Why bicyclists are worried about the reopening of the Longfellow Bridge

"I don’t know when the inattentive driver will catch up with me but it feels like an inevitability."

BOSTON, MA - 9/06/2017: Longfellow Bridge still under construction(David L Ryan/Globe Staff ) SECTION: METRO TOPIC stand alone photo
The Longfellow Bridge under construction last September. –David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

At long last, the Longfellow Bridge is set to reopen next month. But not all commuters are celebrating.

Biking advocates are raising concerns over the new design’s bike lanes, which they say aren’t wide enough to allow cyclists to safely cross.

In a letter Tuesday to Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, the Boston Bicyclists Union wrote that cyclists, which make up a third of the bridge’s traffic, already must compete with “fast-moving vehicles, a steep grade, and unpredictable crosswinds.” While they praised MassDOT for the agency’s past receptiveness to their input amid the planning of the bridge’s redesign, the group insisted the bike lane width “still falls short of modern safety standards.”


“With the bridge set to reopen in May after years of construction, now is an ideal time to install safer, physically separated bike lanes and ease traffic on this dangerous stretch of roadway, especially on the inbound side of the bridge,” Becca Wolfson, the director of bike union, wrote.

The letter included a petition signed by 3,100 people requesting physically separated bike lanes on the inbound side of the bridge headed into Boston, while reducing the car lanes to one.

The current Longfellow Bridge design includes two inbound car lanes, one outbound car lane to Cambridge, and roughly 6-foot-wide, delineated bike lanes headed in each direction. Bicyclists expressed worries that the lanes weren’t wide enough to allow bikers to pass each other on the inclined first half of the inbound lane, without faster riders being forced into the two lanes of traffic.

“Crossing the Longfellow on a bike in traffic often feels like a lottery,” read one petition signer’s testimonial. “I don’t know when the inattentive driver will catch up with me but it feels like an inevitability.”


Commonwealth magazine reported that Wolfson and other bicyclists presented their petition Monday at a joint meeting of the MBTA and MassDOT boards, and that Pollack “indicated she was taking the concerns seriously.” In a statement provided Tuesday to Boston.com, MassDOT said that it would be installing stanchions to demarcate bike lanes, as well as speed-feedback displays to encourage safer driving.


“MassDOT wishes to be respectful of the vigorous public process that helped determine the final design and would like to ensure that any potential decisions regarding a departure from the consensus design would be made with adequate data,” the statement said, adding that the agency will continue to “engage these stakeholders and will be collecting data” on the bridge’s traffic.

Wolfson wrote that the union understood MassDOT was unable to make 11th-hour changes, but asked the agency to at least commit to testing the idea of protected bikes lanes with a car lane reduction, at least for the inclined first half of the inbound side. She called it “a prime opportunity for MassDOT to serve as an exemplar for smart, progressive transportation planning.”

“Similar efforts have been achieved in other cities with proven commitments to increasing safety and reducing traffic fatalities. It’s time for MassDOT to follow suit and plan a bridge to the future, not the past,” Wolfson wrote.


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