By Steve Annear GLOBE STAFF DECEMBER 14, 2018
A group of state elected officials sent a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on Friday demanding a delay in the winter removal of plastic flexposts that separate cyclists from vehicular traffic along both sides of the Longfellow Bridge.
In a letter addressed to MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack, and forwarded to the Globe, state Senators Sal DiDomenico and Joseph Boncore and state Representatives Mike Connolly and Jay Livingstone called for a meeting with staff from the transportation agency “as soon as possible” to address the issue.
“We ask that you delay the removal of any safety measure from the bridge until that discussion concludes,” the letter said.
The request was sent after MassDOT officials announced earlier this week that the safety posts — also referred to as bollards — would come down beginning Sunday to make it safer and more convenient for plow trucks to clear snow off of the bridge during the winter months.
On Friday, after the letter was sent, officials said “given that there are no winter weather events in the immediate forecast,” they would delay the removal schedule.
“MassDOT has made the decision not to remove the bicycle lane flex posts on the Longfellow Bridge this weekend so that it can continue evaluating the stakeholder feedback it has received on this topic,” said Patrick Marvin, a spokesman for the department, in a statement.
The original announcement about removing the posts beginning Sunday was immediately met by harsh criticism from cyclists in the community who regularly travel across the bridge connecting Boston to Cambridge.
Organizers from several bike groups said MassDOT had initially promised in June — when the bridge reopened following years of reconstruction — to keep the flexposts in place for the winter, regardless of snow.
Cycling activists said taking them down will make bike commuters vulnerable to fast-moving vehicles that often break the speed limit going across the bridge.
“We know that about 40 percent of people who ride in warmer months continue to bike through the winter,” Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, said in a statement this week. “And MassDOT is choosing to make their commutes much more dangerous and uncomfortable with this move.”
MassDOT officials said removing the bollards is necessary in order to “ensure that the vehicular travel lanes, bicycle lanes, gutter line, and drainage structures are all cleared at the same time.”
“Additionally,” Marvin said, “keeping the flexposts in place would restrict plow access to the bicycle lanes and would delay snow removal operations in the bicycle lanes until post-storm cleanup activities.”
In the letter to MassDOT, elected officials said they are “incredibly disappointed” that the department is “reneging on its specific commitment” to keep the flexposts in place through the snowy season.
“We are also disappointed that MassDOT has not announced any other safety measures for the bridge to mitigate in any way its removal of the flex posts,” the letter said. “It appears that the safety concerns that you had expressed earlier this year are not being addressed at all with this change.”
Marvin, the MassDOT spokesman, said in a statement Friday that the department looks “forward to reviewing this letter.”
Cyclists upset with MassDOT’s decision said they are organizing an event next week along the bridge to protest the removal of the flexposts.
According to a Facebook event page called “Human Protected Bike Lane on the Longfellow Bridge,” activists plan to stand in line along the bridge, arm in arm, to send “a strong message to MassDOT that cyclists need protection on our bridges.”
The protest is being hosted by the Boston Cyclists Union, the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group, LivableStreets Alliance, WalkBoston, and the Somerville Bicycle Committee.
MassDOT plans to put the flexposts back in place in the spring.
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.