MAKING COMM. AVE. SAFER: City Proposals Are A Good Start; TurnPike Overpass Is Next Issue

Motor vehicles hit more bicyclists and pedestrians on Commonwealth Avenue in front of Boston University than anywhere else in the city.  Last year, five bicyclists were killed in the metro-Boston area, in almost every case by getting hit then run over by a truck (which, in almost every case, made the fact that they were wearing a helmet irrelevant).  One of those happened on Comm. Ave.  It’s partly that a growing number of BU students ride bikes, and not all of them are as careful as they should be.  It’s partly that drivers aren’t as careful as they should be, especially truck drivers making right turns which, because of the size of their vehicle, they have to do illegally from the left lane, compounding the danger caused by their mirrors’ large blind spot.  It’s partly that, as Boston Traffic Department (BTD) Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin has pointed out, “It’s the one spot in the city that truly has all modes of transportation” – cars, trucks, trolleys, cyclists, pedestrians, skate boarders, and more.  But mostly it’s that the street layout is simply unsafe.

To its credit, BTD and the Boston Bike Program have come up with a number of innovative improvements for Comm. Ave. which, if they prove effective, may be used in other danger areas as well.  New signage will tell drivers to “yield to bicycles when turning right” and “suggest” that cars go no more than 25 mph even though the official speed limit (set by state law) is 30.  Bike lanes will be outlined with recessed highway reflectors on wider (6”) lane-lines. Non-skid green paint will show the continuation of the bike lane through intersections.

The city’s proposals are real improvements over current conditions and will bring the bike lanes to a higher safety level without having to do expensive construction. (Hopefully, they will also fix any pot-holed sections of bike lane pavement, as well as ensure that all drains are properly working along the way.)  Of course, better still would be protected bike lanes, created either by installing rubber posts (removable during snow season) along with cross-hatch striping, or by a curb separation that forms a street-level or sidewalk-level cycle track.  And there should be separate bicycle traffic lights synchronized with Green Line, car, and pedestrian signals to create a “green wave” street allowing steady progress at a safe 15 mph.
Unfortunately, cyclists will continue to be killed on Commonwealth Avenue, and elsewhere, unless police enforce the “no right turn from the left lane” law — meaning that distributors will have to use appropriate-sized trucks for city deliveries instead of gigantic 18-wheelers.  Just as important: both trucks and buses, starting with public vehicles, must be required to have “side guards” that prevent hit pedestrians and cyclists from getting thrown under the wheels.

But the biggest long-term issue for safety on Commonwealth Avenue — for car occupants and pedestrians as much as cyclists — is what will happen with the Turnpike overpass area between Mountfort Street and the BU Bridge.  The city and state are being pressured to adopt a plan that would prioritize car traffic, recreating conditions that will be unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians – including potentially eliminating the new bike lanes on the BU Bridge. Unless MassDOT and BTD stand up against this violation of their own Complete Streets policies, the presence of reflectors, green paint, and thicker lines further up the road won’t mean very much.

The resurgence of bicycle as a valuable transportation vehicle over the past twenty years, first in Europe and now in the US, a still very much a work-in-progress.  Boston has taken progressive and creative positions in several key road redesign projects, most recently by opting for the “surface option” on Rutherford Avenue in Charlestownwhich will help re-knit the neighborhood across the current asphalt wound.  Cars are becoming more expensive, traffic congestion more pervasive, and people are looking for better alternatives.  We need to increase safety for everyone on the road regardless of their method of travel.  Hopefully, these first steps on Commonwealth Avenue are just the beginning of a continuing process of experimentation and improvement.


Related Previous Postings:


ENOUGH KILLING: How to Make Bike-Car Collisions Less Deadly

VULNERABLE ROAD USERS (VRU) PROTECTION LAWS: “Whoever Can Do The Most Damage Has To Be The Most Careful”

SIGNS, PAINT, AND FLEXIBILITY: Creative No-Cost Ways To Improve Road Intelligibility



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