Misinformation abounds on Casey Overpass Project
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!
Great article. There is a letter in this week’s JP Gazette in favor of the bridge — and it’s from a local bike shop owner. Thanks for putting together the broader picture. I did find one factual error: you state that bridge construction needs to be complete by 2013. That’s design, not construction. Construction needs to be complete in 2016.
Thanks for this correction, we’re adding that in now. It’s true that 2016 is the real deadline for completed construction.
We’ve also seen this letter.
This letter’s author, Jeff Ferris, also drives and states in this letter that he is concerned about access to his shop by car: “Keeping easy access for cars at Forest Hills is important for all local businesses. Eliminating east-west left turns, replaced with “bow-ties,” will discourage people from driving to the local businesses.”
This is, as far as we can determine, the main reason for Jeff’s opposition to the at-grade solution. But his opinion seems to ignore that if 2/3 of the traffic was on the bridge, 2/3 of the traffic will not be able to turn left at all.
The real effect on local businesses will undoubtedly be quite the opposite effect. When bridges, viaducts, and highways come down all over the country, it stimulates the local economy every time. His statements totally ignore the fate of businesses along Hyde Park Ave and future developments in store for Washington Street on the JP side that really would not benefit from being in the shadow of a bridge. Common sense.
On the Working Advisory Group (WAG) for this project, Jody Burr, former director of JP Centre South Main Streets, and Mike Epp, former board member of JP Centre South Main Streets fully support the at-grade option specifically because it will improve the business climate.
Jeff also is not being entirely truthful in this letter, and his earlier post on his website is one of the motivations for the above article. When he says: “seven or eight lanes of traffic” he is telling a falsehood. The at-grade plan calls for only six lanes, and the resulting street would handle a flow of traffic similar to that of Melnea Cass. I cross Melnea Cass twice or more every day and I do not find it to be onerous. And in the Casey Replacement at-grade, there will be bike lanes on the street and bike paths on both sides, so it is far easier and safer to ride on.
And in fact, when bike lanes were proposed on Centre and South Streets, Jeff and his wife were also very vocal opponents. Jeff asked the city not to even study the possibility for bike lanes on Centre and South, because he said he already knew the street was too narrow. Apparently it wasn’t.
The Boston Cyclists Union has done extensive outreach in the bike community to come to this conclusion, and when the facts are discussed and laid out, almost all (except for Jeff and one or two others we’ve run into) agree that there are massive benefits for cyclists in the at-grade solution. This also includes “Mr. Greenways” Peter Furth, professor of civil and transportation engineering at Northeastern. We have done our research.
On the WAG, every other daily cyclist other than Jeff are for the at-grade solution, including MassBike, Livable Streets Alliance, and JP Bikes as well as residents who happen to bike such as Mike Halle, who is chair of the city’s Boston Bikes Advisory Group. Please everyone, make this decision with care. I love Jeff Ferris and what he has done for our community. I encourage everyone to continue shopping at Ferris Wheels. But those of us who know him well know that his opinions do not always match up with the majority of cyclists, particularly those who are more risk averse.
The improvements on Washington Street in particular will be a massive benefit riders who find the Washington/South street area too scary to ride through. Jeff and I and many of us have no problem here, but many more cyclists would use this connection if it was made safer.
[…] Thank you for your work to improve our community, and for this opportunity to comment on MassDOT’s design process. I have carefully considered the options presented in recent months, and have come to the conclusion that a bridge solution that does not accommodate the growing population of cyclists and pedestrians will only diminish the quality of life for residents of Jamaica Plain and the surrounding districts. Although I recently purchased my bike (that I love!) from Ferris Wheels, who offer great customer service, I respectfully disagree with Jeffrey Ferris’ contention that a bridge solution is the best option to avoid traffic congestion in the area. Studies prove otherwise. […]
All of the cyclists I have talked to who live south of Forest Hills want a bridge. Car traffic to his shop is not at all Jeff Ferris’ only argument for a bridge. The additional traffic on the surface will make it much harder to get from Forest Hills station to the Southwest Corridor, something you can do now with either the demand walk light or crossing through the large gaps in traffic. Most of the arguments I have heard against the bridge have been aesthetic ones from people who don’t like looking at a bridge, and almost none of the people who have argued against it with me have ever even crossed on it and appreciated the fine views up and down the Stony Brook valley.
You speak very cavalierly of a man who has been one of the foremost bicycle advocates in Jamaica Plain (and Boston) since before many of us were born. It seems that it would be more productive to work on building alliances instead of bad-mouthing a fellow advocate. As to the question of bike lanes on center and south, taking an honest, evidence-based look at the safety of bike lanes given the size of the road we have to work with is an unpopular, though wholly justified position (e.g., http://bicycledriving.org/roads/bike-lanes-for-jamaica-plain ). As someone who clearly cares about accurate information, I would hope that same courtesy extended to all discussions.
Thanks for your work on this issue, and your time invested in advocacy,
I support a better considered bridge option, never mind the extra cost, since this area is of concern for a lot of communities all around JP .
See Washington DC… suspended bridges over parkland….
A high, suspended bridge would create less shadow, could flush out non-local traffic quickly out of Forest Hill area, over improved local car traffic options underneath, with parkland, bike lanes, pedestrian amenities, trees, that option should be seriously studied.
Exhaust from slowed and stopped cars on a 6 lanes surface road will be trapped in the Forest Hills valley, that slowed traffic will attract the interest of strip-mall type businesses that JP residents do NOT want, for the numerous undeveloped lots in the area… (see Somerville)
There’s nothing attractive to me about biking close to that number of cars…
Why do bikers accept the diktat that there will not be bike lanes and other “green” amenities provided with the bridge option ?
A viable bridge option has not even started to be seriously examined.
I think it would improve and preserve the quality of life in the adjacent neighborhoods, that want to stay “residential”, much more (also improve and preserve property values)
Natacha Rist, Stonybrook neighborhood resident
Oh!… and I forgot to mention…
All these traffic projections look fun, but are hypothetical.
There is a good chance of gridlock at rush hour. If there is gridlock now, just imagine what it would be with the total flow of cars on the ground.
The number of cars speeding through Williams St and adjacent streets to avoid the gridlock, is already unbearable.
It would be much more productive to focus on easing gridlock on the ground with just the LOCAL traffic around Forest Hills, while providing all the green amenities that bikers, pedestrians and park lovers want, on the ground
Firstly, thanks to all of you for being so deeply committed to improving conditions for cyclists. And I hope that it is clear to most of you from my comments above that I consider Jeff Ferris a long-time friend, an ally on many issues and the owner of a wonderful business that is a huge asset to JP. I have extended several invitations to discuss his opinions on this project and he has been included in several discussions with the other cyclists represented on the Working Advisory Group.
I have talked with cyclists in Roslindale, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and elsewhere concerning this project and when they learn all the facts——as many of us will tonight——they overwhelmingly support the at-grade option.
The decision for the bike union to support an at-grade option was not unilateral but that of every bike and walking advocacy organization on the Working Advisory Group, as well as the overwhelming majority of those serving who ride bikes as transportation.
The experience for Roslindale riders will be greatly improved by allowing cyclists heading to and from the SW Corridor to have an off-street path on both sides of Washington Street between New-Washington and Ukraine Way. —This improvement is not included with a bridge.
The traffic projections are based on actual traffic counts and sophisticated analysis by some of our state’s finest minds on the subject at MassDOT and CTPS. The City of Boston’s Transportation Department is also overseeing the process, and believes these traffic studies to be accurate predictions.
That there are no bike facilities on the bridge is something that the Boston Cyclists Union fought very hard to prevent, but lost that battle to a majority in the neighborhood who objected to widening the bridge and increasing shadows. This is the same reason the split bridge, which would have had safe connections suitable for families on either side, was rejected by the community. This battle of opinions happened already, and it was lost. Only one person holds the hope that it can somehow be changed after a design is chosen, and we would likely join that demand if a bridge option were chosen, but we do not hold any false hopes that it could be won.
On aesthetics—yes. Aesthetics are part of this argument. Building this option at-grade raises the possibilities of playgrounds, benches and other inviting features in a park the size of Copley Square Plaza at the end of the SW Corridor. People do not build playgrounds under bridges, and people do not flock to business districts that sit in the shadows of bridges (several businesses along Hyde Park Avenue have struggled to stay afloat) and I think this is a telling fact.
The difference between current New Washington at two lanes in either direction and a possible future New Washington at three lanes in either direction is two extra lanes of traffic to cross. The traffic flow would be similar to that of Melnea Cass Blvd. The Jamaica Way, which many of us cross every day, carries more traffic than this street would (as it picks up flow from Centre Street in West Roxbury and elsewhere as it comes into the city).
Personally, I would gladly trade crossing two extra lanes for a giant park, thriving local businesses, and a stronger and safer connection to Roslindale.
Would just like to comment that all the at grade lanes are basically to accommodate the estimated car traffic for two hours in the morning and three in the afternoon, five out of seven days a week. The remainder of the time you are left with all that asphalt and plenty of room for speed. That is continuing the same old of design with the car prioritized. If you want livability you design for people.
Fellow cyclists: I urge you to reconsider your support for the “at-grade” solution.
I am writing as a life-long cyclist whose entire family cycles on the streets of Forest Hills daily. I want improve cycling safety across the city too, but taking away the bridge is the wrong measure.
I am concerned that the at-grade solution will produce gridlock at various times of the day, increasing noise, pollution and unpleasantness.
If there were real benefits to cyclists, that would be one thing. But I don’t see them.
For one thing, I agree that north-south cycling to and from Roslindale could be improved. But what does that have to do with a state fund for replacing an east-west automobile bridge? To link these issues, as the DOT has done, is completely artificial.
Second, the bike boxes and other amenities you speak of are things that “could” happen. Then again, they might not. That is a meager benefit for what appears likely to be a significant detriment to this of us who live here. We who live here know very well,. from our experience with the Arborway Yard, that was is promised is not always delivered after the public meetings are over.
Most baffling to me is the statement that the BCU would have supported the bridge if there had been a bike lane on it. As a cyclist, I am stymied by this. Why would any cyclist ever move from the lane nearest the shoulder, across two lanes of traffic, into the leftmost lane of the roadway, just to ride their bike up onto a bridge that goes to exactly the same place that surface road goes to, 100 yards up the street — only to have to cross the same two lanes of traffic to get back to the right hand lane upon exiting the bridge? That makes no sense to me.
We need the bridge because there are two roads occupying one physical space — a road for regional automotive traffic, i.e., the overpass, and a local road for every one else. Mashing them together seems to me to be no more advisable than putting the Amtrak line on the street as well. They’re two completely different things.
Please reconsider. Thanks.
I appreciate your support for the union’s mission and your experience with this area but respectfully disagree on some of your points. The union is well established in JP and it is clear that the majority of cyclists support the at-grade option. Not all, and that is unfortunate. But I hope that, as with the bike lanes on Centre Street, the detractors will someday look back and say they may have been mistaken.
To your specific points, the contention that this project would produce gridlock is simply not supported by the data provided to the WAG. Both options can handle the traffic of today better than the current bridge, so traffic will be no worse than it is now (though traffic will continue to be a problem regardless of what is done here. Base all your planning on traffic and you’ll get urban sprawl and high rates of pedestrain and cyclist injuries and deaths.)
Improving the North-South connections is made possible by a reduction in overall cost (a bridge is far more expensive than at-grade). Cost is not a thing that could be called artificial, quite the opposite. Ignoring the cost would be artificial and abstract.
Bike boxes and other left hand turn solutions will happen, I believe the Mayor, the residents of JP, and all of the bike and pedestrian organizations will line up to support it, and they do not cost more or detract from other road users experience. There is no countervailing force to prevent them from happening.
And the Boston Cyclists Union would be for an at-grade solution even if there were proper bike facilities on the bridge option, the fact that there isn’t just makes the bridge option far more dangerous for cyclists than at-grade.
The reason for the preference we, and many cyclists, pedestrians, local businesses and others have for the at-grade option goes beyond simple bike lanes and toward making Forest Hills an inviting destination to bike or walk to. Our mission is to encourage biking as transportation, and to do that, it makes sense to make the streets and places in our city inviting places to be in and enjoy.
And Hey Brian,
This was a comment one of our members also made at the latest public meeting about the Casey—and it is a very valid concern. But there are many ways to calm traffic by design at-grade, but very few options on a bridge. Bridge traffic would travel at 50 miles per hour or more, almost sure to cause death in an impact with a cyclist. But with the timing of traffic lights, narrow car travel lanes, trees and other roadside features, and possibly even raised crosswalks, that off-peak traffic could be calmed without effecting peak traffic (which travels slowly by necessity anyway). If an at-grade option were chosen, the Boston Cyclists Union, several other advocacy groups, and a large number of residents will be asking for these types of features.
Thank you Pete for all your great research, and for this compelling argument. As a resident and homeowner in the Forest Hills neighborhood, and as a recreational bike rider, I believe the at grade solution is the right choice for JP, Roslindale, and the surrounding communities. Thanks again, and everyone, participate in the decision! Come to the meeting tonight at the State Lab Building, 6 PM.
TEAR DOWN THE BRIDGE and do not replace it. Contrary to what Jessica says, I am a cyclist who “lives south of Forest Hills” and OPPOSES rebuilding the bridge. I bike through FH on my way to UMass Boston 6x per week and occasionally drive through. I would prefer at grade. Thanks to Jeff and Peter for all they have done and are doing for bike safety in Boston. I would note that without Jeff’s able and dedicated leadership we would still have trolley tracks in JP.
[…] such as LivableStreet, WalkBoston, The Emerald Necklace Conservancy, MassBike, the Boston Cyclists Union, and JP Bikes have come out in favor of an at-grade city street option to replace the current […]