‘It’s not supposed to be there’: A utility pole is blocking a new Somerville bike lane
From glass shards to car doors, cyclists encounter a range of objects and obstacles in their path when commuting along a designated bike lane.
But a towering utility pole that’s smack-dab in the middle of a painted section of a new cycle track? For many traveling through Somerville on two wheels, that’s a new one.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Ian Woloschin, a Somerville resident and bike commuter who encountered the pole in question recently. “It’s utterly ridiculous.”
Woloschin took a photograph on Sunday of the wooden utility pole, which is located directly in the path of the green-striped Beacon Street bike lane, near the Park Street intersection. He shared the picture to a Facebook group for local cyclists.
“They actually did it. I don’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it!” he wrote in a caption accompanying the photo, which at first glance almost looks as though it’s been photoshopped. It hasn’t.
Others were equally perplexed by the location of the pole, and why construction or utility workers didn’t move it.
“This is not only ridiculous,” one person said in response to Woloschin’s Facebook post, “it’s dangerous!”
According to the city’s website, in 2016 the Massachusetts Department of Transportation began a multi-modal, “full-depth reconstruction” of Beacon Street, a project that includes the installation of an “exclusive bike lane that is separated from the roadway and traffic.”
The project also features new sidewalks and crosswalks, traffic and pedestrian signal upgrades, and improved landscaping along the busy corridor, which stretches from Oxford Street to the Cambridge border, near Inman Square.
Hundreds of bicyclists travel down Beacon Street every day, the Globe previously reported.
While state officials had originally planned to wrap up the roughly $11 million project in 2018, work on the thoroughfare remains ongoing. Meanwhile, some bike detours have been put in place during reconstruction.
Denise Taylor, a spokeswoman for Mayor Joseph Curtatone’s office, stressed in a statement Monday that the bike lane, sidewalk, and road repairs are being handled by Newport Construction, under a contract with MassDOT.
“To be clear, this is not a City project,” Taylor said. “Nonetheless, we are already in discussions with the State parties responsible for the project to get this addressed and to remedy the situation.”
Woloschin, who is a member of the Somerville Bicycle Committee, said besides sharing the strange image of the pole to social media over the weekend, he also reached out to Ward 2 City Councilor J.T. Scott in hopes of getting the problem fixed.
Scott said the pole is “not supposed to be there,” and should have been moved back, out of the bike lane, as part of the project.
“The design plan set from 2015 clearly shows this Eversource-owned pole designated to be removed and reset by the utility in the brick strip to the south of its current placement,” he said in a statement. “As a state run project, MassDOT has supervisory responsibility for the contractors on Beacon Street.”
Scott said city staff are meeting with MassDOT representatives to figure out why the pole was not relocated during what he called a “mobilization process” in 2018, when other utility poles on Beacon Street were moved out of the way.
“Speaking as the Ward Councilor, I’m extremely frustrated with the delays and missteps that have plagued this entire effort and have devoted many hours tracking down mistakes on this project,” he added. “The residents of Ward 2 deserve better, and I hope the construction is brought to a close quickly.”
MassDOT spokesman Patrick Marvin said in a statement Monday night, following complaints and a Globe inquiry, that officials are “looking into this situation and the history of this roadway project, and coordinating with stakeholders regarding potential long-term options for the utility pole at this site.”
Meanwhile, he added, yellow caution tape and orange safety cones have been put up around the pole to warn cyclists approaching it to steer clear.
The online project schedule for August states that “contractors plan to begin installing curbing for one section of the northbound raised cycle track,” on the opposite side of the street from where the pole is located.
Paving along one section of Beacon Street is also scheduled for this week, the schedule on the city’s website says.
While Woloschin, the cyclist who posted the picture of the oddly placed pole, originally called the situation “really, really absurd to me,” and “indicative of a chronic breakdown of everything that’s been going on with this project,” he later slightly changed his tune in a follow-up status on Facebook, saying he was pleased that officials are taking action.
“... This is a shocking, and quite pleasant, response given how terrible the rest of this project has been,” he wrote.