The greening of the Mass. Ave. bike lanes

Mass. Ave. got some attention last week in the form of vivid green color in 2 bike lane locations.

There's no missing the bike lane on this busy eastbound approach to Lake St.

There’s no missing the bike lane on this busy eastbound approach to Lake St. The green was added last week.

Since this marking was not specified in the final plans for the project (correction: It was so), I think it was almost certainly added by the Town.

What is this for? This side of the Lake Street intersection is a busy spot, where the lanes go from 2 to 4 and there are a lot of markings on the pavement and a bus stop. The bike-lane markings go from solid to dashed lines and the bike lane sort of disappears.

The green clearly shows where the through-lane for cyclists lies between the right turn lane on the right and the through lane on the left.

This emphasis might be helpful if you are a cyclist who is not familiar with the intersection.

That’s my best guess anyway. I am however still scratching my head at the decision to deploy those dashed lines in the first place. Also, wouldn’t it be clearer if the green extended into the intersection?

The green disappears at Lake St.

The green (far right) disappears at Lake St. Click for larger view.

The green, by the way, is not slippery paint but some kind of small particles in a plastic or epoxy mixture.

Green was also deployed at the westbound approach to Bates Rd.:

Approach to Bates Rd.

Approach to Bates Rd.

As at Lake St., the green highlights the location of the bike lane between the through traffic lane on its left and the right-turn lane on its right. It also serves to alert drivers to the configuration of the different lanes.

I have seen drivers treat the bike and parking lanes here as a second through lane as far as the Dunkin Donuts on Palmer St.

Again, those dotted lines don’t help.

I’d like to think the green will get these drivers to look up from their phones and pay attention to the road. However, for that purpose the green should probably extend a bit further back to the east, and not wait until mid block to kick in.

One other problem area that could use some kind of paint: The merge from two lanes to one westbound just after the Cambridge line.

Some drivers seem confused about this, and drive in the bike lane as far (some of them ) as Teel St. I think the merge could be marked more clearly.

It is interesting to see the Town assessing the new design and taking steps to improve things. It’s a little harder to evaluate the solutions.

There are few, if any, federal studies of how bicycle facilities work in practice and few generally accepted standards for bicycle facilities at all. This forces every city and town to improvise and do things according to their own respective lights.

One can see Arlington trying to be internally consistent with its use of dotted lines and green to define a pattern or visual grammar of bicycle markings.

What’s less clear is if the pattern is best. Why not use solid lines throughout? (If we did, would we even need the green?)

It’s not as though drivers in this town are the least bit shy about crossing solid lines, or double ones or even median strips when it suits them.

In any case, be prepared for a different pattern language when you cross the line into another town.

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6 comments so far

  1. Travis MacDonald on

    The dotted lines are required accoring to federal MUTCD regulations as issued by the USDOT and FHWA. It is illegal to cross a solid white pavement line except for specific reasons, such as to enter a parking space or in cases of breakdown or emergency. In MA you could recieve a citation for “marked lane violation”. By using dotted white lines, it allows vehicles to legally cross over to the marked turn lane. If you have any questions about pavement markings, please refer to the MUTCD. This also covers road markings for bicycles as well as motor vehicles.

    • Adam Auster on

      Thank you, Travis. May I assume that this is the relevant section?

      The related Figure 9C-1 suggests that the dotted lines are “optional” and ought to end before the intersection, and not contiguous with it.

      bicycle lane markings

      the solid line separating the center lanes from the “BIKE LANE” is shown changing to a dotted white line at the northern end of the rectangular boxes and then is shown changing back to a solid white line closer to the intersection. A note with two arrows pointing to both dotted lines states “Dotted lines are optional.” (emphasis added)

      It seems to me that there is considerable variation in how Massachusetts cities and towns apply these standards.

  2. Bob on

    Good helpful article on the improvements and efforts to help clarify rules. It’s true I guess drivers will go “where it suits them”. But surely so do the cyclists when they get to intersections and ignore the lights. I suppose everyone is doing what they think they have to when faced with blocked paths and lack of good options (like getting behind left turners on Mass Ave and Jason st). I like the improved line markings. I hope it continues. And I sure wish they’d use something that doesn’t become invisible in the rain.

    • Adam Auster on

      Bob, I’m not complaining about the drivers, who are entitled to use medians and bike lanes to pass or to make turns if they can do so safely. (And of course cyclists are entitled to ride outside the bike lanes, and often have good reason to do so.)

      My point is the dotted bike lanes are hard for cyclists to follow and drivers do not need the dots for permission to cross those lines. They do it anyway.

  3. Bob Sprague on

    This week I asked DPW Director Mike Rademacher about when the newly added green because part of the Mass. Ave. Corridor plan in East Arlington. His response:
    “The green marking was always part of the design. It is commonly used in bike lanes where a greater amount of traffic is expected to cross over the bike lane. In our case this is at Bates Road and Lake Street where there is a right turn lane to the right of the bike lane and vehicles will need to cross over the bike lane to get to the right turn lane.”

    • Adam Auster on

      Thank you, Bob. I doubt anyone in town knows better what is in the plans than Mike Rademacher, and on the question of what was marked I stand corrected. (The Bates Road page, for instance clearly indicates the green, though it is strangely absent from the pavement markings page.)

      Rademacher’s “commonly used” claim, however, is baffling to me. Certainly in northern Middlesex County the use of this poorly defined traffic marking is unusual and inconsistent. Go no further than Somerville Ave. in Somerville to see what I mean.

      I think Arlington’s use of this device will probably be helpful. The fact remains that while motor vehicles enjoy roads built to standards that are well researched broadly accepted, bicycle facilities are largely improvised and untested. They are subject to fiscal and political pressures that sometimes lead unsafe designs. Some of those designs have been linked to injuries and death.


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