Earlier this year the city council filed a policy order asking the city to look into the feasibility of installing protected bike lanes on Webster Ave connecting to those Somerville installed late last year (pictured above). At times over 200 people bike along Webster Ave per hour. The 85 and CT2 bus routes use it along with heavy vehicle traffic travelling through Union Square in Somerville. The rationale for protected bike lanes on this street is obvious.
Last Thursday the city reported back that it would not put protected bike lanes on Cambridge’s section of Webster Ave. This unacceptably compromises people’s safety while biking. Furthermore, the reasons provided by the city for not installing protected bike lanes are woefully inadequate. We address some of the key conclusions by the city here:
“This change was implemented with limited coordination with Cambridge”
Somerville has proposed a protected bike lane on Webster Ave at least since the official publication of the Union Square Master Plan, adopted May 2016 (see page 145). According to Somerville Advisory Bike Committee members, Somerville and Cambridge city staff discussed the project during the Somerville Advisory Bike Committee’s advocacy of their protected bike lane.
“From a land use perspective, this segment of Webster Avenue is dominated by automotive-oriented land uses … which make heavy use of the on-street parking for movement and staging of vehicles.”
We appreciate the abutting auto-oriented businesses are long-standing members of the community, and believe there are compromise solutions to maintain their livelihood in a way that respects the public’s need to use the roadway safely.
“Because there are nine curb cuts within 320 feet along the west curb line, it would not be possible to provide significant vertical separation with flexible delineators.”
There are options here that the city chose not to explore. While curb cuts do reduce the number of flexposts that can be installed, some are still better than none – even a curbside bike lane with only a few flexposts would be better than being forced to ride in heavy traffic next to parked cars. In addition other separators besides flexposts could be used, for example armadillo separators which would provide extra space to maneuver near driveways. The city could also build a curb level protected bike lane like it did last year in Porter Square.
“There is an existing curb extension on the east side of Webster Avenue … [that] would be an obstacle to a separated facility in this segment. This curb extension is proposed to be maintained and reconstructed as part of the of the 305 Webster Avenue residential development project”
Since this curb extension is not yet reconstructed, the city has the opportunity to include protected bike lanes in the design prior to reconstruction. In fact, it appears that the entire curb along 305 Webster Avenue will be reconstructed upon completion of the residential development. Thus, there is now an opportunity to install permanent protected bike lanes, not just quick-build ones, at least along 305 Webster Avenue, and this option will not be readily available after residents at the new development get used to parking here (see next item).
“Approximately half the length of the east side of Webster Avenue is currently occupied by the construction barricades for the 305 Webster Avenue construction, which would prevent installation of any treatment until those barricades are removed.”
This does not prevent the city from installing a protected bike lane on the west side, or to commit to installing one on the east side during or right after construction. In fact, it increases the urgency of doing so. The residential building being constructed at 305 Webster Ave shows planned street parking (7 spaces) along Webster. Yet, this development already includes off-street parking in a garage off Columbia, and there is additional parking for guests and retail customers on Columbia, so this on-street parking on Webster is not needed and should not be implemented. Instead, after the construction barricades are taken away, the city needs to re-open the street with a permanent protected bike lane, not parking, on Webster Avenue next to the new apartment building.
“The Cambridge Bicycle Plan’s bicycle network map does identify a north-south connection between the Cambridge/Somerville boundary and Cambridge Street (as well as connections farther to the south), using Elm Street in the northbound direction and Tremont Street in the southbound direction … Our recommendation is to further enhance the current north-south connections included in the bicycle plan by adding any signs and markings necessary to communicate to both cyclists and motor vehicle drivers that Elm Street and Tremont Street are the lower stress/higher comfort north-south connections between Webster Avenue, Cambridge Street, and locations south of Cambridge Street.”
Elm St and Tremont St do not have signalized intersections at Cambridge St or Hampshire St, making them unsuitable for people all ages and abilities and a poor substitute to a protected bike lane on Webster Ave. These streets have no bike facilities or significant traffic calming measures and are essentially low-speed/low-volume routes on paper only.
Road markings and signs are not enough to make a street safe for vulnerable road users. Infrastructure must be provided to achieve safety goals. These streets are not listed as having protected bike lanes in the Cambridge Bike Plan, which indicates that these streets may never actually become safe routes for people who bike.
“Webster Avenue transitions into Columbia Street, which is a narrow two-way street with higher traffic volumes than Elm and Tremont; it is not included in the bicycle network plan, and is too narrow to fit separated bicycle lanes even if all the on-street parking were removed.”
Webster Ave also connects with Cambridge St which is in the bike plan. Columbia St is heavily used by people who bike. The city should not ignore this desire line just because current conditions on Columbia St prevent installation of a protected bike lane there.
“The City has recently initiated the process of updating the bicycle plan, which provides an opportunity to consider whether this segment of Webster Avenue should be included as a future connection in the plan.”
Delaying the implementation of safe bike infrastructure in favor of an “opportunity to consider” is small comfort for the people who suffer serious injuries while biking in Cambridge, or for those who learn that they lost a loved one in a crash that could have been prevented with more urgent action on the city’s part. Moreover, the construction at 305 Webster Avenue provides an opportunity to set future street design patterns now that will not be easily changed in the future. The proper time to make this decision is now.
The city’s response also neglects some important context:
- The Union Square green line station is currently being built, with lots of surrounding development planned. This will add to traffic unless the region takes proactive steps to incentivize other forms of transportation besides automobiles.
- Cambridge has the opportunity to set transportation patterns for the users of the new apartment building being constructed.
- Will the Inman Square construction cause an increase in traffic on Webster Ave? This would add to the urgency of completing the protected bike lane along that route.
The city should urgently rethink how its decision making led to the conclusion that Webster Ave should not have a protected bike lane. Residents of Cambridge and surrounding cities need protected bike lanes so they have the option to bike around safely. The city needs to accelerate its construction of protected bike lanes all around the city, and it needs make sure one is built on Webster Ave, too.