Unsurprising Surprises on the new Comm Ave

The new “protected” bike lanes (between the parked cars and the sidewalk) on Commonwealth Avenue along Boston University are finally (mostly) usable after about two years of construction work. But according to a report last week in BU Today, not all is going well.

According to the article, “Speeding and wrong-way cyclists, and even those who are traveling slowly and safely in the proper direction, are experiencing close encounters with inattentive or distracted pedestrians in the tracks, not to mention unpermitted travel by skateboarders and wheelchair users.” Already the first injury was reported to police: “a BU employee fell and broke her wrist after a brush with a cyclist riding a Blue Bike in the protected lane.”

According to the article, BU’s transportation demand management and marketing manager says that “people on bikes should not expect to ride as fast on the new bike lane as they might have in the street.” He also realizes the dangers from turning traffic: his “lie-awake-at-night concern is the intersection of Comm Ave and St. Paul Street” because drivers “’don’t necessarily realize that they are required to yield to people in the bike lane before turning [onto St. Paul]. Eastbound riders are particularly at risk, because the hill allows them to travel faster than a motorist might expect, making them hard to notice before turning.’”

Who could have predicted that seemingly “protected” lanes might increase these risks? Back in 2014, BU Today ran a story discussing the proposals for improving this stretch of Comm Ave, including excerpts of my analysis of crashes in the corridor. Back then, I noted that motorist right turns were one of the most common crash types and proposed right-turn only lanes to separate straight-through and right-turning traffic (cars and bikes). I also noted the issue of higher bicycling speed downhill and the likelihood of increased crashes not involving motor vehicles with separated bike lanes.

The intersection that keeps BU’s TDM and marketing manager up at night because of the high risk of a crash between right-turning cars and hidden, fast-moving bicyclists was the site of a 2012 bicyclist fatality involving a right-turning truck. One of the comments on the new article reads:

Cyclists need to be much more careful and vigilant now than before. I was riding on Comm Ave eastbound, about to cross Amory with a green light, and a tractor trailer took a right turn in front of me. I was able to swerve right to avoid collision, but I have never come that close to being hit in my 4 years biking in Boston.

Who could have predicted such a surprising outcome?

1 Comment

  1. In addition to and contributing to the safety concerns, the fundamental concept of these bikeways is impractical. An issue with desire lines and travel times is so glaringly obvious that advocates for the project must simply have turned a blind eye to it in their zeal to “do something for bicyclists.” Much if not most of the bicycle traffic is local. To make a short trip opposite the direction of travel on their side of the Avenue, most bicyclists are going to ride opposite traffic, rather than to

    • travel opposite their intended direction to an intersection,
    • cross to the far side of the wide avenue with its center median, waiting for any or all of three traffic signals,
    • travel past their destination,
    • cross back at an intersection, waiting for any or all of three traffic signals,
    • and then travel again opposite the intended direction to reach the destination.

    Any practical solution would require two-way travel on both sides of the Avenue, and I contend that it would best be handled on parallel streets and paths on block away. I have written and published on this topic, here: http://streetsmarts.bostonbiker.org/2013/01/30/connecting-the-boston-university-campus/

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