Proposals to scrap trolley cable system, then ‘partially built’ bike lanes go ahead
Transportation officials are moving toward removing overhead streetcar cables, which will allow for an approach to building bike lanes that allows for more parking along Massachusetts Avenue in northern parts of the city, city officials said. city and state at two community meetings this week.
The MBTA held a virtual briefing Tuesday on bus electrification and the redesign of the North Cambridge depot, attracting more than 150 attendees. Scott Hamwey, director of bus modernization at MBTA, said states plan to de-electrify overhead catenary wires and switch to battery-electric buses from mid-March, removing the wires by the end of 2023 or 2024. The North Cambridge depot would close for two years as it was turned into a bus charging station; construction would begin next year, Hamwey said. While only 3% of the fleet is electric currently, the agency plans to make it fully electric by 2040.
Many onlookers argued that the current wired buses were cleaner than the BEBs, which would have a small diesel engine that cycled on and off to add warmth for passengers on days cold enough for the electric heater buses is inadequate. The rebuilt depot would include a 5,000 gallon diesel tank on the north side of the site.
Only a small portion of the bus fleet uses the overhead wires, which are only deployed in a small portion of MBTA’s territory, and the system and the buses using it are aging and will require significant costs to upgrade and renew. interview, said Hamwey and the senior manager. of automotive engineering Bill Wolfgang.
Planning for Porter
Removing the catenary wires would also free up road planning solutions in Porter Square, possibilities outlined Wednesday at a joint meeting of the City Manager’s appointed Pedestrian, Transit and Bicycle Advisory Committees. The meeting attracted 28 members from the three committees and 86 members of the public.
Diane Stokes, principal engineer with the city’s Department of Public Works, and Rosie Jaswal, principal engineering consultant for Toole Design Group, reviewed the design options for Porter Square, a fast-paced build that would retain few parking spaces. parking lot to a complete reconstruction. which could preserve much of the current parking capacity.
The problem with a full rebuild, Stokes said, was having to coordinate with utility and water agencies and telecommunications companies with underground infrastructure. A project of this scale “can take more than 10 years from start to finish,” she said.
The middle ground established by Jaswal was partial reconstruction, which would be altered by the fall of the wires and the removal of the Massachusetts Avenue median, with a timeline “somewhere between rapid construction and full reconstruction”. In his presentation, the partial construction options allocated to maintain approximately half of the current parking capacity along the corridor. Andreas Wolfe, the city’s street design project manager, said it could be a mix of parking and loading areas; all parking for people with physical disabilities would be maintained and potentially increased, he said.
Another factor of partial reconstruction: the water and gas pipes under Porter, over 100 years old, which will be affected by the works. “If you have an old gas line or an old water line that’s made of some type of material, only the vibrations from activity might cause problems,” Stokes said. “Does all Mass. Ave. must be rebuilt at some point? Absoutely. But we don’t want to offer that now.
Under city law, the two segments of bike lane construction discussed Wednesday — the other two segments are in Harvard Square, around Dunster and Church streets — must be built quickly or get a construction schedule approved by the council by the end of April. .
If the city went ahead with rapid construction, it should be completed by April 2023; if the city proposed construction and the council did not approve it, rapid construction would be mandated to be completed by April 2024.
Ask the lawyers
Members of Cambridge Bicycle Safety, the cycling law advocacy bloc, said they liked the partial build option, but embraced it with caution. “Due to the urgency of making safety improvements along Mass. Ave., it is extremely important for the city to define a project that can happen within the next two years, not four or five. years or more,” said Nate Fillmore, one of the band’s founding members.
Bike advocates contacted from the meetings were generally enthusiastic about what lies ahead.
“Based on this presentation, there are very good opportunities to improve bike paths and bus lanes while providing parking. They also have a longer timeline, which will hopefully help the community feel heard. I hope this will make everyone more receptive to the project,” said King Street resident Nathaniel Smith. Itamar Turner-Trauring, of Oxford Street, said he was ‘happy they are pushing for the middle option as it allows for both parking, cycle lanes and bus lanes’.
Former councilman Craig Kelley, however, saw getting rid of the safety median without a plan to avoid cross-traffic and U-turns as a “horrendous idea”. After removing a piece of median a few years ago by Cogswell Avenue, the city had to replace most of it because cars were turning too quickly on Russell Street from Massachusetts Avenue southbound. “Drivers could only make these fast and dangerous turns because removing the safety island allowed them to cut the corner sooner. As a cyclist, I felt like I was in the crosshairs,” Kelley said. .
During the meeting, comments emerged in support of parking protection and wary of change. Attempts to contact those more cautious or skeptical of the bike lane plans were unsuccessful. Emails were sent Thursday to the Porter Square Neighbors Association and citizens’ groups called Mass Ave. 4 All and Save Mass Ave which formed in response to the plans. But Friday night, there was no response.
apply a law
At the heart of the problem is the city’s bicycle safety ordinance, passed in 2019 and amended in 2020, requiring the installation of more than 26 miles of protected bike lanes throughout Cambridge, including all of Massachusetts. Avenue, by 2024. Much of its lower section, from Harvard Square to the Charles River, has been completed without removing significant amounts of parking; the main challenge for sections of what is labeled MassAve4 for planning purposes (Waterhouse Street to Roseland Street and Beech to Dudley Street) has been the center and catenary wires that feed two bus routes from Harvard Square to the rest depot of MBTA buses at Dudley Street.
An impact assessment released by the city in April sparked a firestorm by suggesting that by installing fast-build bike lanes – which separate bikes from cars with no construction by installing flexible poles, signs and paint – it would not be possible to make a parking change that placed cars to the left of a new lane, forming a barrier against motor vehicle traffic. Instead, removing the parking lot was probably necessary. Citizen groups called Mass Ave. 4 All and Save Mass Ave formed in response.
Fears were further stoked in November, when more than 70 parking spaces were removed in North Cambridge to install a rapid construction lane – not part of MassAve4 – along the one-mile stretch from Dudley Street to Alewife Brook Parkway. Some companies have said that the loss of parking could be fatal to them.
Survey the public
The Porter Square safety improvement project discussed on Wednesday was the same as at a community meeting on January 25: a quick-build solution losing about 30 parking spaces on the avenue but with metered spaces possibly added in side streets like in North Cambridge. The prospect of making traffic on Upland Street one-way to add parking attracted attention, but most committee members opposed a change.
A public opinion poll has been set up on the project page, with the next community engagement meeting scheduled for March 15, and a MassAve4 poll is scheduled ahead of the next MassAve4 engagement meeting, scheduled for March 3. .