MassDOT is reducing the number of car lanes on the Harvard Bridge. Here’s why.



“People have been asking this for years. “

The Harvard Bridge, also known as the Mass Ave Bridge. is one of the busiest cycle lanes in the region, but it is also used by commuters in vehicles. David L Ryan / Globe Staff

Starting this week, commuters on Harvard Bridge are greeted by cones, new signage and a change in the number of lanes for vehicles.

On Monday, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation launched a pilot program that temporarily widens bike lanes on the bridge and reduces the number of vehicle lanes from four to two.

The program, which will run during the winter months, has been endorsed by several Cambridge and Boston city councilors, as well as various advocacy groups, to improve safety for cyclists crossing the bridge.

“As we work to promote low-carbon travel options, our city must act urgently to protect the safety of our commuters and residents,” Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement. . Press release.

The Harvard Bridge, also known as the Mass Ave. Bridge, is one of the busiest cycle lanes in the region. But it is also used by commuters in vehicles. The MBTA Bus 1, which runs from Nubian Square to Harvard along Massachusetts Avenue, crosses the bridge, which also connects to the crowded thoroughfares of Storrow and Memorial Drive.

The bridge, which is state-controlled, typically has four vehicle lanes in total and a cycle lane on either side, which is only separated from motor traffic by a white line on the roadway.

Advocates say the changes implemented in the pilot program to improve cyclist safety are a win-win for all parties involved.

Reducing the vehicle lanes on the bridge from two to one in each direction will help keep cars from traveling at high speeds, Boston Cyclist Union executive director Becca Wolfson told

“The more lanes on a carriageway, and the wider those lanes, the easier it is to accelerate,” she said. “With two lanes in each direction and not enough cars filling that space, it just makes it very comfortable and easy for people to ride in their cars.”

Ari Ofsevit, senior Boston program associate for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, went to the bridge over the summer with a radar gun and took car speed measurements. He said he found more vehicles were going over 50 mph than those following the 25 mph speed limit on the bridge.

In fact, vehicles frequently exceed 50 to 60 mph on the bridge, he said. The highest speeds it recorded were 64 to 66 mph.

Safer cycle paths on the bridge are not a new proposition.

Cycling unions in the region have been lobbying for many years to improve bicycle safety on the Harvard Bridge, Wolfson said. Many of the people who worked on the pilot’s proposal to the state were also among those who approached those responsible for implementing protected bike lanes on the nearby Longfellow Bridge in 2013.

The modification of the configuration of the Harvard Bridge was very popular among the residents of Boston and Cambridge. When the Boston Cyclist Union launched a petition to bring protected bike lanes to the bridge, about 2,000 people signed up in less than a week, according to Wolfson.

“People have been asking this for years, and there have always been reasons the leaders said no,” she said. “With the evolution of the administration, there has been a global acceptance and will for this to happen. ”

Updates to the bridge reflect the broader changes in Boston and Cambridge, which aim to make roads more user-friendly for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport.

Wolfson said when lanes were reduced for bicycle safety on the Craigie Drawbridge and Longfellow Bridge, which happened under former Mayor Marty Walsh, regional traffic and car access were very worrying.

Now, with Wu, an open advocate for public transportation and pedestrian-friendly roads, and a new Secretary of State for Transportation, Jamey Tesler, Wolfson said the Harvard Bridge modification was more readily accepted.

Ofsevit echoed Wolfson’s sentiments.

“MassDOT has been quite receptive and the current management has been quite receptive to hearing ideas like [the Harvard Bridge pilot program] and implement them, ”he said.

Although Boston and Cambridge have put in place protected bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue, state jurisdiction over the bridge has prevented the two cities from being able to modify the bike lanes on the bridge itself.

On-going, the pilot program will be evaluated by agencies who will collect data in the field to determine the impact of lane changes on safety and accident data, traffic volumes, bicycle volumes and ride times. route for bus 1, according to MassDOT.

Defenders hope the program will bring about a permanent change on the bridge over the next year.

But they also want to see other permanent changes, including changing the traffic lights at both ends of the bridge to benefit transit riders, creating a potential bus lane, and establishing an entrance and a safer exit from the structure by reducing or eliminating the number of vehicles crossing pedestrian crossings and active cycle and bus lanes.

“I hope we are able to take the infrastructure we have and put it in retrospect, working with multiple agencies so that we can make the infrastructure we have available safer and more efficient roads to move the most. large number of people, “Ofsevit said. .

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