E-mail to Cara Seiderman about the Concord Avenue project, and response

From: John S. Allen [mailto:jsallen *at* bikexprt.com]
Sent: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 8:53 AM
To: Seiderman, Cara
Subject: Concord Avenue

Cara —

I attended the APBP Webinar last Wednesday and read material about the City’s Concord Avenue proposal. Thanks for your putting your presentation together. I think I owe you the courtesy of telling you what I think of the Concord Street proposal, and giving you an opportunity to respond, before I make my thoughts public.

First of all, you certainly know that I have been critical of many of Cambridge’s bicycle facilities. In that light, my praise the current road diet on Concord Avenue counts for something. You may read it at http://bikexprt.com/massfacil/cambridge/freshpond/concord.htm .

The south side of Concord Avenue is easy going, with only the single driveway for the nursing facility, near Fawcett Street. That applies to bicyclists riding in the bike lane, as well as to bicyclists who use the sidewalk in both directions. Riding on sidewalks is usually not a good idea, but there are few problems on this one because distances between trip generators are so great that very few pedestrians use it. To be sure, at night there is the problem of glare from oncoming motor-vehicle headlights, and in winter, the sidewalk gets piled with plowed snow, but otherwise, it is easy going. At the east end, it connects with the path in Fresh Pond Park and at the west end, there is a signalized intersection at Blanchard Street, allowing transitions to travel in any direction.

I don’t see how the north (westbound) side of Concord Avenue can be an acceptably safe and convenient bikeway for a general population of bicyclists, no matter what treatment is applied, short of shutting down the 21 driveways I count in the 3000-foot-long project area. Many are industrial driveways into large parking lots. Some of the driveways and streets serve heavy truck traffic. As it stands now, Concord Avenue westbound is serviceable for vehicular cyclists who know how to avoid left-cross and right-hook threats. But if, as it appears, you expect motorists reliably to yield to bicyclists in a parallel bikeway just behind the curb, that is a very iffy proposition. A motorist might be able to see a bicyclist in the right rear-view mirror (at the expense of paying less attention to traffic ahead) and avoid a right hook, but in the left cross, a bicyclist can shoot out from total concealment behind a westbound vehicle into the path of an eastbound one that turns left. And it is not only a question of safety. It also is one of efficiency; motorists in the single westbound traffic lane stopping to wait for bicyclists before turning right is a sure recipe for traffic congestion.

Narrowing the roadway and putting bicyclists behind the curb isn’t going to solve these problems, and in addition, bicyclists on the bikeway will be unable to use lane positioning to avoid the threats, and the presence of the designated bikeway will make bicyclist unwelcome on the roadway. The bikeway on both sides will be a dumping ground for snow and sand in winter, with no alternative other than to ride on the narrowed roadway.

Adding to these problems is the difficulty of getting to the westbound bikeway (or the existing westbound bike lane) from Fresh Pond Park, by crossing in a crosswalk onto a sidewalk, then immediately turning left across a gas station apron.

I also can envision problems with wrong-way bicycle travel in the bikeways, because bicyclists will avoid crossing Concord Avenue — and even more so if, as the conceptual drawings show, they must stop in the street and climb over a curb to get to the eastbound bikeway at most places. Wrong-way travel eastbound will be especially hazardous, with all the driveways and cross streets.

Motorized bicycles are becoming more popular, and are allowed on streets and in bike lanes but not on separate bikeways. They will either delay motorists on the narrowed roadway or travel illegally on the bikeway.

I would not consider this fair criticism if I didn’t offer alternatives. My major one may seem uncharacteristic, as I have been pegged as a hard-core vehicular cyclist. Yes, I’m mostly a vehicular cyclist myself, but my concern is for what works for other people too. As the father of a teenager whom I have had to guide through his education about traffic, I can hardly ignore this issue.

Here are my suggestions:

* Provide a two-way path paralleling the south side of Concord Avenue, as has been done on the east side of the park. This will provide an additional opportunity for recreational bicycling as well as accommodating transportation bicyclists who wish to avoid Concord Avenue. Parts of this path already exist, west of Moulton Street.

* Leave the cross-section of Concord Avenue as it is now. The existing cross-section accommodates bicycles, and also motorized bicycles, which may legally use bike lanes and are becoming more popular year by year. Reconstructing the roadway with the existing footprint will avoid the large expense of moving curbs and storm drains and also greatly reduce construction tie-ups.

* Tear down the fence which extends all the way along Concord Avenue on the Fresh Pond Park side, or at least make openings in it or move it back toward the golf course to make room for a two-way bikeway, if its purpose is to keep people form wandering into the golf course.

* Provide signalized pedestrian and bicycle crossings at streets that lead into the industrial area, so that the park is accessible to the large number of people who work in the industrial area. Signalized crossings already exist, at the Fresh Pond rotary, Moulton Street and Blanchard Road.

* Provide turnouts for bus stops.

* Move forward with the project for a Smith Place (or nearby) overpass over the Fitchburg Line railroad tracks, proposed in the 1990s — or a grade crossing, which would be less good but also much less expensive. (It would be only one of many grade crossings along the lightly-used Fitchburg Line — three or four commuter trains per hour in rush hour. The closest grade crossings are in Cambridge at Sherman Street and at Blanchard Road). A crossing will connect the Alewife Station area on the north side with the industrial area, Concord Avenue and Fresh Pond Park on the south side while reducing traffic at the Fresh Pond Parkway rotary.

* Connect this overpass with the Fitchburg Cutoff multi-use path (just north of the railroad tracks) which is already funded for construction, and which will provide an alternate east-west route between Belmont and Alewife station.

* Consider an additional east-west through route south of the railroad tracks. There clearly is demand for such a route, as there already is an informal path between the railroad line and Mooney Street, see http://tinyurl.com/ycxg4lv. For most of the way, a route could follow Flanders Road, Mooney Street, Smith Place and Fawcett Street. The only place a route would need to use the railroad corridor is at its east end, between the power substation and the tracks, where there is plenty of available width. But a path could follow the tracks the whole way too; there’s an abandoned track to the south of the ones in use, all the way from Blanchard Road to Fresh Pond Parkway. There’s even a little abandoned railroad yard that might become parkland.

I thank you for your attention.

Seiderman’s response

From: “Seiderman, Cara”
To: “‘jsallen@bikexprt.com'”
Date: Tue, 2 Mar 2010 10:47:42 -0500
Subject: Concord Avenue

Thank you for taking the time to write with your questions and suggestions.

I’ll start with the end of your letter by pointing to some work that has been done to support broader bicycle and pedestrian access in this area of Cambridge. If you look at the Concord-Alewife Study, you will see the longer term plans for desired connections in the Alewife Quadrangle:

As projects move forward, we hope to be able to implement those connections. In particular, we are actively looking for ways to advance the pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the tracks. Development projects in the area have been required through special permits to provide landing sites for the ramps; one project was required to supply money for a feasibility study to determine the most suitable site for the location of the bridge (unfortunately that project is stalled because of the overall economy, but we anticipate it will reemerge when that situation changes).

Regarding the overall design of Concord Avenue, there are a few things to note. The reconstruction that will happen is a complete right-of-way reconstruction, with reconstruction of sidewalks, curbs and drainage systems; this would happen in any case and is not being done specifically to create the raised bike lane. The raised bike lane is just that: bicyclists will be in the exact same location as they are now in bike lanes. At intersections and driveways, the facility is a regular in-street bike lane. There will be added signing reminding motorists to yield to cyclists. There is nothing about the design that changes where cyclists travel over a standard bicycle lane. Turning movements are always a concern, on all roads, whether there are bicycle facilities or not. There is no evidence that a raised bike lane with this design would make the situation worse; to the contrary, it increases the visibility of the cyclist, as well as decreases the likelihood of other dangerous behaviors such as motor vehicles parking in the bike lane.

The question of creating a two-way path on the Fresh Pond Reservation side has been discussed. Changes to the Reservation are strictly controlled and guided by a carefully crafted Master Plan, which would not permit significant changes to the fence or the amount of paving within the reservation. The fence will be moved into the reservation slightly to provide a bit more buffer to the sidewalk, but no additional paving will be created close to the reservation. Aside from the Reservation and Neville Manor, all of the activities and uses are on the north side of Concord Ave.; it is incumbent upon us to ensure that people traveling on that side will have high quality provisions for cycling.

Thank you for your interest in promoting bicycling.

Very truly yours,

Cara Seiderman
Transportation Program Manager
Environmental & Transportation Planning
Community Development Department
344 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
Telephone: (617) 349-4629
Fax: (617) 349-4633
cseiderman *at* cambridgema.gov

One response to “E-mail to Cara Seiderman about the Concord Avenue project, and response

  1. Pingback: Concord Avenue dream and nightmare | John S. Allen's Bicycle Blog