18 November 2008

DCR Meeting Update: Status Quo

I attended the DCR meeting about the Craigie drawbridge and dam bridge last night. At first I was very excited; they welcomed our input and spoke about their commitment to pedestrians and bicyclists. The lead engineer on the project is an older gentleman in a dashing sport coat who reminds me of my great-grandpa, and the rough outlines of his proposal made a lot of sense.

However, over the course of the evening's discussion I grew increasingly agitated over the double-speak. DCR claims they want to accommodate cyclists so they're creating a consultant position and a profound number of new and resurected committees, all of which are slated to commence in the New Year. The plans for the project, however, are 90% done now and the input we can make is cursory and not actually welcomed. I left the meeting early, in anger, after the cute old engineer said, almost spitting in anger, that the plan doesn't include bicycles because the existing structure doesn't include bicycles. Viva le status quo!

Boston, I've always loved your respect for history and I wish you'd respect the future a bit more.

I hear that Marty Walz said it best, something to the effect of "The fact that you waited 'till the plans were 90% done to get input is unfortunate, and not the community's problem..." An important revelation in the meeting was the news that there will be dedicated bike lanes entering and exiting the project zone, so a failure to plan for this "vehicular" bicycle traffic will be glaringly obvious.

It is true that the project is a difficult one, there are a lot of humans to get across a very small space. The proposed design is excellent for preserving the space and minimizing the disturbance created by this necessary work. That said, I think there is still wiggle room to meet the needs of the community at large.

I'm very happy to have a blog, because I get to share Charlotte-the-Amateur-Engineer's Two Solutions for this problem.

Solution One: The Practical Solution
We move forward exactly as planned, however instead of widening the car lanes from 9'7" to 11", as proposed, we use that extra space for a dedicated bike lane. This will be status quo for the cars, the bike lane will do dual-duty as the buffer zone to the curb desired by the engineer, and will simply be wider and painted blue to indicate that it is for vehicular cyclists. The multi-use path will hold pedestrians, runners, strollers, wheelchairs, and casual cyclists, as well as vehicular cyclists looking to get from the Esplanade to the trail on the Memorial Drive side of the river without dealing with all the car traffic, which we know will happen.

Solution Two: The World-Class Dream Solution
We may still do the above, but we work on building a cantilevered path which runs along the back of the Museum of Science and connects both sides of the river. I'm envisioning it feeling a bit like the river side of European Parliament in Strasbourg. There would have to be a drawbridge or elevated bridge, but it need not be as robust as the Craigie drawbridge which must accept 18-wheelers. The Museum of Science could use this opportunity to create a real-world exhibit about the science of motion with displays about the bio-mechanics of walking, running, and cycling, linking science more directly to life through those plate-glass windows than in a diorama. These two parks in the Charles River Basin would be more directly connected and the training programs of all Boston athletes significantly improved, Boston's reputation as a walking city enhanced, and DCR would more directly fulfill its mission:
To protect, promote and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural and recreational resources.

Wouldn't it be wonderful?


Unknown said...

Welcome to the world of public involvement....

Here's what will probably happen next:
Cyclists will say "It won't do any good to voice my opinion because they've already got the thing planned anyway."

Then, the engineers and planners will say, "We held a public meeting so people could voice their opinions and hardly anybody said anything about cycling."

The frustrating part is that they'll both be right....

Charlotte said...

It doesn't have to be this way. My father's a land-use attorney so I grew up going to meetings like this.

The key is management, leveraging best practices from others, and keeping the public involved early and often.

To say the status quo is just the way it's going to be is unacceptable!


Christopher Paul said...

Well said.

Unknown said...

I agree. It doesn't have to be this way. I was predicting what I expect will happen in this case. I hope I am wrong.

I'm a transportation engineer/planner by trade, so I've been to a lot of these meetings as well - sometimes as the low-level engineer carrying out token public involvement processes out of my control, sometimes as an avid cyclist angry that plans don't accommodate cyclists at all.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte, I'm curious about the kindly old engineer. You mention that he was almost spitting in anger. Was this because he wanted the project to include a bike lane, but it probably would not? Or, he was frustrated from answering questions about a possible bike lane? It was hard to tell.

If it is the former, why not submit your plan directly to him? You haven't much to lose.

Charlotte said...


You're right, I should have stuck around to talk to him. There were no lack of cyclists there saying the same thing, so I know he heard the basic message.

The proposed changes for the drawbridge are thoughtful and very much needed. It is clear that he worked very hard on this plan and is proud of his work. It must be hard to have your careful work scorned by a herd of whippersnappers.

I think his frustration stemmed from what he perceived to be scope creep - he did fantastic work at what he was told would be his job, yet that was barely recognized, instead people cared only for something he thought was completely unrelated.

Unknown said...

About what Marty Walz said: this is incorrect. It is not unfortunate that this happened. It was mis-management, a mistake. In an engineering project of any kind, you gather requirements and then draw up specifications. Sure, the requirements will likely change while you do that (or worse, while you build it), but really, that is just backward.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the original plans in Boston didn't include those horseless carriages either...

Do hope you are able to ensure cycle-friendly planning.

There are some similar controversies ongoing here now, on how to redevelop old industrial areas (early 19th-century in one case, late-19th/early 20th up where I live). Everyone agrees development is needed, but one proposal in particular is at odds with our urban fabric.

Charlotte said...

Hey Pierre,
I hear what you're saying.

In Marty's defense, I was paraphrasing the summary of my friend who stayed on after I'd left. My friend was trying to portray the diplomacy with which Marty conveyed to them the onus of their mistake.

Anonymous said...

I was at the meeting too- and came away with very mixed feelings. On one hand I was very impressed with how many pro-cycling people were there, and how they ran the gamut from the Dutch planner to the messenger, to the sterotypical commuter with the yellow jacket and safety triangle on his back.

On the other hand, I was discouraged by the reactionary and anti- transportation cycling attitude of the planners and engineers. I did stay and talk to one of the engineers and try to convince him that keeping the lanes narrower to keep traffic speed slower was a good thing. His magic blue book told him that for X numbers of cars per day, you have to have lanes Y wide, and anything else was untenable. No understanding of how in a historic and space constrained city like Boston, everyone has to make compromises to share the road.
I don't know if you heard, but your suggestion was made by at least one person, and reinforced by several others. I wonder if there's a variation of this which would provide a separated bicycle path (off street), and a parallel MUP. One advantage of a separated bike path is that it wouldn't need to be nearly as structurally robust because it's not taking car loads.

Charlotte said...

Hey Carice,
Yeah, I did see the lane size suggestion made and initially rejected. I know that my colleague said that she proposed the separate path we'd talked about and was told that they hadn't even considered it... We shall see. I hope it all works out.