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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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America’s Absurd Fascination With Cars

Written by Boston Biker on Apr 14

I was having a discussion with someone this morning and we realized that at every stage in the development of automobile infrastructure in America, other, consistently better, choices for infrastructure were available, but we continued to choose the car every time.

trafficatl

We could have built high speed rail, but we built highways.  We could have built rapid transit bus lines, but we built a snarl of traffic filled streets.  We could have built a bike and pedestrian path networks, instead we cut up neighborhoods with massive highway projects.  At every stage we took a look at all the options, and choose the worst one.

Which has lead to our current situation, where transportation spending is dominated by the needs of the automobile, and not the humans using that automobile.

Seems I am not the only one who has come to this conclusion, there is an excellent article in The Atlantic that really goes step by step in showing just how destructive American’s fascination with cars has become.

It starts off laying down some real talk:

Simply this: In almost every way imaginable, the car, as it is deployed and used today, is insane.

Then the author Edward Humes goes on to lay our in depressing and methodical detail just how horrible the car has been for America.

On efficiency:

What are the failings of cars? First and foremost, they are profligate wasters of money and fuel: More than 80 cents of every dollar spent on gasoline is squandered by the inherent inefficiencies of the modern internal combustion engine. No part of daily life wastes more energy and, by extension, more money than the modern automobile.

Would you burn 8 our of every 10 dollars you made for the freedom to get in a box and get stuck in traffic?  Because you are literally burning 80% of the money you put into that car.

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On health:

While burning through all that fuel, cars and trucks spew toxins and particulate waste into the atmosphere that induce cancer, lung disease, and asthma. These emissions measurably decrease longevity—not by a matter of days, but years. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates that 53,000 Americans die prematurely every year from vehicle pollution, losing 10 years of life on average compared to their lifespans in the absence of tailpipe emissions.

TEN YEARS!  Are we really so addicted to the “freedom” the car provides us that we would sacrifice ten years of our lives for them?!  Let alone the 50,000+ people who straight up die early every year.

06/12/15-Boston,MA. A car is seen flipped on its roof shortly after sunrise Friday on Causeway St. in the North End. The car hit a parked car and flipped. Unconfirmed media reports state 2 are dead.. Staff photo by Mark Garfinkel

On economy and global security:

There are also the indirect environmental, health, and economic costs of extracting, transporting, and refining oil for vehicle fuels, and the immense national-security costs and risks of being dependent on oil imports for significant amounts of that fuel. As an investment, the car is a massive waste of opportunity—“the world’s most underutilized asset,” the investment firm Morgan Stanley calls it. That’s because the average car sits idle 92 percent of the time. Accounting for all costs, from fuel to insurance to depreciation, the average car owner in the U.S. pays $12,544 a year for a car that puts in a mere 14-hour workweek. Drive an SUV? Tack on another $1,908.14

Sheesh…another way to look at it, is that if you ride a bicycle instead of driving you will be saving at least that much money.  Also if your bike sits around unused for 92 % of the time you will not be wasting nearly as much money, as your bike probably cost you a couple hundred dollars and doesn’t constantly need new oil filters and gasoline.  Not to mention you don’t need bicycle insurance.

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On the Environment:

Then there is the matter of climate. Transportation is a principal cause of the global climate crisis, exacerbated by a stubborn attachment to archaic, wasteful, and inefficient transportation modes and machines. But are cars the true culprit? Airplanes, for instance, are often singled out as the most carbon-intensive form of travel in terms of emissions per passenger-mile (or per ton of cargo), but that’s not the whole story: Total passenger miles by air are miniscule compared to cars. In any given year, 60 percent of American adults never set foot on an airplane, and the vast majority who do fly take only one round trip a year. Unfortunately, air travel is not the primary problem, contributing only 8 percent of U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gases. Cars and trucks, by contrast, pump out a combined 83 percent of transportation carbon.

There is simply no doubt, our addiction to driving our cars is going to destroy the environment we need to live.  There is little point in having the “freedom to travel” if the territory you are traveling over resembles a nightmare hell-scape.  Mad Max is not an instruction manual, its a cautionary tale.

 

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The unacceptable cost in lives:

Annual U.S. highway fatalities outnumber the yearly war dead during each Vietnam, Iraq, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution.

And that’s not even counting cars’ most dramatic cost: They waste lives. They are one of America’s leading causes of avoidable injury and death, especially among the young.

Jim McNamara, a sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, where officers spend 80 percent of their time responding to car wrecks, believes such public inattention and apathy arise whenever a problem is “massive but diffuse.” Whether it’s climate change or car crashes, he says, if the problem doesn’t show itself all at once—as when an airliner goes down with dozens or hundreds of people on board—it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. Very few people see what he and his colleagues witness daily and up close: what hurtling tons of metal slamming into concrete and brick and trees and one another does to the human body strapped (or, all too often, not strapped) within.

Every time you see war casualties, or terrorist attacks on the news, realize that what the news is not talking about is the thousands of deaths that month from car crashes.

If we were in a war with cars, it would be the longest and deadliest war we have ever been in. Roughly 40-50 THOUSAND people a year. Or to put it another way this is more deaths than a 9-11 scale terror attacks every month year in and year out for the last 50 years. One wonders why this isn’t the number one news story every day.

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The article itself makes the same conclusion I have:

This disparity in attention between plane crashes and car crashes cannot be justified by their relative death tolls. Quite the contrary: In the 14 years following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there were eight crashes on American soil of passenger planes operated by regional, national, or international carriers. The death toll in those crashes totaled 442. That averages out to fewer than three fatalities a month.

The death toll on America’s streets and highways during that same period since 9/11 was more than 400,000 men, women, and children. The traffic death toll in 2015 exceeded 3,000 a month. When it comes to the number of people who die in car wrecks, America experiences the equivalent of four airliner crashes every week.

A normal day on the road, then, is a “quiet catastrophe,” as Ken Kolosh, the statistics chief for the National Safety Council, calls it.

 

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Car crashes take our young people from us:

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 39. They rank in the top five killers for Americans 65 and under (behind cancer, heart disease, accidental poisoning, and suicide).

And when cars don’t outright kill us they cost us a lot of money and suffering, even if you don’t drive:

And the direct economic costs alone—the medical bills and emergency-response costs reflected in taxes and insurance payments—represent a tax of $784 on every man, woman, and child living in the U.S.

And yet we have people who will fight long and hard to keep on-street parking, and keep speed limits high, and lobby for more highways, and complain that bike lanes will make it harder to drive.

WHY?!

What has lead Americans to fight so hard for something that is so bad for them?

 

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Is it the non-stop barrage of car commercials showing rich white people cruising empty streets while encased in luxury leather and listening to the latest hit song?

Could it be the massive amounts of money spent by auto industry lobbyists to promote cars over public transit?  Could it be the large oil companies spending millions to lower emission standards?

Could it be the joy that is the daily commute? Or the joy of traffic filled highways? The asthma, the obesity, the oil wars, the oil spills, the global warming, the road rage, the plowing under of nature for highways and roads, the constant bills, repairs, tickets, tolls, and insurance?

I simply don’t understand why the vast majority of city dwelling Americans own and operate their own car, especially when you consider there are a host of better, cheaper, healthier options available to them.


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Is It Just Me…

Written by Boston Biker on Mar 17

or is New England creating new and horrible types of precipitation to hurl at my face? What exactly was that flying out of the sky around 5:30 pm today. Ice snow? Rain Hail? Tiny spike ice? It was like small bundles of ice knives flying into my eyes…totally awesome. In the biblical sense (the parts about destruction).


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You Wait On The Side Walk And Wait For The Little Man Signal

Written by Boston Biker on Aug 04

I never thought I would see the day when car drivers are now no longer the main source of frustration in my daily commute…Pedestrians we need to talk.

I feel like there has been a lot of effort to get cyclists and motorists to act less like assholes, and to my untrained eye it seems like it is working.  I see far less rule breaking from these two road using classes than I did 5 years ago.  The change has been slow, and we certainly have a LONG way to go, but its working.

There is one user group however that hasn’t kept up with the “new normal” of road use here in Boston, yes I am talking about you pedestrians.  If anything the more orderly traffic patterns, and more well behaved motorists and cyclists seem to have emboldened you to act even worse.

In the same way that cops will pick an intersection and hand out bike tickets, and motorist tickets its time for some targeted enforcement of pedestrians.  Even written warnings will do.  The time it takes the cop to write out the warning is enough of a punishment to get most peoples attention.

 

Until that starts to happen, here are some tips for pedestrians, please stop doing the following.

These people are in traffic, you can see the cars going by in the background, they just kept inching out.  The light didn't change for another 2-5 minutes.

These people are in traffic, you can see the cars going by in the background, they just kept inching out. The light didn’t change for another 5 minutes.

Wait on the sidewalk for the light to change, do not stand in the street:

Cyclists need every inch of road we can wrestle from cars and if you are standing in the road it forces us into conflicts with much bigger more dangerous things.  If its a choice between hitting you and getting hit by a car the choice is clear.

 

Don’t walk from between parked cars:

I feel like this is street crossing 101, but for fucks sake do you want to be hit by something?  What is worse is that you are putting other people in danger with your foolishness.  You will eventually be hit by something doing this, its just a matter of time.  Please don’t be a jerk, don’t hurt yourself or others, walk the extra ten feet to the cross walk and cross with everyone else.

 

Just because the car traffic is stationary that doesn’t mean the cyclist traffic is: 

Cyclists move down the bike lane, or down the right hand side of the road, just because the cars are stopped doesn’t mean the cyclists are.  Playing frogger through a bunch of car traffic that isn’t moving is the same thing as jumping out from behind a parked car.  You will be hit, it will hurt, you will break something.   Oh by the way, just because the cars are not moving now doesn’t mean they wont start moving in a second.

 

If you must J walk, look both ways first!

Knowledge is knowing the street is one way, wisdom is looking both ways anyway.  You might think nothing is coming, you might not hear anything, but you can’t be sure unless you look both ways.  Cyclists don’t make much noise, but it will still hurt if they hit you.

You have to wait your turn:

If you want motorists and cyclists to stop at red lights, and stop signs you can’t just go when the red hand is up.  Whats worse is when you look both ways,  see a bunch of traffic coming,  and walk out anyway.  Its exactly the kind of behavior that would frustrate you if you were in a car or riding a bike, but you seem to have no problem doing it when you are walking around.  You are needlessly putting yourself and others in danger, and being a jerk at the same time.

I don’t think these are unreasonable demands.  Nor are they burdensome to the pedestrians that want to use the street.  I understand signal timing can be wrong, or that walk times are too short, but none of that has anything to do with what I have mentioned above.

In short, stop being such an asshole and start being more invested in your own safety and the safety of those around you.


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Are you Ignorant, Stupid, Or Just A Jerk?

Written by Boston Biker on Jun 10

While it’s true that our transportation system, and how it works, involve engineering data, and traffic flows, there are less obvious aspects of human behavior that are often not as talked about, that feature prominently in how our road system work. I have written a lot about these more esoteric natures of our road system, it is very much about shared trust, behavior, and attitudes.

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So lets shine a light on these less often explored aspects of human behavior. I think about this a lot when I am riding around. Someone walks out in front of you after looking you right in the eye, someone pulls out of a parking spot when they know you are next to them, they cut you off, they do things that just seem wrong and you ask yourself…Are these people stupid, do they not know any better, or are they simply jerks? I see the options breaking down like this:

1. They are ignorant. They really just don’t have the information they need to make a good choice, so when they run a red light, or walk out in front of you, its because they didn’t know they were not supposed to do that. In many ways this is both the least offensive option, and the most terrifying.

2. They are stupid. They have the information they need, but choose not to use it. This may be because of lack of attention, or lapse in judgement, or because they are on their phone. They are not doing these things maliciously, but if asked, they do know better.

3. They are jerks. They know better, they have thought about it, and after all that they still chose to do some horrible thing. Because fuck you, that’s why!

I have lived in a lot of different parts of this country, have visited even more places, and have found that by and large the difference is not the first two. There is about the same number of people in all locations that are both ignorant, or stupid.

The real issue, especially in places like Boston, and other east coast locations, is that we have a LOT more jerks.

Boston has a culture of rude road sharing. They walk the way they bike the way they drive. I am sure if the trains were not on rails they would be cutting each other off. I don’t know how it got like this, but I am confident that it is our culture of road use that is the problem.

I think the problem is that people in this town have cognitive dissonance, that is they hold two contradictory ideas in their heads at the same time. They hate it when a cyclist runs through a red light, but then do the same thing when they ride their bike. They hate it when pedestrians crowd out into the street and then do the same when they are walking around. They hate when there is traffic, but they drive big cars around that take up lots of road space.

Everyone is guilty of this at least some of the time, I have done it, I am sorry. This even happens in other less toxic road cultures, the problem is we Bostonian’s seem to do it ALL THE DAMN TIME!

I think this misses an important point, folks around here are generally good. You are are basically a good person! We all need to remind each other that we are good people. Good people wait for the walk signal. Good people don’t run through a red light nearly hitting pedestrians on their bike. Good people don’t speed up at yellow lights, and use turn signals, and look in their mirrors. Good people are patient, and good people are not so quick to get violent, or retaliatory.

Next time you are out and about using our limited road resources, remind yourself you are a good person, and act like it. The only way to change the culture of how our roads are used is to change the way each of us individually use our roads.


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The Word On The Street

  • RSS Here is what people are saying

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    • A Simple Sign Change Could Make A Huge Difference September 8, 2016
      TweetSomerville has already started using this new language, Boston has in some cases, but its time to make this the standard. From Road.cc Signs treat cyclists ‘less like potential hazards and more like the legal road users that they are’ … Continue reading →
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      TweetHubway is giving away a free day of rides this weekend! Get Your Free Day Pass We’re teaming up with Blue Apron to celebrate the end of the summer season with free 24-Hour Passes on Saturday, September 10! Sign up today … Continue reading →
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      TweetThe main reason we have too much traffic, is because we have too many people driving cars…but it also has a lot to to do with the fact that people are horrible at driving. Want a simple way to make … Continue reading →
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    • Your Bad Driving Is The Reason Why Their Is Traffic September 4, 2016
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    • Awesome Goat Based Brush Removal On Minute Man August 31, 2016
      Tweet   Saw these awesome little fellows going to town on some brush this morning.  Awesome and eco friendly way to clean up the minute man. Feel free to say hi, but watch that electric fence!
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