Cycling skills, good roads, public awareness.

Subscribe to Posts or Comments

Save the Bike Lanes on Concord Ave!

Concord Avenue "Bicycle Lanes"

Concord Avenue 'Raised Bicycle Lanes' - Not Part of "Roadway"

Concord Avenue north of Fresh Pond in Cambridge has perfectly nice, five-foot bike lanes. They’re not even in the door zone, since there is no on-street parking. But Cambridge is planning to take them away, narrow the roadway, and force bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk. The bike lanes were striped 10 years ago as part of a successful “road diet” project. John Allen has posted a history and more information about the proposed project. The current project, whose limits are Fresh Pond Parkway and Blanchard Road, includes water main installation and started this week.  The planned “raised bike lanes” are at sidewalk level and in most places will be separated from the travel lanes by a 6-inch high curb. A bicyclist who strays too close to the edge of the “bike lane” risks falling into the travel lane. In other words, the new “bicycle lanes” are really “sidewalks”. A sidewalk by any other name is still a dangerous place to ride a bike at anything faster than walking speed. Look at the above excerpt from the construction drawings. They show clearly that the “roadway” includes the “travel lane” but not the “bicycle lane.”  This turns out to be an important detail.

MassDOT’s Engineering Directive on Bicycle Accommodation says that “Bicycle accommodation shall be in accordance with Chapter 5 of the [Project Development & Design] Guide and the 1999 AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.” What do those documents say? Chapter 5 of the Project Development & Design Guide says: “Bicycle lanes are portions of the traveled way designed for bicycle use. .  .  . Bicycle lanes should be designated by a 6-inch solid white line on the right edge of the motor vehicle travel lane [sic].” (section

The 1999 AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities is more precise. It has the following definitions: “BICYCLE LANE or BIKE LANE—A portion of a roadway which has been designated by striping, signing and pavement markings for the preferential or exclusive use of bicyclists. ROADWAY—The portion of the highway, including shoulders, intended for vehicular use.” It further says that “A bike lane should be delineated from the motor vehicle travel lanes with a 150-mm (6-inch) solid white line.”

In other words, the official design manuals say that bike lanes are part of the roadway, not the sidewalk, and are separated from other lanes by lines, not curbs. The AASHTO bike guide also includes this helpful guidance: “Sidewalks generally are not acceptable for bicycling. However, in a few limited situations, such as on long and narrow bridges and where bicyclists are incidental or infrequent users, the sidewalk can serve as an alternate facility, provided any significant difference in height from the roadway is protected by a suitable barrier between the sidewalk and roadway.” The Concord Ave project clearly does not meet the requirements for exceptional designation of a sidewalk as a bike facility, and even if it did, the design guidelines require a barrier to prevent bicyclists from falling into the roadway — an important detail that Cambridge has not followed in this project.

Well, what if Cambridge just edits the drawings so that they say “bicycle path” instead of “bicycle lane”? One problem is that there is no design standard for a bicycle facility on the sidewalk that prohibits pedestrians; the only standards are for “shared use paths” — shared by pedestrians and bicyclists. Moreover, the Project Development & Design Guide says this: “Shared use paths are facilities on exclusive right-of-way with minimal cross flow by motor vehicles. Shared use paths should be thought of as a complementary system of off-road transportation routes for bicyclists and others that serves as a necessary extension to the roadway network. The presence of a shared use path near a roadway does not eliminate the need to accommodate bicyclists within a roadway” (Section If Cambridge were to call the “raised bicycle lane” a “path” it would not be able to narrow the travel lanes to only 12 feet, as proposed, but would have to leave at least another 3 foot shoulder to provide the minimum 15 feet of room for motorists to comfortably pass bicyclists according to MassDOT’s Engineering Directive previously mentioned.

Ok, but does Cambridge really have to follow these design guidelines? To pay for this project Cambridge applied for and apparently received a grant from the Public Works Economic Development (PWED) Program, formerly administered by the Executive Office of Transportation, now part of MassDOT. So it would seem that MassDOT’s own Engineering Directive should apply.

If not, there is a higher authority. All traffic control devices in the U.S. must conform with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices published by the Federal Highway Administration. The manual has the following definitions:
Bicycle Lane—a portion of a roadway that has been designated for preferential or exclusive use by bicyclists by pavement markings and, if used, signs.
Roadway—that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel and parking lanes, but exclusive of the sidewalk, berm, or shoulder even though such sidewalk, berm, or shoulder is used by persons riding bicycles or other human-powered vehicles.”
In other words, a Bicycle Lane that is not part of a roadway does not comply with the manual.
Noncompliance with engineering directives and design manuals could mean that Cambridge would be held liable by a court in the event of a lawsuit by an injured bicyclist.

The Livable Streets Alliance endorsed the project, saying, “The Concord Avenue reconstruction plan pushes for best practice for street design. It includes well-designed and inviting facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike. Of particular note, there is a raised bicycle lane (cycle track) included as part of the project, a type of facility that has been gaining interest among the public, but which we currently have very few of.” WalkBoston endorsed it as well.

Useful and less useful signs

Seen in Berkeley, Calif, Ride on the Street, Walk on the Sidewalk

Seen in Berkeley, Calif, Ride on the Street, Walk on the Sidewalk

I remember seeing these signs in Berkeley some years ago. They are in complete violation of the MUTCD (wrong color, symbols, and font), but they do convey a useful message, particularly by citing the relevant city and state codes. I think (an improved version of) these signs would nicely complement Shared Lane Markings that I have suggested as an alternative to door-zone bike lanes in the Jamaica Plain business district. Perhaps a combined sign would do the trick, with an arrow pointing left under the Ride on the Street message and another arrow pointing right for the Not on the Sidewalk message.

Someone is sure to raise the “sign pollution” issue. Well, I can point to dozens of signs that could be removed from the corridor. I counted 10 “SLOW”” signs (or, less grammatically, “DRIVE SLOW”), and perhaps a few more have sprouted since then. These signs violate the basic principle of the MUTCD that signs should convey a clear meaning. How fast is SLOW? Only a little bit above the statutory 30 mph speed limit? Ironically there are no speed limit signs in the whole Centre-South corridor.

An even larger source of sign pollution are pedestrian crossing warning signs. They are haphazardly posted a block or two before a crosswalk and (rarely) near the crosswalk. Usually they are too high to be noticed. Boston has recently used these warning signs in a much more effective way: at the crosswalk, mounted as low as possible, with an arrow pointing to the crosswalk.  This helps alert drivers of the need to yield and reinforces the crosswalk pavement markings when they can be difficult to see (at night and after the thermoplastic begins to wear).

Tracks along Roadway Warning from Portland

Tracks along Roadway Warning from Portland

The tragic loss of a young bicyclist this week reminds me of another warning sign that we really do need: to alert cyclists about the dangers of trolley tracks. This sign is used in Portland, Oregon, but nowhere else that I know of. It is not in the MUTCD. Fortunately, we no longer need them in the Centre-South corridor (since the tracks were paved over after being an unused hazard for 23 years), but we do need them in the remaining places that trolley tracks are in the road (not in a reservation): along the E branch from Heath St to Brigham Circle, and in Cleveland Circle.

Removing on-street parking for bike lanes

Jackson Square Bike Lane Concept

Jackson Square Bike Lane Concept

A proposal for bike lanes on Centre Street between Lamartine St and Sunnyside St (near Jackson Square) was floated at the March 23 meeting of the Centre South Transportation Action Plan Citizens’ Advisory Committee. The 42-ft curb-to-curb width is just a bit too narrow for the bare minimum bike lanes proposed for Centre Street between Elliot St and Lakeview St. The necessary width would be obtained by eliminating parking on one side of the street only. (See the presentation, pages 56 – 61.) Currently there is about 21 ft (travel lane + parking lane) on each side of the street. The suggested new configuration is an 11 ft travel lane and 4 ft parking lane on one side and an 11 ft travel lane with a 5 ft bike lane, 8 ft parking lane on the other side. The remaining 3 ft would be used to widen the existing 8 ft sidewalk on one side. The proposal would leave on-street parking in front of most businesses that do not have on-street parking. This would be accomplished by switching the side without parking from the south side near Mozart Park to the north side near Bromley-Heath. Nevertheless, at least 37 on-street spaces would have to go. Continue Reading »

Bike Lanes for Jamaica Plain?

<b>Centre Street with and without Bike Lane -- the Street has Grown Wider!</b>

Centre Street with and without bike lanes -- the street grew by 10 ft!

The “Centre/South Streetscape and Transportation Action Plan” is proposing bike lanes in the Centre Street business district in Jamaica Plain from Eliot Street to Lakeville Rd. The images from the presentation at the January 2010 meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the project show bicyclists safely out of range of car doors in the existing conditions but clearly within range when bike lanes are added (see images above, doors added to original). Shared lane markings should instead be used on Centre and South Streets to encourage bicyclists to safely use the streets and to discourage motorists from harassing bicyclists. Gore stripes can be used to indicate that the door zone is unsafe. Shared lane markings have already been used at Forest Hills and in Roslindale Square and several other locations in Boston, and are proposed for the majority of the Centre-South Street corridor that is less than 44 feet wide and thus considered too narrow for bike lanes.

Door Zone Buffer Zone (Paris)

Door Zone Buffer Gore Stripes (Paris)

Continue Reading »

Can we at least stop the wrong way riders?

This morning on my way to work on Centre Street, a wrong-way rider is coming right at me in the 4 feet between stopped traffic and parked cars. I slow and wave at him. He just keeps charging along. Fearing a collision, I hop off the bike, and he barely fits past, still zooming, and giving me a scare. I look back and see him continue to charge along at speed, barely avoiding a right-turning police car.

Wait. A police car? The officer couldn’t have not seen him. How about a little enforcement here? I go back to the intersection, where the school crossing guard is saying something — maybe to the officer. I say I want him to come back. She motions, he reverses. I go to his open window and say — hey, did you see that wrong-way bicyclist going fast? He nearly hit me. He asks for a description, which I give. He gives an impression that he might do something to find this guy. But probably not. Nah, not likely.

The new bike law in Massachussetts allows police officers to use the standard ticket book they always carry to give tickets to bicyclists. It also requires training — for example in why wrong-way riding is dangerous. But it’s expecting too much to see any actual enforcement.

Updated Massachusetts Bicycle Rules

Finally, a bill fixing some of the problems in Massachusetts traffic laws relating to bicycling has been signed in to law by the Governor. Continue Reading »

Moped Lessons

Peter DeMarco’s “Who Taught You to Drive?” column recently took up the subject of mopeds. This topic is timely, since people are discovering these small motorcycles now that gas is more than $4/gallon. He also brings up two issues related to non-motorized bicyclists: passing between lanes of stopped traffic and parking on Boston sidewalks. Continue Reading »

Oh, Freedom

This month the trolley tracks in Jamaica Plain were paved over. All gone. It took two days. They had been a hazard and a nuisance, especially for cyclists, causing many injuries. And they had not been used by a trolley since December 1985. That’s 22 and 1/2 years of unnecessary pain. Completely unnecessary, because the plans for trolley “restoration” always called for replacing the existing tracks to provide greater support for the “Light Rail Vehicles” that are now the only kind used on the Green Line (and which are ironically heavier than the old PCC cars previously used in Jamaica Plain). Continue Reading »

Aaron Fine and Rosie Shatz

Crash scene

UPDATE June 27, 2008: Aaron Fine was sentenced to two years, but only two months in prison, followed by a suspended sentence for six years with supervised probation, including these special conditions: mental health counseling, abstaining from driving for four months, 600 hours of community service, and no contact with the Shatz family. Continue Reading »

Bike Week Challenge

The City of Boston is co-sponsoring a “Commuter Challenge” as part of Bay State Bike Week. Well, I have a Bike Week Challenge for the City of Boston. Here are some critical policy changes–and a few fixes–that we desperately need. Will we see them this week? Bike Week 2009? Continue Reading »

« Prev - Next »