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Pedestrian-bicyclist separation:
fantasy vs. reality

Here's what the project's proponents claimed about separation of bicyclists from pedestrians:

Signing, pavement markings and education will be used to inform bicyclists and pedestrians of their respective operating spaces, as is done for similar facilities in Europe. As described previously, there is over seven feet of rideable space on the cycle track and shoulders entirely separate from the sidewalk.

Paul Smith, of Rizzo Associates,
consultant to the Vassar Street project,
in a defense of the project,
May 2002

Here's what a nationally-recognized expert on such issues says:

It's pretty near hopeless and futile to try to regulate pedestrians in an environment away from traffic.

Michael Ronkin,
Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator,
State of Oregon

Rosalie Anders, of the Community Development Department, City of Cambridge,   agrees, in an e-mail message of Thursday, October 14, 2004. Go figure.

In general, we try to keep cyclists and pedestrians separate, except on recreational paths. Bikes on sidewalks is a chronic issue here because cyclists often intimidate people on foot, especially elderly people, and we discourage sidewalk cycling. And if we think of our sidewalks as our public living rooms, where people can stop and chat, bikes are even harder to accomodate on sidewalks. Narrow streets, lots of on-street parking, and other issues have not permitted us to have a separate system for cyclists, so we believe our job is to make the roadways safe for them.

What MIT and Cambridge built, February 13, 2003. A group of students wanders
around on the sidepath. Why? They are waiting for a campus
shuttle bus that stops here. In the background, a car
backs across the sidepath.

DSCF0045Bus stop.jpg (33548 bytes)

Even under very light traffic conditions in February, a bicyclist has left the
designated sidepath to avoid a pedestrian. Who is supposed to yield right of
way here? Who knows? Now imagine more crowded conditions
(break between classes, warmer weather... see below.)

DSCF0051ped avoidance.jpg (31930 bytes)

Warmer weather: April 18, 2004, a Sunday

DSCF0125walking on sidepath.jpg (56077 bytes)

Same location, 5 PM, June 10, 2005,  alumni leaving a reunion talk which
discussed campus improvements including those to Vassar Street.
The emergency phone begins to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa...

DSCF0065 Vassar Street pedssm1.jpg (50319 bytes)

What about inline skaters? April 30, 2004: this one chooses the bikeway's
asphalt surface; the boutique block pavers elsewhere
give a rough ride on tiny skate wheels. With flailing arms and legs,
a single inline skater occupies the entire bikeway.

DSCF0011bicyclist avoids skater.jpg (27965 bytes)

April 30, 2004. More haphazard use of the bikeway. The bicyclist in
the background is heading to the Building 39 portal by the usual
wrong-way route. A truck is parked on the bikeway, too.

DSCF0021ped avoidancesm.jpg (24711 bytes)

They were warned.

[E]ncroachment of pedestrians onto the cycle track and bicyclists onto the walkway will be the rule rather than the exception. This has been demonstrated over and over. To say otherwise is pure fantasy.

John S. Allen, MIT VI '75
in a response to a defense
of the project
by Paul Smith,
May 2002

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