Support, skepticism for center bike-crossing plans

Plans to use bicycle tracks to connect the fractured Minuteman Path in Arlington Center got plenty of support last night even as some identified potential flaws that could kill the idea.

Comments followed a presentation of five different plans developed for the Town by Howard Stein-Hudson under a state-administered federal grant program, originally detailed here.

The plan also includes changes to traffic signals and lanes that would improve traffic flow and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. However, the presentation, and the discussion that followed, focused on the different proposals to ease passage through the intersection for cyclists riding on the Minuteman Path.

Keri Pyke and Mike Tremblay of Howard Stein-Hudson presented five design treatments including three with a diagonal bicycle lane that would permit cyclists to cross the Town’s main intersection from its northwest corner  (by Uncle Sam Park) to its southeast one (by Cambridge Savings Bank).

This diagonal lane, called a crossbike, would have its own traffic signal that would permit crossing during the existing 12-second right-left turn phase (Mass. Ave. westbound right onto Mystic, Pleasant northbound left onto Mass. Ave.).

Eastbound bicyclists would reach the northwest corner on a new bicycle track running parallel to the existing sidewalk by Uncle Sam Park and would connect to the eastern part of the Minuteman by a bicycle lane running from Route 60 to Swan Place along the southern side of Mass. Ave.

Two-way ten-ft crossbike

In two of the designs this lane would run in both directions and be 10 feet wide, effectively extending the Minuteman, at least for cyclists, through the center of town without interruption. (Click for detail.) These two options got the strongest positive response even as they presented some of the thorniest problems and trade-offs.

Other changes include building out some of the corners at the intersection, lengthening the left-turn lane on Mystic southbound, and adjusting traffic signals at Medford St. and at Chestnut St. to improve traffic flow.

Some designs proposed lanes and markings to encourage westbound cyclists to ride through the intersection with vehicular traffic. One would add a new signalized crossing at Swan Place for pedestrians and cyclists.

The cycle-track designs could entail loss of the center median and (in one case) loss of parking. Pyke warned that changes to the center median would probably mean moving lighting and signs and could change the look and feel of the intersection.

Comments and discussion also highlighted the potential for conflicts between cyclists and cars exiting the parking lots at the Cambridge Savings Bank and by Swan Place, especially under the designs for a two-way cycle track on the south side of Mass. Ave. Some noted that conflicts would increase between cyclists and pedestrians in the northwest corner, where the cycle track would cross the sidewalk.

Some at the meeting expressed hopes, or fears, that pedestrians and in-line skaters would also use the new crossings, entailing possible conflicts with cyclists. Several speakers predicted that pedestrians would use the new crossing to avoid the need to wait for two “walk” sequences. However, 12 seconds is not enough time to make that crossing at a walk, and extending the time would lengthen the current 110-second signal cycle.

The direst fear came from Pyke: that a cyclist, riding outside the diagonal crossing to pass slower pedestrians there would collide with a turning car.

There were probably between 80 and 100 people at the meeting.

According to Town Planner Laura Wiener, the Town will decide which design to use soon, and construction could begin in 2013.  She said that written comments could be submitted to her.

This project is separate from the Mass. Ave. Corridor Project though both would break ground at the same time. I did not cover this meeting with the same cub-reporter attention to detail as with some of my Mass. Ave. posts. Look to other news outlets for things I missed.

Update: There’s an account of the meeting at YourArlington.com. Also, the Arlington Advocate has put its coverage of the meeting and the proposals online. Further Update: Bike Expert John Allen is critical of some of the crossbike options in his comments to the Town, which he has published online. (A bit more about John and the Mass. Ave. project here.)

Still Further Update: The Town has posted detailed notes of the meeting, including comments and questions, at its web page for the project.

Almost Certainly Final Update: The Town has selected a design for this project.

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11 comments so far

  1. Linda Guttman on

    Adam, “bicycle track” is a term I haven’t heard before. Can you explain what it is? Thanks.

    • Adam Auster on

      Linda, it’s a dedicated facility just for bicycles (unlike the Minuteman, which is a multi-use path) that is physically separated from motor-vehicle traffic (unlike a bike lane).

      The National Association of City Transportation Officials says that bicycle tracks

      provide space that is intended to be exclusively or primarily used for bicycles, and are separated from motor vehicle travel lanes, parking lanes, and sidewalks.

      Thank you for nudging me to be clear. I’ve put a link to the NACTO definition in my post above.

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        So this means that inline skaters and skateboarders who share the Minuteman are not accommodated? Replacing the brick with cement on sidewalks in the area would serve disabled and all users better than just cycle tracks. Otherwise, cycle tracks won’t be just used by cyclists!

        • Adam Auster on

          I think a better question is, regardless of the formal intention, how will these facilities be used? And will there be effects from that use (such as cyclists seeking other routes to avoid slower pedestrians and skaters) that could lead to other problems (such as conflicts with motor vehicles, or with pedestrians on sidewalks)?

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            Absolutely. If bricks are not replaced with smooth sidewalk, many (ie disabled, skaters) will use bike track area. Some riders won’t be comfortable with riding into traffic on a track, while others will ride westbound on the road. There is excess sidewalk in front of Jefferson Cutter house and Caldwell banker that would be much better used for more roadway space for cyclists. Because it is so excessive, many cyclists ride on it instead of the road, which is tight.

            The engineering should address human nature and causes of reported accidents, not what looks cool, advances an agenda, or advances careers.

  2. Mark Kaepplein on

    My suggestion was to make the sidewalks that cyclists ride on officially part of the Minuteman, thus also shared use. Converting from brick to concrete along with signs in effect to share the road would warn pedestrians that they can’t expect exclusive use. I think this idea has the fewest problems and saves money. Apart from this, regular shared use or bike lanes in the roadway satisfy needs best and are the least confusing. The town cites confusion as the need for spending $290,000, so let’s keep it simple.

    Someone (Colin?) pointed out a feature of the two way bike track not presented. For cyclists headed west on the track, there would be a cyclist traffic light and stop line prior to the (bank) corner so they don’t cross traffic flowing from Pleasant turning right on Mass Ave or going straight to Mystic. This is likely to confuse some cyclists, leading to a serious accident or death when one doesn’t heed the red light. Cycle tracks are novel enough, let alone a red light for one, or stopping for red lights. Is a 9 year old, let alone 20, 50, or 70 year old going to be (and feel) safe riding against car traffic and then stopping far enough back from the corner?

    The track light signal needs to be in the middle of the bike track because in the sidewalk won’t be visible enough. In the street, it will get hit by turning trucks, snow plows, and perhaps cars – another accident waiting to happen. Unlike removable bollards that might separate bike track from oncoming traffic, a signal post won’t be movable. Bollards too will get damaged and often need replacement. Ask Carol Kowalski just how durable granite ones are against trucks.

    Conventional bike travel along the right sides of the roadway (or on shared sidewalk) is just a whole lot simpler and easier to get. The appeal of the cycle track isn’t safety, its only cool factor and designers looking for career recognition. People riding west on the track with a two foot buffer between them and oncoming trucks, buses, and cars won’t feel comfortable. The track also doesn’t serve westbound riders who prefer Mass Ave to the unlit bike path, leading to 3 bike lanes, four travel lanes, and two turning lanes on the block between Swan and Pleasant.

    People at the meeting also suggested Water Street and Mill Street as locations for riders to move between the Minuteman to Mass Ave.
    John Allen was at the meeting and suggested Mill Street. It has a traffic light, but is busy with unprotected left turns. He supported my request for accident and other data to best identify safety problems and which changes best address them. Now, we only have pictures to look at.

  3. Linda Guttman on

    Adam, Thanks for your reply. That really clarifies it for me. I am definitely in favor of the track. It’s clear and seems the safest way to go. I do not like the idea of shared use of the sidewalks. That is what we have now and clearly it does not work.

  4. Bob Sprague on

    I think the request for safety data at the intersection, perhaps dating to 1992, when the Minuteman Bikeway opened, is a legitimate one, and I hope engineers will include this at a later hearing.

    Bob Sprague

    • Adam Auster on

      I completely agree.

  5. Mark Kaepplein on

    Was emergency vehicle traffic light preemption part of the plan? If all vehicles are getting transmitters for ones proposed on Mass Ave, it only makes sense to add receivers and controllers when upgrading traffic lights, though it might wait until the next grant.

  6. John S. Allen on

    Definition of “cycle track — “…it’s a dedicated facility just for bicycles (unlike the Minuteman, which is a multi-use path) that is physically separated from motor-vehicle traffic (unlike a bike lane).”

    “Physically separated? in this case, separated from parallel motor traffic but with dicey connections at the ends and crossing two commercial driveways in 250 feet. I address these issues, and issues with the other proposals as well, and offer suggestions for improvements in my extended comments which Adam linked to.


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