MassBike, working MassDOT’s Design Exception Review Committee, has formally expressed disapproval for a plan in Holyoke that would fail to provide safe passage for bicycle riders and pedestrians under Interstate 91 along Lower Westfield Road, near the Holyoke Mall.
Founded in 2003, the DER Committee serves as a design forum for both internal district engineers and external organizations such as the Federal Highway Administration and nonprofit advocacy groups such as MassBike. While mostly serving as an advisory panel, the DER Committee has placed more attention in recent years on healthy transportation elements.
While the Holyoke project primarily focused on installing signals, the opportunity to reconfigure lanes under newer guidelines was hampered by the width between the bridge abutments.
“The designers had real challenges and good intent. The traffic counts are high and there is an interstate interchange,” explained MassBike Executive Director Richard Fries. “But you also had a really dangerous situation for lower-income mall employees trying to get to the other side of the highway.” This site was the scene of a recent pedestrian fatality.
The request to be exempt from design requirements was brought before MassDOT’s DER Committee in March seeking to shrink the bike accommodations to just three feet. MassBike, working with Livable Streets Board Member Charlie Denison, stalled the issuance of the exception to seek an improved design. As a result the travel lanes proposed for motor vehicles were narrowed and a four-foot shoulder was presented to safely accommodate bicycles. While most bicycle lane design guides call for five-feet lanes, this design review process often fosters compromise solutions where there are insufficient right-of-way widths.