In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Driver's Manual, it all seems so simple: You must come to a complete stop at a red traffic light. You may then turn right unless a NO TURN ON RED sign is posted.
But what happens when you can't tell if you're turning right or not?
Francie Kelley of Belmont wrote about a predicament I immediately found familiar. Traveling west on the Pike, she often gets off at Exit 16 in Newton. On the ramp, the road bears right, and there's a traffic light. And if Kelley is unlucky enough to be the first car in line waiting at the red light, she has no idea what to do. Stay stopped at the light, because she's technically "going straight," and it's illegal to proceed until green? Or treat the intersection like a right turn and proceed after a pause, because the road itself veers right?
"If the light is red, many people stop here, look, and proceed as if it is a right on red," Kelley commented. "Others will stay stopped until the light turns green because it is a red arrow. Mostly people are confused."
"What," she asked, "is the correct way to treat an intersection like this?"
I took the question to MassDOT spokesman Mike Verseckes, and then tacked on my own inquiry: A similar intersection in Dorchester, where a turnoff from Columbia Circle merges onto Mount Vernon Street, from which point drivers can turn right onto Old Colony Avenue. The turn onto Old Colony Avenue isn't quite a 90-degree corner, but instead a gentle bend that makes you feel as if you're almost going straight once you reach the traffic light.
Verseckes came back with an answer, but beware: It gets a little complicated.
In the Newton example, though Kelley's vehicle may be veering right as it makes its way across the intersection, she continues to travel on the same thoroughfare.
"So, even though the road curves to the right . . . drivers are still making a 'through movement,' or going straight," Verseckes said. "Therefore, they must stop at the signal and may only continue on when the signal turns green."
But at the Dorchester intersection, drivers are shifting from one thoroughfare to another — no matter if the "curve" of the road looks similar to the Newton example.
"Even though the road curves around to the right, this would be considered a turning movement," Verseckes said. "So after stopping at a red light, and yielding the right of way to pedestrians and other vehicles, a driver can continue on to Mount Vernon Street, before the signal turns green."
So, in short: If that bend to the right is puts you on a different road, it counts as a right turn. But if your gentle right-ward curve is simply a contour as you continue on the same thoroughfare, it's a no-go: You must wait patiently at the red light.
"Quirky, no doubt," Verseckes said. "But those are the rules."
Cyclists say ‘bye-bye’ to Longfellow bollards
Since the Longfellow Bridge was closed to Cambridge-bound car traffic in July for a three-year reconstruction project, traversing the thoroughfare has been a gigantic pain in the you-know-what.
A pain for everyone, that is, except people on bicycles.
With just one lane of car traffic moving toward Boston, the new traffic configuration leaves plenty of room for extra-wide bike lanes, as well as a "buffer zone" painted with white stripes to provide an additional cushion of space between cars and bicycles headed toward the north side of the river. What's more, that buffer zone featured a steady series of painted bollards that prevented cars from entering the bike lane — turning the bike lane into a state-of-the-art cycling facility that appeared more Portland, Ore., than Beantown, Mass. Many local bike riders held it up as a pie-in-the-sky blueprint for what Boston's streets could look like.
And so, it was with disappointment that these same cyclists noticed the unceremonious disappearance of the bollards last week.
Ari Ofsevit, a cyclist whom I have cited in this space before, pointed out their absence.
The bridge falls under the purview of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and spokesman Mike Verseckes came back with sad news for cyclists: The cones were always meant to be temporary, guiding commuters until they became accustomed to the detoured traffic patterns on the bridge.
"When first implemented, there was a need to safely channel traffic with the addition of cones and barrels until folks could acclimate to the change," Verseckes said.
"Beginning in November," he continued, "the cones were removed to allow for crews to properly clear snow and ice should a storm come during the winter months."
But Verseckes suggested that it wasn't that disastrous.
"The 'outbound' or Cambridge-bound bike lane is separated from the vehicle travel lane by a 5-foot buffer," Verseckes pointed out. "The Boston-bound travel lane is not, but the proximity of that bike lane with the vehicle travel lane is a common occurrence for cars and bikes headed in the same direction."
Ofsevit was none too pleased with MassDOT's response.
"They remove them every time they close the road down for weekend busing," Ofsevit wrote. "It can't take more than a few minutes to grab them off the roadway and put them in a truck. Certainly, they could do this before plowing snowstorms."
Ofsevit took issue with MassDOT's attitude, pointing out that the bollards are an important part of keeping cyclists safe. And, he continued, it (probably) won't snow for at least another month.
"The plastic bollards are a huge visual aid to really let drivers know 'Hey, this isn't your lane!' " Ofsevit said. "MassDOT should reconsider this policy and replace the bollards. They were doing a good job. Now, I'm not so sure."
A new MBTA smartphone app
MBTA train-tracking cellphone apps are a dime a dozen. I have at least four on my phone, all of which perform moderately passable jobs at telling me when the next Red, Orange, or Blue Line train is scheduled to arrive at a station of my choosing.
But now, there's a new app that may be a game-changer: ProximiT.
The app, designed by ex-Microsoft engineers Jeff Lopes and Randy Dailey, has garnered more than 5,000 downloads so far, and it has ranked as high as No. 8 on the iTunes app store, where it has received four out of five stars.
ProximiT gives you what you would expect: It provides real-time data on subway schedules and lets you know when the next train will pull up to the station. Additionally, it gives you the exact distance from your current location to the T station, useful if you're in an unfamiliar spot.
But ProximiT has an additional feature: If you and you phone are within a block radius of one of your "favorite" stations, the app will automatically let you know if there are any reported delays on the T.
"Just by glancing at your phone, and with minimal intrusiveness, you can know if you need to hurry, if you have time to go grab that coffee, or if you need to grab an Uber because MBTA service is interrupted," Lopes wrote in an e-mail.
Plus, with the app's sleek lines and classy white-on-black text, it's pretty.
The big gripes: It doesn't include data for the Green Line (because the MBTA does not yet provide this information) and it doesn't offer bus data. Additionally, it fails to differentiate between Ashmont and Braintree trains heading south on the Red Line.
The developers say they will try to fix those things soon.
CharlieTickets on the fritz?
CharlieTickets have always been a little finicky, and the flimsy paper cards have been known to occasionally lose the charge on their magnetic strip.
But word on the street is that something funky is going on with the CharlieTicket, and that in the last few weeks those paper cards — which serve as monthly passes for commuter rail riders — have been losing their charge with annoying frequency, as many as six, seven, or eight times in a month.
Does this sound familiar? Have you noticed something strange going on with your CharlieTicket? If so, give me a holler and share your story.