In Allston, what started as a routine bridge deck replacement project turned into a major community effort to transform a long-reviled and unsafe roadway into a more livable, human-scaled city street. When MassDOT presented it's plans in June 2013 to replace the deck of the Cambridge Street bridge, which spans the Massachusetts Turnpike, shortcomings in the proposed design became a call to action for neighborhood organizing efforts. A coalition of neighborhood groups, residents, and advocacy groups, including MassBike, came together over the past nine months to press MassDOT and elected officials for a better design.
People who ride bikes will see major improvements right away. Dedicated on-street accommodations will be implemented from the start of construction, anticipated to start this Spring, and be maintained throughout. Currently, there are no dedicated bicycle facilities on Cambridge Street.
[caption id="attachment_21615" align="alignleft" width="300"] Cambridge Street now: inhospitable for all users. Photo: Matthew Danish[/caption]
Galen Mook, Organizer of Allston-Brighton Bikes, says of the community organizing process, "This was a collaboration between residents, advocacy groups, elected officials, and the project managers who all spent a lot of time thinking and retooling the design, who came out on several occasions for site visits with the elected officials and project managers, and to the residents who met nearly every week over the course of several months to strategize how to publicize and effect change on this project."
[caption id="attachment_21608" align="alignright" width="151"] Proposed design for Cambridge Street. Images: MassDOT[/caption]
At several public meetings, hundreds of residents came out to speak in favor of better access and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, slower speeds for car traffic, and design elements that would make Cambridge Street an attractive and inviting gateway to the Allston Village community.
Describing the current nature of Cambridge Street, Mook adds, "this is one of the trickiest stretches of road in Boston, a relic of the highway era of the 1960s, when the MassPike used to terminate in Allston before it went all the way downtown. This road is overbuilt and has certainly outlived its function."
The outcome of this collaborative process is a design which incorporates important elements the community asked for, including:
- Physically separated cycletracks at sidewalk level away from motor vehicle traffic.
- A pedestrian crosswalk at Mansfield Street, midway across the span of the bridge.
- Streetscape improvements including new lighting and fencing.
In addition to these specific elements, the community won a larger commitment from MassDOT to give a full evaluation of existing bicycle and pedestrian facilities between North Allston and Allston Village and part of the upcoming MassPike straightening project. With continued advocacy and involvement from community members, cycletracks may eventually extend along Cambridge Street uninterrupted between Harvard Ave and the Charles River.
The fact that MassDOT has made significant improvements to the design presented in June 2013 is a true testament to local community members' tireless advocacy efforts and to the department's responsiveness and forward-thinking. MassBike helped by spreading the word about public meetings, signing onto the community's multiple letters, and submitting a comment letter to MassDOT after working directly with organizers and project managers to make specific recommendations that address safety concerns for bicyclists.
You can read our letter to MassDOT in full here. The letter makes the following general recommendations:
- Address design details at the Cambridge Street/Harvard Ave/Franklin Street intersection to provide ease of use for bicyclists and alleviate conflict points among motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
- Continue the eastbound cycletrack up to Lincoln Street and provide a two-stage left turn box for bicyclists.
- Provide signage and queuing space to alleviate conflict points between pedestrians and bicyclists at the mid-bridge crossing.
- Implement pedestrian and bicycle shared use path pavement markings from Harvard Avenue/ Franklin Street intersection to the pedestrian bridge.
- Provide "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" signs in both directions along Cambridge Street, acknowledging that when the cycletrack is in place, some bicyclists will choose to ride in the Cambridge Street roadway to access Highgate Street.