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Cambridge Advances Plans for Bus Stop Upgrades, Bike Lanes Around Harvard Square

11:31 AM EDT on October 17, 2022

Harvard Square, looking west. The City of Cambridge plans to eliminate one of the two lanes on Massachusetts Avenue (right) to shorten crosswalks and add separation to the bike lane where a truck driver killed a bicyclist in the summer of 2020. Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

This fall, the City of Cambridge is preparing three major projects that are poised to fill key links in the city's protected bike lane network around Harvard Square, while also delivering improvements to MBTA bus riders and pedestrians.

One quick-build project scheduled to begin installation this month will add new protected bike lanes to Garden Street between the Cambridge Common and Huron Avenue, while also discouraging cut-through car traffic by making the street one-way for motor vehicles and eliminating the eastbound driving lane.

Locator map of the Harvard Square area highlighting the locations of three upcoming street safety projects: the first (scheduled for completion in 2022) will remove a motor vehicle lane on Garden Street between Huron Ave. and Cambridge Common to make room for protected bike lanes. The second (to be built by 2024) will narrow Brattle Street and Mass. Ave. to expand the pedestrian plaza and build physically-protected bike lanes in the heart of Harvard Square. The third (for 2025) will extend Harvard Square's bike lanes one block to the north and to the east along Mass. Ave. and expand the square's busiest bus stops.
Three separate projects will expand Cambridge's network of physically-protected bike lanes, widen sidewalks, upgrade crosswalks, and improve bus stops in the Harvard Square area over the next three years.

Two other projects will completely reconstruct curbs, sidewalks, crosswalks, and bus stops to give pedestrians, bike riders, and transit passengers considerably more space and safety on Massachusetts Avenue and Brattle Street in the heart of Harvard Square.

All three projects are being advanced to meet deadlines associated with Cambridge's updated Cycling Safety Ordinance.

But more broadly, the projects also aim to improve safety for all roadway users in accordance with the city's Vision Zero policy.

Drivers have killed two people in Harvard Square since 2019. In August of 2020, the driver of a large tractor-trailer truck struck and killed Darryl Willis, aged 55, while he was riding his bicycle west along Massachusetts Avenue. The previous September, the driver of another large truck struck and killed Sharon Hamer, 67, a retired Boston Public Schools librarian, in a crosswalk on the other side of the square, on Brattle Street.

Garden Street

The first of the three projects to be completed in this neighborhood will be a quick-build reconfiguration of Garden Street. This project will use paint and flexible-post bollards to install bike lanes on both sides of Garden Street between Huron Avenue and Berkeley Street, with connections to the Cambridge Common multi-use paths.

To create adequate space for protected bike lanes, the two-way street will be converted to a one-way street with a single lane for motorized vehicles heading northbound (away from Harvard Square) north of Concord Avenue. This change will also substantially improve safety for pedestrians on Garden Street, and the project will also enhance crosswalks in several locations.

Implementation of the Garden Street project is expected to begin this month and be completed before the end of the year.

Harvard Square Plaza Project

As we reported in late 2019, the city has another project to reconstruct the plaza where the Out of Town Newsstand sits in the heart of Harvard Square.

That plaza renovation project had been scheduled to go under construction in 2020, but the pandemic delayed the city's plans. City officials say that the project is now under contract with Newport Construction; work is expected to begin this fall, and finish by the summer of 2024.

As part of that project, the city had already planned to reduce the number of northbound lanes on Massachusetts Avenue – from two lanes to one lane along the plaza – and also reduce the number of southbound lanes along the west side of the square, on Brattle Street.

Massachusetts Avenue – Bow to Garden

A third project, currently in the design phase but scheduled to be complete by 2025 in accordance with the Cycling Safety Ordinance, will reconstruct the two sections of Massachusetts Avenue immediately north and east of the plaza to create physically-protected bike lanes and major upgrades to the area's bus stops.

City officials shared conceptual designs for this project in a public hearing last week.

The proposal would enlarge the busy bus stop on Massachusetts Avenue along the southern edge of Harvard Yard and create a new physically-protected bike lane between it and the sidewalk.

That stop serves three MBTA bus routes (the 1, 68, and 69), plus two private shuttle routes, whose buses arrive roughly every two minutes during rush hours. Because the stop is a busy transfer point for riders switching to or from the Red Line across the street, the proposed layout would replace one of the existing motor vehicle lanes on Mass. Ave. with a large dedicated bus platform, with ample room for multiple buses to load and unload passengers at the same time:

An aerial view of Mass. Ave. near Harvard Square showing conceptual changes that the City of Cambridge is proposing to add a dedicated bus lane along the north side of the street, a large bus stop next to Harvard Yard, and a protected bicycle lane running between the bus boarding area and the sidewalk. One lane would remain for general motor vehicle traffic, and some on-street parking and loading areas would be located along the southern curb.
Conceptual plans for new bus lanes and protected bike lanes on Mass. Ave. just east of Harvard Square, presented in a public meeting on October 12, 2022. Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

This section of Mass. Ave. currently has a paint-only bike lane that runs between the bus stop and two lanes of motor vehicle traffic; the city's plan would move bike traffic behind the new bus boarding island, and reduce the number of general motor vehicle lanes from two to one, consistent with the city's plan for narrowing Mass. Ave. through the heart of Harvard Square in the above-mentioned plaza reconstruction.

The proposed project would also enlarge the square's second- and third-busiest bus stops on the northern side of the square, at the southern tip of the Cambridge Common, with a similar design. These bus stops serve the 66, 68, 69, and 86 bus routes.

The city is also considering adjusting traffic signals at the Garden Street intersection to give buses departing these stops a head start before the light turns green for other traffic:

An aerial view of Brattle St. and Mass. Ave. just north of Harvard Square, including the southern tip of the Cambridge Common park, showing conceptual plans for new protected bike lanes that would be installed in the northbound and southbound directions, plus enlarged bus stops.
Conceptual plans for new protected bike lanes on Mass. Ave. just north of Harvard Square, presented in a public meeting on October 12, 2022. Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

The city hopes to finalize the design for this project by June 2023, and begin construction by the start of 2024.

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