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E-mail to Cambridge
Bicycle Committee members,
August 30, 1996

Date: Fri, 30 Aug 1996 11:20:50 +0000
To:,, "Ted Hamann" <>,,, Douglas Kline <>
From: (John S. Allen and Elisse Ghitelman)
Subject: Alewife/Fresh Pond area project

I am sending this message to members of the Cambridge Committee whose e-mail addresses I know.

I recently discussed the Alewife area project with Doug Kline by phone, and would like further clarification of it.

As I recall from Doug, the project is to proceed from Alewife station to Huron Avenue by way of, first, the MDC bike path/sidewalk on the east side of Alewife Brook Parkway between Concord Avenue and Rindge Avenue ("Cara says she has to use it because it's what the MDC has built"), then an at-grade crossing of Concord Avenue to a path/sidewalk on the west side of Fresh Pond Parkway (in Fresh Pond Park) to Huron Avenue.

Is this accurate? and if so, what can you say about the following concerns:

1) The route which bicyclists are expected to take between Alewife station and the start of the path/sidewalk at Rindge Avenue. Is any route defined?

2) Mixing bicycle and pedestrian traffic where the rather steep downgrades off the new railroad bridge on Alewife Brook Parkway will increase bicyclists' speed.

3) Pedestrians entering and exiting from stairs that rise to the end(s) of the bridge to shorten pedestrian travel between the shopping center on the south side of the tracks and the Rindge Towers project on the north side.

4) The crossing by the path/sidewalk of a heavily-traveled driveway entrance/exit to the shopping center.

5) The line of trees which, as I recall, the MDC had proposed to plant between the path/sidewalk and the Parkway, which would make it hard for path/sidewalk users and Parkway users to see each other at that entrance/exit.

6) The grade crossing of Concord Avenue east of the rotary, where Concord Avenue carries the heaviest traffic. Doug has told me that the MDC (or the city, I'm not sure which) doesn't want to replace the rotary with a standard T intersection traffic signals, because this would decrease traffic flow. A crosswalk with a pushbutton in the position described would be in the best possible place to have the same effect, would it not? That is, if the motorists heeded it.

7) The handling of the entrance to Fresh Pond Park at the Kingsley Bridge. How is the path/sidewalk to cross the bridge here?

8) Questions of nighttime visibility when riding head-on on path/sidewalk facilities into motor vehicle headlamps, which, even on low beam, will blind bicyclists headed into them.

9) Questions of personal safety on what is described as a preferred bicycle route but passes through a high-crime area on paths/sidewalks (rather than on streets, which are relatively immune to personal safety problems compared with paths/sidewalks).

10) How bicyclists are expected to make their way across the intersection of Fresh Pond Parkway and Huron Avenue, especially when headed to/from Huron Avenue east.

I raised these issues 1 1/2 years ago when I was a member of the committee. Do they still stand? Is this project as bad as it looks to me? My concerns are:

1) Safety, with the bicyclist/pedestrian mix, especially on the grades near the bridge; the crossings of unprotected or poorly protected heavily traveled roads and driveways; and crime.

2) Travel time with all of the waiting needed at the crossings, which along with the difficulties of getting across, will make the route unpopular and will promote scofflaw behavior.

3) Motorists' feeling put out by having to wait for a pushbutton crossing east of the rotary, this annoying them with the City and with bicyclists. The same thing could also happen at Fresh Pond and Huron Avenue.

4) The City's promoting a project with so many pitfalls as a preferred solution to bicycle travel problems when other solutions would appear to be more promising.

5) Liability issues for the city and the MDC with the crossings, which are of types AASHTO warns against.

Is it really as bad as I have described it? What do you think?

A couple more observations:

1 1/2 years ago, I described the Alewife/Fresh Pond project in a Committee meeting as a grab-bag project designed by the city to push the right buttons to obtain Federal ISTEA funding. Cara acted offended at this comment, though I did not mean it badly. And that is what the project is -- it incorporates parkland, historic preservation (at the waterworks) and bicycle elements, all of which look good on an ISTEA funding scorecard.

The City knows well how to push the right buttons -- but the question for me is whether that makes a good bicycling project, and in particular, a good, or even acceptable, bicycle route between Alewife Station and Harvard Square. (The definition the project as including this route also pushes the button for Joe Kennedy "demonstration project" special ISTEA funding, but siphons off such funding which might be used for other, better alternatives -- some of which are not as much in Cambridge). My sense is that the City has twisted the bicycling element of this project out of shape in order to make the project meet the funding requirements better. To what degree Cara's personal facilities preferences play into this, I don't know.

My preferred route between Alewife and Harvard Square would use the 5-foot shoulders of the new bridge, exiting into the new roadway that will loop under the south end of the bridge, connecting the shopping centers on the two sides; through the east side shopping center parking lot to New Street, then to Garden Street, perhaps by way of Danehy Park -- or if headed in to West Cambridge, crossing Concord Avenue east of the small rotary, where Concord Avenue is two-lane and the traffic is relatively light.

Doug has pointed out that the shopping center owners don't want a bike route through their parking lot, and that's understandable if unfortunate. That will prevent the city from designating such a route. But that won't prevent me or anyone else from using it, and legally. It is a public way. The parking lot is also unavoidably a part of the route for bicyclists and pedestrians between Danehy Park and the Alewife area/ Rindge towers. But some bicyclists may not know of alternative routes between Alewife and Harvard Square/West Cambridge, or be fooled into thinking that the proposed route offers safety advantages if it is designated and marked. And meanwhile, all this money is being spent on what looks like me to be a turkey of a project.

Some elements of the proposed project may be attractive for bicyclists using Fresh Pond Park for recreation, but even in this case, there are issues of safety, and of whether the proposed facilities are the best for recreational purposes. Since ISTEA requires justification of bicycle projects as transportation rather than recreation, we could get a poor recreational facility (i.e. right next to the Parkway where it is noisy an polluted) rather than a more attractive recreation path one deeper in the park.

I note also that the project does NOT include, from what I have heard, the pedestrian overpass at Vassal Lane which several members of the committee, including Rebecca and me, suggested was important to improve access to Fresh Pond Park for West Cambridge residents. This in addition to its, from what I have heard, using a grade crossing of Concord Avenue at a point where, I think, only an overpass would be a practical solution. I have, in the past, observed that Cara has a strong prejudice against overpasses. Her reasoning, as we discussed in a field trip to the Alewife area about 3 years ago, is that grade crossings are preferable because they foster a sense of community/pedestrian ownership of street space, rather than having streets be seen as highways.

My rejoinder is and was that there are a few major auto commuting routes which are in fact highways, and that trying to defeat that by putting bicycle/pedestrian grade crossings across them is a sort of Children's Crusade. (For those who don't remember this bit of history from the Middle Ages, the Children's Crusade was one of the more impractical manifestations of medieval Christian mysticism. The concept was that children, being innocent in the eyes of God, would march unharmed from Europe to Palestine to reclaim the Holy Land from the Moslems for Christians through pure grace. Most of the children who set out on this Crusade died, were sold into slavery, or met other unhappy fates.)

As vehement as discussion about the bike lanes may have been, nobody could disagree that they were a bicycle transportation project. The issues regarding them were of policy approach and of engineering.

The Alewife-Fresh Pond project is, if my description of it is correct, not a bicycle transportation project at all. It is a boondoggle as far as bicycle transportation is concerned. That is to say, bicycle transportation is being given lip service in order to achieve the end of obtaining funding for the city. Meanwhile, the actual needs of bicycle transportation are being neglected as funding is diverted to this boondoggle.

What do you think? What does the Committee think? What is the Committee doing?

What do you Committee members think that you should be doing? Is this project on the agenda for the Committee any time soon?

I may not be able to attend the September meeting, but I would like to be present for a discussion of the Alewife/Fresh Pond project if possible. Please let me know when one will occur. Thank you for your attention.

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