New Casey paths will need snow removal plan, attention to detail

A second bombardier sidewalk plow could be required to ensure the Department of Conservation and Recreation can keep the SW Corridor and the future Casey Arborway paths clear all winter long.

Planning continues on the new Casey Arborway that will connect Franklin Park and the Arboretum with a strip of asphalt, a strip of green, two sidewalks and two extra wide bike paths. For the past two months the Design Advisory Group (DAG) has been grappling, among other things, with the idea of having a two-way bike path on each side of the street instead of a two-way bike path and an on-street bike lane on each side.

On one half of this debate sit pedestrians and disabled persons and their advocacy groups, who would highly prefer shorter crossing distances for safety and convenience, and on the other half are a smaller group of more seasoned bike commuters who say they would prefer the bike lane for speediness and fear that the two bike paths wouldn’t be clear of snow and ice in the winter time.

So in the spirit of solving the debate for everyone, the Boston Cyclists Union is seeing if the snow removal problem can be fixed not only for the Arborway, but for the entire Southwest Corridor and future Morton Street cycletrack as well.

Union leadership reached out to Dan Driscoll, director of facilities planning at the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and Kevin Hollenbeck, the man in charge of the DCR’s plows on the day of a big snow event. Over a couple hours we discussed the varying gale forces produced by leaf blowers, the very real hazard of squirrels blindly chasing acorns across bike paths, and actually learned a lot about snow removal too.

It turns out that the Southwest Corridor, because it is near transit stations, is a “priority one” snow removal path in the DCR’s rubric, meaning it is scheduled to get attention in the early AM after any snow day or night, before most of us are awake. But during super snowy winters, Hollenbeck’s crews can have trouble keeping up, which is why cyclists saw the SW corridor disappear under bumpy ice for several weeks in Boston’s heavy winter two years ago.

The main bottleneck isn’t staff, it turns out, as Hollenbeck can pull snow emergency staff from more than one pool of DCR employees, but equipment. Hollenbeck employs a variety of tools from shovel on up to Bombardier, the latter being the real workhorse.

A Bombardier is basically a little tank with a snow blade on it. It rides on tracks and can plow through a foot or more of fresh fallen snow while pushing the needle on the residential speed limit, even on ice. And the shed that stores snow removal equipment for the Southwest Corridor and other local paths has only one Bombardier, whereas sheds that serve the Stonybrook Reservation and Neponset River have two.

Now, Hollenbeck knows enough about 4 a.m. SNAFUs than to promise perfect snow removal in Boston with only one vehicle in his roster that can blast through anything, but at the prospect of an extra Bombardier in the barn, his eyebrows went up and he started to nod. Would it mean you could keep those paths clear all year no matter what?

“Let me put it this way,” he said. “It’s the difference between going 8 miles per hour and 30 miles per hour.”

A Bombardier would greatly increase his crews efficiency on snow swept mornings, Hollenbeck said, but to really reach 100 percent satisfaction with snow removal cyclists need to also do their part. Crews do not patrol for ice and snow after the first plows roll through, but anyone can call in any time ice forms to tell the DCR where the problem is (617-626-1250 or email at massparks@dcr.state.ma.us).

Also, Driscoll pointed out that the design of the new Arborway will determine how easy it is to plow and keep clear of ice. The current path has poor drainage in parts and too much shade in others. Curb cuts and clearances between street furniture needs to be wider than ten feet. Certain trees, like oaks and beeches, hold on to their leaves late into winter—which means that ice on certain patches of asphalt doesn’t melt until March. Evergreens also have this effect.

The Union and the DCR will be watching the design along with a lively DAG, but if you live in Jamaica Plain and will be riding the SW Corridor or Casey Arborway in the wintertime—you may want to start asking MassDOT and Secretary Davey how they plan to increase the DCR’s snow removal capacity along with the new parkland they will receive when MassDOT completes the Arborway’s construction, and will it include a tracked snow plow like the Bombardier to bring SW Corridor’s shed up to snuff. Here, by the way, are the appropriate emails to cc on such an email: richard.davey@state.ma.us, katherine.Fichter@state.ma.us, thomas.broderick@state.ma.us, vineet.gupta@cityofboston.gov, joe.orfant@state.ma.us, pete@bostoncyclistsunion.org.

5 comments to New Casey paths will need snow removal plan, attention to detail

  • Lisa Koch

    It’s good to make plans for the new bike facilities. But please acknowledge that the DCR does an excellent job of snow removal on the existing SW Corridor bike path, and has been doing so for years.

    I’m a daily year-round bike commuter on that route, from Green Street Station to Northeastern University. After a snowfall, the path is always clear for the next morning’s bicycle rush hour. The SW Corridor path is cleared even before the city of Boston gets around to plowing some residential streets.

    I’ve phoned in compliments for the DCR a few times. Just want to make sure they get recognition for the great job they have been doing all along.

  • Charlie

    Great questions! I’ve gone back and forth on whether having bike lanes in addition to two-way cycle tracks/bike-only paths are desirable. At first I thought yes they would be for the reasons you outline. However, when I thought more about it, I wondered if the bike lanes would even be all that clear either in the winter. Since the bike lanes would really only be needed for such a short period of time, perhaps a better solution would be to ensure that “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs are posted along the roadway. In the winter months, many of the bike lanes throughout the city end up being storage for snow (or full of parked cars that couldn’t get close enough to the curb, but not in this case since there’s no on-street parking). Also, including bike lanes makes designing the intersections much more complicated. So, in the end, I think my position is that there should be no bike lanes but there should be “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage and even perhaps sharrows in the center of the right-most travel lanes. The caveat of course is that the two-way cycle tracks/bike paths must be well designed, convenient, and have signal timing that does not put bikes at a disadvantage to car traffic.

  • Phoenix Boulay

    People are annoyed by bikes in the street, so we use bike paths when possible (and for our own safety). I constantly find groups of people walking 2-3-4 abreast on the BIKE path, even though the walking path or sidewalk is close by. I do not slow down, but pass close by at high speed and/or manouver around them slightly by riding on the grass, if necessary. At least the dog walkers are wary and try not to let their leashes cross the path.

    What about signage?
    “Pedestrians walking on bike paths do so at their own risk.”
    or
    “Pedestrians are advised to yield to bicycles.”

    Obviously in some areas the paths are multi-use and everyone must share, and on sidewalks such as Hyde park Ave. (where the street is far too dangerous to ride in IMHO) I yield to pedestrians. But this habit of people walking several people abreast on bike paths when other accommodations are available is really getting old.

  • Jeffrey Ferris

    Dear BCU

    Please stop driving this divide in the cycling community: pitting pedestrians and the disabled against “a smaller group of more seasoned bike commuters.” Installing an off-street path should never allow for the degradation of good on-street cycling. Each of these two types of bike accommodation has its own risks and benefits and should be done wherever possible.

    BCU is a Johnny-come-lately in arguing the benefits of “shorter crossing distances for safety and convenience.” A year ago you told your members and the public how fabulous Forest Hills would be with a 6-lane road and that a new bridge provided no benefit. Has this changed?

    A new bridge allows for the shortest pedestrian crossings with much less traffic for everyone’s greatest safety and convenience, along with bike lanes and bike paths on both sides of the road. You are willing to “cut off your nose to spite your face.” Is your idea of a complete street to make it worse for all? Support for a new bridge was not just to accommodate cars, but to make Forest Hills transportation best for all modes, especially walkers, handicapped, cyclists and transit users.

    I encourage BCU members to look closely at how this “house-of-cards” is falling apart, and stop supporting this flawed project which is opposed by a huge part of the entire community – both cyclists and non-cyclists. I am glad we now both recognize the tremendous safety benefit provided by smaller street crossings, and hope we can work toward that without sacrificing the bike lanes promised from the start of this project.

    Jeffrey Ferris

  • FK

    I agree. I used to live in JP and still cycle around there all the time… that intersection is horrific now and will obviously only get worse for everyone – the no-bridge option is going to add even more pavement. Although more expensive, an attractive bridge on more slender supports that doesn’t hulk in a depressing way is a much better option. It could be a cool landmark that would actually make the area MORE attractive. I lived for a year in Mile End, London, where a rail corridor was turned into a huge linear park that crossed over a busy road on a massive yellow bridge. You couldn’t see from down below that there was a park on top, it was just this big, bright yellow bridge but it looked cool and after they built it all sorts of funky businesses started opening underneath it and it became a little node all on its own. Look, Forest Hills is not nice for many reasons – there’s two uncovered train lines, tons of raodways, and most importantly, a ton of pavement and cobblestones from the E-Line. Just replacing the latter with greenspace would be a significant improvement. Instead we’re going to blight the area further with more pavement and a road with pathetic, stunted little trees like on Huntington that won’t look good and a few median strips with grass. Great idea.

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