CAMBRIDGE — One of the worst stretches of road for bicyclists near downtown Boston, near where one rider was killed in November, is finally getting some bike lanes, though it’s not clear what shape they will take.
The state Tuesday said it will install bike lanes this spring on the Charles River Dam Road, the stretch that carries Route 28 past the Museum of Science and across the Charles to link Boston and Cambridge.
Today, the six-lane highway has no bike lanes. They’ve been a long time coming, however. Officials have planned bike accommodations for the road, which includes the Craigie Bridge, for about a decade, but shelved them during the five-year renovations of the nearby Longfellow Bridge. There was more need for more car lanes, the thinking went, while the Longfellow was partially shuttered to motorists.
When the Longfellow fully reopened this spring, officials told cycling activists that the Dam Road would at last get its bike lanes in July.
That never happened either. State traffic engineers instead went back to the drawing board to come up with new plans because they feared the idea had grown dated in an era of more advanced bike infrastructure.
“It’s almost like dog years, in terms of bike facilities and how we approach design,” said Andy Paul, a state transportation engineer.
But in the weeks since the death of Meng Jin , a Boston University student who was fatally struck by a truck in November, cyclists have pushed the state to make the road safer. Jin was preparing to turn onto the road from intersecting Museum Way when he was killed, according to State Police.
At a meeting Tuesday night, state planners said they are considering two different traffic schemes, and both would establish bike lanes on each side of the road. They’re also open to other ideas from the public, they said.
Each plan would cut the six lanes of car traffic down to five. One proposal would give cars heading into Boston three lanes for the whole route, while the other would give more lanes to cars coming in and out of Boston at different points on the road.
Cycling activists showed up in droves to the meeting, calling on the state to separate the bike lanes from cars with a physical barrier such as plastic flexposts. Many held up blue signs that said “Protected bike lanes save lives.”
“What everyone is asking for is full separation, to be separated from traffic,” said Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union. “This is a really uncomfortable road.”
State Representative Mike Connolly added that making the road safer is pivotal now that nearby Cambridge Crossing development is slated to bring thousands of new residents and workers to the area.
Highway officials said they are planning to install the posts on some parts of the road, but there may not be enough space for them at other parts. They asked cyclists to weigh in with other options and promised future meetings to drill down on designs.
Some advocates would prefer the state to go further and establish a two-way cycle track along the sidewalk opposite the museum, separated from cars by concrete. The state said they are considering that idea as well, but that it would be a longer-term project because infrastructure such as streetlights would need to be moved.
Cyclists are fresh off an advocacy win on the Longfellow Bridge, where they convinced the state to back down on a plan to remove the bike lane barriers for the winter.
On the Dam road, Wolfson said, cyclists have been waiting a long time for improvements. She has crashed on the road herself, she said, while riding on the sidewalk because she didn’t feel safe on the road.
Now, with the Baker administration prioritizing the reduction of emissions from transportation, she said she’s hopeful the wait will result in better conditions for cyclists on the Dam road and elsewhere.
“Separation and other traffic calming elements are absolutely needed,” she said. “If it does result in meaningful changes, while we wish it was happening at a more rapid pace, we do appreciate the consideration that’s going into it now.”
Adam Vaccaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.