Longfellow Bridge Update: 3,100 Signatures Delivered to MassDOT

Today, we moved one step closer to securing protected bike lanes on the Longfellow Bridge — and we couldn’t have done it without your help.

More than 3,100 people signed our petition asking the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to reconsider its unsafe and outdated design for the Longfellow Bridge. And today, we delivered that petition to MassDOT along with the following statement outlining the issue, the petition and our position. We were thrilled that so many of you showed up to the meeting today to stand with us!

It is critical that this dangerous stretch of roadway be made safe for all travelers, so we will continue to fight for infrastructure that truly reflects modern mode share and safety standards. Thank you for standing with us and making your voices heard.

April 24, 2018

Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack
State Transportation Building
10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116

Dear Secretary Pollack:

We are here today to present you with a petition, signed by more than 3,100 individuals, requesting that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation redesign its unsafe and outdated plan for the Longfellow Bridge, and make it truly safe for people to ride bikes.

The Longfellow Bridge is a critical connector between Boston and Cambridge, and one of the busiest bicycling corridors in the state. Nearly 500 cyclists cross into Boston during morning rush hour. At its peak, bike traffic makes up more than one-third of all traffic on the Longfellow Bridge. Competing with fast-moving vehicles, a steep grade, and unpredictable crosswinds, thousands of cyclists brave the bridge every day despite, to date, its complete lack of bike infrastructure. Projects that MassDOT is funding — like the state-of-the-art protected bike lanes on Beacon Street in Somerville — will only encourage more people to bike, feeding into even more bike traffic on the Longfellow Bridge. So with the bridge set to reopen in May after years of construction, now is an ideal time to install safer, physically separated bike lanes and ease traffic on this dangerous stretch of roadway, especially on the inbound side of the bridge. While outbound traffic will be winnowed to a single lane, inbound traffic will increase to two lanes.

While the Boston Cyclists Union is encouraged by MassDOT’s willingness to work with us and other advocates, and by recent tweaks MassDOT has made to the design since the planning process concluded five years ago, the latest plan still falls short of modern safety standards and fails to accurately account for current — and future — mode share. Narrowing each inbound motor vehicle lane to widen the bike lane by a foot is an incremental improvement to create more distance between fast-moving motor vehicles and cyclists. However, 6.5 feet is not enough space to facilitate safe passing on the steep incline, so faster cyclists will still be forced into two lanes of traffic to pass slower cyclists.

MassDOT has suggested it could consider a redesign in the future that includes protected bike lanes, but insisted that it cannot make further changes at this time. Therefore, the Boston Cyclists Union is calling on MassDOT to publicly commit now — before striping begins — to piloting wider, physically separated bike lanes, with a lane reduction for at least the first half of the bridge with the incline on the Longfellow Bridge as soon as is reasonably possible. We are not asking  that MassDOT alter its current plan, only that it agree to explore alternative striping designs as soon as feasible to improve safety conditions for the thousands of riders who use the bridge every day.

There is overwhelming evidence in support of limiting vehicular traffic and using the available space instead for protected bike lanes. Since construction began in 2013, the Longfellow Bridge has functioned with one inbound travel lane. Yet MassDOT’s apocalyptic traffic projections — formulated years ago, and still cited as the reason necessitating two vehicles lanes — never materialized. Meanwhile, bike ridership skyrocketed. The number of regular bike commuters in Boston rose by 180% from 2007 to 2016, while bike traffic on the Longfellow Bridge leapt by 60% from 2016 to 2017 alone. Those trends will only accelerate now that both Boston and Cambridge have committed to Vision Zero.

There is overwhelming public support for this proposal, too. Livable Streets, WalkBoston, Cambridge Bike Safety, MassBike, and the Charles River Conservancy have all spoken in support of alternate striping. The Cambridge City Council unanimously called on MassDOT to adopt this approach, and State Representatives Jay Livingstone and Mike Connolly have sent letters in support of alternate striping.

Then there are the 3,100 individuals who signed on in support of our petition requesting protected bike lanes on the bridge. Ranging in age from teenagers to the elderly, and from regular commuters to casual weekend riders, respondents shared their stories about biking on the bridge and why they believe protected bike lanes are vital on this stretch of road. One-third of all signatories live or work in the areas immediately around the Longfellow Bridge; 14% live or work in Kendall, while nearly 200 are affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital. “Dangerous,” “death-trap,” “harrowing,” “traumatic,” and “terrifying” are among the more frequently used words in describing the fear and anxiety provoked by crossing the bridge so close to fast-moving traffic; even the most experienced cyclists said they felt unsafe on the bridge. Many signatories told of close calls or outright crashes involving themselves, their family members or their loved ones, and of how improved road design could have spared them that pain.

I ask that you not only accept this petition, but truly read the stories it contains. Listen to the voices of these thousands of people who simply want to feel safe traveling in their own community. Select stories are pasted below, while countless more are in the petition sheets. We encourage you to read them all.

“I was almost right hooked on the Longfellow bridge in Dec 2012 coming back from Boston. I feel that protected bike lanes along with appropriate signage would reduce the risk for other people. I no longer work in Boston, I left my job that same week because my commute was too dangerous.”

“Crossing the Longfellow on a bike in traffic often feels like a lottery. I don’t know when the inattentive driver will catch up with me but it feels like an inevitability.”

“I bike commute to work every day on the Longfellow bridge. Throughout the construction project I’ve noticed traffic does not back up with just the one-lane of travel for vehicles. I have noticed, however, that large vehicles get dangerously close to cyclists as they pass. My husband was hit in the should by a passing Partners Healthcare shuttle bus as he was passing my husband on the Longfellow…A protected cycle track would have avoided this and thankfully he was not knocked off his bike or severely injured. Please create the protected cycle track! Traffic would not be negatively impacted. This is a heavily trafficked path for cyclists on their morning and afternoon commutes.”

“If we are about to finish a major modern day construction project such as the Longfellow Bridge, shouldn’t it be ready for the modern day’s transportation choices of the city?”

“I want to be able to bike to work in the city, but at this time, I could not feel more unsafe on Boston roads.”

“I’m afraid of being trapped on a bridge with speeding and distracted motorists. It’s unacceptable that there is a barrier from motorists for pedestrians, but not for cyclists.”

“I cross the Longfellow bridge twice every day, whether by subway or bicycle. In 20 years of cycling, I have had a single road accident–one that could have been prevented by a protected bicycle lane. I went through facial surgery and dental implants as a result. Cyclists do not belong on sidewalks. Unprotected bicycle lanes are not safe. I am a father of three living in Cambridge with a good job in Boston. Protected bicycle lanes are safe and cost effective. It’s a simple design with life and death consequences for cyclists.”

“Every time I bike over the Longfellow, I spend the length of the tense ride envisioning being hit from behind by a car and getting thrown off the bridge into the Charles. The thoughts are involuntary and unfortunately, realistic. Riding a bike shouldn’t be this unpleasant.”

“This could save my life.”

This is a prime opportunity for MassDOT to serve as an exemplar for smart, progressive transportation planning. Similar efforts have been achieved in other cities with proven commitments to increasing safety and reducing traffic fatalities. It’s time for MassDOT to follow suit and plan a bridge to the future, not the past.

Thank you.

Becca Wolfson
Executive Director
Boston Cyclists Union

Leave a Comment