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Letter to MIT President Charles Vest

May 20, 2002

Dr. Charles M. Vest, President
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Wheel4bwtrans.gif (1531 bytes) John S. Allen
7 University Park
Waltham, MA 02453-1523
jsallen@bikexprt.com
(781) 891-9307 voice/fax

Technical writing, translation
Mechanical design, acoustics
Consultant on bicycling
Effective Cycling instructor

Via certified mail, return receipt requested

Re: Vassar Streetscape Project

Dear President Vest:

We are former members of the MIT Bicycle Committee, which published its report in 1992. We have been involved with bicycling affairs on a professional level for many years. It came to our attention late last year that MIT and the City of Cambridge were planning to reconstruct Vassar Street, with bicycle accommodations. We took an interest in the project and reviewed the project plans.

We regret to inform you that over most of their length, the bicycle accommodations planned for this project are of a type (bicycle sidewalks) which is highly hazardous, as shown in every research work that has ever examined them and compared them with other treatments. The proposed bicycle sidewalks pose the certainty of a greatly increased crash rate over the present configuration of Vassar Street, and over alternative treatments. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, the national reference on bikeway design, specifically, repeatedly and strongly counsels against sidewalk-type facilities and has done so in every edition since 1981. Such facilities also pose serious maintenance and operational problems, and are expensive to construct. For all of these reasons, and because the project is being funded and approved by MIT, it also poses a serious liability risk to the Institute.

For details of the problems and how they might be avoided, please view the Web pages privately posted by one of us (John S. Allen) at http://www.bikexprt.com/vassarst/ . A more generic discussion of issues about bicycle sidewalks is at http://www.bikexprt.com/bikepol/facil/sidepath/. A discussion of bicycle crash types and causation, giving background information as to why bicycle sidewalks are so dangerous, is in the book Bicycle Transportation, by John Forester, published by our own MIT Press.

On March 10, Wilson and Allen met with planners of this project from the Institute and the City of Cambridge. We expressed our concerns, and Allen put forward the documentation to which we have already referred. The response, 10 weeks later, was a report from a hired consultant, a report which amounted to complete stonewalling, prevarication and in some places, outright falsehood. That report is on-line for your review, with comments from Allen, at the URL cited above.

It is no wonder that the project planners do not want to change their plan: they have painted themselves into a corner with it. The well-being of the Institute and of its students and staff, however, demand that this project be modified to reflect nationally recognized design standards and the results of safety research. Unfortunately, only at higher levels in the Institute can a decision be made which will set the project aright.

It is our responsibility as concerned members of the MIT community to draw these issues to your attention and to assure that this project is modified. We are most willing to met with you or other representatives of the MIT administration to discuss details of how the project might be improved.

Very truly yours,

John S. Allen VI '75

David Gordon Wilson

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