The Secret Sauce of Kendall Square

How Cambridge Hosted Massive Development While Reducing Traffic

Typical 20th Century commercial developers in America operate with a formula that states one should build about three to four parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of office space. Given that the last decade has seen more than 5 million square feet of office space shoehorned into East Cambridge and Kendall Square, one would have to accommodate parking for nearly 20,000 cars.

With an estimated 17 of the world’s 20 largest biotech and pharmaceutical firms operating in this area, the construction of buildings went full-throttle in the five years. Recognizing this opportunity, city officials put several conditions on developers to bring bikes, pedestrians and transit user on the same plane as cars. The result? The parking ratio was set at just one parking space per thousand square feet of office.

That’s right, just one.

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MassBike and BCU Speak; MassDOT Listens on Longfellow Bridge Reconstruction

As much as 50 percent of the rush hour traffic on the Longfellow Bridge is on a bicycle. The bridge between Cambridge and Boston is part of a key commuting corridor for cars, bikes, pedestrians and the MBTA Red Line.  

The rehab project, one of five spans being re-done under the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program, has maintained inbound and outbound bicycle access throughout the project but has restricted automobiles to inbound access only. Recently the project switched from the downstream span to the upstream span, which has been renovated. This has put the bikes inbound alongside cars and outbound on a path shared with pedestrians.

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Legislative Wins!

Thanks to the calls and e-mails from our members throughout the year to state lawmakers we have good news to report! The current legislative session is over and there are victories to celebrate and a we have a clear picture of the work that remains ahead.

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COMMENTARY: Will Crashes Spark Tactical Suburbanism?

Ghost Bike Removed from Lincoln Crash Site Within Hours of Installation

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Ghost bikes spur a lot of emotion. Like the crosses and shrines erected along highway crash scenes, these stark emblems pay tribute to a place where a cyclist died while also serving reminders to motorists to mind their behavior.

On the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 17, I corresponded with Maureen Crocker, the sister of Eugene Thornberg, who died in June after a collision between his bicycle and a motor vehicle along Route 126 in Lincoln.

The Lincoln Police granted Crocker permission to host a memorial ghost bike service near the scene of the crash on Saturday, Sept. 10. The family delayed the service to allow Thornberg’s son, Patrick Thornberg, to return from his basic training for the U.S. Marine Corps in Parris Island, S.C.

The service will be held at 11 a.m. The Lincoln Police graciously offered to close the road for one hour to accommodate the service. They would also grant permission to install the ghost bike but only for that weekend.

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Two Crashes Draw Increased Attention to Suburban Bike Accommodations

Second Lincoln Fatality, Waltham Collision Showcase Poor Bike Conditions

News of the first crash on Wednesday, Aug. 17, came in the morning. Normally that would have filled up our caseload for the day here at MassBike.

But in pursuing details about the crash, we learned of a second crash on the same day. This one proved fatal.

Both involved large motor vehicles, a pickup truck and an SUV.

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Longfellow Bridge Closures - August 27 & 28

ADVISORY - August 27 & 28
Longfellow Bridge Steam Pipe Venting to Require Brief Travel Closures 

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation Project design/build contractor, White-Skanska-Consigli JV (WSC), announce that all vehicle, pedestrian, bicycle, and MBTA Red Line travel near the Charles Circle staging area of the Longfellow Bridge will be halted for a brief period of time. The temporary halt is necessary to complete replacement of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH's) existing steam line with a new 18-inch line on Saturday, August 27, and Sunday, August 28. The line runs under the Longfellow Bridge and is being replaced as part of the bridge rehabilitation. The new line must be cleaned before it is put into service. The cleaning process (called a “steam blow”) uses pressurized steam to remove dirt and other debris from inside the new line.

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On our ongoing response to the death of Amanda Phillips

Yesterday, In the wake of the tragic loss of Amanda Phillips in Cambridge last week, MassBike sent the following letter to Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan. While we continue to work diligently to improve our roadways and pass new laws, we cannot expect to see change unless we enforce existing laws. Copied on our letter to Ms. Ryan, we have reached out to Cambridge Acting Police Commissioner Christopher Burke, Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Attorney General Maura Healey, State Rep. David M. Rogers, State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, State Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen, State Rep. Timothy J. Toomey, State Rep. Marjorie C. Decker, and State Rep. Jonathan Hecht to ensure that charges are filed against the motorists involved.

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National Bike Summit and the Vision Zero Cities Conference Recaps

By Barbara Jacobson and Lauren LeClaire

It has been a busy time winding up towards the spring! Right after moving into a new office space, the MassBike staff left for the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC for a series of speakers and panels on a variety of topics followed by a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. After three days at the National Bike Summit, Programs Director Barbara Jacobson continued on to New York to represent MassBike at the Vision Zero Conference.

[caption id="attachment_24506" align="alignleft" width="300"] International Women's Day was celebrated by the delegation being made up mostly of women![/caption]

This year the delegation from Massachusetts included representation from MassBike, Boston Cyclists Union, Mattapan Food and Fitness, and Zagster. The group represented the diversity of the state of Massachusetts with local advocates, community-based groups, retail, and corporate representation, all focused on a common goal to improve bicycling in the state using their own unique strategies. The summit overlaps International Women’s Day, which bolstered excitement as the majority of the delegation members are women! As bicycling for transportation continues to become more ingrained in culture, the users will become more diverse. Massachusetts is proud to showcase the diversity of voices at the summit.

Programs Director, Barbara Jacobson & Becca Wolfson, Interim Executive Director of the Boston Cyclists Union participated on a panel about Vision Zero initiatives in cities throughout the United States. Vision Zero is a policy that originally started in Sweden and is focused on eliminating traffic crashes and fatalities to zero because zero is the only acceptable number for such incidences. Many cities throughout the United States have adopted Vision Zero policies such as New York, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale and Boston.

[caption id="attachment_24507" align="alignleft" width="300"] Becca and Barbara on the Vision Zero panel.[/caption]

The panel included Tamika Butler, Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Nick Jackson from Toole Design Group, Sam Zimbabwe, District Department of Transportation based in Washington, DC and was moderated by Leah Shahum Director, Vision Zero Network.

Barbara and Becca presented on the formation of the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition, a collective effort among advocacy groups and individuals to educate, inform and support the adoption and follow-through of Vision Zero policies and road designs throughout the Commonwealth. The panel served as a catalyst for engaging bike advocates within a broader context of improving the roadways for all users. In turn the Vision Zero strategy can help to strengthen the messaging bike advocates have been saying for years. By coupling Vision Zero with redesigning roadways for people it helps to create consensus that bike infrastructure is beneficial to all users.

[caption id="attachment_24504" align="alignright" width="300"] MA delegation meeting with Senator Markey.[/caption]

Following two days of inspirational speakers and panels, the delegation took to the hill! The delegation was sent to meet with Massachusetts legislators to discuss key bills that the League of American Bicyclists had asked us to champion. Our first ask was to remind them that there is specific funding available (402/405 funding) for educational purposes and to ensure this funding is utilized. Second was the Personal Health Investment Today Act (PHIT) which would make it easier for all Americans to be physically active. It would allow individuals and families to use pre-tax dollars for physical fitness activities through flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs). This means bicycles, cycling education classes, gym memberships, or school athletic fees could be paid for with pre-tax dollars. The MA legislators and their staff that the delegation met with were all extremely receptive! MassBike will follow up with each office over the coming weeks to ensure that these asks are followed through on.

[caption id="attachment_24503" align="alignright" width="300"] Meeting with Senator Warren.[/caption]

A fun highlight from the summit, we were lucky to be joined by the winner of the Saris poster contest, as the winner was Caleb from Somerville! Caleb came to the lobby day meetings and was honored at Representative Capuano's office. Caleb's winning design now resides on Capitol Hill! The delegation was thrilled to have him as part of the process. Thanks Caleb and your family for coming along!

[caption id="attachment_24511" align="alignleft" width="300"] Caleb and his winning poster for the Saris contest.[/caption]

The day after lobby day at the National Bike Summit, it was off to the Vision Zero Cities Conference in New York City. Highlights included best practices and projects from former New York City’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, and the release of her book, Street Fight. There were compelling testimonies of strength and motivation to improve road conditions from Families for Safe Streets co-founders Amy and Hsi-Pei Liao who channeled their grief from losing their three year old daughter, Allison when she was hit and killed while crossing the street. There was representation form the masked Peatónito, the ‘Superhero of the Streets’, from Mexico City. He uses humor to bring awareness to the importance of crosswalks and preventing crashes and fatalities from happening. Here is a video from his time in New York City.

Additionally, Ydanis Rodriguez, Councilman and the chair of the NYC Committee on Transportation announced Car Free NYC. The event will take place on Earth Day, April 22nd. This event will create the opportunity for people to use the streets instead of cars.

Your Town Tuesdays: Sudbury

Sudbury at a Crossroads

By RICHARD FRIES, Executive Director

SUDBURY, Mass. (March 8, 2016) - The statewide online trail map developed by David Loutzenheiser of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council is perhaps the greatest resource available to any Massachusetts bike advocate. Pore over those lines and one quickly beholds  the enormous opportunities of the next decade in Massachusetts.

Green dotted lines show promise where trails are proposed. But of all the locations on that map, one particular nexus stands out: Sudbury.  And the next month will see critical meetings and hearings regarding the future of bike paths in Boston’s MetroWest region.

In Sudbury there are not one but two dotted green lines on that MAPC map. Currently lacking any off-road trails as of this writing, Sudbury could host the nexus of both the Bruce Freeman Trail, running through 10 communities from Lowell to Milford, and the MassCentral Rail Trail, an ambitious 104-mile path connecting Boston to Northampton.

“The Bruce Freeman has been in the process for 20 years,” explained Loutzenheiser. “That trail is moving south in the next couple of years.”

The first phase of the Bruce Freeman is complete. Nearly seven miles of trail is open from Lowell to Westford. Construction is under way in Acton, Westford and Carlisle. There is solid progress on the design of a bridge over the Concord River, the largest geological impediment to the project.  

Riders who enjoy Sudbury’s country roads and farm stands may not recognize the demand for such a facility. But the impacts of those routes, with an intersection of two paths, could re-imagine transportation and recreation in Sudbury. This sleepy suburb could enjoy enormous economic benefits without the traffic, noise and confusion typically associated with development. Both of those paths offer connection points with commuter rail lines running from Boston to Worcester and Fitchburg. Loutzenheiser notes that the Bruce Freeman, running north and south, will have more recreational character while the Central Mass, running east and west, would have more of a transportation focus, connect users to several commuter rail stations and ultimately a route into Boston.

In some ways, the Bruce Freeman trail has been the hare with the ambitious Central Mass Rail Trail playing the part of the tortoise. “I would not say it is the tortoise,” said Loutzenheiser. “They have the links but not the resources. They are trying to push the ball forward to build the trail. (Department of Conservation and Recreation) has the 99 year lease for the 26 miles from Waltham to Berlin.”

But Sudbury has presented some of the more difficult political impediments.  “It’s part of the greening of things that rail trails were seen as a newfangled thing in New England 15 years ago,” explained Craig Della Penna, the former Rails to Trails Conservancy rep in New England. A Realtor, Della Penna is the first real estate agent in the U.S. that focuses on properties along rail trails. “There were about a dozen rail-trail wars where projects were voted down. In Sudbury there was a pretty sophisticated opposition. They played hardball and that caused some of the more well known environmental organizations that had been supportive to fade away into the background.”

The significance of the Mass Central cannot be overstated. At its eastern tip it would connect with the Minuteman and Somerville networks at the Alewife MBTA station. To the west it would intersect with not only the Bruce Freeman, but also the Assabet River trail in Hudson, the Ware River Trail in Barre, and then at its Western tip connect to the Norwottuck system that links Amherst to Northampton. Other trails to the south could ultimately link to the Farmington system in Connecticut. Visionaries see a bike rider rolling from Boston to New Haven without once being on a roadway.

Recent developments along the Central Mass project may see that tortoise - at least in Sudbury - overtake the hare. Della Penna credits Dan Driscoll, the DCR’s director of recreation facilities planning, for working for five years to secure a 99-year lease from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to use the corridor for the Central Mass Rail Trail. That represents the key 26-mile section between Waltham and Berlin.  

But like most bike facilities, the cost of the work - grading, drainage, bridgework - has proven prohibitive in a society that gives little priority to such projects. That may change.

Enter Eversource  

Every New Englander can recall the ferocious ice storms of December, 2008, that left more than a million residents - many in this region - without power for weeks. Utility companies were unable to service those powerlines crippled by falling trees.

Eversource, which provides electricity for most of the region, is overhauling the entire grid to improve access to all of its power lines. Their contractor’s recent report shone a light on one key corridor: the Central Mass  Rail Trail.

“Independent Systems Operators of New England is tasked with increasing the reliability of electric power throughout New England,” explained Dick Williamson, the Sudbury representative on the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail Committee. Eversource’s contractor “ISO has identified a problem with electrical power to Hudson.  ISO has identified the need for a line from Eversource's Sudbury substation west to Hudson.  Several routes have been studied, but one route stands out, namely a transmission line along the Mass Central right of way.  The substation sits alongside the right of way.”

“It provides an opportunity to build sections of the trail - at least the subsurface - but also may pose a significant impact to the rail-bed in terms of tree clearance and wildlife habitat,” said Loutzenheiser. “Each town will need to evaluate their best course of action.”



There are issues. The contractor is recommending a clear-cut 82-foot wide corridor, which has fueled opposition from abutters. Many wish to see the lines buried, which would only require a 35-foot wide corridor.  But that increases the cost from $50 million to $100 million. And this all gets tacked on to people’s electric bills, spurring some arguments to do nothing at all.

Curiously, this has not sparked any reaction against the bike path specifically to date.

“There is a lot of support in general in the towns,” explained Loutzenheiser, noting communities that questioned such trails 15 years ago have come to appreciate them as an asset.  Through repeated use of the corridors simply as footpaths in towns along the Mass Central route the corridor has been set aside to serve as a greenway.

Della Penna is equally optimistic. A soft-spoken bear of a man, Della Penna has regularly hosted dinner parties with the most strident and hysterical opponents of rail trails, carefully noting all of their issues. He also keeps attuned to any abutting properties that come on the market and finds pro-path buyers.

He spoke publicly last week on the project in his hometown of Florence, a neighborhood of Northampton where an open section of Mass Central Rail Trail passes less than 10 feet from his house. “Right now we have 85 miles of the 104 in the corridor in a protected status,” said Della Penna, noting the state will be formally developing an analysis of the few gaps left.  In fact there are more than 200 projects within 100 miles of Northampton. What is being developed here is the densest network of paths in the nation right where people live, work, play, and go to school.

But this massive piece between Waltham and Berlin could be fast tracked with Eversource providing key sub-surface work on the corridor.

“The final decision on the project will be made by the state level Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB),” explained Williamson. “There will be a lot of lobbying between now and the EFSB submission, tentatively scheduled for late spring.”

Want to Know More?

There have been several meetings and hearings. To look at the Eversource presentation made to the Sudbury Board of Selectmen last month, click here: Eversource Sudbury Selectmen Presentation

Additionally there will be an update on the status of the Central Mass Rail Trail on Thursday, April 7, at 9:30 a.m. at the Sudbury Town Hall.

 

Update: This Weekend in Carlisle

Yesterday we posted a copy of an email sent to the Carlisle Chief of Police, in response to complaints we received from numerous riders who were pulled over this past weekend. Please see the initial post here.

Riders OK to Ride Two Abreast in Carlisle

Police Chief Dismisses Existence of Single-File Ordinance

By RICHARD FRIES, Executive Director

CARLISLE, Mass. (Feb. 24, 2016) - During a one-day crusade by an apparent rogue police officer last Sunday, dozens of riders were pulled over and informed that the Town of Carlisle had banned cycling two abreast. Even when riders outlined state law, the officer politely informed all that a new town ordinance had superseded state law.  

When asked about the situation over the weekend Carlisle Police Chief John C. Fisher stated clearly that the town did not have any ordinance that varied from state law regarding bicycles riding two abreast. He did not explain why the officer took such actions but he did clarify that his department has no policy instructing officers to restrict the actions of bicyclists riding lawfully. He promise to investigate the actions taken over the weekend.

"We don't want anybody thinking badly about Carlisle," said Chief Fisher.

The officer in question was not identified. No statement was made regarding any disciplinary action or his current standing with the Carlisle Police Department.   

Located about 17 miles northwest of Boston, Carlisle is a rural, bedroom community. With the Minuteman Bikeway corridor ending in neighboring Bedford, Carlisle hosts a network of country roads popular with touring clubs, racing teams and charity groups. Although large groups of cyclists do gather along such routes as 225 and occasionally delay traffic, there are almost no traffic lights and the main roads are relatively wide. Cars are occasionally delayed briefly on the narrow winding roadways.  

MassBike has offered to host a forum with Carlisle residents, police, and officials to discuss ways of improving understand between all parties. There has been no response to that offer.

We advise all cyclists, motorists, and law enforcement to be well educated on the rules of the road. You can learn about some of the basics that you need to know through our safety video here.

 

 


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