Casey bike paths questioned

December 7, 2012
By

FOREST HILLS—Following the state’s announcement that the redesigned Casey Arborway and surrounding area will greatly reduce on-street bike lanes in favor of larger off-street bike paths, some community members are questioning the decision.

The Boston Cyclists Union is willing to support the changes, provided the off-street paths are kept clear of snow year-round. Other residents and organizations have mixed reactions.

The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) team’s early sketches of the re-designed area surrounding the new Casey Arborway incorporated both on-street and off-street bicycle amenities, which pleased community Design Advisory Group (DAG) members.

The design team, however, has recently removed most on-street bike lanes from the area, focusing instead on wide, two-way off-street bike paths similar to those on the Southwest Corridor Park on both sides of the Casey Arborway and parts of Washington Street.

Small stretches of the Arborway east of the future Shea Square are still expected to get on-street bike lanes.

“The point of this was balance for all transportation modes. The decision to go with off-street facilities in the design were done so to serve a much higher percentage of cyclists; and by removing the on-street lanes, we were able to reduce the roadway’s cross section and provide a better environment for pedestrians,” MassDOT spokesperson Michael Verseckes told the Gazette in an email.

According to Boston Cyclists Union spokesperson Pete Stidman, “The safest facilities for bikes…are cycletracks [on-street but physically separated bike lanes] and bike paths. In other words, facilities that have a physical separation from traffic.”

However, concerns have been raised at the last two DAG meetings about snow being cleared from the off-road bike paths in a timely manner. Snow clearing and plowing would fall to the permanent owners of the paths—the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) would be the owners of the off-street paths, in this case.

A DCR spokesperson did not respond to a Gazette request for comment.

“Until MassDOT contributes to increasing DCR’s snow-clearing capacity by buying them better equipment, the Bike Union can’t support the removal of the [on-street] bike lane,” Stidman told the Gazette. “The Union is sensitive to pedestrian and disabled persons’ concerns about the longer crossing distances, because we empathize with their desire to be safe from motor vehicles. But at the same time, bicyclists need a year-round bikeway.”

A recent Cyclists Union newsletter sent late last month even named named a suggested plow for the job.

The installation of off-road bike paths instead of on-road bike lanes satisfies the goals of Boston’s Complete Streets (BCS) initiative and is preferred as a rule by bike advocates, Boston Transportation Department (BTD) Commissioner Thomas Tinlin told the Gazette this month.

“That’s what their preference is,” he said.

BCS initiative aims to put pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users on equal footing with drivers.

Michael Halle, the BCS liaison to the DAG, told the Gazette that BCS doesn’t “really address the on-street/off-street question, in part because it doesn’t happen frequently on city-controlled facilities and in part because [the] Parks [Department] deals with such things individually.”

“The guidelines tend to be strategic and cover lots of material, so bike stuff is only one small piece,” he said. “[But] BTD has looked at the Casey plans, and Toole Design Group reviewed the plans. Toole is also one of the lead design firms contracted with the City to develop the Complete Streets Guidelines,” Halle said.

Another national guideline, created by the nonprofit American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and provided to the Gazette by bike advocate and former community design advisory group (DAG) member Jeffrey Ferris, states that off-road bike paths are “not intended to substitute or replace on-road accommodations.”

The Casey Arborway, an at-grade surface street network, will replace the crumbling Casey Overpass. The Casey Overpass is the State Route 203 bridge over Washington Street at the Forest Hills T Station.

The state Casey project website is massdot.state.ma.us/caseyoverpass.

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