Transportation Advocates Including MassBike Strive To Set Long-Term Vision For Longfellow Bridge

We previously reported on the efforts of MassBike, LivableStreets Alliance, WalkBoston, and the Institute for Human Centered Design to keep bike lanes on the Longfellow Bridge during “early action” construction to add sidewalks before the major reconstruction of the bridge (see here and here). We were all pleased when MassDOT committed in principle to implement that proposal (and we look forward to seeing the engineering plans soon). This was only the first step, however, in planning the long-term vision for such a vital transportation corridor.

Along with the other groups (now expanded to include Conservation Law Foundation), MassBike has submitted the following letter to express our vision for how such an important bridge can be integrated into future transportation plans. This proposal goes beyond bike lanes to encompass the entire system of transportation over this bridge, centered around the idea that infrastructure has to serve everyone, not just automobiles (though they are included as well). The proposal also incorporates environmental and public health considerations, reinforcing the idea that transportation planning needs to include a lot more than simply how to get from Point A to Point B.

Read below, or check out a pdf of the letter here.


February 23, 2010

Lucy Garliauskas
Division Administrator, FHWA
FHWA Massachusetts Division
55 Broadway, 10th Floor
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142

Jeffrey Mullan
Secretary, MassDOT
Ten Park Plaza, Suite 3170
Boston, MA 02116-3973

William Mitchell
Acting General Manager, MBTA
Ten Park Plaza, 3rd floor
Boston, MA 02116

Richard Doyle
Regional Administrator, FTA
Transportation Systems Center
55 Broadway, Suite 920
Cambridge, MA 02142-1093

Luisa Paiewonsky
Administrator, MassDOT Highway Division
Ten Park Plaza, Suite 3170
Boston, MA 02116

Dear Transportation Leaders:

We write to you with regard to one of Boston’s most iconic structures and pre-eminent transportation facilities, the Longfellow Bridge. As the state embarks on the expensive and lengthy process of rebuilding the Longfellow Bridge, we believe that the time is ripe to think about how its reconstruction fits into the future of metro Boston’s urban transportation network for its expected lifetime of 75 years. To that end, we would like to see an enhanced focus on the bridge as part of a multi-modal system that provides excellent transit, pedestrian and bicycle access and begins to reduce the focus on private vehicles, while respecting the critical importance of conserving the best architectural and engineering heritage of the past. Such an approach, which is imperative to address the health, climate change, sustainability and energy crises we now face, is now framing federal transportation, environmental and livable communities policies. We are absolutely committed to working with federal, state and local agencies to make sure that the re-construction proceeds cooperatively and with all due speed.

We are pleased that MassDOT has advertised the early action contract for reconstructive measures. We look forward to seeing the plans for ADA-compliant pedestrian and bicycle accommodation that are included in that early action package and appreciate the time, energy and flexibility of MassHighway in making those early action improvements feasible. We look forward to meeting with you soon to discuss construction schedule and sequencing, logistics, etc. as they relate to impacts on transit users, pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.

With respect to the long-term design of the bridge, we have carefully considered how the needs of all bridge users can be accommodated by a safe and appropriate assignment of the existing bridge footprint. We suggest that the preferred option include the elements described below, all of which can be provided within the existing bridge footprint without moving existing walls.

1. Because of the preponderance of transit trips over the bridge (estimated by the MBTA at 100,000 trips/day
representing more than 70% of all trips), safety for transit passengers and MBTA employees is uppermost.
The design must have adequate clearance from the MBTA tracks to provide safety for transit workers and
emergency evacuations. Recent design requirements for the Orange Line at Assembly Square called for a
minimum of 8.5 feet from the track centerline.

2. Pedestrians must have ample sidewalks (12 feet clear width is adequate and 15 feet clear width is desirable)
to meet the needs of walkers and runners using the bridge sidewalks which are part of a network of regional 2
scale walking routes (the Esplanade, Cambridge Street, Main Street) and to meet the goals of the MHD
Project Development and Design Guide. Wider sidewalks would allow the bridge to serve its open space and
tourism potential. Lights and their supporting poles should not be located within the clear width of the

3. Vehicles should have one travel lane in each direction, with two lanes provided for the inbound approach to
Charles Circle. The roadway capacity additions recently provided by the Big Dig resulted in a total of 14
interstate traffic lanes where 6 existed previously. This new capacity for vehicles may be contributing to
diversions from the Longfellow Bridge, where traffic volumes have been declining over the past decade.
Based on our review of comparable Massachusetts roadways, the traffic volumes carried by the Longfellow
Bridge will be adequately served with this configuration of lanes.

4. Bicycle lanes must be at least 6 ft wide, and should be provided the maximum possible separation from the
travel lane. On sections of the bridge with a single travel lane, the bicycling zone will also serve the function
of a breakdown lane for disabled vehicles and emergency vehicles. The amount of space needed to serve the
breakdown lane function provides the opportunity to separate the bike lane from the travel lane by a painted
buffer at minimum.

5. Emergency vehicles must be accommodated by providing the space for them to pass other vehicles on singlelane
sections of the bridge. This can be accomplished by allowing emergency use of the combined width of
the vehicle lane, the shoulder next to the MBTA fence, the bicycle lane and the bicycle/vehicle buffer.
This preferred option represents the very best of context-sensitive design and meets the principles of both the MA
Transportation Reform Act of 2009 and the federal DOT/HUD/EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities. By
moving forward with this option, MassDOT will expedite the re-construction of the bridge AND begin moving
Massachusetts toward a sustainable and livable transportation system.

In addition to our commitment to working with MassDOT and FHWA on these immediate Longfellow Bridge design choices, we look forward to working with MassDOT, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the cities of Boston and Cambridge to identify design solutions that will provide the Longfellow Bridge and other Charles River Basin bridges with safe convenient pedestrian and bicycle access to the Esplanade and to the street networks of Boston and Cambridge.

If you have any questions about our comments, please contact us via Wendy Landman at WalkBoston: 617-367-9255 or We look forward to working with all of you to make the Longfellow Bridge an exemplar of sustainable, multi-modal and handsome 21st century infrastructure.

Best regards,
Rafael Mares, Conservation Law Foundation
Chris Hart, Institute for Human Centered Design
Charlie Denison, LivableStreets
David Watson, MassBike
Wendy Landman, WalkBoston
Cc Representative Marty Walz
Representative Tim Toomey
Representative Will Brownsburger
Senator Anthony Petrucelli
Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz
Boston Transportation Commissioner Thomas Tinlin
Cambridge Director Traffic, Transportation & Parking Susan Clippinger
Michael O’Dowd, MassDOT Highway Division

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