At a meeting of the Regional Transportation Advisory Council this week, Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jeff Mullan announced some good news, and some potentially not-so-good news, for bicyclists and pedestrians.
First, the good news: Secretary Mullan said clearly that MassDOT will take responsibility for Charles Circle, the horrendous intersection where the Longfellow Bridge enters Boston. Advocates have been complaining about the dangers of this chaotic intersection for years, but none of the four agencies with an interest in the intersection (MassDOT, the City of Boston, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the MBTA) were willing to take responsibility. MassDOT had previously committed to fix the sidewalks on the bridge approach and maintain the bike lanes on the bridge in advance of the overall Longfellow Bridge reconstruction. In fact, MassDOT did repaint the bike lanes on the bridge and the crosswalks in Charles Circle recently, although we have yet to see any movement on the sidewalk improvements. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the project to see whether MassDOT is really committed to making both the bridge and Charles Circle safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Which brings me to the potentially not-so-good news concerning the Accelerated Bridge Program, MassDOT’s once-in-a-lifetime $3 billion effort to repair many of the Commonwealth’s structurally deficient bridges (including the Longfellow Bridge and many others in the Charles River Basin and around the state). Many of these bridges currently have no or substandard access for bicyclists and pedestrians, even though they are vital connections used daily by thousands. Despite very productive dialogue with the DCR about bicycle and pedestrian access on the Charles River Basin bridges and the need to look beyond the bridges themselves to the intersections and connections, since the bridges were transferred to MassDOT we’ve been unable to get a clear signal from MassDOT that they would place a similar priority on bicyclists and pedestrians. MassDOT recently suspended work on an effort initiated by the DCR to produce an overall bicycle, pedestrian, and transit plan for the Charles River Basin. At the recent series of meetings around the state about the Accelerated Bridge Program, we’ve gotten reports that MassDOT spokespeople are backpedaling on the commitment to bicycle and pedestrian improvements, citing time and funding constraints. And at the RTAC meeting this week, Secretary Mullan also mentioned time and funding limitations when asked the extent to which the ABP would address bicycle, pedestrian, and transit needs.
We worked hard to ensure that last year’s transportation reform law, which created MassDOT, included commitments to support biking and walking. While we certainly recognize the pressure MassDOT is under to fix the bridges before they collapse, that cannot be an excuse to ignore the law and MassDOT’s own policies regarding bicycle and pedestrian accommodation. (See 1996 Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Law, 2006 Project Development and Design Guide, and 2009 Transportation Reform Act.) Moreover, if MassDOT misses this opportunity, $3 billion will buy us functionally obsolete bridges and it will be another 50-75 years before any major work is done on these bridges again.
We’re working directly with MassDOT to get them to do the right thing, but we need you to help us tell them how important these bridges are to you as bikers and walkers. Check our calendar and go to the public meetings on these projects, so MassDOT hears from regular citizens in addition to the professional advocates. And contact MassDOT right now to tell them you want them to make a clear commitment to improving bicycle and pedestrian access on all bridges in the Accelerated Bridge Program, even when that requires doing work outside the footprint of the bridge.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation
|10 Park Plaza, Suite 3170 Boston, MA 02116
|Toll Free – 877-MA-DOT-GOV (877-623-6846)
Fax: (617) 973-8031