In the three years between 2010-2012, the seven blocks of Commonwealth Avenue from BU Bridge to Packard’s Corner in Allston were the site of 68 reported bike crashes. Around 21 young women and 47 young men, their ages averaging just over 23 years old, were bounced off car doors, run over by taxi cabs, and taken out by hasty right-hand turns, among other incidents.
Commonwealth is often recognized in the news media as having the most crashes of any street in the city, along with nearby Mass Ave. So it’s hard to understand why a new Boston Transportation Department plan to fully reconstruct the street does not include significant safety improvements for cyclists–nor does it include the current gold standard of bike safety: a physically protected bike lane (cycletrack).
The revelation has the city’s bike advocates mobilizing. We ask for your support through an online petition that you can sign with your friends.
“Its a heavily biked corridor, and its also got a lot of crashes, so we need something that’s safer and more comfortable,” said bike advocate and resident Matt Danish. “It’s an important link between Allston-Brighton and the rest of the city.”
Using data made available through years of Bike Union advocacy, the Union’s Research Group was able to carefully read the current situation on this particular stretch of Comm Ave in detail.
Looking in particular at the kinds of crashes cycletracks can prevent, their analysis showed 17 doorings (25 percent of all 68 crashes reported), two people hit by cabs pulling over, one car reversing into a cyclist, one car switching lanes and hitting a cyclist, and one cyclist seriously injured when hit from behind by a drunk driver. All in all, the analysis shows that as many as 33 percent of the crashes reported might have been prevented if a cycletrack was installed.
And, if one added protected right turn signals to the cycletrack, which allow vehicles in dedicated right hand turn lanes to go only when bicyclists going straight are stopped by a special red bicycle traffic light, it might have prevented a further 12 “right hook” crashes. One of those right hooks, a tractor-trailer turning right at Commonwealth and St. Paul, took the life of promising photographer, former Eagle Scout, and 23-year-old BU student Christopher Weigl at the end of 2012.
“Comm Ave is simply not built for the kind of traffic it has,” BU Bikes founder Galen Mook said. “That’s evident with the bike lane constantly being blocked by delivery trucks, buses pulling into bus stops, double parked cars, and kids sprinting across the street to catch the trolley, and the general chaos.”
Last week local residents, the Boston Cyclists Union, LivableStreets Alliance, MassBike, and others submitted a letter to the city of Boston asking for improvements for pedestrians and cyclists, including a protected bike lane. But before Boston Transportation Commissioner Jim Gillooly could write an answer, Boston University VP Robert Donahue answered instead, saying the school would have the consultant on the project, Tetra Tech, review the suggestions for improvements. But he also sounded a strong warning to the city and the state against any time-consuming changes to the plan.
“The financing and feasibility of this project has been made possible through federal earmarks which need to be used or are in danger of being lost,” wrote Donahue, and then continued in bold lettering: ”I would urge both the City and State to be mindful of these facts before they contemplate a major redesign of CAP2A that would definitely jeopardize the delicate funding balance of this project and thus threaten its completion.”
The city’s response to the letter has yet to arrive, and Commissioner Gillooly has not answered an email asking if he would reply or not.
Fears that funding will be lost are raised often in planning projects with deadlines to meet, but in truth, making changes quickly is simply about prioritizing the changes and heralding the resources necessary. Often it is the resistance to change can result in long, drawn out neighborhood battles that can delay projects.
“I think they have noticed that it is an important corridor for their students and I think they genuinely want to make it a better place to walk and bike,” Danish said of Donahue’s letter representing Boston University. ”I also think they have some ideas that we don’t find to be safe in this day and age. They may be a bit old fashioned.”
Tetra Tech, a $2-billion-a-year 13,000-employee giant, is also not the most progressive consulting firm in the field. Although the firm has been involved in projects that advocates have helped make innovative, like the cycletrack coming to one side of the Longfellow Bridge, Tetra Tech’s website today brags about highway interchanges, highway widenings, and highway overpasses. Only a two or three mentions of bike lanes can be found on their sprawling website, and the word cycletrack is entirely absent.
The plans for Commonwealth 2A are currently between 25% and 75% design stages. The city received comment letters after the 25% design public meeting that asked for cycletracks, but somehow did not see fit to incorporate them as the plan was refined. The city has not indicated that there will even be a further public meeting on the project, an unusual break in routine. Typically all large arterial road projects in the city have a public 75% design meeting.
Another Massachusetts grand jury has refused to indict a truck driver for running over a cyclist, preventing any criminal trial for 41-year-old Ricky Prezioso who ran over 30-year-old Eoin McGrory on April 3 in Charlestown’s Sullivan Square. The development recalls the case of Alexander Motsenigos in 2013, wh
ere a grand jury seemed to ignore a mountain of evidence.
Police had to track Prezioso down through witness accounts of the garbage truck he was driving, and charged him with “leaving the scene of an accident causing death,” but a Suffolk County grand jury did not find probable cause to indict.
Grand juries continue to be used only in the United States and individual states use them in different ways. Some states have effectively abolished them in favor of other types of preliminary hearings. They have been criticized as an inefficient use of the court’s time, but also because they appear to be easily swayed by the disposition of the prosecutor. It is also said that grand jury members often misunderstand their purpose as determining guilt, rather than their intended purpose: to determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe that someone committed a certain offense.
In order to indict in Massachusetts, a case must go before a grand jury.
In Prezioso’s case, the Suffolk County DA’s office offered more detail than is normal in their press release, perhaps in an effort to show that they earnestly tried to win an indictment.
“Suffolk prosecutors introduced 19 physical exhibits and testimony from seven witnesses, including percipient witnesses and Boston Police officers, to the Grand Jury as part of the investigation,” spokesman Jake Wark said in the release. “In light of the grand jury’s decision, prosecutors are essentially left without a criminal case.”
Now that the grand jury investigation is over, prosecutors gave the investigative file to McGrory’s family to use in the event they want to file a civil suit.
The McGrory tragedy has also sparked a number of campaigns to prevent further crashes like his. The Bike Union has been working with side guards expert Alex Epstein to spark interest in a new city ordinance that would require all trucks contracting with the city have sideguards—modeled on a similar requirement currently being implemented for trash hauling trucks. A fact sheet on the effort is also being drawn up to help bring state legislators up to speed on developments in the field.
At Sullivan Square where McGrory was killed, the City of Boston is planning a number of improvements to help prevent future crashes.
“We are adding bike lanes and sharrows and signage to the area, including pavement markings for the entire (circular) square,” said Boston Bikes Czar Nicole Freedman.
The Boston Transportation Department has long-term plan as well. An award winning redesign is sitting on the shelf that would fully reconstruct the area into a group of regular intersections, help organize traffic, and add better bikeways, including a shared use path alongside Rutherford Ave.
As of yet that project is not fully funded, and it may be altered to account for potential impacts from the Wynn Resorts Casino proposal in nearby Everett. The added traffic from the casino could degrade conditions for cyclists and pedestrians by influencing the city to keep an underpass on Rutherford Avenue at Austin Street, though many in the neighborhood would oppose such a change.
To help preserve the plan, advocates in Charlestown are rallying this week to support the Mayor’s call to delay a license hearing on the proposed casino until after a Ballot Initiative to repeal gambling in Massachusetts is voted on in the fall. The hearing is tomorrow Wed., July 2, 10:30am at Bunker Hill Community College Theatre (Room A300), and is being held by the Mass Gaming Commission.
After receiving a letter from the Bike Union, the Department of Conservation and Recreation removed the bicycle symbols along the shoulder of the Arborway in Jamaica Plain last week, admitting that their premature addition to what was designed as a shoulder for the street was “a miscommunication between headquarters and our field engineering staff.”
An article in the last issue of the Union Rider newsletter pointed out several errors in the Arborway design that could be dangerous to cyclists, and decried a lack of public review of any kind.
On the positive side, in a response letter Commissioner Jack Murray committed to hiring a traffic analyst to help create an “initial study concept” for bikeways on the street in the late fall and, as a result of the increased attention from the Bike Union and other advocates, took stronger steps toward creating a bicycle advisory board specifically for urban areas in the state.
The Union requested that the future Arborway concept include protected bike lanes (cycletracks), and recently received plans for the street that engineers working with the Union can pour over for possible solutions.
Many sections of the Arborway measured by Bike Union volunteers are wide enough allow a cycletrack with the kind of flexibility needed to allow residential services such as trash pick up and oil delivery. The challenges DCR and Bike Union engineers will face will be the traffic circles; how to traverse them or avoid them altogether.
As Boston’s Public Works Department fired up its paving machines this Spring, the Bike Union asked to add a couple particularly bumpy streets to the mix. The repaving section of the Public Works Department deserves a big thank you. Up until last week, riding Hampden Street in Roxbury felt a little like traversing the surface of the moon or a giant washboard. Today it is smooth sailing.
To celebrate, the Union asked Boston Bikes to add it to their work plan. It may take a while, as the city is focused on cycletrack work with the Green Lanes Project, but it’s nice to know it’s coming. Hampden helps connect the end of Blue Hill Avenue and the Mount Pleasant neighborhood down to the bike lanes on Albany St and on Mass Ave.
A request is also in to repave Ritchie Street in Roxbury next to Marcella Playground, where nervous cyclists are forced to dodge potholes and cars at the same time.
Interim Commissioner of the Public Works Department’s Michael Dennehy is a promising promotion within the Martin Walsh Administration in many regards, but the new commish did not see fit to help community members agree on one solution for Seaver Street.
In response to a letter signed by 48 community members and the Bike Union’s Organizing Group asking to keep bicycles away from moving traffic and out of the door zone with a cycle track on both sides of the street, he responded that, “The project is going to go forward as is… there are safety concerns on that stretch of Seaver Street for people exiting cars into such a narrow travel lane.”
Despite the setback, efforts were not all for naught. On Seaver Street, working with the Roxbury Bicycle Brigade, members of Bikes Not Bombs and others, the Bike Union did win a cycletrack on the other Eastbound side of the street, and the critical area around the cliffs in Franklin Park where speeds are high and visibility is low.
In the meantime, the bodies of cyclists riding in the Public Work Department’s (PWD) bike lane on the Westbound side of the street may end up serving as a buffer to protect the “people exiting cars” that Mr. Dennehy describes.
Seaver Street is another in what has been a pattern of community outreach from the Public Works Department that tends to divide communities rather than bring them together. The other example we’re aware of was on Mass Ave from the Boston Medical Center to Symphony Hall. The neighborhood’s goals there were similar, calmer traffic, safer for pedestrians and bikes, but because the department didn’t work with the LivableStreets Alliance to bring their ambitious plan in accord with residents—and instead played the two off of each other, we ended up with narrow, door-zone bike lanes. Anything was better than nothing it was said at the time, and we can say that again now.
Since the Bike Union began, getting accurate bike crash data that indicates cause has been part of the struggle to eliminate death and injuries among cyclists in the city. Now, that step toward “Vision Zero” has finally been taken. Not only do we now have a database that begins to tell the story of how crashes happen, we also have a baseline measure that can be used to measure the success of future efforts to reduce death and injury.
The Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI), the Boston Cyclists Union, the Boston Police Department and other partners, led by Rappaport Fellow Dahianna Lopez, have released two new tools for bike advocates everywhere. One is an interactive online crash map that allows people to identify crash clusters and see potential patterns. Two is a public release of the raw data that helped create that map. The raw data however contains much more data than the map—including narrative police reports that are our best indication of cause and a number of facts derived from them.
The release of the data opens the door for researchers around the world and allows Boston to join just a handful of cities in the country that provide public access to police crash data, and a very select few that include narrative police reports with that data. Accessing the data requires a LinkedIn profile and approval by BARI.
The work on Boston’s crash data resources will continue for years to come as the Bike Union chases a few important goals:
· Adopting Vision Zero in the City of Boston
· Adding regular updates to the existing police data
· Correlating the police data with ambulance and emergency room data to illuminate facts such as which kinds of crashes are causing the most serious crashes, and how much bike crashes are costing the city on the whole.
If you are interested in supporting our continuing work on crash data, you can join or donate, call us at 617-516-8877, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. If you’d like to volunteer on this project or other research email Jessie Partridge, the Union’s Research lead.
Rosenblum also identified four distinct areas where advocates and the city can focus their energy to make the path a reality: The BU bridge crossing, MIT’s backside which has some “dirty” uses such as storage and truck deliveries, individual landowners on the north side of the path, and the tricky connection engineering-wise with the Somerville Community Path at the Northern end. All of these, he indicated, seemed to have good potential for solutions.
Tom Evans, Executive Director of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority detailed his agency’s work on the first section of the path scheduled for construction: a small stretch along Galileo Way that doesn’t suffer from any competing use or other barrier. The plan calls for a path along Galileo that is well situated to connect to future paths on either end. It could be completed as early as this year, said Evans.
MIT spoke next. Currently embroiled in their own feasibility study, officials from the venerable institute spoke encouragingly of the path.
“We believe the [Grand Junction] Path has the ability to improve and enhance this area,” said Ken Williams, a senior real estate officer from MIT. Apart from their cautious support of the path however, MIT gave no clear indication of whether they thought the path was truly feasibility or not, saying the problem still needed to be studied further.
As part of their feasibility study, MIT will be holding an open house for the Grand Junction in which options for the path would be presented for the public to review. The Grand Junction Rail Corridor Open House will be Tues., June 24, 5pm-8pm at MIT’s Stata Center, 32 Vassar Street, Room 32-124, 1st floor.
After MIT finished answering questions from the city councilors present, Ned Codd spoke up. Codd is Assistant Secretary for GreenDOT at MassDOT. The GreenDOT plan he stewards aims to triple mode share of transit, biking and walking by 2030.
Codd was nominally supportive of the bike path but most of his testimony seemed to be obstructive to it, as he seemed to press for the preservation of two tracks for a future transit option. MassDOT and others, he said, have envisioned running Diesel Multiple Unit trains on these tracks, much like they have on the Fairmount “Indigo” Line and a recently envisioned Back Bay-Seaport connection.
His testimony triggered a line of hard questioning by City Councilors, primarily by Dennis Benzan and Nadeem Mazen, who seemed put off by the brush off. Asked if the state was funding or even starting to study the feasibility any addition of transit to the line, Codd responded no, but “conceptually there’s funding… It’s a long-term idea.”
Codd’s kibosh was the focus of public testimony later in the program, where many implored the council to not let “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” And cautioned Codd to consider the shorter-term benefits of increasing bicycle mode share. Any transit project would likely take at least 15 to 20 years to bring to fruition from an “idea” to a completed project.
Councilor Benzan asked pointedly “if [West] Station isn’t going to happen, why should we believe [transit on the Grand Junction] will?” Referring to the controversial MassDOT decision to decouple the I-90 straightening project in Allston from the addition of a new Commuter Rail station. Codd responded that the Governor is working with fewer transportation funds than he had asked for, and when that situation improves, more transit expansion can begin.
The Friends of the Grand Junction Path made the biggest splash of the day when their Rachel Burckardt, PE, put the kibosh on Ned Codd’s kibosh by explaining in detail how she devised a way to show that even at 15 minute intervals, trains could travel both ways on the current track configuration (which is partly single and partly double track).
“Basically, you just schedule the trains so they pass on the double tracks,” Burckardt told the Union after the hearing. “They do this on the commuter rail on the Newburyport and Rockport lines after Beverly, on the Haverhill line between Reading and just before Haverhill, and on parts of the Old Colony, Stoughton, and Needham lines. In other words, much of the commuter rail system is scheduled this way!”
“Wow,” remarked Councilor Dennis Carlone after Burckardt’s testimony.
Later that day, across town at a meeting of the advisory group for Allston’s I-90 Interchange straightening project or “People’s Pike,” Allston advocates kept their end of the path high up on the list of priorities. The MassDOT team was explaining the tight corridor they have to work in for one part of the highway’s replacement, suggesting a process that would include knocking two lanes off I-90’s viaduct which starts just west of the BU bridge at a time to build two new lanes and eventually replace the bridge. But to do so would include moving the bridge closer to Storrow Drive, which sits ironically upon the Storrow reservation, managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
During the hullaballoo that ensued, Bill Diegnan of Cambridge asked how the Grand Junction fit in to the new configuration and was assured that the path was still viable under this alternative. And, when the room of nearly 40 advisory group members unanimously rejected the idea of encroaching on DCR land, the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Kairos Shen inserted himself in the proceedings and asked the group to support the idea of the BRA helping MassDOT create a few new alternatives. In the current MassDOT team, he argued, urban planning professionals are notably absent and this would help MassDOT address some community requests. The group unanimously supported this idea.