Working With MassDOT On The Longfellow Bridge

Earlier this year, we reported on efforts to ensure that bicyclists are fully included in the reconstruction of the iconic Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge. See here and here. If you've ridden across the bridge this week, you might have noticed that construction has begun on the "early action" sidewalks that MassDOT promised. (Please be especially careful during the construction, as a lane has been removed at the base of the bridge heading towards Cambridge and all traffic must merge briefly - the beginning of the bike lane will return when the sidewalks are done.)

[caption id="attachment_3316" align="alignright" width="299" caption="MassDOT Project Manager Mike O'Dowd with Joe Pavao leads the walking tour"][/caption]

There has been a great deal of public interest in the Longfellow Bridge project, and proposals made by the advocacy community (including MassBike) to prioritize bicycling, walking, and transit on the bridge have garnered a lot of attention recently. See here and here.

MassDOT heard the concerns of the advocates, and, to its credit, decided in May 2010 to take a step back in the process to more carefully examine the full range of ideas for the bridge. In June 2010, MassDOT convened the Longfellow Bridge Task Force "to ensure stakeholders are given an equal opportunity to comment on the final approach and roadway cross-section of the bridge with particular focus on serving transit, roadway, bicycle and pedestrian needs effectively and safely." More public information is available in the Task Force Google Group. I was invited to be a member of the Task Force and have been actively participating in the process.

Task Force members were invited to take walking tours of the Longfellow Bridge to see first-hand many of the problems to be addressed by the project. I went on one of the tours, and had the opportunity to speak at length with MassDOT officials and other Task Force members about the challenges bicyclists face on the bridge and at the approaches (particularly on the Boston side at Charles Circle). I think the opportunity to stand there and actually observe how bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists interact on and around the bridge was eye-opening for many people.

One thing was missing from the walking tour - actually experiencing the bridge from the bicyclist perspective. MassDOT Highway Administrator Luisa Paiewonsky recently rode over the bridge to get a feel for it, which was a great idea, but we wanted to make sure MassDOT engineers working on the project experienced first-hand the full range of challenges bicyclists face getting to, from, on, off, and across the Longfellow Bridge. So last week, we met up with MassDOT's Mike O'Dowd, Amy Getchell, and Joe Pavao, along with Glen Berkowitz from LivableStreets Alliance, and gave them the full tour by bike.

After meeting up at the Charles MBTA Station, we first observed the chaos in Charles Circle, as bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists all jockeyed for position. Then, because we think making the approach to the bridge safer for bicyclists is so important, we rode away from the bridge a few blocks before turning around, so that they could get a real taste of what getting to the bridge is like. Through Charles Circle (showing them how to take the lane to protect against right-turning traffic), across the bridge, into Cambridge, around and back again.

While we do not yet know what design for the bridge and the approaches will emerge from the Task Force, I'm confident that key people at MassDOT now understand exactly what we face every day riding across the Longfellow Bridge (and elsewhere). And that is a small victory in itself!

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