If I may be so bold as to paraphrase Albert Einstein: If you do nothing to change the variables in a situation, it would be crazy to expect anything other than the same outcome again and again.
It was with that in mind that I contacted Nicole Freedman, Boston’s bike czar. Three months ago, I wrote about an expansion joint at the intersection of Huntington Avenue and Stuart Street in Back Bay that has become a perilous intersection for bicyclists. The rut in the road, about the width of a deck of cards, had trapped the front wheel of a Cambridge math teacher, causing him to go flying over his handlebars and leaving him with a broken leg.
As EMTs helped Anthony Beckwith into their vehicle, another cyclist had the same accident.
He urged somebody — the city, the state — to fix the situation before anyone else got hurt.
And then came more e-mails.
Just after the column came out, Jeffrey Allen wrote to me about a June 18 accident where he’d had the same kind of spill: Biking from the Museum of Fine Arts to meet family at the Boylston Street T Station, he made to cross the expansion joint, got stuck, and fell to the pavement. “Those who witnessed the crash were shocked that I was able to get up,” Allen said. “I knew it was bad from the gasps and shrieks from those on the sidewalk.”
On Sep. 22, Jennifer Leonard wrote to me about her experience back in August: “I had a bicycle accident in the same location.”
On Sep. 27, Scott Loose wrote to me, hours after the same accident happened to him. “With nowhere to go, my wheels got struck in the rut and I went down hard, sliding about 15 feet on the pavement,” he wrote. “Luckily no one else ran over me while I picked myself up, dazed, bleeding, and sore.”
And on Oct. 3, Harrison Lee of Brookline cc’d me on an e-mail to Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey, describing his morning commute that day, where he had watched a commuter hit the expansion joint, fall off his bicycle, and split his forehead open on the curb. “Why are there no warning signs?” Lee wrote. “Too many people are getting hurt here.”
Which leads to my conversation with Nicole Freedman. The issue has been on her radar for a while, she said, and officials have been looking for a solution. The joint, she said, is not dissimilar from the problem posed by trolley tracks at Packard’s Corner on the Green Line in Allston and the intersection of Huntington Avenue and South Huntington Avenue.
The joint itself is not the property of the city of Boston, she said, so she was not able to change that infrastructural feature. But she’s been looking for other solutions, she said, and has started with a sign, installed Thursday afternoon, that will warn cyclists to be wary of the tracks.
This upcoming week, she said, the city will install a bike lane and a bike box (a bicycle-priority intersection waiting area) that will guide cyclists toward the left side of the road, where they can cross the expansion joint at a more perpendicular angle, which lowers the chances that the wheel will get caught.
“We’re trying to help people with the signs and the markings,” Freedman said.
Q&A with the designerof the new MBTA map
Earlier this week, the T announced the winner of their map redesign competition: Russian
resident Michael Kvrivishvili. I tracked down the 33-year-old — he’s a consultant and information designer in Moscow — to ask him about his makeover of Boston’s beloved subway map. I was surprised to learn that he had never visited the Hub.
Why do you think your map won the contest? What makes it a successful redesign?
My guess is my map has won the contest because it’s a working solution. I tried hard for it to be as realistic as possible and at the same time to organize available information in a clean and clear manner. So it’s basically a next step in development, not a leap, and that was my intention. It has the same colors and typeface, and a familiar hierarchy of transportation modes.
What did you think was the coolest or most interesting feature on one of the five other maps that made the final round?
A few of them: I really liked the one with real map in downtown. [Map five, which showed a geographic close-up of downtown Boston.] With some minor corrections it could be really interesting option. The mere idea to combine the map and diagram is very appealing to me. The other one [Map 4 by By Kenneth Miraski], was more visually appealing, and has lots of life in it. Very vivid. I liked it as well.
You live in Russia. Why did you decide to enter a map-making contest in Boston? Have you ever been to Boston? (If not, was it challenging designing a map for a place you had never visited?)
I’ve never been to Boston or the US before. Though I have a few friends living in the US, I never had a chance to visit them. It is my second competition ever, and second transit map. It was challenging to organize some information in quite short amount of time [two weeks], using only web resources. From the first sight, I felt, somehow, that I could do that.
The MBTA’s contest has received some flak in the design community because it does not pay the winner — designers were essentially asked to provide free labor and relinquish the copyright to their work. Was this a concern for you?
Of course it was my concern.
I am not happy with the rules of the contest. By the way, it was the same situation with the Moscow transit map contest. It looks like a trend in the creative contests run by the state, which is really sad fact. And though I didn’t like the terms of the contest, I found it challenging to redesign it, to make it available for the public good.
I wanted the map to be available for everyone, for the people of Boston. For it not to be hidden on the shelves of the MBTA office. For it to live its own life, to be developed further, if needed, by anyone interested. It means that anyone could suggest its own corrections to the map or to use it in their applications. And that’s why, before sending to the contest, I’ve published my map under Creative Commons license. Thus, MBTA doesn’t own all the rights — they just have the possibility to use it and to create derivatives from it.
If you could design a map for any other transit system or geographical area in the world, where would it be?
I think there is no perfect system map in any city of the world. And it’s always a compromise, a struggle to put in as much information as possible and, at the same time, not to create an overcrowded map — but instead, to create a clear one that is easy to use. To combine function and beauty. So, any transit system could be challenging to work on.
Driving through the Tip O’Neill Tunnel is an exercise in sensory deprivation: Flat gray walls. A complete absence of natural light. It can even be hard to come by a decent radio signal from the bowels of the Big Dig.
The lack of mental stimuli can make for a bleak rush hour commute. But, in a backwards way, it also makes the inside of the tunnel prime real estate for any company seeking to advertise to a truly captive audience.
Enter MAPFRE Commerce Insurance, a company based in Webster. For years, they’ve had a deal with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, adding their insignia to the sides of some of the state-owned highway assistance tow trucks in exchange for a contribution to MassDOT coffers.
On Thursday, the company announced that it is extending that contract with MassDOT, paying $1.875 million for a 2½-year contract that will expand its reach to the patrol trucks inside Boston’s tunnel system, putting the company’s name in big letters on the sides of the tow trucks and refinishing them with red and white high-reflective wrapping.
The highway assistance patrol vehicles are stationed at points within the tunnel, waiting in the wings to whisk people out of the malaise as quick as possible after a breakdown. The trucks provide an important service, as it could take an eternity for a private tow company to weave its way through the gridlock during rush hour. MassDOT stations trucks within the tunnel to help avert secondary accidents and prevent a normal rush-hour traffic jam from becoming a full-blown subterrestrial carmaggedon.
With that in mind, the MAPFRE-branded trucks make sense.
Imagine being stranded inside the tunnel, light-headed from car fumes, stressed out and honked at, only to see a tow truck coming to the rescue from around the bend. That high-reflective MAPFRE logo may have a look not dissimilar from the angelic visage of a World War II battlefield nurse.
More than anything, MassDOT wants commuters to know that, even with a new color scheme and a foreign logo, the trucks in the tunnel are the same ones that have rescued commuters for years.
“When this tow truck rolls up to help you, it’s still us, and its mission is still to get you safely off the road,” MassDOT spokeswoman Sara Lavoie said.