Category: Community News

Gearing Up: Plans for Bike Lanes on Craigie Bridge Move Forward

by Dan Murphy • January 31, 2019 • 

Following the end of the public comment period on Jan. 22, the state is now moving forward with plans to install dedicated bike lanes on the Craigie Bridge.

Current conditions on the bridge, which carries traffic on the McGrath O’Brien Highway (Route 28) between Land Boulevard in Cambridge and Leverett Circle in Boston, include six travel lanes with no dedicated bike lanes leaving bicyclists to use travel lanes or the sidewalks and no defined turn lane into the Museum of Science, according to The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

MassDOT and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) unveiled two bike-lane options, as well as planned safety improvements for the bridge, on Dec. 18 at the MIT Stratton Student Center in Cambridge.

New safety measures, which are slated for completion by this spring, include changing speed-limit signs to 25 mph; installing “speed feedback” radar signs; conducting road-safety audit; installing pavement-marking change; and installing flex posts if possible, according to MassDOT.

The design team presented two options for creating bike lanes, both of which would eliminate one traffic lane.

The first option, which was developed in 2008, would create continuous on-road bike lanes and maintain the existing sidewalks while providing two travel lanes in each direction and adding a left turn into the Museum of Science.

The alternative is just like the first option, except that it would create three travel lanes into Leverett Circle and restrict left turns into the Museum of Science.

The final design is expected to be presented in the winter of 2019, wrote MassDOT spokesman Maxwell Huber.

“O’Brien Highway is a key bike route between Cambridge and Boston,” according to a statement from the Boston Cyclists Union. “It’s also eight lanes wide in parts, with a high volume of truck traffic and speeding vehicles. Protected bike lanes are absolutely necessary to minimize conflicts on this road.”

The bridge was the site of a fatality on Nov. 9 of last year when 24-year-old Boston University Meng Jin,24, was struck and killed by a dump truck while biking there.

Stacy Thompson, executive director of the Cambridge nonprofit Livable Street Alliance, is pleased that the state is proceeding with the project, albeit more slowly than was originally anticipated.

“Citizens have been advocating for bike lanes since the late ‘90s…and we’ve been asking for these changes for more than a decade,” Thompson said. “There was a commitment when Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation project was complete that they would install the bike lanes, but there were various delays with that bridge and now that it is complete, we still don’t have the bike lanes [on the Craigie].”

While Thompson said she sees no merit in debating which alternative is preferable, especially since they were developed, at least in the case of the first option, more than a decade ago, she emphasizes that “the devil is in the details,” such as connectivity to the Charles River and whether or not buses can make a left turn into the Museum of Science.

“Having strong biking infrastructure is an absolute must, but they still have work to do so that the bridge can move the most people, which includes improving walking and biking infrastructure,” Thompson said.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone also said he was pleased that the project is moving forward while underscoring the bridge’s potentially hazardous conditions. “I think current situation is unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclist, and I think separated bike lanes should be installed with minimal disruption to current traffic,” Livingstone said. “I’m pleased that MassDOT is doing the public process with all stakeholders involved so that everyone has a say.”

Massachusetts advocacy groups file contrasting abortion legislation

January 31, 2019 12:04 am by Sofia Saric

Across the country and Massachusetts, reproductive rights groups are advocating for increased protections for abortion access, as it was recently the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States, on Jan. 22.

More than 70 organizations rallied for more extensive abortion legislation for Commonwealth residents at the Massachusetts State House on Jan. 17 during Sexual Health Lobby Day, according to a press release from the Coalition for Choice.

The rally was led by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, the ACLU of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Family Planning Association.

For the 2019 legislative session, advocates have proposed An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access, or the ROE Act, which would eliminate needing parental consent for an abortion and improve affordable access by eliminating other provisions.

The bill is sponsored by Massachusetts Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler, Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad and State Representative Jay Livingstone.

The ROE Act reforms state law to remove restrictions on abortion, including allowing access to abortion in certain cases of fetal anomalies after the 24-week mark and permitting teenagers to have access to abortion without parental consent.

At the Massachusetts State House on the Sexual Health Lobby Day, Chandler said the bill ensures that women’s healthcare is on the frontlines of the legislative agenda.

“The ROE Act breaks down barriers that women still face when trying to access abortion and contraceptive care,” Chandler said. “I am proud to sponsor this bill in honor of all the women who came before me and struggled to get the services they needed.”

Chandler said her efforts are motivated by the prospect of a better future.

“I will fight for the ROE Act so that future generations may live in a safer and healthier world,” Chandler said.

Not all believe that these efforts to increase abortion access are needed, however.

President of pro-life organization Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Anne Fox, said while she recognizes the legal possibility to expand abortion rights, she thinks there is no need for state abortion expansion because it is already accessible.

“They talk about access,” Fox said. “Well, in Massachusetts no one, no woman, is more than an hour at most from an abortion facility. It is less than an hour to get there.”

These already adequate forms of accessible help, Fox said, make the prospect of further accessibility difficult to imagine.  

“It is kind of hard to think how you could expand it,” Fox said.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life, alongside other pro-life groups, is looking to pass legislation as well.

Fox said the organization filed state bills this January that would fight coercion and increase educational information about abortion provided in clinics and schools.

“You take your dog in for surgery, you get a whole lot of information,” Fox said. “If you go in for an abortion, you get very little information. This would require that the people at the abortion facilities tell a women what is involved in the whole process.”

Carmen Hernandez, 52, of Back Bay, said although the possibility for new abortion access legislation could be a positive thing, abortion can still be upsetting.

“In a way, it is a mixed blessing,” Hernandez said. “A lot of young people aren’t always ready for parenthood.”

Katherine Burke, 19, of Fenway, said that she is pro-choice because she believes that situationally, abortion can sometimes be the best, or only, option for some women.

“There are certain instances where abortion is not the best answer,” Burke said. “However, there are other cases where it might be necessary, or it might be better for the mother to get an abortion.”

Saloni Jain, 23, of Brookline, said she believes legislation to improve abortion access could be a positive change.  

“If it makes it easier, then it is good,” Jain said.

https://dailyfreepress.com/blog/2019/01/31/massachusetts-advocacy-groups-file-contrasting-abortion-legislation/

Cambridgeport – BU Bridge Update

As you may know, last Thursday, Jeff Parenti from DCR and I came to the last CNA meeting and presented his update short-term plan for the BU rotary.  As I promised at the meeting, his draft plan from the meeting is attached to this email.  If you have any comments that you wish to share, you may contact Jeff directly at   Jeffrey.Parenti@mass.gov.  I am also happy to answer any questions.

Jeff also announced that DCR has hired a consultant to work on Memorial Drive Phase III, which will involve roadway improvements between the BU Boathouse and Mt.. Auburn Hospital.  Every intersection will be evaluated as part of that process and the rotary may be completely redesigned.  DCR anticipated starting a public process for that long-term project later in the spring.

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.

State sees bicyclist unity on protected lanes, but safest path behind museum looks far off

Bicyclists gave feedback to state officials Tuesday on how to engineer safer travel near the Museum of Science, with improvements expected as soon as the spring. But the safest path for people walking or biking – one on the other side of the museum, far removed from car traffic – remains a project without a leader or much hopes of happening anytime soon.

The state called the meeting shortly after bicyclist and grad student Meng Jin, 24, was struck and killed Nov. 9 by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, a jumble of state and city roads near the museum. (“As has been mentioned, this road is so complicated it has three different names,” state Rep. Mike Connolly said of Museum Way, also known as the Charles River Dam Road and state Route 28.) The meeting place was moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s student center from the museum as the number of people expected to attend swelled.

The large room held several dozen state and city officials as well as bicyclists, who stood as the speeches wound down to form a ragged wall of handheld blue fliers saying “protected bike lanes save lives.”

Among them was George Schneeloch, of the Cambridge Bikes! group, who noted that bike lanes protected from traffic by plastic posts or more permanent infrastructure had long ago been called for by city officials. “Where are they?” Schneeloch said of physical lane protections. “We aren’t forgetting about this. It’s on the city’s bike plan, and it’s important to us.” Nathanael Fillmore, of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group, was similarly upset that the road along where Jin was struck might be marked off from traffic only by paint. He called the lack of protections for a mere 4-foot-wide lane “deeply inadequate.” Flex posts were needed as a bare minimum, he said, and concrete separators were better.

But Andy Paul, a highway design engineer for the state Department of Transportation, assured that come the spring there was a commitment for flex posts for the road “where possible.” That excluded stretches such as around the Craigie Bridge, where infrastructure got more complicated with medians and added lanes.

Before the paint and flex posts will come the posting of speed-tracking radar signs in January and a comprehensive road safety audit, the state said. Speed limit signs reflecting a change to 25 mph have already been posted.

Looking for input

The meeting was called the first of several at which the state would solicit input on improvements, with state highway administrator Jonathan Gulliver assuring participants that “we are really, really looking for your input.” Two options were presented as starting points: one from 2008 that adds bike lanes, removes one of five vehicle lanes and adds a left turn lane into the museum; and an update that is the same except for providing three travel lanes to Leverett Circle in Boston and restricting left turns into the museum. There were stations set up where people could suggest their own infrastructure arrangements, demonstrating how they worked by laying down colored paper standing in for different kinds of lanes on a background representing the road.

The idea of moving a pedestrian and bicycle path to behind the museum was liked by many – David Loutzenheiser, senior transportation planner for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, was walking around the meeting showing a plan with a path immediately behind the museum – but everyone agreed getting it done would be complex in terms of design, funding and leadership.

An archive of interest

There’s been “probably three or four attempts” to promote a path or bridge over the past three decades, said Wayne M. Bouchard, chief operating officer of the museum. The most recent was around five years ago, with a model that incorporated a drawbridge to let boats through the locks and would require staffing.

“Our position [at the museum] is always that we’re very excited about anything that will allow more access to the river and make that part of the river come alive. It’s an underused resource, and a huge opportunity for someone to do something big. The challenge is always who’s going to really run with this project, and how’s it going to be funded?” Bouchard said. “Usually there’s a design and discussion – and then things get quiet for a long, long time until someone else comes up with another interesting design.”

The museum can’t even join in fundraising, he said, because “there’s never been an actual proposal.”

Museum involvement looks like the least complicated part of a project that would likely require long-term cooperation among Cambridge, Boston, the state Department of Conservation & Recreation – if a path goes in directly behind the museum on existing land, anyway – and design and construction funding from the state Legislature.

“What’s missing is an overarching process owner. Is it Boston? Is it Cambridge? Is it DCR? Is it the governor’s office? Who would sit above all of this and pull all of the interested parties and government agencies together, and in a way where there would be a plan that would survive the changing nature of politics over 10 or 20 years? It’s going to take a lot of years to get people lined up,” Bouchard said.

Best-case scenario

In his own conversation with Gulliver about a bridge or separated path, Fillmore said the “best-case scenario was five years in the future” even if all permitting went as fast as possible and funding was in place. “Five years is a really long time for us,” Fillmore said.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone, whose 8th Suffolk District includes parts of Cambridge and Boston,  was “a big fan” of the idea, but said current funding for infrastructure solutions by the museum will pay for paint and flex posts – not for putting up a quarter-mile bridge.

Though plenty of stakeholder input about a pedestrian and bicyclist path would be needed first, “if there’s a transportation bond bill for this term in the Legislature, it’s definitely something I would want to include,” Livingstone said.

Cambridgeport Update: BU Bridge and Safety

Cambridgeport Update: BU Bridge and Safety

Last week, I attended the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association meeting, where MassDOT gave us an update on the state of the BU Bridge and how we should address traffic issues moving forward. For those who could not attend, Joe Barr from Cambridge, Jeff Parenti from DCR, and Neil Boudreau from MassDOT came and provided updates.

This is the third meeting regarding traffic issues related to the BU bridge that arose shortly after changes completed on that bridge as well as on Granite Street.  The streets impacted are under the jurisdictions of the three entities.  Granite Street and Brookline Street are under the jurisdiction of Cambridge, the circle and Memorial Drive are DCR’s, and the BU Bridge is MassDOT’s responsibility.  Once you arrive at the lights on the bridge at Commonwealth Ave in Boston, it is Boston’s responsibility to operate them.  Although no one from Boston came, both Neil Boudreau and I had been in touch with Boston officials, who have been very cooperative to find out what was happening and trying to fix it.

First, for Granite Street, Joe Barr announced that Cambridge was finished experimenting with parking and had decided to permanently remove parking on one side of Granite between Rockingham and Brookline Streets.  This will allow two lanes of cars on Granite so that people can make a left on Brookline Street even if those making a right on Brookline are stuck in traffic.  There were several suggestions regarding improving signage on Granite, Waverly, and Rockingham Streets.  Joe agreed to evaluate the suggestions and make appropriate changes.

Second, Jeff Parenti from DCR spoke about his work.  He spoke about long-term and short-term improvements.  For the short-term improvements to the circle, he had his initial thoughts, which are in the attached document.  He is going to come back to CNA’s next meeting on January 17, 2019 and have a more specific discussion on what people think.  DCR will make improvements through adding paint to the circle and signage.  The changes can be made as soon as it is warm enough for paint to dry, probably next March.  In addition, DCR just hired a consultant to start a public process on infrastructure changes as part of Phase III of the improvements to Memorial Drive.  (Phase I was from the Charles River Dam Road to the Longfellow Bridge and Phase II was from the Longfellow Bridge to the BU Boathouse.)  He is looking forward to redesigning the circle as part of this project.  He said that people should think of the circle as a “blank slate” as they imagine what could be there.  If you have comments on the short-term fix, you can email him directly at jeffrey.parenti@mass.gov. Below is his initial thoughts on short-term changes that could be made.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://www.jaylivingstone.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/BU_Rotary_Bike_Lane_Concept.pdf”]
Finally, Neil Boudreau from MassDOT spoke about what he had found looking into the lights on Commonwealth Ave.  The lights are designed to adjust to minimize traffic.  This clearly was not occurring at all.  Between the first and second meeting, he said that the problem was that the system was damaged during construction and had only recently become operational.  In the last six weeks, Boston and MassDOT worked to make sure the lights were working as designed.  It turned out there was a communications issue where the lights were reverted to mid-day settings at rush hour.  This meant that there was approximately 15% less green time for those driving from Cambridge to Boston than there should have been.  This has been fixed.  In addition, the signals were adjusted to add a little more green time for the Cambridge to Boston movement.  The combination means that there should be 25% more green time consistently during rush hour than was the case during the worst problem times.  That should help.  Neil said he was continuing to work with Boston to determine if more improvements could be made.  The handout that Neil distributed is below.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://www.jaylivingstone.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/BU-Bridge-Traffic-Count-Comparisons_Dec-2018.pdf” title=”BU Bridge Traffic Count Comparisons_Dec 2018″]
This is obviously an issue that remains to be worked out completely, but I’d like to thank everyone involved who helped us come closer to reaching a resolution. I’m always impressed with the activist nature of Cambridgeport and it’s a great joy of my job to work with the neighborhood to fix issues like these. More updates are forthcoming, but I thought that ahead of the holidays, the people of Cambridgeport deserved some peace of mind that this issue is being worked out.