You may have heard that Gov. Baker announced the Longfellow Bridge connecting Cambridge and Boston is scheduled to be reopened this May. This is an important opportunity for Massachusetts and the Governor to live up to promises to reduce traffic fatalities and be a leader in safe transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, current plans for Longfellow bridge, on which cars regularly speed at 35 mph or faster, will have no protected bicycle lanes. This would create unsafe conditions comparable or worse than the Mass Ave Bridge, except with the Red Line in the middle, two lanes on the Longfellow feels even more like a highway, and drivers treat it that way.
While the Longfellow Bridge is currently uncomfortable to bike on, if MassDOT adds a second travel lane back, without physical separation for people biking, it will be even less safe and comfortable, with conditions more like the Mass Ave Bridge.
SOME HISTORY of the Redesign Process:
Throughout the redesign process from 2009 to 2011, and as a final effort in 2012 when the Longfellow bridge rebuilding plans were finalized, the Boston Cyclists Union, LivableStreets Alliance, MassBike, WalkBoston, and the Charles River Conservancy (and you, our members) pushed for protected bicycling infrastructure on both sides of the bridge to provide a safe route for bicyclists between Cambridge and Boston and to keep in line with local and state Complete Streets and bicycle mode shift goals. The state met advocates halfway and designed a buffered bicycle facility on the Cambridge-bound (“outbound”) side and reduced capacity to a single outbound travel lane for motor vehicles. However, MassDOT determined, through the “public process” and via traffic projections, that having a single lane for people driving cars going inbound to Boston would not provide enough room for cars (more technically: for “car storage”, a term for backed-up traffic), and that a five-foot-wide bike lane next to two lanes of traffic was all that could be spared for people biking.
WHERE WE ARE NOW:
Since then, the bridge has been under construction. For the past five years, there has been a single lane of traffic inbound from Cambridge to Boston. Traffic, as modeled by MassDOT, was projected to be apocalyptic. It hasn’t been: people have found different routes and chosen different modes. Many have chosen to bike. According to bike and motor vehicle counts recently published by the Boston Transportation Department, in 2017 bikes comprised 34.9% of the inbound traffic on the bridge during morning peak rush hour, up from 25.2% in 2016, despite the lack of a safe bicycle lane during construction. Data is already telling us that mode share is rapidly changing: 60% more bicyclists used the Longfellow in 2017 compared to 2016. We should be planning for the future, not 2011. Kendall Square is still one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, and the City of Cambridge has been making great strides in achieving their motor vehicle trip reduction goals in Kendall Square. The City of Boston and City of Cambridge have also adopted Vision Zero over the past few years, making clear their priorities of creating safe passage for people on bikes on both ends of the Longfellow.
In 2018, we’re requesting that, when the bridge is completed this spring, we keep the single lane of traffic for inbound vehicles—no different than what we’ve had since mid-2013—and devote the extra space to a safe, separated bike lane on the Longfellow Bridge. This only requires changes in paint and addition of plastic flexposts, and would not delay completion.
The Longfellow Bridge is one of the busiest bicycling corridors in the state: during the morning peak rush hour, more than 400 cyclists cross the bridge between Cambridge and Boston, as many people as cross the bridge by car (although far fewer than the Red Line).
Since the bridge contains a significant grade, it is important for cyclists to be able to safely pass each other without having to swerve in to travel lanes: we propose a two-lane bike lane for the bridge, similar to infrastructure in place in Seattle, Portland, Chicago (see above) and other cities. In the current plan, 22 of the 28 feet available are devoted to car lanes: 80% of the bridge for 60% of the traffic. We can do better.
In addition to being an important bicycling and transit route (the Red Line carries far more people across the bridge than any other mode), the Longfellow Bridge is an important route for emergency vehicle access to Massachusetts General Hospital. When every second counts, we can’t put emergency vehicles in a position where they have to try to part a sea of cars to get across a gridlocked bridge: sirens can only do so much. That’s why our plan calls for a bicycle lane which would double as an emergency vehicle lane.
When an ambulance needs to get a patient to life-saving care at MGH, it’s much easier for a cyclist to dismount and clear the bike lane than it is for a car to clear space. When seconds count, this will give emergency vehicles a clear path to the doors of MGH from Cambridge and communities to the north and west.
The track record is clear: the Longfellow Bridge is a major bicycle connection between Boston and Cambridge, and streets in both communities are programmed for safe, separated bicycling infrastructure in city master plans, in addition to many changes already on the ground (including state-of-the-art protected bike lanes on Beacon Street in Somerville—funded by MassDOT—bringing hundreds of cyclists to the Longfellow daily). We call on MassDOT to make sure that this critical link is as safe as possible, with a single travel lane for motor vehicles (achieving safety improvements and speed reduction for motorists) and a wide bicycle lane suitable for two cyclists to travel side-by-side, or for an ambulance to bypass a queue of traffic to get a patient to MGH.
Leaders of the local advocacy organizations, including the Boston Cyclists Union, Livable Streets, WalkBoston, Cambridge Bike Safety, MassBike, and the Charles River Conservancy have been in touch with MassDOT with this request.
The stakeholder process that led to two lanes of inbound traffic with a striped, unprotected five-foot bicycle lane began in 2009. Since then, transportation modes have shifted dramatically (bicycle counts in Cambridge have doubled), and Massachusetts has been lauded as a safe bicycling leader, but the plans for the Longfellow Bridge remain woefully inadequate. Now is the time to pilot a one-lane inbound with two-lane protected cycletrack (see above image). Striping and adding flexposts for separation require no lengthy delays in construction.
Please help us tell the Governor and Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation that they MUST prioritize safe passage for people biking, the Charles River Bridges are barriers for safe biking but could be gateways, and we need them to show leadership NOW on the Longfellow Bridge, where they are faced with an opportunity.
YOU can help us tell the leadership that there is strong demand for protected bike lanes on the Longfellow Bridge. Sign our petition today, and share it with everyone you know! Time is of the essence. Don’t delay!
Written by Michael Davidson, Ari Ofsevit, and Becca Wolfson