Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Follow up to Jan 14th public meeting about Cambridge Street overpass

Yesterday was the third and, we believe, final public hearing about the Cambridge Street overpass repair project (MassDOT #606376). I would estimate that close to a hundred people showed up to hear about some major changes were made after the second meeting back on Nov 19. The Boston Globe summarized some of the changes, also shown in this cross-section:

MassDOT engineers decided to create the crosswalk at Mansfield Street but in order to build the accessible ramps, they realized that the bike lane would need to be raised onto the sidewalk. So they decided to create what may become Boston's first sidewalk level cycle track. I believe that the crosswalk and the cycle track are both positive changes, but there still remain issues to be addressed. Many of them were covered by people who spoke up at the public meeting, for a solid two-and-a-half hours of testimony:

  • The fence in the median is bad, unsafe, and ugly, and it must go. People want to cross the street, and will do so anyway by skirting the fence, but less safely than they do now. Plus, crossing at Linden Street is not illegal, therefore the fence is blocking a legal movement in favor of an illegal movement: speeding. MassDOT: we think our current design is safer.
  • 99% of 30 mph streets do not have a fence down the middle. Fences will inspire speeding.
  • We love the crosswalk. Can a temporary one be installed as soon as possible? We don't want to have to wait until 2017 to have a crosswalk there. MassDOT: difficult because of bridge joint.
  • The cycle track is a great step forward, but it changes the worry from car-on-bike to the possibility that there might be too much contention between pedestrians and cyclists.
  • The shoulders are now 3' wide in the new design. Could some of that space be reallocated to the sidewalk so that pedestrians have more space? Wide shoulders encourage speeding. MassDOT: we want that for breakdown space.
  • Revisit the shoulders, narrow the lanes, find more space for pedestrians. The outer lane feels like it is effectively 14' which promotes speeding.
  • The new lanes are 11' but on the River Street bridge you have small shoulders and only 10.5' lanes. Why not here? Wide lanes encourage speeding. MassDOT: we obtained exceptions for River Street bridge and don't want to do that here since there is room.
  • Speed is the main issue on this street: how do we bring it down to 25-30 mph?
  • There is a street light that juts into the cycle track every 100'. Can that be avoided? MassDOT: light poles must be outside of crash barrier.
  • The Lincoln Street intersection has a bike box in the new design, but it seems to be awkward and unlikely to be used. That intersection is barely functional for pedestrians and needs to be fixed. BTD: will take a look.
  • How will you prevent moped riders from using the cycle track?
  • Will you ensure that no gray boxes or other typical obstructions block up the sidewalk?
  • Cambridge Street shouldn't be a barrier for the community.
  • If you're going to put a fence, can you open up the Allston "subway" under the Pike, at least?
  • Expect 2-way travel on both cycle tracks, because of limited opportunities to cross the street.
  • MassDOT claims that the Franklin Street footbridge is going to be redone starting in about 3 years.
  • A bunch of trees were cut down from the embankment. Will they be replaced?
  • We need a snow clearing plan for sidewalk level cycletracks (and sidewalks).
  • The city intersections at either end of the scope need to be fixed -- ASAP.
  • How often are vehicles disabled? Does it really justify a 3' shoulder when most of the time it's not going to be used?
  • Hold off on the fence until after complete, then do a study to see if it is really necessary.
  • Will MassDOT promise not to use this "repair project" as an excuse not to redo the entire overpass if the $250m Mass Pike Interchange Improvement project decides that is necessary?
  • MassDOT: commits to study replacement of entire overpass as part of larger project, and will not use anything on this project as a hindrance to rebuild.
  • Will the crosswalk really work when traffic is going 40-50 mph? MassDOT: claims that new crosswalk strobe lights are studied and certified by FHWA for this purpose.
  • Business owner has seen numerous crashes and deaths on this street because of cars going too fast. Must re-envision this street as a city street, no more than 30 mph. Add traffic light at Linden Street, one that is timed with Harvard Ave.
  • MassDOT: commits to work on temporary traffic calming measures at dangerous entrance to Mass Pike (out of scope though).
  • Harvard/Franklin/Cambridge Street intersection needs to be calmed down. It is very aggressive as designed.
  • This current design is very utilitarian. This is a gateway. Consider public art and better lighting. MassDOT: this is fanciest fence we have, but we will look again.
  • How long will the crosswalk be given? MassDOT: 26-30 seconds on pushbutton activation.
  • Have you considered additional traffic generated by New Balance? MassDOT: Cambridge Street is massively over capacity as it is right now, and maintaining the right-turn lane at Franklin Street is intended to help New Balance traffic.
  • If you must keep the median fence, consider a 4' fence instead of 6' one. End the fence 3' before the end of the median, just for safety of people who will cross anyway. Consider a blinking yellow overhead light that says "Traffic Light Ahead" to try and warn people speeding over hill.

Comment period ends January 24th, 2014. Please reference "Project #606376 Cambridge Street bridge over I-90, Allston, Boston" and write an e-mail to Or snail-mail:

Patricia A. Leavenworth, P.E., Chief Engineer,
Attention.: Bridge Project management, Project File No. 606376. 
10 Park Plaza
Boston, MA 02116

The engineers expect to submit final design for review by the end of this month and to put it out for bid so that construction can begin this spring.

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