Cambridge, You’ve Done it AgainPosted: December 3, 2013
Residents of Cambridgeport have been putting up with construction along the length of Western Ave for over a year now. Finally there is a light at the end of the tunnel. After doing major utility work along the corridor, construction crews are starting to put the street back together. But what was once a wide, highway-like roadway cutting through the neighborhood will return as a human-scale city street. The design maintains two lanes of one-way traffic going westbound and parallel parking on both sides of the street, but moves the bike lane up onto sidewalk level where people riding bikes will be protected from roadway hazards like double-parked cars, aggressive drivers, potholes, and opening car doors.
This configuration, commonly known as a “protected bike lane” or “cycle track”, has been standard design practice for decades in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany, and has been shown to increase safety and boost ridership. Cambridge has taken the lead in installing cycle tracks and introducing them to the Boston area. Current examples include Vassar Street and Concord Avenue. You should get familiar with them, because there may be a cycle track coming to a street near you in the not-too-distant future.
Recently, I caught wind that the Western Ave cycle track was finally starting to take shape and went to check it out. Construction is far from complete; at present only two blocks of the track have been built between Putnam Ave and Dodge Street. However, if this small portion is any indication, the final product should be quite impressive. To the naked eye, the lane appears to be at least six feet wide, wider than those on Vassar Street, and easily wide enough for two to ride side-by-side or for a faster cyclist to pass a slower one. The travel lanes for cars have been narrowed, which has shown to reduce speeding and improve roadway safety for all users.
The design uses different materials to indicate who goes where: concrete sidewalk for pedestrians, asphalt cycle track for people on bikes.
A concrete buffer strip separates bicycle riders from opening car doors, and makes space for people getting out of cars.
When complete, this cycle track will connect Central Square to the Charles River, where people riding bikes can connect to the river pathways or continue on Western Ave on the Boston side, which currently hosts Boston’s only cycle track facility. At minor intersections along Western Ave, there will be raised crossings, meaning that pedestrians and bicyclists don’t have to “ramp down” to street level, but rather cars must yield, then “ramp up” to sidewalk level. A lot will be determined by how the major intersections will be treated. Close attention should be paid to signal timing, signage, and pavement markings to ensure that visibility and awareness is maximized among all road users. Like many Camrbidgeport residents and bicycle commuters who use Western Ave, I look forward to seeing the final product.
UPDATE (12/7/13): It was brought to my attention by a representative of the City of Cambridge and by commenters on this post that the cycle track is constructed out of porous asphalt, which filters stormwater into the ground and will help reduce icing during the winter. I did notice that something appeared different about the asphalt when I was visiting. Check out this Vine video Cambridge Public Works posted about it: https://vine.co/v/hTlEH3dlPbv. Very cool!