[Table of Contents]
[Previous: John Allen's handout]
[Next: Letter from John Forester]

Vassar St. discussion

Cambridge Bicycle Committee

Cambridge Senior Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts

June 12, 2002

Notes by Tom Revay and John S. Allen.

The discussion on the Vassar Street issue begins at 6:50pm. Cara Seiderman introduces the topic, stating that "the Technical Subcommittee reviewed details to see how they could improve safety of the bicyclists." and asks MIT's Talitha Fabricius to describe the project.

Ms. Fabricius tells the committee that the Institute is proposing to reconstruct Vassar Street with a full-depth reconstruction, property line to property line, and that the proposal has been narrowed down to one option. The proposed streetscape layout would eliminate diagonal on-street parking, plant trees, provide a "cycle track" on each side of the street and increase the size of the sidewalk.

Upon hearing that bicyclists will be riding on sidewalks instead of on the roadway, one woman member of the committee emits an audible sigh, apparently of satisfaction.

Fabricius discusses several problems confronted by the design team, and their proposed solutions:

Problem: "If you're in the intersection on the cycle track, then a right-turning vehicle can right-hook you." Proposed solution: move cyclists off the pathway and into a bike lane before intersections.

Problem: Motorists turning into parking areas can turn into cyclists on the pathway. Proposed solution: "Driveways are not really very high volume" -- the highest will be at the Stata Center, a 700-vehicle parking garage. A steep ramp from the road to the cycle path will be installed. This will cause motorists to slow down. Signage is still being worked on.

Problem: Cyclists overtaking other cyclists might veer onto the pedestrian part of the sidewalk. Proposed solution: The cycle track will be sufficiently wide to permit safe overtaking. It will be five feet wide, with one-foot shoulders between the cycle track and the pedestrian sidewalk, and the tree plantings. "As bikes go down onto the roadway" a "blue material" will be used. The contrast will be clear between where people are supposed to ride and walk. "Obviously, we can't control what people do all the time."

Problem: Tree roots can heave up the pavement of the cycle track. Proposed solution: Trees will be planted in soil that will encourage the roots to grow down, not sideways. A layer of concrete will separate the underground tree beds from the pavers on top.

Problem: Cyclists in the on-street bike path will still be directed to the right side of right turning motorists, or will conflict with straight-going traffic when turning left. Proposed solution: An advanced bicycle stop line or "bike box," forward of the ordinary stop line.

Problem: Mid-block crossings for cyclists will require dangerously sharp turns. Proposed solution: Wide-radii curb-cuts preceding well-marked crosswalks will be installed on the cycle track.

Problem: A cycle track or sidewalk is not self-sweeping like a street. Proposed solution: MIT has committed to monthly sweepings.

Problem: During the winter,remaining ice and snow do not clear themselves from sidewalks after initial plowing, as they do from streets. Proposed solution: MIT is committed to keep the cycle tracks clear of ice and snow.

Fabricius states that MIT serves a student population, including many foreign students who would do better on special bicycle facilities because they are not familiar with American traffic conditions.

Different color and texture paving materials will delineate the boundaries between the roadway, the cycle track and the sidewalk. Ms. Fabricius asks for discussion on whether pedestrian crossings, intersections, and curb ride-off areas should be preceded by rumble strips on the cycle track. No conclusion is reached.

John [Burkhardt?]: One option is to stagger the stop line. Markings are an issue. The problem occurs at Broadway and Ames Street too. The midblock crosswalk might have designated bicycle and pedestrian spaces.

Ted Hamann states that these considerations were worked through the Technical Subcommittee, and these solutions were reached. MIT's plan was originally for a two-way cycle track on one side of the roadway. The result of this plan went through many stages of discussion. Bike boxes might be used for left turns.

Bryce Nesbitt makes more suggestions about markings for crosswalks.

Michael Halle says that cyclists will be protected from swinging-open parked car doors because they are not on the roadway. Also that there are bicycle/pedestrian conflicts even with bicyclists on the road. He says that the concerned section of Vassar Street is a "special condition," with the athletic fields along one side west of Massachusetts Avenue, and the dorms. The original proposal by MIT was for a 2-way sidepath on one side of the street. The sidepath problems have been minimized. This is "somewhat different from the average AASHTO" design. He and does not indicate a desire by Cambridge to install this type of street treatment elsewhere in the city.

The ground rules of the Committee require that visitors not speak until Committee members have had an opportunity to speak first. Following the Committee's discussion, John Allen distributes his leaflet that argues against the proposal. He cites the City's previous statement that bicycles belong on the street, not the sidewalk. He expresses his strong dismay that the Cambridge Bicycle Committee and MIT, his alma mater, would pursue this project. "I am appalled," he adds, asking the Committee to read his leaflet.

Tom Revay questions Talitha Fabricius on the goals of the project. She says that the intent was to "improve the street" by making it "more attractive" and "better" for cyclists and pedestrians. "It seems like Vassar Street is the appropriate place; it is unusual with only one major intersection." Tom Revay asks Ms. Fabricius for a definition of "better." She responds by telling the group that "MIT has wanted to do this for ten years," and that plans like these "have been used in Europe quite successfully." She adds that MIT has agreed to pay for this project and its maintenance for the benefit of the City. The project is scheduled to go out to bid very soon, this summer, the east section first.

Tom asks what measures they intend to use to determine whether the results are "better" for cyclists. Michael Halle interrupts Tom, saying that although these are important questions, they have been discussed previously and the Committee does not have the time for a full examination of them at this meeting.

Cara Seiderman acknowledges that these plans have undergone significant review since they were proposed. She further recognizes that they have not been widely disseminated beyond the Cambridge Bicycle Committee, the City and MIT.

Ms. Seiderman states that the designs "are European," and should be tried in Cambridge. "Many people have had an interest in doing European-style bicycle facilities. If we're going to do it, this is a good place." Revay suggests that Cambridge is "experimenting in a sandbox" with these ideas. Seiderman replies that this is not an experiment, and that these designs are in use in Europe. Bryce Nesbitt adds that the MIT proposal is "an intriguing idea" that he likes, having seen it installed in Europe.

The discussion concludes at 7:18pm.

[Table of Contents]
[Previous: John Allen's handout]
[Next: Letter from John Forester]