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You Can’t Fix Shitty Design With Signs And Spray Paint

Written by Boston Biker on Jun 28

Want proof?  Ride over the Longfellow bridge “bike path.”

Every day I ride over the Longfellow, and ever day the farce that is the “bike path” gets more and more hilarious (and now that its warm, more and more dangerous.)

I started off skeptical of the paths design, noticing that the it was far too narrow, had odd turns, choke points, blind traffic interactions, lots of hazards, strange elevation changes, and most troubling thing was that the “sidewalk” was now the “bike lane.”  I thought it was horrible then, now I think its even worse.

Before I document the latest hilarious attempt to rescue this failed attempt at a bike path let me just recount some of the things I have personally seen on this path over the last couple months:

  • Crashes involving two cyclists on the Boston side of the bridge, where the path narrows dramatically while people are rolling down hill meeting folks struggling up hill
  • Crashes involving a cyclist and pedestrian on the Cambridge side of the bridge, as cyclists were heading down the hill and pedestrians were entering the “bike path” from the blind side on the left
  • Pedestrians tripping and falling from all the unmarked, and hard to see curbs and metal posts sticking out
  • Joggers with headphones not notice they are about to run into an oncoming bike until it was nearly too late
  • People with jogging strollers running into metal posts on the ground nearly throwing their child to the ground
  • Fucking Segway tours clogging up the path while they take pictures
  • Cyclists arguing with pedestrians constantly about who should or should not be on the path
  • Overheard this exchange “You can’t be on this bridge, I have a torn rotator cuff because a jogger ran out in front of me on this very path and caused me to crash, you need to go over there to the sidewalk” to which the three people responded “Too bad we are tourists!” and continued to walk over the bridge
  • I personally had to ask the construction people to remove the green dust control fencing from one half of the “path” because it blocked the view of people entering the path from seeing if people were coming down the bridge

And now it seems that someone besides me must have noticed because the already ridiculous situation on the bridge has become ludicrous.

Here is the view as you approach the Cambridge side:

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1 sign telling pedestrians not to walk on the bridge, 2 signs telling them where they should walk instead, and 2 signs clearly stating that this path is for cyclists only.  Someone has also taken a can of pink spray paint and highlighted all the things you are likely to run into, you can see one such example above, none of which will do any good in the dark.

Seems pretty heavy handed, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

From the Boston side:

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(See that board on the ground above, it was another sign that had blown over in the wind…I flipped it back up.)

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(notice you can’t see who is coming down the path from this location, this happens a lot on this side)

Lets run this down… At the entrance to the path there are two giant “no pedestrian” signs using universal symbols, a giant “sidewalk closed” sign using words, two giant “bikes here” signs using symbols, stripped barriers, multiple bike markings on the ground, sharrows, a sign further down that says “bikes only” ANOTHER no pedestrians sign after that, AND a sign telling pedestrians where to walk.  Someone has also added cones to most of the metal poll sticking out into the ground (the rest got the same ineffective pink paint treatment as the Cambridge side), oh yea and the sign I flipped back up saying this path is for cyclists…

That is a lot of signs…at this point you might be asking yourself “did it do any good” and the answer would be “fuck no it didn’t do shit.”

You can see in the photograph above, the final person in a line of Segway riders blasting down the path at high speed, he was followed by a flood of pedestrians, joggers, strollers, roller carts, and all manner of non-cyclist traffic…in short you can’t fix shitty design with signs.  Short of posting armed guards on both ends of the bridge this is going to continue.

The reason why so many people are walking on a path that is clearly not for them is because…it makes total sense that they should want to!  It’s the most convenient path for them to take.  This has been a pedestrian path for years, the other side isn’t that pleasant to walk down.  This side of the bridge has a better view of the city, it is easier for more foot traffic to reach, and there is a spooky underpass detour on the Cambridge side if you go the “right” way.  They are following their desire lines.  Its no wonder the “bike path” is anything but.

All the things that make this a great pedestrian path, also make it a horrible bike path.  Its too narrow, has strange approaches, is hard to ride into and out of safely, it makes you take strange traffic diversions, puts you in conflict with traffic (cars, pedestrians, AND other cyclists), and is bumpy too boot!

What a mess…

I still think the best option would have been to close the bridge to automobile traffic, turn the portion of road that is open into a two way bike path, and allow emergency vehicles to go over the bridge both ways.

There are so few cars able to make it over the bridge as it is currently configured, that it would matter little to overall traffic flow.  With the increase in walking, cycling, and public transit the traffic would quickly take up the slack as people adapted.

Instead we have this horrible design that puts cyclists and pedestrians (the main users of the bridge at this point), in dangerous conflict with each other, restricts emergency vehicle use of the bridge, makes everyone unhappy, just so we can allow a couple of cars to putt slowly over it each day.

Are we designing for people, or are we designing for cars?  It’s time to decide, because this shitty design is going to get someone killed.


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