The attack of the road-eating bicycles

The width of Mass. Ave. is a finite resource, and the Town would dedicate ten feet of it to bicycles (plans here).

How did the lycra-clad elites engineer this stunning coup d’etat? I’ve got to warn you, it’s not what you think!

Opponents of changes to Mass. Ave. love to talk about the bicycles, sometimes in apocalyptic tones. This fall, for instance, the anti-redesign group handed out leaflets accusing the Selectmen of

planning to severely narrow Mass Avenue in East Arlington in order to add two 5-foot bike lanes on each side…. [original emphasis]

In case that isn’t clear, the leaflet continues:

It is the addition of bike lanes that forces fewer and narrower car lanes, increasing the likelihood of accidents.

Stripped of its breathless tone, the indictment seems to be as follows:

  1. A misguided desire to accommodate bicycles is behind the entire plan to change Mass. Ave.
  2. The result would be less safe than the street is today.

An examination of the record of this project, however, shows that (1) is mistaken because (2) is dead wrong.

That is, the proposed lane configuration is safer than the status quo, especially for pedestrians. It is the pursuit of that safety, not the needs of cyclists, that has driven the planning process from the start.

Were there no such thing as a bicycle, in other words, the following design changes would still make the street safer:

  • narrowing the crossing distances with curb extensions and bump-outs;
  • providing a safe stopping zone in the middle of the crossing;
  • eliminating double lanes, where possible, since they are a significant cause of accidents;
  • eliminating illegal parking that makes pedestrians harder to see;
  • discouraging speeding.

These are good things. And it is safety, not bicycles, that is behind them.

There’s more to say more about the proposed bike lanes, which have both advantages and disadvantages compared to the alternative of an extra-wide shared lane. Maybe that should be the topic of another post. (I add that I am comfortable, personally, riding my bicycle down Mass. Ave. without any dedicated bike lanes at all.)

But it’s clear that the road isn’t being changed to build bike lanes, because the changes above are to realize pedestrian (and other) safety benefits.

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1 comment so far

  1. Mark K. on

    Increased pedestrian safety IS the real reason for loss of travel lanes…combined with refusal to use pedestrian refuges (raised center median over the line in Cambridge) by Police and Fire chiefs. Their veto means motorists have to suffer, and the committee refuses to take them on. Raised center medians are just fine with Mass DOT, and they actually object to flush ones such that they are getting cut from the plan!


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