BU Bridge Project Nearly Finished
Two new lane configurations being tested
After more than two years of traffic-tangling renovations, the BU Bridge now has bike lanes, and two experimental reconfigurations of auto traffic will be test-driven between now and summer on the crucial Calvin Coolidge–era artery.
The prerenovation bridge had four car lanes—two in either direction—and no bike lanes. The current configuration, put in place just before Christmas, has three motorist lanes—cars enter the bridge from each side via one lane, then exit via two lanes (see accompanying diagrams). A second layout, to be tested from April until July, will have three travel lanes running the full length of the bridge: two northbound, from Boston to Cambridge, and one southbound. Both options provide bike lanes and improve the approaches to the bridge to give extra space for pedestrians, who previously had endured “a harrowing series of lane hops and tiny islands,” according to the Boston Globe. One of the two configurations (below) will be chosen and implemented this summer.
BU’s goal during the publicly funded $19 million two-year-plus project was to secure greater safety at “unquestionably the most important intersection that we have on the campus,” in the words of Michael Donovan, the University’s senior associate vice president for real estate management. There were 118 accidents involving cyclists at the bridge’s intersection with Comm Ave in 2010.
“So much of our community has to traverse the BU Bridge,” Donovan says. “We have BU Academy on the corner. From a pedestrian point of view, it’s a highly concentrated area in terms of crossings. Everybody is working toward a common purpose, which is really to make the conditions as safe as possible for everyone in a highly congested area.”
Weekday rush-hour traffic on the bridge hits 2,600 vehicles in the morning and 3,000 in the evening, according to statistics from a BU-hired transportation consultant. During the weekday morning peak, 490 pedestrians cross the bridge and during the afternoon peak 950. For bicyclists, the figures are 170 and 185, respectively.
In particular, bike lanes mean cyclists no longer must play chicken with motorized traffic for road space, says Donovan. “We have a lot of students, a lot of people in our community, that cycle.”
The three-month trials for each option ensure “that the influence of BU students is incorporated into the study,” and traffic to Red Sox games at Fenway Park is considered, he says. State and city officials have pledged to minimize any problems arising during the testing, with cameras at the bridge relaying real-time conditions to Boston transportation officials, he adds. Donovan credits officials for listening to BU’s concerns.
“We have had a seat at the table since day one,” he says. “They have been respectful, because they want to get it right, too. The bottom line is safety.”
The renovation added new ominousness to the phrase “bridge work,” saddling motorists with lengthy jams. The project initially aimed to remedy structural deficiencies in the aging bridge, built in 1928. With input from BU and others, Donovan says, the state decided to improve the safety and ease of traffic flow as well.
But the construction-related congestion led the Globe to editorialize that “in retrospect, it was probably a mistake to allow traffic to flow over the bridge during construction instead of shutting it down to allow for a rapid repair of structural deficiencies.” That would have halved the construction time and shaved almost one-third off the cost, according to the editorial.14 Comments