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.

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