Since the Longfellow Bridge was closed to Cambridge-bound car traffic last July for a three-year reconstruction project, traversing the thoroughfare has been a gigantic pain in the you-know-what.
A pain for everyone, that is, except people on bicycles.
With just one lane of car traffic moving toward Boston, the new traffic configuration left plenty of room for extra-wide bike lanes, as well as a “buffer zone” painted with white stripes to provide an additional cushion of space between cars and bicycles headed toward the north side of the river. What’s more, that buffer zone featured a steady series of painted bollards that prevented cars from entering the bike lane — turning the bike lane into a state-of-the-art cycling facility that appeared more Portland, Ore., than Beantown, Mass. Many local bike riders held it up as a pie-in-the-sky blueprint for what Boston’s streets could look like.
Ari Ofsevit, a cyclist who I’ve cited in this space before, pointed out the absence.
The bridge falls under the purview of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and spokesman Mike Verseckes came back with sad news for cyclists: The cones were always meant to be temporary, guiding commuters until they became accustomed to the detoured traffic patterns on the bridge.
“When first implemented, there was a need to safely channel traffic with the addition of cones and barrels until folks could acclimate to the change,” Verseckes said.
“Beginning in November,” he continued, “the cones were removed to allow for crews to properly clear snow and ice should a storm come during the winter months.”
But Verseckes suggested that it wasn’t that disastrous.
“The ‘outbound’ or Cambridge-bound bike lane is separated from the vehicle travel lane by a five-foot buffer,” Verseckes pointed out. “The Boston-bound travel lane is not, but the proximity of that bike lane with the vehicle travel lane is a common occurrence for cars and bikes headed in the same direction.”
Ofsevit was none too pleased with MassDOT’s response.
“They remove them every time they close the road down for weekend busing,” Ofsevit wrote. “It can’t take more than a few minutes to grab them off the roadway and put them in a truck. Certainly, they could do this before plowing snow storms.”
Ofsevit took issue with MassDOT’s blasé attitude, pointing out that the bollards are an important part of keeping cyclists safe. And anywho, he continued, it (probably) won’t snow for at least another month.
“The plastic bollards are a huge visual aid to really let drivers know ‘Hey, this isn’t your lane!’” Ofsevit said. “MassDOT should reconsider this policy and replace the bollards. They were doing a good job. Now, I’m not so sure.”