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Comm Ave cycletrack campaign heats up

Bike Union director Pete Stidman explains to Mayor Marty Walsh why a bike lane on Comm Ave is not enough.

Bike Union director Pete Stidman explains to Mayor Marty Walsh why a bike lane on Comm Ave is not enough.

Since the Walsh Administration took over in January, the bike movement has been watching the actions of interim Transportation Commissioner Jim Gillooly, the Public Works Dept. and Boston Bikes closely to get a sense of the new direction.

Outside of the addition of paint to a few locations such as Cambridge St. in Allston, and the groundbreaking new truck sideguards ordinance pushed by the Mayor himself, the city’s progress on bike safety has slowed significantly in 2014. Public meetings on and talk of the cycletrack around the Public Garden have evaporated. The plan for the first contraflow lane on Hemenway Street in the Fenway neighborhoods has been shelved without notice. A bike lane set to be added to a key connection for South Boston residents–the W. 4th St. Bridge–has been put on hold.

But when it comes to the Commonwealth Ave 2A reconstruction project, the leaders of the bike community agree it is time to draw a line in the sand. BU Bikes, the Bike Union and all of Boston’s big biking and walking advocacy groups are calling an all-city rally for Tues.. Dec. 9, 6:30pm at the Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, 871 Comm Ave. Boston’s Interim Transportation Commissioner Jim Gillooly has said he’ll be there, and here’s why you and everyone you know needs to be there too:
Continue reading Comm Ave cycletrack campaign heats up

Brookline to hold public charrette for Route 9 Cycletrack

A rendering of the Bike Union's redesign of a key section of Route 9 in Brookline. Rendering by Jessi Flynn.

A rendering of the Bike Union’s redesign of a key section of Route 9 in Brookline. Rendering by Jessi Flynn.

While many eyes are on the City of Boston’s Commonwealth Ave reconstruction project, another key project for the Boston Cyclists Union is gaining traction in the town of Brookline. A small team of Bike Union volunteers and community members have been working on turning the Gateway East project, which originally had no bike infrastructure whatsoever, into Brookline’s first cycletrack. The team encourages you to attend a public meeting and design charrette has been called for Wed., Dec. 3 at 7pm on the 6th floor Selectmen’s hearing room at Brookline’s City Hall, 333 Washington St.

The project area on Route 9 stretches from the Jamaicaway Bridge down to the intersection with Washington and Walnut streets. If it could be made into a true 8-80 route for cyclists (comfortable enough for people ages 8 to 80)——it would connect several relatively pleasant biking routes, including the Emerald Necklace Path, Walnut Street, Harvard Street, and Washington Street. The improvement would be a massive bicycling game changer for the town.

Continue reading Brookline to hold public charrette for Route 9 Cycletrack

Walsh proposes first of its kind truck safety ordinance

Bike Union releases new “Sideguards Save Lives” factsheet

Bicyclist Eoin McGrory's tragic collision with a trash hauling truck in early April triggered a fast response from the Walsh Administration on truck safety. With the passing of this ordinance, the City of Boston will lead the nation on large vehicle safety.

Bicyclist Eoin McGrory’s tragic collision with a trash hauling truck in early April triggered a fast response from the Walsh Administration on truck safety. With the passing of this ordinance, the City of Boston will lead the nation on truck safety.

The City of Boston took a big step forward for the country today as Mayor Marty Walsh presented an ordinance to the City Council that will make truck design far safer for pedestrians and bikes.

“We believe this is the first ordinance of it’s kind in the country,” wrote Mayor Walsh’s press secretary Kate Norton. “The ordinance requires side guards, convex mirrors, cross-over mirrors, and blind-spot awareness decals on all vehicles over 10,000 pounds awarded a city contract. There is a fine for those not in compliance — escalating from $100 for the first offense, to potential termination of the contract.”

The Bike Union began pushing for the ordinance through Councillor Ayanna Pressley’s office in the wake of Eoin McGrory’s tragic death in Charlestown in early April. (Please contribute to a charity fund in his memory.) At the same time, the city’s office of Urban Mechanics was talking to the city’s new mayor about the success of a pilot program that required sideguards first on the city’s public works truck fleet, and subsequently on all trash hauling trucks that contracted with the city. The results of the pilot were positive and all parties agreed that a move toward design requirements for all trucks contracting with the city was the best next step.

Click image for pdf of Sideguards Save Lives fact sheet.

Click image for pdf of Sideguards Save Lives fact sheet.

Today the Bike Union is also releasing a new “Sideguards Save Lives” fact sheet that illustrates the benefits side guards and blind spot mirrors. The fact sheet is that will give residents in other municipalities, the state, and the country a tool to push forward similar ordinances and legislation.

“The Bike Union knows who’s who and they set up a face to face meeting with Councillor Ayanna Pressley’s staff,” said Alex Epstein, one of the nation’s expert on truck safety design who works at USDOT at the Volpe Center in Cambridge, and also helped advise the Mayor’s staff. “I don’t think it would have been possible without that insider connection.”

McGrory, a 34-year-old recently married native of Londonderry, Ireland, was hit by a trash hauling truck’s rear wheels as it turned off of Cambridge Street onto Spice Street in Charlestown. His death is one of a string of similar incidents in recent years including the collisions that took the lives of Tanya Connolly and Christopher Weigl in 2012. These deaths appear to have been preventable by sideguards and mirrors that allow drivers to see more of what’s happening around their vehicle.

“I think overall it’s a good bill, it goes beyond side guards to provide cross-over mirrors,” said Epstein. “Those mirrors will help drivers to see pedestrians and cyclists within three and five feet of the front of the truck. The main thing is the side guard requirement for trucks over 10,000 pounds. Overall I think it’s a great day for safe streets in Boston.”

With this ordinance the city of Boston will lead a small group of cities and one state in the nation that are moving toward action on an April recommendation from the National Traffic Safety Board as the federal authorities continue to drag their feet. It’s the hope of the Union’s Organizing Group——of which Epstein is an active member——that the state legislature takes note of Boston’s initiative and follows suit for all trucks of a certain size registered in the state. And ultimately that the federal government takes notice of the upswell of city and state actions and implements side guards and blind spot mirrors for all trucks nationwide.

There are some notable exceptions to the Boston ordinance, including snow plows and emergency vehicles, and any provision for an evaluation of the new sideguard specifications——a study which would admittedly be a costly endeavour for Boston. A study of the kind might be easier for a larger city like New York to carry out, or a well-heeled local university like the Harvard School of Public Health or MIT.

In Council session on Wednesday Sept. 10, the body will take up the issue and likely assign it to one of three committees, Neighborhood Services, chaired by Councillor Tim McCarthy; Government Operations, chaired by Councillor Michael Flaherty; or Healthy Women, Families and Communities, chaired by Councillor Ayanna Pressley. From there, a public hearing may be called before a vote to approve the ordinance takes place. Stay tuned to the Bike Union’s e-mail newsletter and social media channels for more information.

Brookline considers cycletrack on Route 9

Gateway EastSign up in support today!

The Bike Union and a handful of volunteers took a big step with the Town of Brookline this week when they agreed to take a serious look at a cycletrack option for a small but important section of Route 9 in Brookline Village. After a couple months of back and forth, the Bike Union laid out a convincing argument that cycletracks are feasible, and now the town’s going to explore the idea.

Let the town know you support their move by signing this statement of support for a cycletrack in Gateway East, and please forward this email to everyone you know in Brookline to do the same!

The town’s original concept was first presented back in 2011 at the 25 percent (conceptual) design stage and then sat on the shelf for a while. The plan sitting there didn’t have any bike accommodation on it so when it came off the shelf into a world clamoring for cycle tracks, it got a cold welcoming from the Brookline Bike Committee. Back in 2011 they had asked for cycletracks, to no avail, but this time the context had changed, cycle tracks are due to be installed in Jamaica Plain, downtown, in Somerville, and several already exist in Cambridge. Plus, the Boston Bike Union now works in Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville too.

The Union proposed presenting an alternative concept for the street to the Town of Brookline and MassDOT, similar to the one it is cooking up for Commonwealth Ave across town (update: still tweaking it). The plan was drawn up by Mark Tedrow, a Bike Union member and Livable Streets volunteer, with help and guidance from Bike Union board member Prof. Peter Furth and executive director Pete Stidman. Tedrow’s plan was then illustrated by talented Bike Union volunteer Jessi Flynn.

The concept, which is mainly meant to show that there is enough width throughout the scope of the project to include a cycletrack, includes one-way raised bike lanes (cycletracks) on either side of Route 9. It stretches from what is often referred to as the “Route 9 Crossing” of the Muddy River Path to where Washington St. (sometimes confused with nearby Harvard St.) branches off to the west.

After it was received by the Town and MassDOT, Assistant Director of Town Planning Joe Viola informed the Bike Union that the town was going to ask their consultant VHB (Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc) to create an option that includes a cycletrack. MassDOT is also talking to the town about potential solutions. In any case, it seems that by the time options reach the eyes of Brookline residents, they will include some very significant improvements for bikes.

Normally, very few would venture to ride on any part of Route 9, but this particular section is essential for people who want access the Muddy River Path, get over to Walnut St, Washington St., or Harvard St., or access the Brookline Village MBTA station. All of these access points connect to comfortable, relatively low-stress bicycling–making this part of Route 9 a significant barrier to cycling for a large number of potential riders, and the Gateway East project the key to eliminating it.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the design proposed by Tedrow and the Bike Union are the “floating bus stops.” The concept is common in Europe and it is included in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide that many American cities including Boston now endorse, but it would be a first time it is used in Massachusetts. Similar examples do exist however, such as the bus stop that exists along the Southwest Corridor at Roxbury Crossing, and the soon to be finished cycletrack on Western Avenue in Cambridge. In essence, the bikeway travels behind the MBTA bus stop instead of in front of it, creating a crossing point where pedestrians can access the bus stop. The room for this marvel at Gateway East was provided by the removal of a unnecessary travel lane.

The travel lane’s potential demise was daignosed by Professor Furth, who analyzed the traffic signal cycles at this intersection and discovered that if some of the different moves through the intersection were allowed to run concurrently, two turning lanes wouldn’t be needed for the right hand turn off Route 9 onto Washington. The same amount of cars would be able to get through with only one lane.

The Bike Union will need your help as we continue to work with the Town of Brookline on Gateway East. Please forward this email or the petition link to everyone you know in the town, but also, write your Town Meeting members and selectmen, and let the Bike Union know if they are open to the idea. CC us at or call us at 617-620-1989.

Bike Stories 3 - Sofia Morais from Denmark on Commonwealth Ave

City, BU resist protected bike lanes on Comm Ave


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.

Bike Stories 2 — Djelloul Maaref on bike commuting, not by choice

Bike Stories 1 — Tianyi Li on Bike to Market

Truck driver who fled fatal crash not charged

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

Eoin McGrory's bike, crumpled by the truck

Eoin McGrory’s bike, crumpled by the truck in the fatal collision

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.

DCR takes step back, two steps forward

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.”

Design flaws in the new Arborway bike lane include poor transitions in and out of the bike lane, untreated intersections, and lanes narrower than the four foot minimum. Many of these problems would likely have been resolved if the Bike Union had been able to review plans as requested on May 5.

Design flaws in the new Arborway bike lane include poor transitions in and out of the bike lane, untreated intersections, and lanes narrower than the four foot minimum.

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.