Tuesday afternoon's rush hour was bitterly cold, but for the steady stream of bike riders and pedestrians using the Mass. Ave. Bridge, a pilot road configuration that aims to calm motor vehicle traffic by widening the bridge's busy bike lanes helped ameliorate the discomfort of the biting winds sweeping across the Charles River.
"I came over this morning and didn’t realize what this was. I thought, oh, are they just doing construction or something?" said Whitney Zhang, an MIT student who lives across the river in Boston. "I was surprised to find it so much wider than usual. It was nice to have some division separating the bike lanes from the cars."
Over the weekend, MassDOT crews laid out long strings of traffic cones on both sides of the Mass. Ave. Bridge to widen the bridge's bike lanes and calm traffic by forcing cars entering the bridge to merge into a single lane of traffic.
The pilot project is a response to a petition circulated by the Boston Cyclists Union, LivableStreets Alliance, MassBike, TransitMatters, Cambridge Bike Safety, WalkBoston, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) earlier this fall. That petition accumulated over 2,000 signatures and also won endorsements from the Boston and Cambridge City Councils.
In the bridge's previous configuration, nearly every driver on the bridge was breaking the law with respect to the speed limit, according to radar speed data collected by safety advocates, and the multi-lane configuration allowed the most reckless drivers to swerve around slower vehicles as they crossed.
Zhang said that she felt fairly comfortable riding over the bridge in its previous configuration, but the close proximity of cars still sometimes gave her pause.
"I would definitely tell myself that I should double-check that my bike lights are on and everything," said Zhang. "I bike over Longfellow too, and they have wider lanes over there, and (flexible-post bollards), so it's nice to see that they’re doing something similar on this bridge."
"It’s a lot more comforting than what was there previously," said Cambridgeport resident Jason Kurian, who told Streetsblog that he uses the Mass. Ave. Bridge as part of a daily loop ride he takes along the Charles River pathways. "And I think it’s also necessary because I’ve seen a lot of people just stop in the bike lane in the middle of the bridge to admire the view or take a picture. And I hope that this makes that a little more safe."
"I hope we see a lot more of this," continued Kurian, "and I hope that there isn’t a lot of pushback from the more car-centered folks, which I know there tends to be."
On Tuesday afternoon, though, while StreetsblogMASS was interviewing bridge users, car traffic seemed relatively unaffected.
At 4 p.m., car traffic was crawling on Storrow Drive and throughout the neighborhoods on either side of the bridge. But even though two car lanes had been blocked off by cones, traffic on the bridge itself remained free-flowing: