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Uninvited bicycle-facilities feedback

March 23, 2013

Dear Burlington Planners,

I don’t live in Burlington, but I work in Burlington, and I often ride my bike to work, and what keeps me from riding to work more often is the abominable cycling and pedestrian facilities that you (Burlington) provide. I think you can and should do better. In addition, a friend of ours has a somewhat-special-needs son who works at the Dollar Tree; he cannot drive, but with a few road improvements in Burlington he could probably ride a bicycle to work, which would be better for everyone involved.First, you should know that I am considered a relatively fearless cyclist. I’ll put up with a lot of crap, though I don’t like it. I’ve noticed (as I get older) that my tolerance for crap on the road is diminishing, but if I don’t put in a lot of miles on my bike it will be bad for my health, and commuting to work is an easy way to get those miles. Until I hit the Burlington line my commute is relatively pleasant and low-stress. Making me (mildly) happy won’t turn Burlington into a bicycle paradise, but other people might be able to put up with it in small doses and on good days, so overall you’d get a few more cyclists and a bit less traffic.

My commute: I ride into Burlington via Lexington on the Middlesex Turnpike, continue under 128, and make a left turn (none is allowed, but I make one) at the light, hopping the curb into the bookstore parking lot. After that I ride through office parks to the old Sun (now Oracle) site.

PROBLEMS:

SIDEWALKS: On the Middlesex Turnpike (MT), from the Lexington line to McDonalds, there are no sidewalks. At McDonalds, a sidewalk begins on the north side of the street, though the curbs are generally not ramped (NOT ADA-accessible). That sidewalk ends at the Dunkin Donuts; any pedestrian that wished to walk to the Burlington Mall is left with a muddy path that ends in a guardrail after crossing under 128 and its access road. There’s a disconnected bit of sidewalk on the south side under 128, and finally a long sidewalk begins on the south side of the MT at the bookstore. However, there are no crosswalks at this point allowing someone to walk, even from the muddy path, across to the sidewalk on the bookstore side.

CROSSWALKS: There are no crosswalks across the Middlesex Turnpike.
There is no crosswalk at the Old Concord Road light.
There is no crosswalk at the Adams Street light.
There is no crosswalk at the Wheeler Road light.
There is no crosswalk at the other Wheeler Road (128N) light.
There is no crosswalk at the 128S light.
There is no crosswalk at the South Avenue light.
There is no crosswalk at the 2ndAve/Burlington Mall Road light.

You can view the (lack of) sidewalks and crosswalks here, though this post does not include the recent construction in the office park (and addition of a single crosswalk at 3rd Avenue, about a mile down the road from 128, so not really useful for this stretch of road anyway)

https://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/burlington-mass-bike-and-ped-unfriendly/

ROAD/SHOULDER: the pavement is in terrible shape. The asphalt has been deformed into ruts. The road is filthy; it gets filled with sand and litter, and seems to stay that way year round. No doubt the rutted asphalt makes it more difficult for a street cleaner to handle. There is also not even a hint of a bicycle lane; I put up with crap, which means I ride on the white line at the edge of the road, and cars usually make room to get around me. Wide trucks, I take care, one way or another.

Here is a picture, taken in May 2007, illustrating some of what I mean:

CENTER DIVIDER: Because of the otherwise appalling infrastructure, pedestrians and cyclists improvise by riding, walking, or pausing on the center divider to get from one side of the road to the other. There are some old cut-off road sign stubs there; someone crossing (and without a crosswalk for a mile in either direction, why wouldn’t they cross there?) might trip on one of those stubs and break a bone, or even (worse) fall into traffic. I don’t think you can pretend that this is an unauthorized crossing and therefore not your problem; you provide NO crossings, therefore all crossing is equally “authorized” (we do have a fundamental right to travel in this country, even if we aren’t driving a car).

Burlington streets and snow

SNOW PLOWING is terrible. I’m not riding right now (written several weeks ago) because the road has been plowed very narrow, and I could not ride on the sidewalk (where there IS a sidewalk) because it is buried under six feet of plowed and piled snow, and the curb I’d like to hop is blocked by that same gigantic wall of snow. In one place, a stretch of road that I normally ride on is completely unplowed.

Burlington streets and snow

Burlington streets and snow

Burlington streets and snow

MULLER ROAD/North St. Our friend’s son, if he biked to work, would probably use this to reach the Dollar Tree. I tried it once or twice after stopping at the mall on my bike, and it’s not a good choice for bicycles; the road is too narrow and the shoulder is too abrupt. It SHOULD be a good road for bicycles; there should be a nice lane on both sides, and it should be marked, and the speed limit should be reduced. Riding into the parking lot through the Middlesex Turnpike entrance is not a good alternative; after the Lexington line the striped shoulder disappears and brush is spilling out into the road, and the return includes a section where cars are merging (this is dangerous because drivers’ attention must be divided between the cyclist and the merging traffic. It’s NOT pleasant to ride).

ADAMS ST: This is an alternate route to/from Lexington. The Burlington portion of this road is narrow, crowded by trees and brush, and also has poison ivy in the brush. No adequate bike lane (or even shoulder), no sidewalk.

SUGGESTIONS:

If I were to rank the priority of the missing crosswalks and sidewalks, I would say that the lack of the 3 crosswalks between Wheeler Road and 128S entrance is very high, and there needs to be (good!) sidewalks between those two intersections. I recognize that it would be difficult and expensive to relocate the guard rail on the north side of the MT adjacent to the Burlington Mall (though this ought to eventually happen). If one or more crosswalks and that bit of missing sidewalk were added, then people could at least walk from as far as McDonalds (on the north side) to the bookstore and beyond (on the south side). There is foot traffic to the Burlington mall; perhaps the mall could supply an access at the corner of the 128S entrance ramp and MT. Making that access meet ADA regulations would be difficult, but laudable.

For not much effort, the Middlesex Turnpike could be restriped and brush-cleared from the Lexington line to Old Concord Road. This is a not a large stretch of road, but it could be more pleasant, and would provide better pedestrian and bicycle access to those malls. On the Lexington-bound side of the road, the intersection should be redesigned so that only one lane proceeds into Lexington, allowing more room for bicyclists, and also removing a place where cars sometimes merge and/or compete for space. I also drive this section, and can tell that one lane is generally adequate. It is, after all, only one lane within Lexington.

Muller Road should also be made safer for bicycles. A minimal accommodation would be to provide a flat and obstacle-free shoulder so that a cyclist could safely leave the road if traffic was too unpleasant. A better accommodation would be actual pavement, and stripes indicating the bike lane area.

The one-way section of South Avenue near the movie theater should be converted into two-way for bicycles so that cyclists can stay off Middlesex Turnpike as much as possible while traveling east. Cyclists tend to ride against the one-way anyhow; there is very little traffic there during the day or the rush hours.

If you renovate the Burlington Mall stretch of the Middlesex Turnpike, sidewalks and bike lanes would be lovely.

When you install curbs, consider not using sharp-edged granite. I know some people think it looks pretty, but to me it looks like a potential compound fracture; if my tire even brushes against it, the tire is instantly destroyed, and I risk falling onto that same sharp edge. Road departments in Minneapolis and Chicago find that concrete curbing works just as well at about the same cost and durability, and it is generally shaped into a less-threatening profile (you can ask them yourself; I did).

PIE-IN-THE-SKY:

I’ve been watching the construction in the Nordblom office park, and it’s really impressive. They seem to have no problems with leveling hills and generally moving stuff around. Cyclists prefer to avoid hills, and if they cannot be avoided completely, perhaps they can be reduced, either in size or in number. If there is future rework of 2nd Avenue or South Avenue in that office park, flattening either hill somewhat would be lovely. Similarly, the hills on the Middlesex Turnpike itself might be susceptible to a little flattening in some future road repair. Or perhaps, with the cooperation of the developer (Nordblom), a separate bicycle path that was not too indirect and not nearly as hilly could be devised.

MORE PIE-IN-THE-SKY:

It’s unlikely that you’d build this here, but municipalities actually build this sort of structure in other parts of the world, sometimes even here in the US.

First, it’s hard to imagine how you will fit comfortably bicycles AND pedestrians under 128 without taking lanes from cars, and I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. In other places (I have seen this in both California and Florida) bridges are built instead to get people across freeways, busy roads, and in one case, a body of water. I’ve looked at topographic maps and done some eyeballing from the ground, and it looks like you could run a level bridge from the end of Wheeler Road across to the hill with the movie theater on it, or perhaps to the backside of some of the new development underway near the movie theater. Another possibility is to start on some of the land that I see marked “abandoned Route 3 right-of-way”. This would provide bicycle access from Lexington to the bookstore and movie theater, with the option of crossing the Middlesex Turnpike at a signaled intersection to get to the Burlington Mall. Bicycling commuters could avoid the MT traffic on their way to the office park.

And as long as I’m dreaming about bridges, I might as well propose more of them. In the Nordblom office park there are several hills. Bicycle bridges that spanned the dips between the hills would make the ride more pleasant; instead of climbing three hills to get to work I could climb just one.

I do understand that these pie-in-the-sky proposals seem disproportionately luxurious given the relatively small number of bicycle commuters you have right now. Your roads, however, are horrible — you will only get the most hardcore/motivated/crazy people to ride on them in their current condition. Build nicer facilities, you’ll get more people on bikes. Consider also what it would take to get more people in to the office parks and malls; those roads and parking lots often run full, especially at the time of year (near Christmas) when those stores make most of their money. You’ll have a hard time cramming many more cars in there, but there’s plenty of room for bicycles.

2 Responses to “Uninvited bicycle-facilities feedback”

  1. rebeccafalbrecht Says:

    I live here in Brookline,and am not familiar with the area that you are talking about but it could be in so many places across the country. I have been riding my bike here for decades, and, I too, am getting older and my tolerance for “crap” is declining. Nice letter.

  2. anon Says:

    I could not believe that there is no sidewalk on Middlesex Turnpike under 128 and alongside the Mall, as well as on Burlington Mall Road on the north side of the Mall: http://goo.gl/maps/sTU7H

    Even if most people go most places by car, sooner or later everyone puts it in park, opens the door, and becomes a pedestrian.

    Burlington takes in plenty of tax money from all the office parks and stores. They should spend a little bit of it so people can get where they need to go.


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