Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Shared Use Paths & Over Crowding

by Alex Zegler

Shared use paths, especially in cities such as Boson, provide opportunities for both recreation and transit for a variety of modes of transportation. It is not uncommon for cyclist, runners, pedestrians, along with families with small children and the elderly and people with disabilities to share the same space. Each of group has specific needs that need to be meet in order to provide a pleasant environment. Ultimately this translates into a more space designated for walkways and paths and a reduction the already limited green area. To make the most of the available green space engineer will often design for needs of only of the user groups, this practice can lead to short comings in the design for many of the groups with particular design needs such as people in wheel chairs and families with strollers.

Boston’s Esplande, shown in Fig. 1, is the long stretch of greenery that extends from the Boston University Bridge to the Museum of Science Building. It contains multiple playgrounds, public assemblies, boat docks and sports fields; it also serves as a major bike route along the Charles River. To accommodate all these functions it has multiple shared use paths or Treadway. During the colder months of year, when the park use is limited, these paths don’t experience overcrowding. But as the weather warms there is an increase in park usage and this can cause conflicts between the different user groups.

Fig 1. Boston Esplande between Mass Ave and Longfellow Bridges

According to the Massachusetts Highway Department shared use path be a minimum of 10’ wide, but it is also recommended that shared use paths be 12’ or 14’ wide to accommodate heavy use by bicycles and pedestrians. Along the Esplande, in areas that experience heavy use, there are hardly any sections of path that were wider than 10 feet. This causes conflicts with either cyclists or runners wanting to pass large groups of people or people in wheelchairs, inevitable the faster traveling groups will leave the path to pass and this causes wearing of the surrounding grass and damage to tree roots as seen in the Fig. 2.

Fig. 2 Shared Use Path Esplande

Additionally in areas with ramps accessing other travel routes, such as the pedestrian and bike ramp at Mass Ave. Bridge, there tends to be congestion due to cyclists and pedestrians having to share the same limited space. Also since these ramps don’t provide an adequate turning radius for bikes they further the congestion by forcing the cyclists to stop to make the sharp turns. It was observed that this congestion can back up large sections of the path especially in areas where there is only one pathway. This can be seen in Fig. 3 where there is a large group of pedestrian trying to access the exit ramp at the same time as a platoon of bicycles approaches.

Fig. 3 Pedestrian Ramp Congestion

The simplest solution to the problem is to take the space that has been worn down and use it to widen the existing paths. Often on the Esplande the areas that experience the most overcrowding are the sections of path that are flanked closely on either side by Storrow Drive to the South and the Charles River to the North. One possible solution is to enlarge the pathways by building out into river adjacent to the existing path. This can be accomplished with a series of wooden docks; additionally these extensions can be enlarged to provide benches and other areas for rest. The goal of this treatment is not to greatly increase the path size, but to allow for easier passing by faster moving user and to provide rest areas for the others users.

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