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Starts & Stops

Repair spans congestion, confusion

Cyclists stopped for a red light in the “bike box” on Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay. They provide the cyclist a safe space to wait ahead of cars at traffic signals.

John Blanding/Globe Staff

Cyclists stopped for a red light in the “bike box” on Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay. They provide the cyclist a safe space to wait ahead of cars at traffic signals.

The state is holding a groundbreaking ceremony for the Anderson Memorial Bridge this week, but drivers who have encountered recent congestion and confusion know that construction staging and lane closures are already in place.

The Anderson, heavily traveled if not widely identifiable by name, is the latest in a series of Charles River crossings to be repaired under the state’s $3 ­ billion Accelerated Bridge Program, following the Boston University Bridge. It’s the one that connects Harvard Square and John F. Kennedy Street with Allston’s North Harvard Street.

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Like the BU Bridge, it will be reduced from four vehicle lanes to three to fit bicycle lanes and wheelchair-accessible sidewalks. For the expected 2½ years of construction, though, it has been reduced to one lane in each direction.

Brian from Somerville ­e-mailed and sent a cellphone video illustrating an alarming situation he noticed while walking on the Boston side ­after the changes took effect May 29: Drivers trying to turn left, both east and west, from the bridge onto Soldiers Field Road were inadvertently pulling into oncoming traffic ­before making their turns, ­unaware of the lane reductions.

“There’s going to be a head-on collision at some point if there’s no ‘New Traffic Flow’ sign or an officer in place or something,” wrote Brian, who also copied the police on his ­e-mail.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Verseckes acknowledged the issue. He said Friday that the state’s contractors are in the process of striping the bridge and improving signs to make the lanes and turning movements clearer.

On the Cambridge (Memorial Drive) side, traffic leaving Harvard Square has been backing up on JFK Street where that street’s two lanes merge onto one for the bridge.

And drivers accustomed to taking a left turn from any of the four approaches at the ­Memorial Drive intersection now find left turns barred from any approach at all hours, a change that will become permanent after construction.

That’s good news for anyone who has ever waited in long backups there while one car tries to turn left at that busy intersection, but it has created confusion — and haltingly aborted turns — in the early ­going.

Susan Clippinger — director of traffic, parking, and transportation for Cambridge — said the state took a surprisingly lax approach to alerting motorists and marking changes ahead of time.

“They kind of just jumped into it and figured they could fix everything in the field, which has been very frustrating for us,” she said. “The state’s having a little bit of trouble getting all the signals set up for the construction.”

Verseckes said the state tried to “do our best to develop a traffic management plan,” adding that monitoring in the first few days prompted adjustments.

“This area is extremely busy so it warranted some modifications,” he said via e-mail, noting that no-left signs have been posted at the intersection and more will be added up JFK Street.

Tricky ticket hike

A reader from Beverly, speaking up for those who buy commuter rail tickets on board, wrote to say “that the MBTA has tricked us” into a hidden fare hike of nearly 100 percent.

Monthly commuter rail passes are rising about 23 percent July 1, and one-way tickets bought as part of 10-ride punch cards or purchased from ticket windows, vending machines, and retail sales partners are rising by a similar percentage.

But tickets bought on board are nearly doubling in many cases.

Currently, the T imposes a $2 surcharge at peak periods and $1 off-peak for tickets purchased on the train when boarding at the small percentage of stations where they can actually be purchased beforehand at windows, vending machines, or from station-side ­retailers.

But soon they will charge $3 for anyone purchasing on the train regardless of where they got on.

And the T is no longer calling that a surcharge, but building it into the published price, while those who buy in advance will be getting not the regular price but a discounted price. Got it?

MBTA spokesman Joe ­Pesaturo said the surcharge is being built into the stated price “to avoid confusion” by creating one system for everyone.

Take the Beverly reader. A senior, she is eligible for a 50 percent discount.

That makes her current roundtrips to ­Boston $5.75 each, with no surcharge applied because tickets cannot be purchased at her home station.

Starting July 1, her roundtrips will become $10.25, unless she stocks up in Boston, where she can get them for a discounted $7.25, minus the $3 on-board fee that the T is no longer calling a surcharge.

Joshua K. Robin, the ­MBTA’s director of innovation, acknowledged that this may create an inconvenience, but the T wants to encourage prepaying so that conductors can more quickly make their way through crowded trains to cut down on congestion-related fare evasion and remove cash from the system.

For customers with smartphones, the promised pay-by-phone app — no more waiting in line to buy tickets from windows, vending machines, or retailers, and no more on-board surcharge — is coming.

On Friday evening, the T ­began asking riders who want to help test the app to sign up at ­the website MBTA.com.

Bikers get the right

Last week’s bicycle-themed Starts and Stops included a photo of the relatively new bike lane on Boston’s Massachusetts Avenue that has replaced 70 parking spaces.

The bicyclist in the photo is riding just beyond the outer edge of the bike lane, prompting reader Robert L. Mayer of Chestnut Hill to ask, “If the bicycle lanes are provided, and not used, then who is at fault if an accident occurs?”

I posed the question to Kris Carter, interim director of ­Boston Bikes, the initiative from Mayor Thomas M. ­Menino that over five years has yielded the Hubway bike-sharing system, 1,500 new bike parking spaces, and 50 miles of bike lanes and counting.

Cyclists are not required to stay within marked bike lanes, Carter said via e-mail.

“This is for a variety of reasons – opening car doors, potholes, and utility covers, double parked vehicles – [that] sometimes prohibit safe travel in the bicycle lane,” he said.

Carter pointed me to the ­Bicyclist Safety Law enacted four years ago.

Among the law’s many provisions, it established fines for people who open car or truck doors into the path of bicyclists or other traffic (known as “dooring”) and made motorists liable for hitting bikes riding to their right.

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.
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