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June 2, 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
(781) 891-9307 voice/fax

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Via certified mail, return receipt requested

Re: Vassar Streetscape Project

Dear President Vest:

Though I have not yet received a response to Prof. Wilson's and my letter of May 21, I have a few additional thoughts, and I am especially concerned to state them now. You may ask him for his comments on his letter; I have e-mailed a copy to him but I am leaving today for a conference and there is not time for him to co-sign the letter. Much time has elapsed since we made our request to meet with representatives of the Department of Facilities; mostly, time until they would schedule a meeting, and then time until they responded to our comments.

I understand that the project is scheduled to go out to bid soon; that it must be coordinated with work by the City of Cambridge; and that the cost of redesign may be nontrivial. However, it is important to note that we have proposed no substantial redesign of the intersections with Massachusetts Avenue and Main Street as proposed by the City. At the intersections, only lane markings deviate from the AASHTO standards. Construction in the intersections can proceed without the need for any redesign. Lane markings are not added until a project is substantially complete, and can easily and cheaply be changed.

The part that needs substantial redesign is away from intersections, where bicycle sidepaths have been proposed. This is where MIT can recoup the cost of a redesign many times, through reduced construction and maintenance costs, and reduced liability exposure. It is my understanding that MIT has guaranteed to keep the sidepaths clear of snow and ice throughout the winters. I can not imagine that this standard of maintenance is possible without very considerable ongoing expense. I am also concerned about the need to use chemicals which could damage trees and other vegetation.

The landscaping aspects of the project are very attractive. The elimination of angle parking and the slowing of motor traffic by raised crosswalks could make the Vassar Street roadway far more attractive and safer for bicyclists than it has been, as long as the roadway is not excessively narrowed. I propose only that the project be modified so the sidewalks are designated only for pedestrian use, while the roadway remains wide enough to allow motorists to overtake bicyclists without crossing the centerline. The potential exists to have a far better and safer pedestrian walkway if it is not shared with bicyclists and extends to the tree line; at the same time, bicyclists will be able to travel faster, in greater safety, year-round, on the roadway. An education and enforcement effort completes the picture.

Please understand that I am proud to be an MIT alumnus. My desire is to do what I can to promote a safer design, and to avoid expense and embarrassment to the Institute. I am more than willing to continue to provide whatever assistance I can.

Very truly yours,


John S. Allen

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