Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Morning Snow Report

We got maybe 2" of snow last night,  and I had to ride over to the Longwood area early this morning in it.   If I were just going to work, I might have taken the T, but there's no good transit connections between Harvard Sq and Longwood, and the roads looked pretty clear from my front door, so I decided to saddle up.  My typical route to Longwood is to take the river path to the BU bridge, and then across Brookline to Longwood ave, and across the J-way to the medical center.
sorry for the low light-it was pretty early still
Unfortunately the path was not very well cleared at all.  Tread tracks indicated that some kind of snow-clearing vehicle had passed that way, but there was no appreciable "clearing" that resulted.  I expect they just didn't bother to lower the blade of the plow enough.

I think it's fantastic that New Balance pays for the clearance of these paths, but the state of the path this morning makes me think that Mass DCR isn't taking it seriously, or giving New Balance value for their money.  Just look at the clearing that Mass DOT did at the bridges (where their jurisdiction begins) compared to the half-assed job that DCR did.
Easy to tell where the line is
I'm afraid that DCR doesn't take bicycles seriously as a transportation mode. I know that they're seriously underfunded, but if the paths in their jurisdiction are being counted by the state as major parts of the bicycle infrastructure, they need to be maintained as such.  

I only saw two other bicyclists on the river path (probably because everyone else was smart enough to avoid it).  I did however see a ton of cyclists on the bike paths and roads in the Longwood area.  I don't ride there enough to do a comparison, but it felt like there were more bikers about generally than there were when it was so cold last week.  Maybe people who bailed and took the T last week got tired of that and jumped back on their bikes despite the snow.

I also had a great moment during the test that they were doing on me, where I was making small talk with the tech, and said I'd biked there.  He was going into the condescending driver mode, saying "oh, you really have to be careful of the cars, it's so dangerous."   That kind of thing always gets me annoyed- (how about the drivers of the dangerous  multi-ton vehicles be held responsible for being careful! instead of lecturing bikers).  But then the resident who was observing the test spoke up and said "it's not really that dangerous if you're careful,  I used to ride everywhere when I worked at MGH"  It was nice to have someone who obviously "got it" Which is part of why the Netherlands is so safe- even when people aren't biking, they're intimately familiar with what it feels like to bike, and thus drive more respectfully.

Riding back into work,  other than the 6 cars parked in the bike lane in Kenmore sq, things were pretty good.   The Comm Ave bike lane was very clear- more because of salting than plowing I suspect,  but either way it was much nicer than most of the bike lanes in Cambridge.


  1. This is really the point when someone has to say, "well in Copenhagen...". I wonder, doesn't this just want to make you carry around a shovel or a snow plow attachment?

    1. Funny you should say that:

  2. There is of course the 66 bus... but that still may not qualify as a good T connection... anyway. I came in from Newton this morning, roads were pretty good, lanes through Brighton Center were about 1/2 clear mostly due to plowing or people driving in the bike lanes, but either way they were fine. Commonwealth was not bad and there were 5-7 other cyclists with me at any given point. Hopped onto the esplanade paths to continue into North station and well I came upon the same thing you did on the other side. The overpass bike/ped bridge was not great and you really had to take the turns slooowlllyyy. On the paths it was only bare pavement in a couple spots, though they did salt the area that is a chicane like section near Kenmore and that was nice. I actually went off the path (controlled ish) because I could not make a turn with the surfacing, no matter how slow I was going, plus there was a jogger and I didn't want to take her out if I lost what little grip I had. Other than that the surface was the same and marginally passable even with my wide tires. I think I might complain...

  3. I gave up on using the off-street paths in winter years ago because they've never been kept ice free. Also, in fairness, I don't necessarily think it's fair to heap all of this at the DCR's feet. In times of heavy snowfall, it's tough enough to keep the main roadways clear and safe as well and at least they benefit from having automobile traffic continue to shove any buildup to the side. On a bike path that may see maybe a bike every ten minutes, you may be asking a Bobcat driver to do circuits for the length of the snowfall.

    I'm sympathetic to the idea of increased maintenance of these facilities, but also feel like we ought to acknowledge the challenges of the environment and adapt reasonably.

    1. Cris, I'd be sympathetic to DCR if we'd gotten 6" or if it had snowed all night. Based on the snow level between the last time the dog went out at 10pm, and this morning at 6am, most of the snow was done by 10, and the roads were completely bare almost everywhere (maybe from residual salt as much as plowing). There was no fallen snow in the cat tracks either, so they did it once after the snow mostly stopped, they just did a lousy job.

      I just think that state and regional planners like to pat themselves on the back by counting all the miles of the river trail as "bicycle corridor" but then not making any commitment, either financial or institutional towards keeping them clear.
      I admit it's a chicken and egg thing, but if the paths were maintained to Copenhagen standards, you'd get a lot more bikes on them than one every 10 minutes.

    2. I think it's also important to understand that the paths next to the Charles can't be salted, due to environmental restrictions that govern the application of salt. Since you seem to prefer biking as a transportation choice versus other modes (correctly!), possibly for its environmental benefits, you should think more comprehensively about the environment.

      Research has concluded that elevated salt concentrations negatively impact flora and fauna, cause nutrient depletion in soils through ion exchange, and can mobilize potentially toxic metals.

      So, perhaps you should be more thoughtful in your criticism, and also recall the adage regarding the value of honey vs. vinegar.

    3. I'm not asking them to salt- but they need to actually drop the plough blade when they go through- it seemed very much like they'd just driven down the path without ploughing it at all.

  4. "In times of heavy snowfall, it's tough enough to keep the main roadways clear and safe as well and at least they benefit from having automobile traffic continue to shove any buildup to the side. On a bike path that may see maybe a bike every ten minutes, you may be asking a Bobcat driver to do circuits for the length of the snowfall."

    This is one reason I am ambivalent about advocating for separated cycle tracks, such as the ones proposed on Beacon St. Right now, Beacon is one of the only local bike routes that is consistently available to me through the winter. If they install tracks, how would the plows get to the tracks and keep them consistently clear of snow?

    1. This issue came up a lot in the discussion of the Western Ave Cycletracks in Cambridge.
      The city either owns, or will buy a specific machine- don't know if it's a bob-cat style plow or something more like what Copenhagen uses (sort of a giant snowblower) to plow the cycletrack.

      Anyone know how they've been doing on the new Concord Ave cycletracks?
      Of course Cambridge has a lot more $ than Somerville does, although that could change if the development over near Lechemere ever takes off. Basically it's about political will and institutional attitude. If the DPW makes it a priority, it will be cleared.

    2. Many of those bike lanes that are located just along the car traffic lanes are not properly plowed either. Usually, plow drivers focus on plowing the street for cars and bike lanes end up being a storage place for piles of snow.

    3. Not sure how it's doing these days, but I took the Concord Ave cycletrack earlier this winter, and it was not great. It was definitely cleared for stretches, but there were piles of snow (probably a result of street plowing) when you got to intersections or driveways. Luckly, it was all just slush, but it could've been really dangerous if it had frozen into ice. I was seriously tempted to just take the street, though.

      I'd also like to note that I came across one of the Bobcats plowing the Boston side of the bike path (between the BU and River St bridges) around noon, so at least it was clear for the evening commute. They also always seem to do a really good job on the Boston side between the BU and Harvard bridges, and possibly all the way to Longfellow? Unfortunately, there is more to the bike paths than that stretch!

  5. The Boston Cyclist Union has a write up on DCR Path plowing here:
    It certainly does look like the Bombardier sidewalk plow came down that path; I can't imagine it would have been anymore work on the operators part to lower the blade.

    There used to be a snow plowing report for Boston area bike paths at Masspaths.net, but it doesn't seem to be operating - it might have to do with the lack of real snow for the past two winters.