Sam Coren (samcoren) wrote in davis_square,
Sam Coren

Beacon Street Cycletrack Design: From Bad to Worse. Way Worse.

I'd like to preface this post by saying that there's a Bike Committee Meeting Tuesday 11/18 7pm in the city hall basement lounge. These meetings are open to the public and if you're more interested in what's going on with this cycletrack business or haven't been to one yet before and you bike a lot around town you should go. Why? Because maybe if there were more people involved and aware of such projects it wouldn't have come to this....

Background: There's been a ton of hubbub about the Beacon Street Reconstruction project. Everyone agrees the street needs some major rehab, after all, it sucks equally for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. But people are in an uproar over removing parking from Oxford to Washington on the even-side of the street for the installation of cycletracks. Some cyclists have also voiced disagreement with the proposed design (not wanting it unless it could extend the whole length of the street, pedestrians using it as sidewalk extension, having to go up and down for every intersection/driveway, etc). Over 700 residents, business patrons, and business owners signed a petition against the parking elimination that was based on the flawed parking study, which was presented to the Transportation Director and the Mayor's office.

After the 11/13 public meeting about the track, the Board of Alderman passed a resolution requesting the office of strategic planning and development to consider alternatives, recognizing the potential consequences of such a large parking elimination on both businesses and residents on the street.  It seems like there's a lot of rushing from the Transportation Department to move forward with presenting design changes on the cycletrack to MassDOT with little regard for actually getting changes vetted by the bike committee or the actual property and business owners of the street...

So what has changed between the design presented in October and November and this latest version and why is this "worse" for cyclists and the neighborhood in general than previous iterations? I'll walk you through it since it's a large doc. Unfortunately, you won't find this doc on the city's website yet, and I've been told that some of the Bike Committee hasn't even had a chance to see it. So in the interest of keeping everyone updated in a timely fashion, here you go....

View the full PDF here:

Old version propsed in October:

The previous design called for 7' wide raised cycletracks (the Bike Comittee originally wanted 8' based on previous minutes) on each side of the road from Oxford to Museum, and then Park to Washington Street - all parking would have been eliminated on the even-side of the street from Oxford to Washington. The Museum to Park and the Washington to city line sections were to have regular painted 5' bike lanes at street level (parking on one side for Museum to Park, parking on both sides for Washington to city line).  Parking on both sides will remain on the Washington -> City Line sections that will have bike lanes.

New Version modfied in December:

Now instead of 7' tracks on each'll be a narrower 6'  raised cycletrack on one the odd-side of the street with a 3'' mountable curb. On the even-side of the street it will be a 9' raised cycle track the same level as the sidewalk with a 6'' non mountable curb for the Oxford/Museum and Park-> Washington sections.  Parking will now be eliminated on the odd-side of the street for the cycle tracks and remain on the even-side (the 9' wide cycletrack part). Parking will be on the odd-side of the street for the Museum to Park St. stretch with the bike lanes. Also worth noting, a couple 83 bus stops on the park -> Washington section  on Beacon are being proposed to be removed or relocated where the track sections are to be installed.

To recap the new design:

Oxford to Museum-> 9' raised Cycletrack with 6'' non-mountable curb, 7ft parking lane (even side) and  no parking 6' raised cycletrack with 3'' mountable curb (odd side)

Museum to Park -> 5' painted bike lane, no parking (even side) and 5' painted bike lane, 7'' parking lane (odd side)

Park to Washington -> 9' raised Cycletrack with 6'' non-mountable curb, 7ft parking lane (even side) and  no parking 6' raised cycletrack with 3'' mountable curb (odd side)

Washington to City Line -> Parking on both sides and 5' painted bike lanes  

By the way the Washington -> City line section is where the majority of dooring incidents on cyclists happen since parking is higher turn over there and it's more of a commercial area due to the Inman Sq. proximity. It's also the part of the street that has the highest cycling volume. Oddly enough Ward 2 Alderman Mary Ann Heuston lives here and something tells me it's not a coincidence that parking isn't being proposed to be removed from her side of Beacon St where a segragated cycletrack would actually be the most beneficial...

As for changing the sides of the street with the parking elimination? Likely done in an attempt to appease business owners who were upset over losing their loading zones.

Note the wording on Page 19 of the PDF....emphasis mine:

"The section that has been requested by the City and Community includes the removal of on- street parking north bound and maintaining parking south bound. The full section will be: 10 ft sidewalks on each side, a 6 ft one-way cycle track in the NB direction (separated from the vehicular travel lane by a 3-inch mountable curb), a 11 ft NB travel lane, a 13.0 ft SB travel lane (including a 2.0 shoulder south bound), a 7 ft parking lane on the south bound side, and a 9 ft cycle track (separated from the parking lane with 6 inch vertical granite curbing). It is assumed that the 6 ft cycle track in the NB direction will also serve as a useable shoulder, as needed."   

Use-able shoulder means cars and delivery vehicles can easily drive up on the track and park there for loading and unloading. What's the point of having the cycle track if cars are permitted to drive up on it at whim? At least with MIT's cycletrack on Vassar St. they had the decency tell cars to stay out:

Another thing worth pointing out is that the proposed design blatantly goes against cycletrack best practices:

In the "conclusions" section of the famous Copenhagen cycletrack study, that also happens to be featured in the recent copy of the plans on page 47 of this proposed design"

"3. [...] Roads with bicycle tracks and parking permitted are safer compared to roads with parking bans. Bicycle tracks that ends at the stop line at signalized intersections with no turning lanes should be avoided due to major safety problems."

The city has no plans for putting in left turning lanes at Beacon/Park and Beacon/Washington in this Reconstruction project - the two biggest crash sites for both cars and bikes on Beacon. According to Hayes Morrison, the Transportation Director, from an e-mail chain I had with her asking if there were going to be any turning lanes on Beacon:

"From a traffic operations perspective, a general rule of thumb is that an exclusive left-turn lane is probably warranted if the left-turning volume exceeds 100 vehicles per hour. At the Beacon Street / Park Street intersection, the projected 2032 future left-turning volume from Beacon Street onto Park Street is less than 60 vehicles in both peak hours. At the Beacon Street / Washington Street intersection, the projected 2032 future left-turning volume from Beacon Street onto Washington Street (in both directions) is less than 50 vehicles in both peak hours. The decision to not include exclusive left-turn lanes on Beacon Street took into the consideration the limited right-of-way and the relatively low volume of left-turning vehicles."

So apparently following a "general rule of thumb" is more important than doing what you need to do to improve actual road safety....even when there's data indicating that these are dangerous intersections (page 23 of the PDF) and that safe cycle track design encourages turning lanes at signalized intersections. 

The thing about limiting the parking on the street (aka parking bans) for these tracks means that more people are going to be forced to turn into side streets (which already have extremely limited parking) than they currently are to find parking or turn around. More vehicles turning   = more cyclists at risk for intersection collisions with cars, hence why the study recommends not eliminating parking in general for cycletracks. And let's not forget about the environmental impact from residents and business patrons who will likely end up regularly circling the street constantly looking for parking spots....

Other places where this design fails at following best practices? The nature of raised cycle tracks themselves . Check out these bits from NACTO on Raised Cycle Tracks best practices (

"Typical Applications

Raised cycle tracks can be considered wherever a bicycle lane would be the standard recommendation. They may be most beneficial:

Along higher speed streets with few driveways and cross streets.


Raised cycle tracks may be incompatible with conventional street sweeping equipment and snow plow equipment, depending on their configuration. There should be enough shy distance on the adjacent roadway so that snow is not stored on the raised cycle track.  "

The reason behind not putting tracks on roads with lots of intersections and driveways (Beacon has tons of these on the Oxford -> Museum section, not as many on the Museum-> Washington section thanks to the good ol' Academy of Arts and Sciences and fewer residences there) is that the track would need to blend down to street level for each driveway and intersecting side-street (see Vassar St cycletrack or the side of Concord Ave in Cambridge that has all those driveways.... ). It's also worth noting that cyclists tend to bike faster in seperated cycletracks as opposed to lanes which doesn't lend itself to safer cycling when there's always cars to watch out for peaking out of all those intersections and driveways...

Additionally the city is proposing 10 ft' sight triangles at driveways (see page 21 of the PDF) , which would further limit parking on the side of the street in which parking would remain (i.e. - where you used to be able to park 3 cars, you might only now be able to park 2, where you could fit 2 cars, you might only be able to fit 1 etc.). So for a city that repeatedly threw down our throats a few years ago that Somerville had an on-street parking shortage (states it specifically on the T&P website even!) and that requires all residents to purchase a permit for street parking, that just so happens to have the HIGHEST residential parking permit in the state...why further limit it for a cycle track design that is not only incomplete, but also against best practices for implementing them safely?

For those who previously complained that street parking in Somerville with a permit is a steal: I'd GLADLY pay a little more IF those funds went directly into stuff like repairing the sidewalks and repaving the roads more often, so we didn't have to resort to begging for federal money to repair our local roads like we're doing with Beacon Street. 

And before anyone brings up the poor man who died biking on Comm Ave who hit the tractor trailer...that type of accident likely wouldn't have been prevented by a cycletrack since it occurred at an intersection.  If you look closely at the study used on page 21 of the PDF you'll even notice how right-turn motor vehicle to bicyclist crashes (such as the one that happened on Comm Ave) can INCREASE after cycletracks get implemented.....likely because cars aren't paying as much attention to cyclists while turning when us cyclists are riding along in our own special lane.

This whole proposal right now is D-student quality work from the design, to the lack of communication with the neighborhood, to the severely botched parking study. Cycletracks can be really beneficial if they're designed properly on the streets where they're placed, but to be frank, as a cyclist, I'd take bike lanes over a terribly designed cycletrack any day...especially one that starts and stops and starts and stops on Beacon like the mess that's being proposed now. 

The city of Somerville deserves better, don't you think?  

Tags: bicycle, local government
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