is nothing on a bike,  and if the facilities made people feel safe and comfortable, I could imagine a lot of people would ditch the hassles of a car or the T to bike into Boston.

 Finally, and I hope this isn't confidential,  but  we were discussing bike routes in and around Harvard Sq,  and she said that the City of Cambridge wants to put in more cycle tracks (specifically on Concord Ave) but that Mass Bike has been fighting them.  That is really disturbing to me if it's true.  Cycle tracks seem like the apogee of cycle-forward design-  of acknowledging that bikes really do deserve their own infrastructure, and to oppose them (on some VC  principle) seems reactionary to me.  If bicycling is really to become a commonplace means of transportation- not limited to the fit and the brave, and dare I say it, the majority male,  I really believe that we need more and better infrastructure.  Wide bike lanes, separated cycle tracks, space to go at the speed of bike, without having to constantly be evaluating and worrying and feeling pressured to keep up with the inhuman speeds of automobiles.
Maybe it's a dream to hope for those kinds of facilities for bikes.  But it's that kind of dream that lured me from the Car-centric lands of my youth (Houston Texas) to the Boston area, and specifically Cambridge.   I hope that someday it will be a dream completely fulfilled.


  1. I never thought I'd say something like this, but I'm vehemently opposed to the bike paths on Concord Ave.

    There's a few reasons why.

    1. That section of Concord Ave. works okay for cyclists as is (or rather, it would, if not for the horrible condition of the asphalt.) The speeds on the road are not too bad, the road is wide, there are no parked cars, and few cars turning. The design for bike paths calls for the REMOVAL of the road-level bike lane.

    2. On the westbound side, there is a ton of driveways (over 30 if I remember correctly.) Forcing cyclists of the road on this section will expose them to turn conflicts.

    3. The paths will not be cleared in the winter. During 3/4 of the year, I take the Fitchburg Cutoff Path which runs parallel to Concord Ave. In this winter, this is a vital route for me, and a narrowed roadway will make it all the more treacherous.

    4. The cycle paths on the section of Concord Ave to the east of the rotaries are a COMPLETE DISASTER. Repeat, COMPLETE DISASTER. So I don't trust the people in charge to work address my concerns.

    5. Appeal to authority. I love good bike paths and have spent time enjoying them in Europe. However, I believe that marginal benefit of this project will be negative.

  2. I could have been more concise, I now realize. Put simply, I don't think removing the shoulder from a 30mph+ road is a good idea.

  3. Did she say WHY Massbike has been fighting the cycle tracks? I can't imagine they'd do it just to be crabby. Most often, its something like lots of unnecessary crossing hazards or door zone stuff and THAT can often be fixed if the parties are seriously discussing things.

  4. I am behind MassBike about being against the cycle tracks; they remove the bike from the awareness of drivers (bad), are usually integrated into sidewalks, such as the ones currently in Cambridge near MIT, so pedestrians are blissfully wandering onto them (bad), and the fact that bikes and cars are still going to have to interact with each other at intersections and driveways (worst!) it behooves us all to not have them... they flout the fact that bikes are vehicles under law and relegate them to the role of pedestrian. Whenever I am riding down the streets that have the cycle tracks, I do not use them... least when a car passes me when I am in the road and wants to turn right into a driveway or a side-street, the probably saw me, and may regard me since I am on the street with them; If I am up on the sidewalk on a cycle track, I doubt they would even notice me at all.

  5. By cycle tracks, do you mean like the ones on Vassar? While I am generally not opposed to cycle tracks, I think those particular ones are problematic, because of all the parking lot and loading dock entrances that intersect them, not to mention the snow clearance problem in winter. I have found it impossible to cycle on those tracks at anything resembling reasonable bicycle speed, unless it's on a day when the neighborhood is deserted. I am not saying that they shouldn't build more tracks, but I hope they do a better job on the design this time. I prefer VC to Vassar.

  6. There are a number of vocal opponents to the Concord Ave cycle tracks who are MassBike members. MassBike has not, to my knowledge, made a statement one way or the other on this or any cycle track. As a Board member, I'm generally in favor of cycle tracks. But, positions are mixed at MassBike on this issue.