Coalition Statement: Safety Improvements on Mass Ave

October 18, 2021

To: Secretary Tesler & Highway Administrator Gulliver
Re: Request for Safety Improvements this Fall on Harvard Bridge

Dear Secretary Tesler and Mr. Gulliver,

Thank you for all your work to improve multimodal travel across the Commonwealth. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have appreciated the additional funding and support from the state for quick-build and open streets projects to support safe, sustainable transportation. With COVID lingering as we enter another winter season, we know that safety and public health will be top-of-mind as people decide how they make trips, both long and short.

The Harvard Bridge (often called the “Mass Ave Bridge”) is one of the most heavily-utilized and yet most dangerous bicycling links in the state. As the longest bridge in the Commonwealth, the current road design encourages traffic to speed. Radar speed measurements found nearly 100% of vehicles exceeding the 25 mph posted speed limit, with a median speed of 41 mph during daytime hours. There were multiple observations of vehicles traveling in excess of 50 mph (double the posted limit) with speeds of 64 and 66 mph observed. If additional data is needed, we are certain these excessive speeds will be corroborated by the two MassDOT speed feedback signs that collect vehicle speeds on the bridge.

The difference between 25 and 41 mph is enormous: one study identified that about 40 percent of pedestrians would die if impacted by a vehicle traveling 30 mph; 80 percent at 40 mph; and nearly 100 percent at speeds over 50 mph. To ensure that people can bike safely to their destinations along this route, we ask MassDOT to implement traffic-calming measures and separated bike lanes before the end of this construction season. Specifically, we ask for an immediate reduction from 4 to 3 general travel lanes to slow motor vehicle speeds and create space for wider bike lanes with flex posts and a buffer in both directions. We suggest the new lane configuration include one through-travel lane in each direction entering the bridge, with the third lane splitting near the bridge’s midpoint to form a second exit lane in each direction. This third lane can be used, with signal changes, to prioritize buses at intersections. We have attached a design proposal that we think would provide a win win solution for people on bikes and buses, with signal priority at each exit, though we are not wed to a single design; we care most that speeds are reduced and wider, separated bike lanes added.

We recognize that removing a lane of traffic on the Mass Ave Bridge has the potential to increase motor vehicle queue lengths or travel times. However, current conditions on the bridge show why that should be a goal, not a fear. A narrower profile with a single throughlane will help to reduce dangerous speeding, increasing safety for both drivers and cyclists.

In addition to these changes, we want to emphasize that people on bikes are a considerable percentage of the overall traffic on the bridge, comprising as much as 25% of traffic on the bridge during the PM peak, and up to 20% of daily traffic (BTD 2019 and 2020 bike counts). And, when compared against people walking, biking, and riding on buses, people in cars are a minority of the users of the bridge, yet are afforded a majority of the space on the structure

The present and extreme danger to vulnerable road users necessitates an urgent response. That said, we see these recommendations as interim changes. Our long-term vision for the Mass Ave Bridge and entire Mass Ave corridor is mode-separated travel for buses and bikes. The ideal configuration on the bridge would put bikes on the other side of a crash barrier or curb, and provide dedicated, center-running bus lanes—which are critical for the overall accessibility, equity, and effectiveness of MBTA service—with signals prioritized for transit at both ends of the bridge. We strongly support and will be advocating for capital funding and reconstruction to add center-running bus lanes and a cantilevered bike path alongside the existing bridge structure to provide safe, separate spaces for people walking and biking. We hope to work in partnership with the state and city agencies to see this to fruition. We envision the timeline for these capital changes within the next 2 to 3 years to holistically improve this bridge and this corridor to meet critical regional needs, including realizing the goals of MassDOT’s Bus Network Redesign.

Because of current safety issues, 2025 is simply too long to wait for the thousands of daily bicycle riders on the bridge who deserve safe passage, which is why we are asking that these immediate improvements be implemented this fall. Additionally, we ask that improvements be made before winter weather sets in, with stronger wind gusts and snow/ice further increasing the danger of crossing this bridge by bike. A wider, separated space would ease much of that discomfort.

Thank you for considering these recommendations. We’re grateful for your work, and ready to work with you to ensure that the roadways of this region become safer for all residents of the Commonwealth.

Sincerely,

Boston Cyclists Union
Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)
LivableStreets Alliance
MassBike
TransitMatters
Cambridge Bike Safety
WalkBoston