Bike lanes on campus in need of redesign

Safer options are feasible

Used by students, staff, and faculty to shuttle around campus, cycling has become an integral part of MIT’s transportation network. While bike racks, service stations, and lanes are very common, there remain key issues which must be brought to the attention of the Office of Campus Planning and the greater cycling community to improve the safety and efficiency of bicycling.

Consider the west portion of Vassar Street stretching from Westgate to the intersection at Mass. Ave. In theory, the current setup of combining the bike lane and pedestrian pavement should work without problems. The Briggs side and Simmons side bike lanes would be used correctly as directed one-way lanes to travel toward and away from campus, with pedestrians walking only on their portion of the pavement and keeping a watchful eye for bikes zooming by.

In reality, cyclists often use the directed, narrow bike lanes for two-way travel, creating a dangerous head-on situation with no protocol on which way each biker should move to avoid a collision. And rather than stay off the bike lane, pedestrians (often wearing headphones) walk in rows of six, occupy the entire pavement, and rarely respond to shouts or bells to move out of the way.

This issue is further complicated by new changes to Vassar Street over the past year. These changes include the relocation of the Tech Shuttle stop at Simmons, where a horde of students hopping on and off the pavement slows the bicycle traffic to a complete stop during the morning rush, and the Koch Childcare Center, where little children often wander away from their parents and stumble right onto the bike path, creating a potentially disastrous situation.

On the other side of campus, it seems incredible that Memorial Drive offers no safe way for bikes to travel from the Mass. Ave. intersection all the way to Sloan. The road itself contains no striped lanes or shared lane markings, meaning that cyclists are not allowed to ride near the cars. And at seven feet wide, the pavement is much too narrow to handle both pedestrians and two-way bike traffic. I once received a verbal battering by an old man for almost clobbering him as he emerged from Killian Court; to avoid the collision I swerved my bike and ended up swimming in the bushes.

So what can be done?

In June 2014, the City of Cambridge Toole Design Group released a paper called Cycle Tracks: A Technical Review of Safety, Design, and Research, which contains a thoughtful survey of bike lanes, and a new model for bike lanes to exist in harmony with cars and people. Ideas raised in the paper, which I encourage the Office of Campus Planning to consider, if they haven’t already, can be incorporated to alleviate the challenges outlined above.

Regarding Vassar Street, one plausible solution is to keep the bike lane on the pavement, but move the trees to create a physical barrier between the bike and pedestrians lanes. An alternate solution would be to narrow the bike lane to discourage cyclists from riding the wrong direction, and place small cones that prevent people from wandering in the way of bikes. Lastly, the road can be widened to incorporate a traditional striped bike lane, which would have the advantage of being parking-protected on the Simmons side and allowing bikes to overtake the shuttle at the bus stop on the Briggs side.

As for Memorial Drive, between the pavement and road lies around eight feet of dirt, serving no purpose whatsoever. This area can be used to introduce the Cycle Track model, which is essentially a road for bikes separated by a striped yellow line . A small barrier could be introduced between the walking and biking sections, with exits and entries at key locations like Killian Court and Hayden Library. As an immediate measure, the pavement should be designated as a no-bike zone given the high risk and frequency of accidents.

As an inexpensive, healthy, and environmentally friendly mode of transport, the cycling network should continue to be supported by campus planners for years to come. In addition to the previous examples, there are problematic spots all over campus, such as dorm row, where bikes often squeeze between the Tech Shuttle and delivery vans parked halfway on the sidewalk. A careful redesign of bike lanes at MIT would ensure a safer and more efficient experience for all commuters in our community.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

"The road itself contains no striped lanes or shared lane markings, meaning that cyclists are not allowed to ride near the cars."

Not allowed to? Might want to check your facts on that one. Memorial Drive is not an expressway or limited access highway, therefore cyclists have equal rights of use under the law. You still may not want to ride in a lane on Memorial Drive, but you most certainly are allowed to.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

Cyclists can be a nightmare for both pedestrians and drivers, largely because we don't have solid infrastructure to support the biking network at MIT.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

Another suggestion: make one side of the Mass Ave (aka Harvard) Bridge sidewalks for bikes and the opposite sidewalk for pedestrians.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

If we're talking about safety, the MIT police should also start fining bikers who pass through red lights, especially on the Mass. Ave. crosswalk.

David Lawrence over 8 years ago

Bikers who follow the Idaho stop law are not breaking the law any more than jaywalkers. Passing through red lights at speed is of course a very different matter.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

I think the issue of dorm row should have been discussed more, especially at the crosswalk in front of Baker. With a mix of people, trucks, bikes (both ways), and the Tech Shuttle, I am always a little nervous at this intersection.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

1. Cycle tracks usually need a physical barrier(not just a yellow line) to be called a cycle track.

2. Toole Design Group is an independent firm, although it is true that they work very closely with Boston and Cambridge's (and probably other cities) cycling infrastructure departments.

3. Barriers like cones don't tend to work in places that get a lot snow and have to be plowed.

4. The first comment about Mem. Drive is also valid, and although the pavement is poor, the strip along Mem. Drive is Paul Dudley Bike Path, so there being "no safe way" to get to Sloan is plain wrong.

As a cyclist, I do agree with the points, but this could use so much more research.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

#7 you raise good points, but the Paul Dudley Bike Path hardly classifies as "safe".

Anonymous over 8 years ago

Can confirm. While biking on Vassar today, a mom lost control of her son who ran right into the bike lane in front of me. Good thing I always bike cautiously near the day care.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

Also, cyclists should not be allowed to ride their bikes along a zebra crossing. This happens all time at 77 Mass Ave, but the law is unclear on this matter http://massbike.org/blog/2010/05/25/ask-massbike-biking-in-crosswalks/

Herms '87 over 8 years ago

"160 Memorial Dr, bike officer was hit and injured by motorcycle." (MIT Police Log, June 19, 2013.)

"MIT officer was responding to a call for service ... [and was] operating his bicycle east on the sidewalk.... The operator of the motorcycle was leaving work on the MIT campus when he ... struck the cyclist." (State Police public records.)

This is outside MIT's jurisdiction, Feras. But the City Council can help you get a few improvements made. You'd need to come in with a map that shows the locations of all the bike crashes around MIT over the past few years.

MIT Police began reporting crashes in December 2011, after a graduate student (Phyo Kyaw) was killed. We've now got enough data to make this mean something.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

5 - This isn't Idaho. The problem is when cyclists blow red lights and get hit by cars, the drivers often have to pay through the nose for what wasn't their fault.

Kate over 8 years ago

1. Educate cyclists to use the correct sides of Vassar St. bike lanes.

2. Keep bikes off the sidewalks and crosswalks around campus. They endanger pedestrians.

3. Ticket cyclists running red lights.

4. I'm really shocked at the number of cyclists around MIT without helmets, when this is such a dangerously congested area.

Herms '87 over 8 years ago

4 5: Neither MIT Officer King nor Phyo Kyaw G blew through a red light. Nor did any of the other nine bicyclists who were reported to have been struck or killed in the MIT neighborhood these last few years. (See Police Log.)

Herms '87 over 8 years ago

4, 5, 13: Neither Officer King nor Phyo Kyaw G had been running a red light.

Nor had any of the other nine cyclists who got injured or killed here since 2011.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

13: Because Vassar bike lanes are raised (i.e. you have to go over a curb from the street to reach it), cyclists can really only cross the street at the crosswalks to reach the correct side. Therefore biking in the wrong direction, for a limited distance, is necessary to reach the crosswalks.

Also it's a two way street when it comes to safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Pedestrians should not cross into the bike lane on Vassar without checking over their shoulders. Also cyclists should anticipate that a pedestrian will cut them off near crosswalks. Ideally cyclists should ring their bells when passing pedestrians. However this is often met with confused and angry glares on the pedestrian's part (even when they are walking IN the bike lane). :(

Anonymous over 8 years ago

For everyone saying cyclists can legally bike along Memorial Drive, it does not follow that it is by any means safe to do so! Just this past week a pedestrian leaving the sailing pavilion was struck by a car at a crosswalk.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

Here's a tip on Vassar crosswalks and bike lanes: the pedestrian crosswalks extend off Vassar and across the bike lane. That's why there's brick there instead of pavement. It is marked. Pedestrians are legally and correctly crossing, not "cut[ting cyclists] off near crosswalks." If someone is crossing, all vehicles are to yield. Including bicycles. Obnoxiously bellowing "excuse me! ever heard of a bike lane?!" does not change that fact.

Here's another example of a rule that cyclists conveniently ignore and instead pass the blame to pedestrians: By Cambridge regulation, "The operator of a bicycle shall ride at a speed no greater than an ordinary walk when on a sidewalk or when entering or leaving a sidewalk." I can't help but wonder what speed you were going when you nearly took out the old man. I would think that if you were following Cambridge rules and going at a walking pace, simply braking would have sufficed.

Robert Winters over 8 years ago

I never use the sidewalk "cycle track" lanes. The roadway is preferable. My only misgiving is that the road lanes were narrowed a little too much in order to accommodate the sidewalk bike lanes (and all the trucks that are now forced to park on the sidewalk).

Anonymous over 8 years ago

"The pedestrian crosswalks extend off Vassar and across the bike lane. That's why there's brick there instead of pavement."

Let's take a look:


Those pavers don't look like crosswalk lines to me. I've never heard of the pavement material being concrete pavers versus asphalt being an indication of right-of-way for pedestrians or bicycles.

How about the parts of the crosswalk that are for bicycles (which direct people to ride on the left for some reason)? Who has right-of-way where those cross the path -- bicyclists using the crosswalk or bicyclists on the path? What about where those cross the sidewalk?

They couldn't have set up a more ambiguous right-of-way situation if they tried.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

1. That you've never heard of something means it isn't true or doesn't exist? Interesting.

2. Bicycle lanes at crosswalks, lanes on the left: using your map link above, tell me which makes more sense: to continue across two lanes of the crosswalk to take a left in the third, or to take a left in "your" marked bike lane, thereby avoiding collision with those crossing - either on bicycles or by foot - from the other side? Is this really that baffling?

3. Cyclists follow motorist rules. It's really very simple. Bicycles on the path yield to other cycles/pedestrians in the crosswalk. If you do not know how motorist rules and regulations work in Boston/MA/USA, Google can be your friend and guide.

There's nothing ambiguous about any of this. You are a vehicle. You enter into a bike lane with the same rules that cars follow on streets. You yield to cross traffic. You yield to pedestrians. Bike lanes and/or paths are not sealed bubbles where you are exempt from regulations, common sense, or common courtesy. Try taking some responsibility for your own behavior and gather some knowledge of the road before passing the blame to everyone else.