Longfellow Bridge construction impact.

Recently, Representative Livingstone and Senator Brownsberger have been getting a number of emails along the lines of the following.

For the past month, the design of the Longfellow Bridge has changed in a way that makes people walking and biking feel unsafe, contentious with one another and thus, is a barrier to a behavior that the state should be rolling out the red carpet for to alleviate traffic, reduce greenhouse gases and increase health.

This morning on my bike ride from west Cambridge to the financial district, I noticed 1) there were more people biking than driving, 2) the few people driving inbound were going 40 mph within inches of people biking and 3) people biking outbound were having to weave between people walking on the sidewalk.

Instead of letting people driving pass me at 40 mph, I took the lane, and a man driving honked aggressively at me for the entire bridge length only to stop at the MGH circle traffic. I tried to have a civil conversation to explain why, as a mother, a felt threatened by cars going so fast over the bridge and he shouted, “use the bike lane!” and rolled his window up so I couldn’t talk to him.

I can’t imagine how many bad interactions and close misses there have been in the past month because of this design and I urge MassDOT to:

  1. prioritize people walking and biking by making it 2 way for people biking and a dedicated sidewalk for people walking.
  2. detour people driving through February when the supposed new design takes effect
  3.  use the 2-way bike travel lanes for emergency vehicles in either direction when needed

In doing the above, you’ll not only make people walking and biking very happy, but you’ll encourage transportation behavior change through the correct incentive and barrier structure. You will also avoid the worst case scenario which is a death or serious injury from a crash or allowing someone in critical care to get to an emergency room that much faster.

We have followed up with Mass DOT and they have given the issue considerable attention.  Their response appears below.

Closing the bridge to vehicle travel requires extensive planning and coordination. As a result, implementing an inbound detour that would last for more than a weekend day or overnight, when volumes are lower, is not feasible. However, there are a number of measures MassDOT and WSC have identified to help mitigate concerns.

The current roadway configuration of bike and vehicle travel lane widths is within accepted design standards for urban conditions in a temporary work zone for this type of short duration stage of a bridge project. However, we acknowledge that the changing nature of construction activities in an active travel corridor has created issues that must be addressed. Outlined below are the measures WSC has begun implementing to mitigate the current conditions. Most of these have been completed, with the exception of some sign installation, which will be completed as soon as possible. These are dependent on weather and subcontractor fabrication schedules.

In general, corridor-wide, the contractor has removed any roadway and sidewalk markings from previous phases of work that are no longer necessary and cause confusion. New and refreshed markings have been installed to clearly define inbound bike and vehicle travel lanes across the entire bridge and at the Cambridge and Boston approaches. Should snowfall make plowing necessary, WSC will work hand-in-hand with Cambridge, DCR, and MassDOT to ensure the roadway, bike lane, and sidewalk are clear for travel. If necessary, this will include closing the bridge in the overnight hours for snow removal operations, similar to what was done last winter.

Inbound Bike Travel:

  • The bike lane was closed and barriers placed at the Kendall Square approach to allow access to a manhole for signal and electrical work to activate the Red Line shoo-fly track. Remaining work has been postponed until after bike travel is shifted to the upstream side. In the meantime, the concrete barriers have been placed against the MBTA reservation. The 2.5-foot wide barrels between the inbound and outbound vehicle lanes adjacent to 1 Main Street (between the First Street ramp to Main Street and Kendall Square) have been replaced with 1.5-foot wide cones, increasing the space available to bike travel in the vicinity. The metal plate covering the manhole and related trenches has also been removed.
  • The contractor will make every effort to keep all construction activity confined to the work zone and avoid encroaching on the bike lane. Additionally, the lane will be monitored and debris removed, as necessary.
  • The existing Variable Message Sign (VMS) in Kendall Square has been reprogrammed with the following wording:
    • “Boston keep left. Yield to bikes. Memorial Drive turn right.”
  • “Bikes may use full lane” signage has been installed. “Road narrows” signage is being fabricated and will be installed as soon as possible.

Outbound Bike Travel:

  • An outbound bike lane cannot be provided during modified Stage 2 due to concerns for cyclist safety. As a result, cyclists are asked to walk bikes on the sidewalk across the bridge. It is important to comply with this request, especially when bikes traveling in both directions share the sidewalk with pedestrians on Red Line diversion weekends.
  • The following signage changes will be implemented to emphasize the need to walk bikes. The existing “Bike lane closed, use sidewalk to walk bikes across bridge” sign at Charles Circle will remain in place.
    • Signs for cyclists to yield to pedestrians caused confusion and have been removed.
    • Additional signs saying “Walk your bike” are being fabricated and will be installed as soon as possible. They will be placed on every light pole across the bridge as a reminder to cyclists.
  • The bridge has several pinch points that will be addressed during rehabilitation. The sidewalk pinch point at Charles Circle will be addressed in the final configuration. In the meantime, the bike lane on the roadway extends beyond the 4.5-foot wide sidewalk section at the pinch point, where cyclists are then instructed to get off their bikes and walk on the sidewalk. As with any sidewalk pinch point, pedestrians and cyclists walking their bikes should yield to one another. This includes at the temporary narrowing where the wooden enclosures are located. The 5-foot sidewalk width in these areas is within acceptable design standards.

5 replies on “Longfellow Bridge construction impact.”

  1. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about dangers for cyclists and pedestrians during the Longfellow Bridge construction. This exchange is a great example of constructive and productive civic engagement. Thanks to all involved.

  2. It seems to me that asking cyclists to walk their bikes across the bridge is akin to making the automobile speed limit 5 mph and enforcing it. One can only imagine the response that would elicit. All users of the Longfellow bridge have schedules to meet. Walking a bike takes at least 10 minutes. I thing DOT should be be asked to try again and come up with a better solution.

  3. +1 Bruce Lederer comment. Walking one’s bike actually takes up significantly more (width) space than riding it, and so will create more congestion and difficulty in a space-limited context for the two groups (already using less than their proportionate share of resources), though it will facilitate extreme-low-speed maneuverability and slow the pedestrian/bike interaction to avoid or mitigate injury. Ideally, sacrifice only one car lane to a detour (could alternate inbound and outbound depending on travel patterns) so the bikers and walkers get preference. Slowing bikers and endangering walkers are grossly disproportionate disincentives to bikers/walkers when they are exposed to cold and wet of winter during their longer travel times. Those who already sacrifice significant personal time for the “common good” by choosing a slower (safer for others, more perilous to themselves, more space efficient and less polluting) mode of transport should at least get preferential treatment during these projects (they may deserve it all the time, but the car-centric environment will undoubtedly continue to dominate design and practice in routine non-repair conditions). Exposure to weather is not a problem for car users, so lengthening their travel time seems more fair. If the narrow travel lanes shared by bikes and pedestrians were “slow-speed” biking and had some occasional wide spots where still-walking pedestrians could move over and let bunched up groups of trailing cyclists pass at a speed sufficient to maintain upright balance, this would seem to optimize space-efficient use amongst these two groups. Additionally, if car speed limits in such areas were slowed to those of bikes (about 5 -10 mph), more informal “detours” might evolve in auto travel routes by regular drivers’ advance routing to avoid these bottlenecks.

    1. If MASSDOT holds as a long-term goal the shaping of “traffic culture” to better accommodate and incentivize cycling/walking (and thus optimize utilization and capacity in a system that is pushing against full capacity), construction projects would seem to pose a golden opportunity to more gently re-order the mindsets of the traffic culture (e.g. auto users’ resentment of cyclists), which raise political barriers to this needed change due to the historical inertia (and thus expectation of entitlement) of a system currently granting grossly disproportionate advantages to auto users. In these projects, the angry and impatient drivers would tend to blame the inconvenience on the road project itself, rather than blaming their inconvenience on, and resenting, the bikers. They would contemporaneously likely note that bikes are still able to use the route, but might more likely respond to that fact not with resentment of the bikers, but by noting the distinct advantages of bikes in increasing individual people-moving capacity and economy of space utilization, especially in the most resource-constrained contexts (it’s Boston, not the plains of Texas where those advantages are irrelevant) , and perhaps, for the first time, consider that they themselves might utilize bikes or public transit as a “cost-effective” method for themselves in limited contexts (thinking practically about how to minimize “costs” of weather and “image” and weighing that against costs to them of “time”. )

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