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MIT Considers New Bike Lanes


Courtesy MIT Planning Office
The Planning Office is preparing proposals to add bicycle lanes to Massachusetts Avenue. This cross section shows two bicycle lanes, two parking lanes, and three vehicle lanes.

By Daniel C. Stevenson
News Editor

Officials from the Planning Office presented proposals for adding bicycle lanes to Massachusetts Avenue at a meeting yesterday afternoon. Space for the new lanes would come from removing one of the four vehicle lanes and possibly one of the two parking lanes.

Director of Planning O. Robert Simha MCP '57 and Associate Planning Officer Michael K. Owu '86 also presented redesign proposals for the intersections of Massachusetts Avenue and Memorial Drive, Vassar Street, and Albany Street.

The office will communicate final proposals to the city of Cambridge within the next few weeks in time to influence the city's construction plans, Owu said. Construction on Massachusetts Avenue, managed by the Massachusetts Highway Department, is scheduled to begin in the spring of 1996, he said.

While MIT "can't really affect" the city's final decision, the Institute can "suggest and convey our concerns," Owu said.

Simha and Owu organized the meeting "to let the MIT community know that MIT is concerned about all movements" regarding the redesign of roads, Owu said. "We have a responsibility to ensure that all the community's needs are addressed," he said.

About 25 people attended the open meeting held in room 3-133 yesterday afternoon. The meeting included a video about the successful municipal cycling system in Delft, a city in the Netherlands, and a review of previous bicycle lane plans.

Plans call for three lanes

The Planning Office is considering two options for adding bicycle lanes to Massachusetts Avenue, Owu said. Both proposals reduce the lanes of vehicle traffic from four lanes to three lanes between Memorial Drive and Lafayette Square, which is near the fire station, he said.

One proposal calls for two parking lanes; the other has only one parking lane and wider bicycle lanes.

The current 15-foot wide sidewalks would be maintained "because pedestrians are important and our first priority," Owu said. The sidewalk space includes 5 feet of planting space, he said.

The three lanes of traffic would be 11 feet wide, and each parking lane would be 7 feet wide, Owu said. In the single parking lane proposal, the bicycle lane is 8 feet, 6 inches wide, including a 3-foot verge strip. The bicycle lanes in the two-parking lane proposal are 6 feet, 6 inches wide, with verge strips of 2 feet, 6 inches.

The verge strips form a buffer zone between parked cars and cyclists and make it difficult for a bicycle to collide with an open car door, Owu said.

The crosswalk at 77 Massachusetts Ave. is a high traffic area for both pedestrians and vehicles, Owu said. About 14,500 pedestrians cross the street between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, he said.

Each day, an average of 26,500 cars and trucks traverse the crosswalk, at travel speeds of 35 miles per hour, Owu said. During the peak hour between 5 and 6 p.m., an average of 150 bicycles cross the street or ride past the crosswalk at speeds around 20 mph, he said.

Other plans call for reducing the width of vehicle lanes on the Harvard Bridge from 11 feet to 10 feet, 6 inches and increasing the bicycle lane from 3 feet, 6 inches to 4 feet, Owu said.

Another part of the proposal is to install a traffic signal at the Massachusetts Avenue and Memorial Drive intersection, Owu said. In addition, the Massachusetts Avenue bicycle lanes would be connected with the Dudley White Bike Path on Memorial Drive, he said.

Parking near the intersections of Massachusetts Avenue with Vassar Street and Albany Street would be eliminated to provide left and right turn lanes, and new signs would be installed. The plan also calls for connecting the Massachusetts Avenue bicycle lanes to two-way lanes on Vassar Street.

At the beginning of the meeting, Owu reviewed the work done by three local committees. In 1991, the Mayor's Bicycle Committee planned a city-wide network of bicycle paths. The Cambridge Bicycle Committee proposed a Crosstown Bikeway from the Boston University Bridge to the Minuteman Bike Trail in Alewife.

A 1993 MIT Advisory Committee endorsed the two city proposals and also discussed bikeways on Vassar Street, Putnam Street, Albany Street, and inside campus.

The Planning Office voiced opposition to a Cambridge bicycle lane proposal over the summer because the city's plan "has not yet addressed the question of pedestrian safety; potential conflicts between the bus stop and the cycleway; signage, clarity, and instruction for bicyclists; and other ways of making it clear where various people have rights of way," Simha said in a July interview.