A Guest Post by: Petru Sofio
Four years after the implementation of the Arlington Safe Travel Project, which connected the minuteman bikeway through Arlington Center, the bike path has 70,000 to 90,000 users using the intersection every month. The Safe Travel Project used bicycle lanes, a two-stage turn box, and bicycle protective phasing to connect the two end segments of the minuteman path. To see how this was working, the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee (ABAC) recently completed bike counts at the intersection, specifically focused on the utilization of the bike box. The data collected is crucial as it shows that there is a problem with the current design– it doesn’t meet the needs of the number of cyclists who pass through daily. Personally, in the past, I’ve almost been right hooked here multiple times and even honked at by motorists because the bike box was overflowing and I was blocking traffic because of it. Because of that experience, I jumped at the chance to join ABAC's bike count and do something to improve the intersection.
Counts were conducted during peak periods with 17 volunteers counting on Saturday, June 19th, and Tuesday, June 22nd. On Saturday, on average the bike box overflowed 7 times an hour. One time, the box overflowed so much that there were 3 times as many bikes in the box as the box was designed for (the bike box was designed to comfortably fit 5 cyclists). During the planning process, advocates persisted that the box would overflow but the design was not changed. On some light cycles, you’ll see double to triple the amount of cycling traffic pass through here compared to the volumes the facilities were designed for. This creates a lot of negative experiences for riders, who either have to wait in the cross-bike, crosswalk, or somewhere else not marked for bikes. The overflowing also results in motorist delay as bicyclists have to negotiate and sort themselves out into the 6-foot bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue. During the count, we found that the westbound lane design was working well overall, but a few signal cycles had so many bicycles that the bicyclists couldn’t make it through the cycle.
Another purpose of the count was to see how often motorists were disobeying the right turn on red rules. At the intersection, the traffic signal is designed to separate concurrent walk movements from turning traffic, with the use of red arrows. Unfortunately, since this phasing is so unique to Arlington, many drivers get confused and will run the light almost hitting pedestrians or bicyclists. In total, red-light running happened at least once in every direction every 5 cycles of the signal. Right turns on red, while common in all directions, are most common from Massachusetts avenue onto Mystic Street (a very scary right hook hazard), and Pleasant St onto Massachusetts Avenue.
A truck illegally takes a right turn on a Red signal from Mystic street onto Massachusetts avenue. As you can see, there is a green signal for bicyclists, and a red arrow as well as a no turn on red sign for right-turning traffic. Every direction has a similar phasing to this and has the same no turn on red restriction.
ABAC is looking into recommending some solutions to hopefully cut down on sidewalk riding, bike lane obstructions, bike box overcrowding, right turn on red violations, and other issues that have created confusion and danger for cyclists and pedestrians. I’d like to see more right turn signals and devices that hide the bike signal from motorists so drivers can’t confuse them with the right turn signal. I’d also like to see flex posts along the bike lanes on Massachusetts avenue which are often blocked, and a larger bike box. Adding a lead bicycle interval would also help cyclists sort themselves out and not feel so stressed out when in and leaving the bike box. Having these solutions so I, and the hundreds of cyclists who come through this intersection daily, don’t have to worry about being right hooked and creating further separation from vehicles would make the ride on the Minuteman far more relaxing and enjoyable. I’m hopeful that with the data collected by the ABAC bike count, we can make these changes to make the minuteman even more enjoyable.
About Petru Sofio
Petru Sofio is MassBike's 2021 Design Review Intern and Advocacy Representative from Arlington, Massachusetts. As a high school student, he bikes daily to and from school, year-round, using the Minuteman Bike Trail. He is a dedicated advocate, fighting to make streets safer for all ages, modes, and abilities.