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Proposed Bike Lanes Upset Planning Office

By Sarah Y. Keightley
Editor In Chief

The City of Cambridge has presented a proposal to create two bicycle lanes along Massachusetts Avenue, with one of the lanes replacing between 20 to 29 parking spaces along the Student Center side of the street. Massachusetts Avenue from Lafayette Square, at the Main Street intersection, to Memorial Drive would be affected.

At a hearing last month, the Cambridge Environmental Program and the Cambridge Community Development Department presented their proposal to the public. The MIT Planning Office voiced its opposition to the plan at the hearing because it does not adequately address pedestrian safety, said Director of Planning Ovadia R. Simha MCP '57.

Simha said that "in the plan the city has put forward so far, the plan has dealt only with the removal of parking spaces and has not yet addressed the question of pedestrian safety; potential conflicts between the bus stop and the cyleway; signage, clarity, and instruction for bicyclists; and other ways of making it clear where various people have rights of way," Simha said.

The elimination of parking spaces is also a problem because the Institute does not provide any visitor parking in lots, as consistent with a city ordinance, Simha said. Many people use the spaces for short-term parking, he said.

Part of a larger project

This plan is part of the larger Lafayette Square/Massachusetts Avenue reconstruction project, said Cara B. Seiderman, project manager of the Cambridge Environmental Program. Though the parking spaces along the Student Center side of the street will be replaced with a southbound bike lane, the spaces on the other side of the street will remain, with the northbound bike lane being placed between the travel lane and the parking spaces.

Along with the bicycle lanes, there will be new street lighting and improvements to the drainage system, roadway, and landscape, according to the project description. Construction is not scheduled to begin until 1996.

"In any planning for [Massachusetts Avenue], one of the more important considerations is the development of safety for pedestrians," Simha said. He said he asked the city to consider extending the sidewalk, which would make it easier and safer for students to cross at busy intersections.

Simha also said that the city has not stated whether this bikeway would be part of a master plan. "Should the city introduce a bikeway which is only partially implemented," he said.

Moreover, the Planning Office did a survey of cyclists on campus, and the results show that some choose not to bike because "they fear for their lives" on Massachusetts Avenue and prefer quieter streets where they "don't have to compete with fast-moving vehicles," Simha said. If we are going to encourage people to cycle to MIT, we want the route to be as safe as possible, Simha said.

However, Seiderman said that studies around the country show that the introduction of bike lanes increases the number of cyclists, even on streets with heavy traffic. Also, "bicyclists generally want to have the most direct route," she said.

The city is seeking the "safest and best design for all users of the roadway," Seiderman said.

Seiderman said that the loss of parking spaces seems to be a "primary concern" for MIT. She said that through a replacement parking program, spaces could be made along side streets. Still, there is a parking freeze in Cambridge, meaning that the total number of spaces cannot be increased, she said.

"The city has a commitment to make improvements in this area," Seiderman said. In addition, under the Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance which was passed two years ago, the city has to promote other forms of transportation. This bikeway would encourage some commuters to cycle rather than drive, she said.

Seiderman did say that the project planners would like to go over design details of the crosswalk at 77 Massachusetts Ave. with MIT officials.

"We hope we can find some happy resolution with the city and the people proposing this plan," Simha said.

Simha added that the Institute has a commitment to create a bikeway along Vassar Street as soon as funds are available. This commitment was part of the deal where MIT promised to give a rehabilitation shelter a permanent building on MIT property in exchange for city streets, including Vassar, around campus.