Saturday, April 21, 2012

Shared Lanes & Bike Lanes - MFA, Back Bay Fens Area

By Charles Franzini


The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is located between Fenway and Huntington Ave. stretching from Forsythe Way to Museum Road (Google Maps link to location). The MFA as well as the surrounding attractions such as local universities, businesses and Back Bay Fens are frequently visited by students, residents and tourists so it is important that this area is not only accessible but also user friendly for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users. This being said, this area has always been motorist, pedestrian and transit user friendly due to the parking lots/garages in the area, wide and pleasant sidewalks, and green line T stops along Huntington Ave. But not until recently has this area been cyclist friendly as well. To accomplish this goal Museum Road and Forsythe Way were redesigned and reconstructed with both shared lanes and bike lanes.

Shared Lane

The shared lane, also known as a sharrow, is primarily seen on Museum Road (although there is a small sharrow section on Forsythe Way as well which will be discussed later). Museum Road used to be a one way street with parking on both sides but it is now 2 way street that is shared between vehicles and bicycles with parking lanes on both sides.

The designers of this sharrow have implemented key concepts to facilitate the safe and friendly use of this street for both motorists and bicyclists. These concepts include frequent and well placed signage and markings to inform users bicyclists have a right to the travel lanes just as motorists do. There is also flat, smooth pavement in place that helps bicyclists use less effort making the ride more enjoyable. 
It should be noted that the yellow sign at the top right of the picture has a picture of a bicycle and reads "Share the Road"
Once a design is created and even implemented it is necessary to continue to reevaluate and consider improvements that could be made to the road. An issue I see that is present on Museum Road is the frequent turns into parking lots and garages located along the street. Turning vehicles always pose a threat to bicyclists because it creates a confusion on who has the right of way and often leads to collision. In order to fix this issue I believe there should be a road marking right at the apron of the driveway as well as a sign at the entrance/exit of the parking lot/garage reminding motorists that through traffic has the right of way including bicyclists. Also, a common issue with sharrows is that although the signage says "Share the Road" these designs actually foster the idea of sharing the lane. Many people believe that shared lanes, sharrows, are much less effective than advisory lanes because bicyclists are still hesitant to own the road and because motorists are unfamiliar with what a sharrow actually is. Advisory lanes are common in Europe and foster the idea of sharing the road rather than sharing a lane. They accomplish this idea by creating a single travel lane with no center line with a bike lane on either side denoted with dashed lane markings and often a change is pavement color. The width of the road is wide enough to accommodate a car and multiple bicyclists and when a car comes along in the opposing direction one car moves aside into the bike lane briefly when it is empty so both cars can get by.
All in all, although this sharrow along Museum Road may not be a perfect solution to providing bicycle accommodation the designers did a great job implementing key concepts to inform motorists and bicyclists of the situation at hand to improve user needs. It is also great to see cities are taking into account bicyclists needs when redesigning their infrastructure.  

Bike Lanes

Bike lanes in the MFA Back Bay Fens area can be seen on Forsythe Way. Forsythe Way used to be a 2 way street with parking on both sides and no bike lanes. Now Forsythe Way is a 2 way street with bike lanes and parking on both sides.

It must be noted that the bike lane turns into a sharrow as Forsythe approaches Huntington to avoid the abrupt ending of the bike lane at the intersection.
The designers of the reconstruction of Forsythe Way have implemented key concepts to facilitate the safe and friendly use of the bike lanes on this street. These concepts include a wide bike lane (wide enough where I felt comfortable taking pictures in the lane while travel cars passed me on the left), frequent, well placed signage and markings, flat, smooth pavement that allows for effortless biking, and the marking of the bike lane through Hemenway entrance and the parking lot entrance/exit. The tight parking lane and wide bike lane contribute to the idea to "squeeze bikes last" while the frequent signage, markings and highlighting the bike lane through intersections reminds motorists they will encounter cyclists so when they scan the road they are mindful of other vehicles as well as bicyclists.

As discussed in the sharrow section, once designs are created and implemented they should be reevaluated to consider improvements to the road. An issue on Forsythe Way that is the same as on Museum Road is the frequent turns motorists make on this road from Hemenway as well as the parking lot along the street. Although the designers did a good job highlighting these conflict zones there is still a threat to bicyclists being struck by a vehicle who does not expect to them to be in the road due to the concept of "motorist looks but doesn't see." An improvement that can be made in regards to this issue is further highlighting the conflict zone by coloring the bike lane a different color than the travel lane pavement, in many cities bike lanes are colored green. A bigger issue I see with the design on Forsythe Way is that although there is a wide bike lane, the most important concept in bike lane design is the reach from the curb to the outside of the bike lane, not the width of the bike lane itself. This idea is true because the chance of dooring is much greater with a constrained reach rather than a preferred reach. Door free riding zone begins at 10.5 feet from the curb so designers should always try to reach the outside of the bike lane to 14.5-15 feet from the curb so bicyclists can ride outside the dooring zone and still have 4 feet of maneuverability between them and traveling vehicles.

All in all, although the bike lanes on Forsythe Way have room for improvement the designers did an exceptional job implementing key concepts to inform motorists and bicyclists of the situation at hand to improve user needs. It is also great to see cities are taking into account bicyclists needs when redesigning their infrastructure.

Bike Networks

As cities begin to design their infrastructure to accommodate motorists and cyclists they must design their roads for local cycling as well as bike routes on a network level so bikes can go anywhere and everywhere. Although the reconstruction of Museum Road and Forsythe Way have took tremendous strides forward to develop safe and friendly biking streets the design lacks treatments as both these roads meet Huntington Ave. because bikes do not have a place to ride along this road, so it acts as a barrier to destinations. The next step in bike lane design is to find a solution so bicyclists can ride comfortably on Huntington Ave. It should be noted that although these bike lanes also end as these streets meet Fenway, if they can cross the street safely, bicyclists can ride on one of the dual paths adjacent to the Back Bay Fens along Fenway. This dual path contributes to the idea of an effective bike network and should be taken into consideration as well as cycle tracks and bike lanes during the redesign of any new infrastructure within a city to meet user needs at the link level and network level.

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