City transportation officials on Wednesday hastily removed concrete barriers along a bike lane near Boston Medical Center, saying an effort meant to improve notoriously dangerous cycling conditions had created a different safety issue for drivers.
The barriers were installed in mid-November on a stretch of Massachusetts Avenue between Harrison Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. It marked another recent move in the city’s broadening campaign to separate cyclists and drivers, several months after a cyclist was killed by a tractor-trailer driver in the area.
But the new structures — essentially low-lying concrete slabs — led to an increase in auto crashes, Boston Transportation Department commissioner Greg Rooney said in a statement. Vehicles apparently drifted toward the bike lane and hit the barriers.
“Safety for all users of the road is our primary goal. Out of an abundance of caution and as the result of several recent crashes, the concrete barriers were removed ... as we reevaluate what measures can be implemented to improve safety in this priority area,” Rooney said.
Cycling advocates were upset by the removal, stating on social media that drivers could not have hit the barrier without leaving their lanes, putting them at fault — especially if they were speeding.
But some agreed that the design may share some of the blame. Even if drivers were at fault, the low-lying concrete blocks may have been hard to see, even with a caution sign marking the start of the barrier.
“We can’t focus on individual behavior,” said Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union. “It doesn’t mean it’s allowable behavior, but it means the system has to change in a way that stops that behavior.”
Wolfson said the city should move quickly to restore the bike lane protection with a better design, including a “vertical element” such as flex posts to better capture drivers’ attention and alert them to the bike lane. She suggested the city also add features along Mass. Ave. to slow drivers as they rush off Interstate 93.
The city’s transportation department said it decided to remove the barriers after hearing concerns from police. The Boston Police Department said there have been five crashes in the area since mid-November, including multiple rollovers, but was unable to immediately share incident reports or describe the causes of the crashes. LiveBoston617.org, a website chronicling Boston public safety incidents and issues, said it has recorded at least four crashes related to the barriers, and posted a picture of a rolled-over car near the bike lane.
Adam Pieniazek, a Dorchester cyclist who travels the route occasionally, said the need for a barrier was obvious almost immediately after it was removed. On Friday, he said, several cars were parked in the bike lane, making it unusable.
He questioned why the city couldn’t try alternatives before removing the bike protections, such as putting orange traffic barrels between the concrete barriers.
“The barriers were just removed overnight, immediately, and they said it was because a lot of cars were crashing there,” Pieniazek said. “But when the reverse happens, and there’s a place with a lot of pedestrian or cyclist injuries or fatalities, it takes years if anything even happens.”
Rooney said there would eventually be new bike protections in the area, but a city spokeswoman said there is no firm timeline.
“We will reinstall protections for the bike lane basing our work on the crash evaluation,” Rooney said.