Edited twice- seems I couldn't get anyone's names right Wednesday night:
Steve Miller from Livable Streets, John Allen VC bicycle advocate- sorry for the confusion.
I was a little bit late to the Western Ave reconstruction meeting, but I don't think I missed much- the speaker when I arrived was the "wastewater" (aka sewage) guy. I did learn that they're going to do something interesting in the stormwater management. Right now, as I know ALL TOO WELL,
the storm and sanitary sewer are combined in Cambridge, and when they are over capacity, the foul brew ends up in the Charles (or my basement). The new plan, is to take the first 10 minutes (or probably X gallons) of stormwater and put that into the sanitary sewer. This is the water that washes the dead squirrels, gum wrappers, antifreze drips, etc. into the drains. After the "first flush" the water is relatively clean, and can go into detention ponds and into the Charles without much actual pollution fouling the river.
But this is a bike blog not a wastewater blog (thank God!), so let's cut to the chase. The city planner (Jeff Rosenblum, whose exact title I don't know) presented the traffic calming, bus stop improving, pedestrian safety expediting goals. He then went through a description of the public outreach and community advisory committee and all the methodology to try to make this an inclusive process (they don't call Cambridge the People's republic for nothing). He want through the basic outlines of the plan (one traffic lane plus on grade bike lane from Mass Ave to Franklin (just past the little park-the park itself grows by the width of the traffic lane). The connection from Pleasant street (which evidently has a lot of heavy truck traffic) is going to be made more of a 90 degree turn, which is safer than the current acute angle. From here to about Putnam, it's two lanes of traffic, two lanes of parking, and a cycle track on the outboard side of the parked cars on the right side of the street. After Putnam, it's four lanes of traffic, no parking, and a grade separated cycle track to the river.
If you really want to see the details, they're online here
. And when I say "details" they're still working on those, and those are going to be important. merges, bike boxes, dedicated signal timing, etc etc. If you have thoughts about the specifics, they'd love to hear from you.
So they wanted to have a brief "questions" period, followed by small group caucusing around large scale plans in the back of the room with design team members, followed by reconvening into a general session for "comments."
However the "questions" quickly devolved to comments, with a couple of comments about snow removal at bus stops, and a really really rambling comment from a guy who lives on Western Ave whose comment I couldn't really hear. There wasn't anyone speaking up for drivers, or worried about congestion on the street as an impact of these changes.
Then the vehicular cyclists began their attack.
One guy asked if they would salt as well as plow the track, since there wouldn't be car traffic to keep it clear. Another asked if there would be sharrows in the lanes in addition to the track, for those who chose not to use the track.
Yet another asked "Do you believe that bikes don't make left turns?" Which lead to some confusion because no one could hear him, which lead to the moderator saying "Yes?" and waiting for the rest of the question. Fortunately in MA, we don't have a law that requires that use of bike facilities, so I'm not sure why these people who hate the track can't just continue to enjoy the "pleasures" of riding in the street. And FWIW, I rode a lot last winter on the plowed but not salted Charles river path (Thank you again New Balance
!!), and it was absolutely fine. Yes, it was icy in spots. I slowed down. And I bet if we had a constant flow of bikes, it would be just as clear as the road. More importantly, I don't worry about a 2,000 lb vehicle sliding on the ice into me.
I counted 5 attacks all from middle aged male vehicular cylists, and four statements of approval, mostly from the "interested but concerned" segment- people who would like to ride, but don't because they're scared, or they want to ride with their kids. Steve Miller from Livable streets spoke affectingly about how he was fine riding on busy streets, his daughter and his wife weren't.
It's a little sad how this comes down so much along gender lines (see yesterday's post).
Anyway, I decided to speak up before one of the VC's got his second (or third) chance to speak.
I said basically what I posted yesterday, that I know how to ride in a commanding position, I have the experience to ride in fast moving traffic, and the legs to push even my 35 lb bike at mostly traffic speeds.
But it sucks! I don't want to have to do that to go to the store! I don't want to have to do it after a long hard day, or when I'm fighting off a cold, or just want to think about dinner instead of worrying about the potentially homicidal driver behind me.
Shortly afterwards we broke for small group discussion, and I came under attack from the VC meister himself Paul Schimek.* (John Allen was there, but he left early and didn't make a statement).
He asked me in a tone of astonishment, "you would actually ride on this" and I said "Sure!"
He asked "how fast?" I said, maybe 10 mph? (which I think floored him, because he was going to make an argument about how slow it would be- but obviously when you ride a 35lb steel upright bike in a dress, speed is not your priority). He then switched to an argument about the connections and left turns. I opined that I thought that that particular place would be a good location for a bike box, and said that I was willing to deal with the intersections in order to be separated from the traffic moving 50 Mph. He really jumped on this, saying that it was supposed to be a 35 MPH street. I think he mis-understood that right now, it's a racecourse, and I wouldn't be surprised if people reached 50. But of course, the road diet, should reduce speeds to closer to the posted 35. I still would rather ride on a separated lane. I told him that I rode VC regularly one a 35 MPH road very similar to this- Cambridge street in Boston, and that it sucked.
I just kept smiling and answering his questions with slow bike answers, and it finally frustrated him and he went off to pester someone else.
I did have a couple of people, come up to me and say how they thought my comment was really moving, which was nice to hear. It was heartfelt, anyway. We never did make it into a general session, but I did get to talk to one of the planning consultants, and stress to him the need for bike boxes and adequate merging space (and possibly separate signals) to allow left turns at Howard and Putnam.
To me the bottom line is: you can't get on the cycle track and assume it's a magic carpet that will carry you effortlessly to your destination. You still have to be careful at intersections. You still have to watch for pedestrians. But to me, it ramps the drama down a notch, because you're not doing these things in the context of simultaneously fighting for a scrap of pavement with 2,000 pound steel vehicles going 35 MPH. One guy was worried about getting doored by passenger side doors. I pointed out to him. At least if you get doored by a passenger (unlikely as there's a 3.5' buffer) you're not going to land under a bus.
I don't mind going slower, I don't mind paying attention at intersections. I just want to get there with some space to daydream, and a little less excitement.
*I did a bit of research on him after I left the meeting. I'd heard his name, but hadn't put the pieces together. Evidently this guy is responsible for Boston's complete lack of bike facilities until recently. He was the bike commissioner before Nicole Friedman, and ensured that there were no bike lanes in the major reconstruction of Cambridge Street (the main route from Cambridge to Downtown). He also fought bike facilities on the Greenway that replaced the freeway after the Big Dig.
Just thinking about the damage he did to Boston's bicycle culture makes me so angry- it's probably a good thing I didn't know this when I was talking to him before- it would have been hard for me to be civil and polite when he was getting in my grill about how I couldn't possibly support this.