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Musings on local biking and traffic

Options in Cambridge/Somerville:

bike paths: there's a few, mostly for recreational purposes. One would be a good corridor out to Arlington and beyond but for my purposes that's recreation. None right by me.

bike lanes: more of these exist, and closer. They're far from a solid and usable network, though, let alone one that feels safe, especially as I've become more aware of the risk of 'dooring', running into a suddenly open car door. One of my two nearest lanes, on Beacon, now feels like a dangerous attractive nuisance, being quite narrow and close to the cars. Even if you rode the left paint line you still wouldn't be safe... and would get run down by the SUV I saw riding that same paint line a few days ago. That vehicle aside, it doesn't seem like the legally mandated "three feet of clearance by a passing car" is often fulfilled.

Oh hey, randomly found an article mentioning how unsafe Beacon is.

Massachusetts Ave is the other close lane, except it passes in and out of existence kind of randomly, and there's multiple points where high speed traffic merges in from the right, or where it looks safely wide (maybe with a bike lane) and then suddenly narrows (and the lane goes away, not that it'd be safe anyway.)

sidewalks: legal in most places here, apart from designated business districts, which puts MA one up on Canada or the UK. Practicality ranges from "awesome, wide sidewalk with few pedestrians next to dangerous road" (like where Mass Ave suddenly narrows, above) down through "narrow and crumbly but doable with care" to "impossible" like those same business districts most hours, when any considerate bicyclist would be walking their bike due to pedestrian crush. (Or being seated but pushing along with one's feet at walking or slower speed.) (If the sidewalks of those areas are clear, probably so are the streets!) Helps that I'm not a superfast bicyclist anyway, so going at safe speeds feels like less of a burden to me.

vehicular: aka taking the lane. Topical link dump!
edge bicycle vs. lane bicycle vehicular cycling
drive your bike; bicycle accidents
bicycle width marker

I'm increasingly tempted by the idea of it; actually doing it is spotty. Some streets are awesome, like Oxford, with narrow lanes and no bike lanes and inhibited traffic, and taking the lane feels both safe and reasonable. Sure, pull aside when I can to let cars past. Beacon... probably should take the full lane for safety, but that bike lane is problematic; given its existence, am I legally required to stay in it? Probably drivers expect me to, but damn, it sucks! Traffic's faster and heavier too, and I get self-conscious about holding up traffic. Mass Ave... given the random nature of the bike lane and parked cars taking the lane would make sense, and in lieu of bike lane there's often sharrows in fact, but much of the time traffic is even faster and heavier, in a 35 mph zone.

It's said that bicyclists tend to fear being run down from behind, while overlooking being T-boned or turned into which happen more often. I note that rationally, a lane-taking bicyclist might piss followers off, but drivers rarely drive directly into obstacles; being sideswiped by someone sliding past you seems way more likely.

I've been finding myself getting more law-abiding on the road, to cut down on risk and the possibility of misjudgement; this is especially true when I'm taking the lane. Wait for red lights, don't slip in along the right (that may be predictability and safety more than legality).

A few days ago I was lane-taking up Broadway, and noticed a pattern of sprinting faster than I usually do, to not hold up traffic, and thus welcoming red lights as a chance to rest and catch my breather rather than being annoyed by them. Enforced interval training!

Today I was out for three-four hours and had a bunch of close calls, none of which were obviously related to having 5 hours of sleep. Not sure I remember them all. One was at an intersection which was showing red light and "don't walk" in all four directions, with no one moving; after waiting a bit I headed out from the sidewalk, just in time of course for the cross light to turn green halfway. At a later intersection I was actually fine, having learned quickly from the previous incident, but more aggressive bicyclists almost got hit by cars turning left legally toward our right. I almost snarked out loud "and this is why we have "don't walk" signs."

Then there's Harvard Square, where I see no safe way to go north other than walking on the sidewalk for a bit. There's a bike lane right by Out of Town News, which in itself is perfectly safe... but then you're merging with fast traffic coming from the right. Even taking a lane doesn't seem like it'd help much. Then there's another bike lane but it's kind of deceptive, aiming you to a crosswalk toward First Church; if you want to continue on Mass Ave you have to keep left and go down a fast curve, which has more fast traffic merging from the right out of a tunnel. Oh and IIRC there's another deceptive bike lane leading up to that curve, on the left this time (you could use the crosswalk to get to it) but it directs you to making a U-turn back south.

If you've never been there, you can look at Google Maps. Start from the bike lane to the right of "2A Brattle Street" and try to make it here in good expectation of safety. I went through today, following another bicyclist, and it felt pretty suicidal. She was riding right on a paint line though, then hugging the curb of the final curve; no one tried to pass us thank god, but they could have tried. Maybe lane-taking would be better.

Hmm, I haven't been deep into Somerville recently, so have no cause for my other gripe about traffic-hostile one-way street layouts, that often give a choice of a long detour (I'm a bike, not a car), going the wrong way, or taking a crappy sidewalk. Though I did discover Ames in MIT has a one way stretch... for one block.

It apparently takes an engineering study regarding the public interest for an MA town to post a speed limit other than 30 mph in settled areas, apart from 20 mph for school zones. I don't know if the department in question would consider "make roads safer for bicyclists" a valid reason for a 15 or 20 mph limit. One page claims the speed zoning manual says the limit should be at the 85th percentile of free-flowing traffic, which begs many questions.


Mostly unrelatedly, this page about Harvard Square has people complaining that it's impossible to park there. I suspect they mean impossible to park for free, there's a fair number of garages in the area, though I have no idea how full they tend to be.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/359056.html#comments


Damien Sullivan

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