Friday, August 9, 2013

The next step on the BU Bridge area for bikes

The City of Boston recently made somewhat dramatic improvements to the bicycle facilities along Commonwealth Avenue. The formerly orphaned bike lane has been restriped through the intersection, and the new paint is all bright green. In addition, there are reflectors in the road to the right of the lane which I can attest are very visible from a vehicle at night. It's a good start.

Meanwhile, Brookline has installed contraflow bike lanes on Essex Street to allow cyclists to go from Essex to Ivy to Carlton and allow a low-traffic alternative to get from the BU Bridge to the Longwood area. (And for those of us headed to Coolidge Corner, another block before we take a right.) Going towards the bridge, the town has striped in a bike lane. And, more importantly, they've cut a "bicycle crosswalk" across the BU Bridge loop (Mountfort Street) to allow cyclists to get from the Brookline streets to the BU Bridge without having to cross medians, loop around through the intersection of death, or ride the sidewalk to the light. It also allows cyclists coming from Brookline to skip Commonwealth altogether, a great boon to cyclists who don't want to ride one of Boston's widest and busiest streets. So, what was once a death trap for cyclists—and is still rather cumbersome—is getting better. (The picture at right shows the bike lane in the foreground and the crossover in the background.) There is some background information in this document.

The next step, I think, is to better allow cyclists coming from the west on Commonwealth and headed towards Cambridge, would be a two-stage bike turn box. This is not a new concept—it even exists in Boston—and goes as follows:

  1. An eastbound cyclist on Commonwealth approaches the BU Bridge.
  2. The cyclists, upon a green light, goes through the light, then pulls in to a separate line to the right of the bike lane and turns their bike towards the bridge.
  3. Once the light changes, the cyclist pedals straight across and in to the bike lane on the bridge.
Here's a picture of the current facility, with an idea of a two-stage bike box sketched in, as well as a bike box for cyclists coming from Mountfort:

I would hope this is on Boston Bikes's radar screen (if it's under their jurisdiction and not the state). It would be a great help to more novice cyclists who may not know it's an option. The rest of us already do it.


  1. That cut through the median is a great example of "tactical urbanism" a small move that makes a big difference for the users. Kudos to Brookline.

    The "Copenhagen Left" you're suggesting might be well served by a intersection-wide bike box, giving more space to both riders coming from Essex and the turning riders. I went through this recently, and was worried that the driver was going to turn right onto Comm Ave instead of continuing straight, and a bike box would give both the left turning and straight proceeding riders more protection from right hooks.

  2. Oh, and all this is technically a bridge over the Masspike and is under MassDOT's control. It's about to be redesigned and rebuilt, but I haven't seen any of the plans yet.

  3. I have been through that intersection recently, in that specific direction, and it was definitely far from obvious how I was supposed to get on the bridge. The hook turn, with appropriate signage would've been most helpful. And I do hope they rebuild that bridge soon, hopefully with some improvements for cyclists and a removal of the speed restriction for the Green Line.

  4. Wow, I guess I hadn't realized the jurisdictional issues at hand here. Closer examination shows that the Boston/Brookline border follows the south side of Commonwealth Avenue (for instance, Landry's bicycles lists their address in Boston, but the actual property is located in Brookline). It's almost for the best that this location is under state control since the location of the town boundary would be very fungible, since it seems to run at the edge of the sidewalk (between the sidewalk and the property; i.e. the sidewalk is in Boston and the property in Brookline) which would put the bike box straddling the town boundary, although since the roadway becomes wider than it was historically crossing the turnpike it may actually be fully in Brookline.

    Anyway, if it's a state issue, it should see a state resolution. That's easier said than done, but if it is going to be reworked we should make sure that a safe-for-cyclists. The Brookline solution is inelegant but works quite well; perhaps it's a stop-gap measure until the state figures it out.

    Off topic: if you're coming east on Commonwealth and going left across the BU Bridge, do you traverse the loop there clockwise or counter-clockwise? Looking at a map, it seems that you could fully eliminate the clockwise move and simplify the intersection quite smartly.

  5. Actually, there's an answer to my question. 5/6 of the traffic goes clockwise. (Actually, these numbers seem off.)

  6. Thanks for posting the pic of the bike crossing. I had been through there a couple weeks after the contraflow lanes were put in coming through Brookline and didn't see the bike crossing, disappointed, I just went around Mountfortand then over the BU bridge. Now, I know where to go. It should be much nicer than crossing on Carlton and turning past University Rd.
    PS: thanks for the presentation at LivableStreets.

  7. Happy to oblige. It will be very interesting to see when/if this is fully rebuilt, and what MassDOT proposes. There's a lot of unused real estate, and also a lot of gridlock. But these changes make it much better for cyclists.