There actually is a common theme running through all three of this week’s seemingly unconnected items:  how to deal with the changes in transportation choices that people will make as gas prices continue to rise, urban population expands, and congestion gets worse.  Or, as my carpenter brother says about his tools, “the trick is keeping everything in its own place.”

SEGWAY IN THE WAY – Reclaiming Sidewalks for People

CHARLES RIVER BRIDGES – Part of the Path or the Road?

BIKE LIGHTS AT NIGHT – “Fix It” Enforcement

The first one applauds Boston’s effort to plan ahead for the influx of electric and low-powered vehicles – such as scooters, mopeds, electric bikes, and Segways – that people will increasingly use.  If you agree, contact your favorite Boston City Councilor and urge a quick, positive vote for the proposal.

The second delves into the complications of bike and pedestrian movement around and over the River St., Western Ave, and Anderson Bridges.  Despite having spent several years arguing for bike lanes on the bridges, the more I examine the situation the more appropriate – even necessary – it seems to create two-way, separate-from-traffic, corridors for bikes on both sides of each bridge.  Read my own musings and leave a comment with your own thoughts.

Finally, the other night I was almost knocked off my bike into traffic by an idiot cyclist wearing black and without any lights who came flying down the bike lane going the wrong way on a one-way street.  So I spent a little time searching for effective “get the light” strategies.  Cambridge and Boston have “Be Bright; Use A Light” efforts, although neither have been of sufficient scale to fundamentally change local culture.  But the Portland, Oregon program seemed really good and, with some adjustment, greatly worthy of emulation.  Does anyone know of other highly effective campaigns?


SEGWAY IN THE WAY —  Reclaiming Sidewalks for People

A Segway’s internal gyroscope and compact electric motor are engineering marvels.  The machines are positive life-changers for people with certain disabilities such as MS, missing or malfunctioning legs or joints, breathing problems, and more.  And they are a great help to people doing particular kinds of jobs such as warehouse inventory.

But the picture looks more like an accident waiting to happen when you realize that these 100 pound machines can go up to 15 mph on city sidewalks, with often inexperienced tourist drivers swaying like circus clowns on the brink of control while trying to wiggle around pedestrians.  And the picture gets worse when these novices are being led around by pushy tour operators.  People in Boston’s North End and other areas have already felt they were being chased off the sidewalk by these intrusive and intimidating motorized donkeys.

The Segway company, or its paid allies, have developed “model” laws concerning the machines which they’ve pushed state and city officials around the country to adopt.  Not surprisingly, these supposed regulations actually end up making it almost impossible to limit Segway use.  But some states and cities, including Boston, are moving beyond the firm’s self-serving subterfuges.

The Boston City Council is now reviewing an order submitted by Council Vice President Sal LaMattina that would prohibit Segways from being driven on the sidewalk or on park paths unless the user has a disability.  Second-time violators would be subject to fines ranging from $50 to $100.  Segway tour companies would have to secure a city license and would be hit with a $500 ticket for leading people off the street.

At the Council hearing on the bill on May 13th, John McQueen, representing WalkBoston, suggested that even disabled users be required to go no faster than 4 mph when on the sidewalk – the speed of a fast walker.  In order to provide a clear, quick visual means of enforcement, McQueen recommended that disabled users be issued a visually-prominent tag to display on their machine, with other numbered tags issued to tour operators and law-enforcement officials.

So far, other than for the disabled, the Segway is mostly a gimmick.  But like scooters and electric cars, its use will grow as gas prices rise, congestion worsens, and people look for alternatives.  Now is the time to channel Segway travel, like the growing number of bicycles, on to the streets – where they can more safely and appropriate share the growing network of bike lanes and cycle tracks.


CHARLES RIVER BRIDGES – Part of the Path or the Road?

The paths along the Charles River are full every weekend and many weekdays with recreational cyclists, joggers, and walkers of every age, as well as with in-line skaters and people with baby carriages.  They travel on both sides of the river, heading both east and west.  And when they cross the river on any of the bridges – particularly the River Street, Western Ave, and Anderson bridges now being renovated through the Accelerated Bridge Program – they use the nearest sidewalk regardless of which direction the adjacent traffic is traveling, even though the sidewalks aren’t wide enough to prevent contention with pedestrians who are also moving in both directions.  Is that behavior likely to change if the bridges get bike lanes?  And if these cyclists do use the lanes instead of the sidewalk, will they continue to go in both directions regardless of the direction of adjacent traffic, requiring dangerous serving on the standard-size (and therefore too narrow for two-way movement) bike lanes?

Western Ave., in Cambridge, is about to have a physically separated cycle track at sidewalk level for much of the distance from Central Square to the river, on the right side of the one-way street.  While most cyclists are expected to use the off-road facility, it is likely that some higher speed and Vehicular Cyclists will stay on the road.  Will the cycle track users be willing to move into an on-road bike lane over the bridge?  Or will they feel more comfortable staying off-road on the sidewalk?  Will the Vehicular Cyclists feel ok about staying in the road?

Western Ave. in Boston, a two-way street, now has a buffered bike lane on the north-bound side (heading towards the river) – and may, in the future, have bollard-separated cycle tracks in both directions.   Again, while most cyclists are expected to use the protected space, it is likely that some higher speed and Vehicular Cyclists will stay on the road.  But at the river, once they’re through the intimidating Storrow Drive overpass intersection, they’ll all be facing the Western Ave. bridge with one-way traffic heading towards them.  Will everyone be willing to bike over to the River St. Bridge, where traffic is one-way towards Cambridge, in order to cross the river?  Or will they want to go the “wrong way” on the Western Ave. bridge sidewalk?

Currently, the sidewalk option is more inviting – trying to go from Western Ave. to Cambridge St. and from there to the River St. Bridge is extraordinarily dangerous.  There is no bike lane along the east-bound Service Road in front of Genzyme, much less a traffic-protected cycle track.  Cars go flying into the unsignalized Mass. Pike entrance, which doesn’t even have a painted cross walk.  The sidewalk is narrow and uneven.  And the Storrow Drive overpass intersection is a nightmare of speeding traffic coming from and simultaneously moving towards multiple directions with no consideration for anyone else.  It would be very helpful, and cost almost nothing, for MassDOT to put Jersey Barriers along the two-lane, west-bound Service Road next to the river, using the protected space for a cycle track that would invite safe travel between the bridges.  But so far, MassDOT has said that such an action is outside the bounds of the Accelerated Bridge Program – as if getting on and off the bridges is a separate issue than getting over them.  And if this simple solution is adopted, given the traffic volumes across the River Street Bridge, are the cyclists using that bridge more likely to stay on the sidewalk or be willing to move into an on-road bike lane?

In a perfect world, there would be enough room on the bridges to include both a bike lane and a cycle track.  But despite MassDOT’s (current) willingness to narrow the traffic lanes and even remove one lane on some of the bridges where their congestion modeling predicts it won’t cause traffic problems, they feel that they can only free up enough space for one of those options.  While we can (and do) argue about their modeling assumptions and conclusions, the current political reality is that we can have on-road, standard against-the-curb bike lanes; or we can have a cycle track (at the same level as, but separated from, the sidewalk); or we can have a road-level bike lane with bollard separation from traffic – which has the benefit of allowing extra space for emergency vehicles and possibly facilitating snow removal.

Which should it be?

The past decades of car-centric development has created an imbalanced infrastructure that is at best uninviting and at worst enormously dangerous for non-motorized use.  So it makes sense to now prioritize the needs of human-powered activity with better sidewalks, safer bike accommodations, slower traffic, and less busy intersections.  It makes even more sense given the need to deal with air/water pollution, resource conservation, and climate change issues.  But it’s all about the details, and every situation requires its own solution.

I’m still agnostic about the best design for the bridges.  I have spent several years arguing for bike lanes on the bridges, the adjacent intersections, and the approaching roads.  I felt that priority should go to the everyday commuters rather than the episodic recreational users – which in my mind meant bike lanes.  But I’ve been recently having second thoughts.  If we are to dramatically increase the number of people who use bikes, I think the entry route is more likely to be through recreational cycling than immediately jumping into the challenge of commuting.  And those who do begin to commute are more likely to be “traffic intolerant” — strongly preferring to be on a cycle track – or a sidewalk – than next to high speed or high volumes of trucks, buses, and cars.

And, most importantly, the reality of the surrounding traffic and bike conditions makes it very likely that both cyclists and walkers will continue to use both sides of the bridges for two-way travel.

All of which pushes me towards treating the parts of the bridges reserved for non-motorized as continuations of the river-side multi-use paths rather than as parts of the roads – which pushes me towards the cycle track option.

What do you think?



BIKE LIGHTS AT NIGHT  – “Fix It” Enforcement

My sister, a proud Texan, is shocked by the dark clothes everyone wears here in the North.  Her friends wear bright colors all year round.

At night, as I’m cycling home from work or a meeting, I think she’s right.  In the best circumstances it’s hard to see bicyclists at night.  It’s almost impossible if they’re wearing black – and actually impossible if they don’t have front and back lights on their bike.

(Cyclists wearing dark clothes, without lights, and going go the wrong way down a street at night need to have their heads examined – which will probably occur in the ER sooner than later since they’re often not wearing helmets either.  I just hope their stupidity doesn’t take me with them.)

So I was impressed by a report from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland, Oregon, about their recent Bike Light Campaign.  Working with the city, they created a three-stage campaign.  First, the BTA conducted an internal and external media campaign pointing out the importance (and legal requirement) of having bike lights.  Then, the police would stop bicyclists without lights, give them a pair, and tell them to warn all their friends.  Finally, after a number of weeks, the police would start giving out tickets.  It seemed to have worked, even for newbie cyclists – there were relatively few unlit bikes left to ticket by the end of the educational and warning ticket phases of the campaign.

But I was even more impressed by the suggestion from one of the BTA blog’s readers that instead of warnings or regular tickets the police give “fix it tickets” to bikes without lights.  “Fix it tickets” require the violator to somehow show that the problem has been fixed, at which point the ticket is cancelled.  That way, instead of the fine disappearing into the general fund, it is actually used to solve the problem.

Seems like a pretty good idea, to me.  Does anyone know if current state and city law allows this?  If not, what would need to be changed?

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