A special message from the executive director Pete Stidman.
Not every one of our readers knows this, but just a year before I helped found the Bike Union I was working late nights as the news editor at the highly regarded Dorchester Reporter newspaper, a job I had a passion for and held for two years.
I had spent a total of five years as a newspaper man, including a long stint at the Jamaica Plain Gazette. I loved the idea that just bringing out the truth could change the world and I still firmly believe that once people understand what’s happening, they will make the right decision.
That’s why I start to get a little heated under the collar when I see and hear misinformation spoken or published, such as I’ve seen online and heard via the rumor mill this week on the subject of the Casey Overpass Replacement Project. Some of it is an innocent misunderstanding of the facts, but some of it seems to come from those who are intentionally twisting the facts or publishing false information in order to further their personal opinions.
Well, this is one looooong article, it’s more like an encyclopedia that debunks the myths being spread around and shows clearly where the benefits for cyclists and pedestrians lie. It’s full of links to more information, pictures, and analysis. If anyone finds a factual error of any kind, please email me. We’ll fix it.
Firstly, if you want to see what at-grade would look like compared to a bridge, check out the Working Advisory Group (WAG) presentationfrom Nov. 9. It has lots of renderings like this one below.
And on Dec. 6, at the State Lab at 305 South Street, 6pm, the Boston Cyclists Union and other at-grade supporters on the WAG will hold a community meeting of its own to fully discuss the benefits of the at-grade option. You are invited.
The more important meeting to show up at is, of course, MassDOT’s public meeting this Monday which the state will use to gauge public opinion:
(with open house beginning at 5:30)
- Go to this meeting and do not leave until you
- Speak your mind! If you can’t make it,
- Write a letter.
First, a tiny bit of background
The Casey Overpass that looms over the Forest Hills T Station in Jamaica Plain is crumbling and must be taken down.
The question facing the community now is: What do we replace it with, a bridge or a regular city street? The Boston Cyclists Union, MassBike, WalkBoston, Livable Streets Alliance, JP Bikes, and several local residents on the Working Advisory Group working closely on the project have all come to agree on one option as having the most benefits for bikes and pedestrians: a regular city street built at-grade (meaning: no bridge).
Only the at-grade plan, because it is far more affordable (roughly $58 million compared to $73 million for the bridge), comes parceled with a pair of physically protected bike lanes (cycletracks) on either side of Washington Street toward Roslindale. Cyclists headed northbound will be able to leave the street at Ukraine Way and ride separated from traffic to either the bike cage at Forest Hills Station or the crosswalk over New Washington Street, which will directly connect to the SW Corridor.
There is no sidewalk planned for the bridge and that decision is not likely changeable
The Boston Cyclists Union advocated for sidewalks and a cycletrack on the bridge option, but other members of the Working Advisory Group were very much against it as it would “increase the shadow” from the bridge. Currently there is no sidewalk on the bridge option plan and only a narrow shoulder for bikes to use, which is very unsafe given the 50 miles per hour speeds expected on the bridge. Given community opposition and the fact that MassDOT will be moving forward with the project as fast as possible to meet a July 2013 deadline for completion of all design, and a July 2016 deadline for all construction, it is extremely unlikely that we could advocate for a sidewalk and win. MassDOT has told us directly that this decision point has passed.
The bridge and at-grade options move traffic in a very similar way and north-south traffic isn’t significantly impacted
Having a behemoth highway bridge overhead can give the impression that there is a lot of traffic speeding by overhead, but this isn’t so on the Casey. Only one lane of traffic in each direction is currently headed over the Casey Overpass. The total number of cars headed over the bridge each day is near 22,000-24,000, with
another roughly 10,000-12,000 on the surface road (New Washington). The combined flow of 32,000-36,000 cars a day is similar to Melnea Cass and less than that of the Jamaicaway. Around the country, highways and overpasses with twice that volume have been taken down with very positive effects.
The consultants on the project performed a traffic analysis on both the bridge and the at-grade options using the predicted rush hour traffic of 2035. Rush hour of 2035 assumes a 5% increase in traffic over the bridge and 14% on the ground, thus about an 8% increase to traffic overall (given the difference in volumes above and below).
Many progressive urban planners around the country reject the concept of designing streets for predicted future traffic increases because it has been clearly shown that building streets with greater capacity encourages more traffic. In many European countries, this idea of “induced demand” has been widely accepted and guides policy. Short term, people have more flexibility with their time when congestion is lowered, so peak times generally remain highly congested (as more people adjust) when roads are widened. And of course long term, when you build a highway through vacant farmland, that farmland quickly fills up with suburban development and the highway becomes congested.
Similarly, in the urban context motorists make their decisions on where to live and/or work based on the ease of travel on nearby roadways. When car traffic flow is not prioritized, transit, cycling and other modes become more attractive, and so does moving closer to work or getting a job closer to home in the long term. Essentially, if you build it, the cars will come. If you don’t build it, they won’t come. And the peak hour traffic always gets bad again no matter how wide or how narrow you make a roadway (or a bridge).
There are many examples around the country where neighborhoods have had part of their transportation infrastructure rebuilt, leading them to become extremely successful public places. It takes time, but it can blow your mind.
The truth in this case is that the at-grade solution and the bridge option performed very similarly in terms of traffic, and both were huge improvements on the existing bridge. What follows here is all based on this analysis of travel times for at-grade and the bridge option, created with figures from a MassDOT handout on the options. The color coded travel times clearly show the bridge is only slightly better than the at-grade version at speeding traffic through the area, and both are far better than today’s conditions. There are really only three potential downsides for cars to speak of with the at-grade solution:
- Traffic headed straight through from Franklin Park to Murray Circle would take an average of a minute longer (at rush hour in 2035) on the at-grade option than it would with the existing bridge. But, according to MassDOT’s planning team, many of those cars would wait for that saved minute anyway in a rush hour situation as there would be a backup on the Arborway caused by Murray Circle. Essentially, it doesn’t matter how quickly you get to it if there’s a line of cars to wait behind.
- Left turns off of New Washington would not be allowed, motorists would go around a “bow-tie” u-turn and come back to take a right on the desired street in the at-grade option. This adds between a minute, and for a couple of particular moves, two or three-minute delays (at rush hour in 2035) over the existing bridge. The longest delays caused by this effect only impact a small fraction of cars. Very roughly speaking, if you mash up the 2035 peak traffic counts for these moves, and quintuple them to account for five hours at peak rush, around 5,000 drivers would feel this level of impact during a given day.Now if you add up all the users:
- 80,000 motorists (rough estimate adding daily traffic of Hyde Park, Casey/New Washington, South St. and Washington St.)
- 500 cyclists (educated guess)
- 5,000 pedestrians (total guess)
- 13,500 Orange Line passengers (MBTA Figures)
- 5,000 bus riders (total guess)
you get 104,000 users, hence this is about 5% of users.
- Washington straight over to South Street would take about a minute and a half longer to get through (at rush hour in 2035) compared to how it would be with the existing bridge, but all other North or South movements would take only an extra 20-30 seconds. This minute and a half delay would occur only at rush hour (in 2035) and will affect less than 2,500 or so people a day at this level out of a roughly estimated 104,000 users.
Since cars traveling through the neighborhood will not be adding significant times to their commutes, cutting through the neighborhood will not shorten their commutes, thus it is unlikely they will stray from the main road in an at-grade solution. Boston is also becoming very progressive on traffic-calming, as evidenced by the city’s new Complete Streets Policy. There are a number of very effective tools for slowing down traffic on neighborhood streets that could be employed to encourage cars to stick to the Arborway and New Washington Street.
The at-grade solution will encourage healthy active transportation and stimulate the local economy (we don’t want to make it difficult for cars, we just want a healthier neighborhood!)
After a thorough search, and after challenging bridge supporters to search themselves, no example of a thriving pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhood has been found anywhere in the United States under the shadow of a bridge. The Bike Union’s representative Bob Dizon was very interested in exploring this and the bridge option in general, but he found that quite the opposite was true. Removing bridges and overpasses stimulates local economies by encouraging pedestrian traffic.
- Go to the meeting and do not leave until you
- Speak your mind. If you can’t make it,
- Write a letter!