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BU Bridge Project Nearly Finished

Two new lane configurations being tested


At last.

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 Bridge bike lanes

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.

Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

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.

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

14 Comments on BU Bridge Project Nearly Finished

  • Guest on 01.18.2012 at 11:37 am

    With so many bicycle accidents, it should make it clearer that bike lanes need to be protected by elevating them or using traffic control to ensure motor vehicles don’t have to cross through a bike lane every time they are turning. Visibility is quite poor especially in bad weather. It’s safer to discourage bicycling then to simply make lanes with paint.

  • Bike Rider on 01.18.2012 at 12:16 pm

    Dear Guest- Did you seriously just say it’s “safer to discourage bicycling then to simply make lanes with paint”? What would be safer for everyone is just to open and use your eyes at all times, whether in good or bad weather, and regardless if you’re driving, bicycling, or walking! Here’s news for you- there will only ever continue to be more cyclists on the road, not fewer, so you had better get used to us being there.

  • Nathan on 01.18.2012 at 3:11 pm

    All that work and no solution for the thousands of pedestrians and hundreds of bicycles trying to safely cross in front of the bridge traffic at the Commonwealth end.

  • SDF on 01.18.2012 at 3:30 pm

    An idea to get back four lanes of traffic and safe pedestrian sidewalks would be to suspend a bike path outside the bridge area. This way the bike path would only have bikes on it. Sidewalks would only have pedestrians, and the road would only have vehicles.

  • Pedestrian, Sometime Motorist on 01.19.2012 at 11:22 am

    Dear Bike Rider, It would help everyone get used to your presence if, in bad weather and at night, you and 100% of your fellow cyclists would use strong headlights and tail-lights, and wear bright, reflective vests. Nobody wants to hit you.

  • traveler on 01.19.2012 at 4:02 pm

    From the numbers presented in the article, the proportion of cars to bikers at peak travel time is roughly 94% to 6%, and this doesn’t take into account that some of the cars carry more than one passenger. So at a minimum, 94% of travelers are being inconvenienced (by a vehicle lane reduction from 4 to 3 — a 33% loss in vehicle capacity) and suffering resulting tie-ups and delays in order to satisfy the highly vocal desires of 6% whose needs could have been accommodated in other ways. Hard to justify.

  • Motorist, Sometime biker or pedestrian on 01.19.2012 at 5:35 pm

    I agree with “Pedestrian, Sometime Motorist” – nobody wants to hit a cyclist or pedestrian. I suspect many bikers don’t drive and therefore don’t realize how hard it is to see them when they are wearing dark clothing and sometimes may be unexpectedly passing autos on the left.

    No one is talking about the Cambridge rotary – during evening rush hour traffic, especially in the dark, it is very confusing trying to traverse the rotary and enter the bridge. Cyclists can be entering the rotary from Mem Drive to the east or to the west or from the bridge to the south or from Brookline St to the north and then coming around either the inside or the outside of the rotary. When I drive, I proceed very slowly and keep my eyes wide open, but I drive in fear that a cyclist will suddenly appear out of nowhere. Nothing has been done to make that rotary safer for cyclists or easier for drivers to negotiate.

  • Bran Muffin on 02.10.2012 at 1:58 pm

    How about keeping 4 traffic lanes and those 6% of the bridge users–bicyclists–can dismount and safely walk their bikes across the bridge, joining pedestrians in walking exercise for a few yards. Eliminating traffic lanes on a bridge that is part of the Boston evacuation route just doesn’t make safety sense.

  • Matthew on 02.13.2012 at 10:13 am

    How about drivers dismount and safely walk their cars across the bridge? Oh, you don’t like that?

    Stop being selfish. Slow down. Thousands of pedestrians cross that intersection every day. It should not be treated as a highway. MassDOT made the right call.

    Slow down!

  • Aaron L'Heureux on 02.14.2012 at 9:25 am

    Considering that at different times of the day traffic backs up on either end of the bridge, I’m pretty baffled that a two lane / one lane approach is even being tested. If there aren’t ever going to be 2/2 again, the 1-becomes-2 on either end makes the most sense.

  • delia on 03.05.2012 at 1:27 pm

    Wow. It sure makes sense to cause 3,000 cars to be jammed up so that 185 bicycles can get through. I’d think it’d be easier to get off the bike and walk it across the bridge. You can’t walk a car across it.

  • Concerned Mother on 03.15.2012 at 12:23 pm

    I agree that we shouldn’t have compromised one full motor vehicle lane for 2 bike lanes. It will likely make that bridge even more congested than it was in the first place. WE NEEDED A BIGGER BRIDGE!

  • Charlie Denison on 04.03.2012 at 8:49 am

    The important thing to keep in mind is that the entrances to the bridge have always been one lane, and that continues to be so. The capacity (number of cars that can make it through the intersections) has not been reduced with the 3 lane configuration, since there are still 2 lanes exiting the bridge in either direction. The thing that has changed is the maximum number of cars that can queue on the bridge. I would say that’s a pretty reasonable tradeoff to provide a much safer and easier to use roadway for bicyclists (and for motorists who no longer have to share a lane with them).

  • Amy on 07.23.2012 at 3:04 pm

    What are they doing? First, one half of the bridge was closed off for months, to be painted and repaired. Then they did the same thing to the other side. THEN, they went BACK to the first side that was closed, and RE-CLOSED it. NOW, they are doing the same thing to the other side again! Why not do everything that needs to be done to each side in one fell swoop, instead of closing each side TWICE?

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