Saturday, July 20, 2024

Traffic issues on the Dudley Street to Alewife Brook Parkway section of Massachusetts Avenue is not just a local matter, but a regional one, because this section of Massachusetts Avenue is a gateway for commuters from the surrounding communities and beyond as well as for Cantabrigians commuting to work outside the city. This fact seemed to have been forgotten in the planning for a bike safety measure project. I beg Cambridge to delay implementing this project until more robust discussions can be held and a more regional solution can be found.

The Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department held a virtual community meeting on Sept. 14 to discuss the project in relation to the Cycling Safety Ordinance. At the meeting, Andreas Wolfe, the city’s street design project manager, said the estimated delay for the inbound private vehicles in the proposed sole general-purpose travel lane would be an “additional minute” based on a simulation. In a private email to me, he admitted that “this section of Massachusetts Avenue serves a considerable amount of regional traffic.” 

But in spite of “an overwhelming number of questions” and without scheduling any further community meetings, the department asked Public Works to schedule – and it carried out – partial roadway grinding and paving operations on this section from Thursday through Saturday. Wolfe told me that the department “will be installing new markings in late October and/or early November.” These actions do not indicate any intention to conduct robust discussions with all the stakeholders and come up with better design in response to overwhelming public concerns.

To further complicate community discussions on this project, the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group successfully lobbied city councillors – except E. Denise Simmons and the retiring Tim Toomey – to say they would “not vote for any proposal that delays protected bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue beyond the timeline of the rest of the ordinance.”

My wife and I went on Saturday to the Belmont Audubon Society’s Habitat Education Center & Wildlife Sanctuary. Normally, we would take Route 2, but the outbound Massachusetts Avenue was backed up past Rice Street due to the repaving. We went via Concord Avenue through bone-jarring, unpaved Somerset Street. But on the way back, I wanted to test Wolfe’s assertion of a one-minute delay by driving back on Route 2 as if my now-retired wife was returning home from her job at the VA Hospital in Bedford. 

The right inbound lane – the proposed bus-only lane – was closed to traffic right after City Paint, which caused inbound traffic on both lanes to stall just before it at 3:22 p.m. I turned right on Cedar Street at 3:26 p.m.: It took four minutes to travel 0.3 miles (at 4.5 miles an hour, averaged). I verified my travel time using Google Maps, which showed the travel time to be the same four minutes – very smart of it to take into account the latest traffic conditions! Google Maps indicated the typical time would be two minutes, meaning restricting two lanes of traffic for that short stretch doubled the travel time, not added one minute as Wolfe asserted. What’s more eye-popping is that Google Maps estimated the drive time from Alewife Brook Parkway and Massachusetts Avenue to the same Cedar Street corner would have been seven minutes for 0.4 miles at 4:20 p.m. on Saturday with the delay (at 3.4 miles an hour, averaged), when the typical time at 4:20 p.m. would have been two minutes. That’s a five-minute delay.

At the very least, this proves that we need a more realistic evaluation of the traffic pattern, for non-Covid times, on Dudley Street to Alewife Brook Parkway, taking into account all the stakeholders – including, but not limited to, the commuters, business owners and workers; residents; health service visitors to the Marino Center for Integrative Health; the elderly and disabled at the Daniel F. Burns Apartments and Community Alternative Residential Environments; early childhood education center patrons such as Bright Horizons; and more.

Young Kim, Norris Street