Bicycle advocates in Cambridge and Boston are asking state transportation officials to reconsider the removal of newly installed plastic bollards separating a bike lane from the busy car lanes across the Longfellow Bridge this winter.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation tweeted this week that it would take down the bollards — also known as “flexposts” — to make plowing the bridge that spans the Charles River safer during the snowy months.
“After receiving stakeholder input and reviewing snow removal options, MassDOT made the decision to remove the vertical flexposts for the winter so that crews and snow plows will have access to the full width of the bridge during and after storm events,” officials said in a statement Monday. “This will ensure that the vehicular travel lanes, bicycle lanes, gutter line, and drainage structures are all cleared at the same time.”
But cycling activists are urging transit leaders to backpedal on the plan. They say leaders had earlier promised to leave the flexposts in place, despite wintry conditions.
Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, said it’s “insulting” that state officials are claiming the posts will be removed for safety reasons.
“If they made different choices, they could safely clear the snow from the lane,” Wolfson said in a statement. “We know that about 40 percent of people who ride in warmer months continue to bike through the winter, and MassDOT is choosing to make their commutes much more dangerous and uncomfortable with this move.”
Wolfson said while she understands the challenges plow truck drivers might face while trying to clear snow off the road with the current configuration, MassDOT has control over the width of the road and bike lanes.
“If they removed one of the inbound travel lanes for at least one third to half of the bridge before winter and snowfall (now), and created a wider separated lane, they would be able to use their highway snow equipment on the bike lane and the general travel lane,” she added.
Nathanael Fillmore, cofounder of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group, said he disagrees that getting rid of the flexposts is necessary for snow removal efforts.
“The . . . choice to remove flexposts will put cyclists at risk unnecessarily by removing protection just when we need it most,” he said in a statement. “It will also increase conflict with pedestrians, as surely many cyclists will choose to ride on the sidewalk instead of risking their lives riding between snow piles and fast moving cars and trucks.”
On Twitter, after MassDOT made the announcement, critics urged transit officials to use smaller snowplows to clear the bike lane, like those recently purchased by Boston’s Public Works Department.
Others called the decision “egregious” and “embarrassing.”
State Representative Mike Connolly, whose district includes parts of Cambridge and Somerville, told cyclists who are upset about the move that he would look into it further.
“I am inquiring with colleagues to more fully understand the rationale on this announcement,” he tweeted. “If we can point to examples of better winter maintenance strategies in the same or similar circumstances elsewhere that might help.”
In response to some of the pushback this week, MassDOT spokesman Patrick Marvin said the “extra care and caution” that goes into clearing snow off of bridges is what led to the department’s decision.
“There is limited shoulder space so snow cannot be pushed to the shoulder area and stored until it melts and, in addition, plows are not allowed to move snow over the sides of the bridge,” he said in a statement. “Additionally, keeping the flexposts in place would restrict plow access to the bicycle lanes and would delay snow removal operations in the bicycle lanes until post-storm cleanup activities.”
That would potentially push bicyclists into the car lanes during storms, “when there is limited visibility and challenging roadway conditions.”
After five years of construction, the Longfellow Bridge reopened in June. As part of the $300 million project, protected bicycle lanes were added to both sides of the bridge. However, some cyclists weren’t completely satisfied with the upgrades and have called on the state to dedicate more room for bicycles on the Boston-bound side.
MassDOT is working with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to clear snow from the bridge this winter.
The flexpost removal process will begin overnight Sunday, Dec. 16, and take four days to complete. MassDOT plans to reinstall the flexposts in the spring, after the snow and ice season comes to an end, they said.
This is truly egregious. After @MassDOT claims the bollards would stay throughout the winter. How is this all the community gets on a $260,000,000 project? @MikeConnollyMA anything we can do? #visionZero— Alexander Frieden (@aefrieden) December 11, 2018
Removing the flex posts that encourage drivers to keep a safer distance from the bike lanes seems the opposite of safe. Seems like the safer thing is to replace the flex posts with a solid barrier that can be plowed around.— Bike Newton #bikelanesNOW (@BikeNewton) December 10, 2018
Why. Just buy a smaller snowplow. You don?t enforce speed limits, you refuses to put the concrete barrier between cars and bikes. What is wrong with you? Why do cyclists have to bare with your incompetence?— Tom Wheell (@TomWheell) December 11, 2018
Using the word "safe" in a tweet about removing the only (tiny) protection bikes get in a bridge where cars routinely drive over 40 mph is beyond i(mo)ronic.— Jorge Aguilera (@iparrajorge) December 11, 2018