Craig’s thoughts on bike lanes (via email)

There is a suggestion to create a voluntary bike registry on Monday’s Council agenda. I am not sure what the point of this registry would be and I have a lot of questions of how it would be implemented before I would want the City to spend staff time trying to figure it out. People can already register their bikes in a variety of ways to help mitigate loss by theft and the thought that bicycle registration could in any way be on par with car registration, which comes with not just one but two parking passes (one for the owner’s car, one for visitors), seems silly. And we already have a Council Order from a few weeks ago asking the City to come back to us with a plan to figure out who is biking where, why and when so we can have better data available for our planning discussions.

Despite needing to think more and more about the increasing complexities of electric personal vehicles and other aspects of our Urban Mobility future, we seem unable to get out of our bike lane/no bike lane car vs. bike arguments. Bike safety in Cambridge is far too complex to be boiled down to binary choices and the future of retail is impacted by a lot of things besides available parking, but that’s where we are right now. For me, the current dialogue reflects the years and years and years cyclists felt utterly ignored no matter how bad things were for us and I think we still feel that we need to continuously push to have our safety concerns addressed. The pushing may not always be in the right direction (for example, I think door zone bike lanes are horribly dangerous) but I think we’re really worried that if we stop pressing for more safety options we’ll slide back to where we were a few years ago and that’s not acceptable.

There has been a lot of progress in Cambridge when it comes to incorporating bike safety into our transportation plans, but I can’t pretend that we’ve figured it all out by now. We have put in a number of separated and non-separated bike lanes throughout the City but appear to have no meaningful way to receive feedback and figure out if these interventions are working or how they might be changed to work better, my wife got stopped for going slowly through a walk signal at an empty intersection in North Cambridge while cyclists fly through the Harvard Square “super crosswalk”signal with impunity, bike lanes are regularly blocked by delivery trucks and Ubers bringing us what (and who) we need to function as a City and the list of challenges goes on. Learning how to collect real data, how to learn from others’ examples and how to share our thoughts and concerns collaboratively is the only way we will meet these challenges.

I can’t talk about bike safety without also emphasizing the importance of “professionalizing” biking. It is far more nuanced than the (inaccurate) bumper sticker slogan “Same Roads/Same Rules” but we cyclists do have our own obligations to help improve traffic safety. Whether it’s having lights at night, staying off sidewalks (or at least being respectful to other users if you’re on a sidewalk), not blowing through pedestrian-filled intersections, not going the wrong way down the street, not biking with your hands full of shopping bags and so forth, there is a lot cyclists can, and should, do to both promote the image of biking and to keep ourselves and others safe. Even choosing to go more slowly than usual in some places, such as the new Brattle Street bike lanes, can be a huge safety improvement at times. I know I personally have a lot of room for improvement here.

3 Responses to “Craig’s thoughts on bike lanes (via email)”

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  1. AliceG says:

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  2. Craig Kelley says:

    Councilor Mazen:

    I thought I would share some of my bike lane thoughts and questions with you prior to Tuesday’s committee hearing. I cannot imagine we’ll get through my list tomorrow, much less everyone else’s, which indicates the need for a much more robust and ongoing public discussion around all things having to do with bicycling safety in Cambridge.

    I am thrilled that we are trying new ways to make biking around Cambridge safer. Cambridge is an immensely bikable City and there are so many benefits to biking, from air quality and traffic congestion to social cohesion, fitness and family independence, that the status quo of past years was and remains absolutely unacceptably dangerous for cyclists. We want more and more people to bike and for that to happen, we have to make it (much) safer. The question at hand is how best to make that happen while also ensuring the safety of other users of our public ways.

    While there may be bumps along the way as we figure out the best ways to make biking safer in Cambridge, we need to stay focused on our efforts. That will require some experimentation and risk taking (and the removal parking spots or motor vehicle travel lanes in some places) and not all safety efforts will be successful so some may have to be removed or tweaked as we learn more about what works, but that is all the more reason to vigorously address this important issue. Add to the discussion the greatly increased use of electric personal mobility devices, from wheel chairs to bikes to skateboards, and the question of safe, efficient Urban Mobility becomes even more complicated and pressing.

    That being said, I am greatly concerned that we seem to have no clear way of deciding which of the various interventions we’re piloting are working, which aren’t working and which ones would work better if we tweaked them in various ways. To make this program move forward as efficiently as possible, I think we need to be much more aggressive and transparent about analyzing the safety impacts of our various bike safety interventions so we know which ones to move forward with and which ones may not be working and thus should be tweaked or avoided completely.

    As we decide which bike safety interventions make biking safer in Cambridge and therefore should be expanded, I have some specific issues I would like to have addressed by City staff. There may be a decision that no actions are warranted for some, or all, of my concerns, but I want to make sure that we’re having an intentional discussion about them and other related bike safety questions.

    Here is my list of questions:

    • How are we collecting data and analyzing the safety impacts of the various interventions
    o Cameras for traffic flow reviews
    o Traffic counts
    o In person traffic flow reviews

    • How are we collecting and evaluating personal opinions about safety impacts
    o Emails
    o Personal talks
    o Website/blog/Facebook conversations and submissions

    • How are we capturing non-car related collision information, to include single cyclists collisions (such as slipping on ice) or bike/jaywalker conflicts? Safe biking also includes minimizing non-car related bike injuries but I don’t know that we have much data about those.

    • How do we evaluate the huge number of near misses of all types that result in no collision, and thus no report through which to collect data, but clearly indicate safety concerns?

    • Who has the right of way
    o When a pedestrian leaves her car and walks across a bike lane to access the curb
    o When a bus pulls to the curb and blocks the bike lane

    • What is the anticipated carrying capacity, to include peak hours, of our various bike infrastructures? Some cyclists are already avoiding roads such as Broadway during rush hour because there are so many cyclists already there.

    • Are we certain our emergency vehicle needs are not being compromised? And if so, are their ways to meet those needs without sacrificing bicycle safety infrastructure?

    • How are we determining appropriate bicycle speeds for newly created traffic patterns such as the counter-flow Brattle Street lane (which I find wonderful at about 5 MPH but an invitation to a collision with a jaywalking pedestrian at 12 MPH)?

    • How are we determining what sort of signaling we should implement to get cyclists, pedestrians and drivers to adjust their speed and behavior to these new lanes?

    • How are we addressing left-hand turns into or out of car-protected bike lanes when the cars or a curb form a barrier between the bike lane and the automotive direction of travel? My experience is that I’m stuck in or out of the bike lane until I reach the next intersection.

    • Why are we still painting bike lanes that encourage cyclists to bike in the door zone? Having watched my kids learn to bike without becoming conscious of the door zone danger, despite my constant nagging, I think it is irresponsibly dangerous to do anything that might lead people to believe that biking in the door zone is at all safe.

    • What steps are we taking to “professionalize” biking in Cambridge to include:

    o Lights at night
    o Keeping cyclists from carrying items in their hands while they bike
    o Keeping cyclists off sidewalks where bike riding is not legal
    o Ensuring cyclists respect pedestrians at crosswalks
    o Keeping track of enforcement data
     Changing our citation forms to collect information on actual violations

    • How are we addressing traffic hazards such as
    o Uber and Lyft random curb access
    o Double parking in bike lanes
    o Delivery trucks in and out of bike lanes
    o U-turns by automobiles
    o Dooring (I have bumper stickers we could pass out encouraging drivers to open the door with their right hand)
     Dooring within protected bike lanes (from passengers)

    • How will we manage to keep these bike lanes clear of ice and snow during the winter? Is that even an expectation?

    • How can we mitigate jaywalking hazards in especially congested places like Central and Harvard Square?

    • How can we better position cyclists in traffic vis-à-vis turning buses and trucks, as they often crowd a cyclist to the curb with no easy way for the cyclists to conduct evasive measures.

    • Given that turning movements are responsible for the vast majority of collisions, to include bike/car collisions, how are we mitigating that danger for cyclists?

    • Do electric personal vehicles such as Ebikes, electric wheel chairs, onewheels and electric skate boards belong in the bike lane? Does it matter if the lane is protected? Are there speed or horsepower limits to access these bike lanes?

    • How are we addressing and mitigating bike lane impacts on loading zone and customer-specific parking for local businesses?

    • Are we thinking of improving formal bike storage options, and related stored bike management programs, throughout Cambridge to help people protect their bikes against theft and weather as they use them around town and to mitigate the “bikes as street furniture” effect we too often see?

    We need this important discussion about how to make biking safer in Cambridge to move forward as quickly and as inclusively as possible. Given the email barrage I’ve gotten recently, and my own personal experiences, it is clear there are a lot of pent-up concerns about bike safety that we need to address and I would like the conversation about how to do that to be as effective, respectful and honest as it can be.

    Thanks again for having this discussion. Bike safety in Cambridge is a complicated and important issue and the more attention we pay to it, the safer we’ll all be.


  3. Craig Kelley says:

    Also, the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation, Joe Barr has a memo on the Council’s agenda with an update on our bike lane implementation project. You can access it here and I’ve pasted it below as well.

    I am very glad we’re trying new types of bike infrastructure. As a family of 4-season cyclists, nothing is more important to me than bike safety. Getting it right, though, is a challenge and is going to require a lot of community thinking, experimentation, analysis and, if it’s not working, a willingness to admit that it’s not working and either implement tweaks or redo things entirely if needed.

    But only after we’ve really given these demonstration lanes an honest try. The status quo of years past was not okay and it remains unacceptably dangerous for those of us who are not in cars. Moving into a safer Urban Mobility future, one that also realizes that personal electric vehicles like EBikes (including dockless ones in DC) and Onewheels and electric wheel chairs have a place in our shared transportation infrastructure, is going to be disruptive at times but it needs to be done. And figuring out what works and what doesn’t is going to take some time as people get used to new traffic flows and we collect data- we can’t reflexively put on the brakes before we’ve truly tried to figure out how this program is working. We may very well find that, with some tweaking, a lot of the concerns get addressed and we’ve got a vastly improved and safer streetscape, but we won’t know until we’ve given it a fair shot. If something requires immediate attention for safety reasons, we need to address it immediately but that does not mean scrapping the whole program.

    I like some of what the City has done, like the bike lane in front of the law school or the bike lane on Huron Ave. Other infrastructure, like painted lanes that put cyclists in the door zone, I find unconscionably dangerous and poorly planned. Some, like the lanes on Brattle Street, I like but feel still need tweaking (my last close collision was with a jaywalker on Brattle Street who, reading the road like a traditional street, thought it was safe to step in front of me as I biked ‘against’ what he reasonably thought was the traffic flow). And the unexpected (at least by me) impacts of some of these lanes, such as the inability of left-turning cyclists to get through a barrier of parked cars to access the protected lane on Cambridge Street, may warrant some new analysis.

    And we do need to at least acknowledge that for deliveries and people who simply are not going to bike for whatever reason, our new infrastructure may be having a negative impact. Can we work around that? Should we work around that? I don’t know, but it’s worth a deep discussion as these new lanes get more use and we get more experience in figuring out how they do, don’t and might work. And we can’t ignore the very real safety threat posed by scofflaw or distracted drivers, on cell phones or in a hurry, as they do things that no cyclist could reasonably anticipate.

    This separated bike lane program is a pilot demonstration program. I am excited that we’re trying it and, as we learn more about how it works, what to alter and how to make it better, I’m excited to expand it. I’m not excited or impressed at how we are analyzing its results or incorporating lessons learned and communicating about them and I’ll keep pushing City staff to make it clearer and easier for people to give feedback and understand what other feedback has been. is one email contact and I remember being told there is a more general info email people should use to share their thoughts but, illustrating my point, I spent a few minutes on the Department’s website and could find no easy way to directly contact a person with my thoughts about this pilot project. Basically, right now our feedback loop on these pilot lanes is, in my opinion, pretty much not working. If we’re going to put more of these pilot lanes in, we need to fix that problem immediately.

    Snow and ice removal from these pilot lanes are worthy of their own paragraph. I don’t know how that’s going to work- last winter I found the lane by the Harvard Law School was occasionally unrideable due to ice or snow so I had to bike in the general travel lane. Not an awful experience, but not ideal either.

    And we shouldn’t lose sight that the real danger for cyclists are intersections and turning movements, whether they be into driveways and parking lots or onto cross streets. The data is super clear on this- the vast majority of reported bicycle collisions involve someone, usually a car, pulling into or turning across traffic (to include on-street parking spots). Our bike safety efforts must also mitigate the dangers posed by these turning movements to provide the bike safety we need. Boston seems like they’re exploring using light infrastructure to guide turning movements in a safer manner and we should pay attention to how that’s working.

    As the City implements more bike facilities, the bike conversation is also expanding to include the duties of cyclists to be more predictable, and thus safer, while using the public way. Wrong way cyclists, biking on sidewalks, riders “white lining” between cars stopped in traffic, hopping on and off curbs, riding at night without lights and running red lights even in heavily congested areas are all common complaints people relate to me when talking about biking in Cambridge. I’m not making a value judgement here- honestly, I’m guilty of all of them from time to time. Even cyclists versus cyclists conflicts are starting to bubble up now as more cyclists of differing speeds and ability share the same constrained infrastructure (one concern some people have about separated lanes is that it keeps cyclists from moving into the car lane to pass each other, thus possibly making bike/bike collisions more likely).

    I call this the “Professionalization” of bicycling- helping us cyclists become safer riders while still meeting our transportation needs. What shape that might takes in terms of education, group norms, regulations, enforcement, speed limits, subsidies (such as bike light handouts) and so forth I do not know but it’s important, I think, to understand that cycling in Cambridge, at least in nicer biking weather, has become so hugely popular that it is starting to suffer from its own success in terms of safety and comfort. There are HUGE numbers of us on the roads, clumping at traffic lights into a ‘scrum’ during rush hours and the group dynamics of how these groups of cyclists, riding different bikes, in different physical shape, on different types of errands (the 35 year-old mom pulling the baby in a bike carriage has a different ride than the 17 year-old CRLS student heading to school but share the exact same infrastructure) sort themselves out is something we need to better understand.

    How this “Professionalization” works in a place where so many cyclists in Cambridge do not live or work in Cambridge, are relatively young, have multiple bikes (would you have to register one? All of them?) and so forth are all really complicated issues but it’s worth thinking about them now as the bicycle and (I think especially) the personal electric vehicle use in Cambridge continues to expand.

    You can read and comment on some of my thoughts on this issue, focusing on how the ‘delivery economy’ impacts bike safety and other transit issues on my blog here.

    I don’t pretend to have the perfect answer to this transportation challenge. But the wisdom is, I think, in the room if we can figure out how to hear and act on it.

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