For years, all that protected cyclists from the cars whizzing past them on the Massachusetts Avenue bridge was a thin line of white paint on the ground, making the area one of the most difficult to navigate by bike in the Boston region.
That changed early Monday morning when the Massachusetts Department of Transportation turned the four lane road spanning the Charles River into a two lane road with a buffer of traffic cones between cars and the newly-widened bike lanes on each side. The configuration will remain in place through the winter months as a pilot project to measure the protected bike lanes’ impact on safety.
The change connects two protected bike lanes on either side of the bridge, one on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge and one on Beacon Street in Boston. Bike commuters celebrated the upgraded route Monday morning, posting photos and videos on social media.
“I biked this morning over the Mass Ave Bridge and it was wonderful!” said Cambridge City Councilor-elect Burhan Azeem on Twitter with a video of his rainy trek across the bridge.
I biked this morning over the Mass Ave Bridge and it was wonderful! Watch the new bike lanes in action. @bostonbikeunion pic.twitter.com/AaYKz7DzoM— Burhan Azeem, Cambridge City Councilor (@realBurhanAzeem) November 22, 2021
Transit and bicycle advocates have been pushing for changes to the bridge, citing drivers’ tendency to zoom past the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. Bicycles made up 17.6 percent of vehicles using the bridge in Fall 2019 and reached around 25 percent during rush hour times, according to a survey by the City of Boston conducted in September of that year.
On Oct. 18, advocates sent a letter to MassDOT asking for immediate bike safety interventions and long term solutions, including center-running bus lanes and bike lanes protected by a curb.
Becca Wolfson, Executive Director of Boston Cyclists Union, praised MassDOT’s prompt response and said she hopes that more permanent changes will be put in place in the spring.
“We’re in a critical moment where we need to get more people out of cars to address our climate crisis, our congestion crisis, and to provide more affordable means to get around,” she said in a statement. “Making this bridge safer and more comfortable to bike will protect those who have been biking on the bridge and unlock exponential opportunity . . . ”
The traffic cones placed in the two former car lanes will remain on the ground throughout the pilot and will be removed prior to major winter events and then replaced after storm cleanup, said MassDOT spokesperson Kristen Pennucci via e-mail.
Engineers and advocates will evaluate safety and crash data, traffic volumes, bicycle volumes and travel time of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s route 1 bus from Harvard Square to Nubian Square from the pilot to determine next steps, according to a news release.
The changes to the Massachusetts Avenue bridge come one day after World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. On Sunday, advocates placed 4,000 yellow blossoms on the steps of the State House to mark each life impacted by fatal or serious traffic crashes in Massachusetts during 2020 and 2021. Since 2009, 105 cyclists have been killed in collisions with motor vehicles in Massachusetts, according to a new report from MassBike, a cyclist advocacy group. It said the deaths spurred changes to road designs in just 15 of those cases.
And that count does not include 39-year-old Rebecca Bartczak of Amesbury, who died after she was struck by a pickup truck while riding a bicycle in Salisbury on Friday evening.
Taylor Dolven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.