Featured Transportation

City Won’t Fix Design and Construction Faults of North End Cycle Track

Now entering its third summer of construction, the North End cycle track continues to generate tremendous controversy among residents as it nears completion on Commercial Street and Atlantic Avenue. Locals cite increasing public safety concerns due to poor planning along with faulty design and execution. City officials have said they will not do any immediate rework other than to add new signs and increase enforcement.

Goodbye Brick Sidewalks by Cynthia Malm

Most recently, we have received a flurry of emails and photos related to poor sight lines around curves and driveways exacerbated by the narrowing of the vehicle lanes crowding traffic. Other complaints include the loss of resident street parking, inadequate drainage and the aesthetic loss from replacing the waterfront’s red brick sidewalks with concrete. [See Cycle Track to Remove Most Brick on Atlantic Avenue Sidewalks – March 2017] The concrete is already showing signs of wear and cracking in some places. Workers surmised some sidewalks may not have settled correctly when they were poured in cold weather and covered with unevenly heated tarps.

The inconsistent placement of curbs and intersection bump-outs have been identified as mistakes in either design or construction. At Union Wharf, Bill M. wrote the following comment to the city’s project manager regarding the installation of “bump-outs” on the wrong side:

“Quite incredibly, the City and its design consultants have installed “bump outs” on the right side of both the North and South exits of the Union Wharf lots (where ‘bump outs’ are not needed) and have failed to install “bump outs” on the left side of the exits so that a person departing either lot has a clear line of sight to oncoming traffic.”

Commercial Street has become an obstacle course for vehicles and pedestrians now that the cycle track has removed 10 feet+ from the street. Lanes are often blocked by delivery trucks, tour buses and yes, double parking. The stretch along the ball fields and the Charter Street intersection has been a series of “everyday near misses,” according to locals. Walkers trying to cross the street are confronted with a myriad of conflicting traffic signals, 2-way bike traffic and reduced sight lines.

Last year, workers revealed incorrect design measurements around the Charter Street intersection where large vehicles, such as trucks and tour buses, are having difficulty maneuvering in the narrowed lanes. It is possible that the three lanes will have to be reduced to two, one in each direction. Such a change would be down from four lanes before the painted bike lanes were initially installed a few years ago.

Repeated turnover of city project managers assigned to the larger Connect Historic Boston initiative has made the situation worse as the issues pile up. The current head, Kay Barned-Smith, described the complaints as “vociferous.” She says,

I do not have a history of the area, but the level of hostility is a bit bemusing as I am trying to have this addressed in a way that works for all stakeholders.

Union Wharf bump outs were incorrectly installed on the wrong side (NEWF photo)

Regarding the driveway bump-outs, the City has refused to correct the mistakes made in the curbing. Instead, it plans to add signage while increasing ticketing and towing of illegally parked vehicles on Commercial Street.

Barned-Smith says that a “detail design review is needed” but it will have to wait until after the current work is completed. It is not clear why changes are not being approved while the construction equipment is on-site. The Connect Historic Boston initiative was originally budgeted for $23 million of which $15 million is coming through a federal grant. It is possible that changes may have to be paid by the city itself.

Officials have said much of the cycle track will not be paved or completed until well after the Sail Boston “Tall Ships” event in late June. Although the streets will be partially open to vehicles, there will be no parking and limited access with security barriers installed along the waterfront.

See more articles on the North End cycle track.

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43 Replies to “City Won’t Fix Design and Construction Faults of North End Cycle Track

  1. Increased ticketed and towing of illegally parked vehicles- meaning commercial vehicles will continue to get a free pass and Btd will increase ticketing and towing of residents.

    They already can’t controll hanover st which is much shorter. How are they planning on controlling commercial st.

  2. Zero drainage when pulling into/out of Union Wharf and Sargent’s Wharf. Should be interesting come wintertime when that freezes. Let’s not forget with the narrowed site lines, you can’t see when pulling out. And if one of the giant tour trolleys is on Commercial Street, forget about it. Poorly designed and poorly executed. This is an accident waiting to happen.

  3. This has been a fiasco from the day they decided to go from 4 lanes to 3 on Atlantic/Commercial without ever consulting those most directly impacted, the residents of the North End! The only “stakeholders” who have been given any consideration throughout this terribly designed and executed project have been the handful of bicycle activists who may actually use the track and the ignorant City bureaucrats who rushed this through without sufficient community input. This cycletrack could have been constructed in conjunction with the completion of the waterfront HarborWalk in the North End, to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. Instead, this plan has been rushed through for no other reason than the clock was running out on the Federal funds earmarked for the larger, City-wide project. Poor planning from start to finish – what a disaster!

  4. With the construction ongoing, the trolley tour that picks up by Lewis Wharf has taken to parking IN the crosswalk on Commercial St. (in front of Starbucks/ATM). Hopefully this will not continue after the construction equipment is removed. Very unsafe.

  5. Who’s going to be held responsible when people get injured/killed on Commercial St because of the addition of the cycle lane? It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Every time I pull out of the garage onto Commercial St i take a deep breath and hope i don’t get slammed into. There is no way to see on coming traffic until you’re out onto the road… It wasn’t like this before the hip bike lane. That’s great that people are looking out for the bike riders (who scream at drivers all the time because they think the world revolves around them) but to take make a lane for the bikers that creates a more dangerous Commercial St for everyone that uses it (pedestrians, drivers, bikers etc), boggles my mind. I don’t even care about all the money that was spent on the project, I’m just very worried about people’s safety.

    1. How is pulling out of a driveway here any more “dangerous” than coming out of a driveway on say Bennington St in East Boston or Columbus Ave in Roxbury, both much faster roadways? A lot of the intersections on Commercial St have setbacks so you can see the cyclists on the track before turning. There are rarely considerations for sight lines when pulling out of a driveway on standard streets.

      While the cycle track is causing some of these issues to have more of an impact, it sounds like the cause of these problems is actually speeding and double parking. The City has said that enforcement will need to be more aggressive to combat that. People will just have to get used to the new arrangement. I really do believe that judgement should wait until the project is complete. Time will tell if it is a success.

      1. I can tell you…I pull out of the Battery Wharf garage onto Commercial St several times a week. Because of the bike lane, my view is horribly obstructed as to oncoming traffic. It’s much more dangerous than it was previously. Just go down and look for yourself. Because cars are now parked further into the middle of Commercial St., pulling out is a crap shoot.

        Also, you now have to worry about bikes coming BOTH ways first…and then ease your way out…and then, hopefully you can see enough to actually pull out safely.

        I get that the mayor, et al wants to create more room for bikes. We should be trying to accommodate them and make it safer. But not at the expense and safety of motorists and pedestrians. I agree with what was written above. This was forced down the neighborhood’s throat to beat the federal funds deadline.

          1. Because I drive a car I speed? Keep riding your bicycle. We’ll rework all the streets, eliminate parking and put pedestrians and kids at risk in the process. All so you can wear your speedo outfit and feel like your climbing the French Alps. While you’re at it, continue to take your dog to the park and not pick up it’s mess. We see you.

            1. Because I ride a bike wear a speedo? Try again, I wear cut-off jeans chief.

              You drive a car buddy, you people put children and pedestrians at more risk than I ever will on a bike. Keep the blood pressure up, we see you as we glide on by while you sit in traffic.

      2. What about kids? Hate to inform people, but they rarely walk, or ride, in a straight line. It’s only a matter of time before some Lance Armstrong wanna be nails one of them. What’s going to be said when that happens, because it will.

        The sidewalk used to protect against that happening.

        1. “It’s only a matter of time before some Lance Armstrong wanna be nails one of them.”

          Meanwhile the Mario Andretti wanna bes are already hitting pedestrians at an alarming increase from previous years. What are you saying about that?

          1. Welcome to 1912. Also, this newfangled “electricity” thing will kill even more people than those devil cars, I’ll tell you.

            Bicycles. And top hats. Don’t forget the top hats. Once the unwashed masses discarded top hats it all went to hell in a handbasket.

      3. The issue with pulling out of the lots and garages isn’t with the bikes in the bike lane, the issue is with not being able to see the oncoming traffic.

        1. “The issue with pulling out of the lots and garages isn’t with the bikes in the bike lane, the issue is with not being able to see the oncoming traffic.

          Again, incorrect. Before the bike lane, cars had a lot more clearance when pulling out from that particular lot onto Commercial St. I’m thinking those who don’t agree simply have never tried to pull out onto Commercial St from the bike lane side of the street. Are people still trying to convince us that Commercial St wasn’t narrowed for cars when the bike lane was created? Because I would suggest those who think so take a remedial math class.

          1. Gary, yes, I have tried to pull out onto Commercial Street from the bike lane side of the street. The bump outs near the lots and driveways have pushed the parked cars further out so that you practically have to be into the oncoming traffic before you see it. Even you admitted as much in your previous post (unless there is a different Gary F that posted) that, “Because of the bike lane, my view is horribly obstructed as to oncoming traffic. It’s much more dangerous than it was previously. Just go down and look for yourself. Because cars are now parked further into the middle of Commercial St., pulling out is a crap shoot.”

  6. What can we do to get some response in these issues? Commercials street all the way around the Notth End is very dangerous. No enforcement against double parkers and tour buses (now dropping off and loading at Coast Guard Station) have made the situation worse, not better. Traffic has gotten substantially worse, as well. We need help here!

    1. We have been to hell & back. The City only cares about Money, not existing Residents & they have proven this
      over & over again. Why? When was the last time anyone protested outside of City Hall? People get away
      with only what you allow them to get away with. It is as simple as that.

      1. “When was the last time anyone protested outside of City Hall?”

        There was literally a bike demonstration on Wednesday at City Hall for a hearing on BTD funding for cycling projects. Don’t like? Get organized.

        “People get away with only what you allow them to get away with.”

        I agree, just look at the way people drive around here and the lack of enforcement from the police. This of course includes cyclists too but the overwhelming majority of violators are cars.

  7. Interestingly, I have two main concerns with the cycle track – neither of which overlap with Matt’s design and construction faults:

    1. Where bicyclists used to have the clear right-of-way over traffic entering and exiting commercial street – just as cars do, the cycle track introduces a dozen or more new conflict zones where cars must cross over the track before pulling out onto or exiting commercial street.
    2. It’s not clear to pedestrians that the cycle track is intended for cyclists. For most of the completed sections, it even feels awkward as a pedestrian to /not/ walk on the track due to the width of the sidewalk and the location of trees.

    I’ll continue to take a lane of traffic when I must bike on commercial street. But due to the remaining double lanes northbound, that can be a very dicey ride as cars routinely travel in excess of 40 miles-per-hour – especially on the straightaways between Hanover/Charter Streets and Lewis/Battery. I much prefer to travel on the interior roads if I have to get from one side of the neighborhood to the other.

    I would much prefer giving the new cycle track space over to pedestrians exclusively and removing the extra northbound travel lane entirely. That would make the entire stretch much more comfortable and safer for all users.

  8. Do cyclists even use the track? All I ever see are oblivious pedestrians ambling along, blocking theoretical cyclists’ way.

    Double-parking is particularly problematic on the eastbound side, given the single lane of motor vehicle travel in that direction. An enormous new “bump-out” has taken the place of an illegal but nevertheless frequently used parking space in front of Waterfront Cafe/Rocco’s Cucina. Drivers (patrons?) continue to park there daily, but now leave their vehicles either jutting out into the single lane (when following the bump-out’s curb line) or directly atop the sidewalk (when ignoring its existence). Where is the enforcement?

    Why has this construction spanned three years, with no end in sight? The track is only six tenths of a mile long!

    Why are the yellow composite tactile strips newly embedded in sidewalk handicap ramps already cracked and coming loose after one winter?

    1. One reason cyclists aren’t using it: It’s not finished yet! There are parts of it that are not completed and not rideable yet, and since there are no bike lanes on the street anymore, most bicyclists are staying away. Once it’s done, I’m sure we’ll see many people using it.

  9. lol I like how double parking is now a HUGE concern since it blocks a car lane. It apparently wasn’t a concern when it affected the bike lane. Also, no one should be counting bikes until the project is open. With the ends still under construction, only a few people will find a use for the track. There are some design issues, but the project isn’t done yet. You can’t decide whether the project was successful or not until it is done and open.

    1. Double-parking, while not ideal, is a reality of city living. But when there were four lanes (and later, three motor vehicle lanes plus one painted cycle lane), it was possible to go around a double-parked vehicle without crossing the centerline into oncoming traffic. On the eastbound side, that’s no longer possible.

      1. Mark,
        I’m sorry, but double-parking is no more acceptable to city living than any other form of illegal parking or running red lights! The double parking issue was raised at more than one of the public meetings for this project, and the City’s response was that they would look into providing much needed loading zones along the Atlantic/Commercial corridor. This request was obviously ignored along with all of the other resdient concerns relating to the cycletrack.

    2. Before the ridiculous buke track there was enough room to go around a double parked car. Now with the single lane if a car is doible parked you have no choice but to go into oncoming traffic to get around it. Even the double lanes are extremely tight with most cars taking two lanes.

  10. I live across from part of the cycle track. I agree it is new and under utilized by bikers but definitely currently used as far as I see by more walkers/runners from my daily direct observation. I also see bikers still using the single non water side street lane (granted not many). Commercial Street has definitely become a narrowed perilous roadway. When softball season opens where many double park along with double parking for funerals (not a daily occurrence) both narrowing Commercial street to two lanes there is an accident waiting to happen and for what? The track does not create a commuter bike way that makes sense. Was not the original “Connect Historic Boston” idea for tourists to bike to see different sites? (Are they still making Joy Strret a connector way???? as shown on their plan?) Also thought according to their map/diagram bikes were to go off road at Steriti Rink follow harbor walk under Charlestown bridge and out back onto Causeway St via Converse Lovejoy Wharf walkway. But so long ago maybe I have forgotten their original proposal. I now see the bike lane is continued on Commercial Street. Today there were 3 tour buses in front of skating rink (thought tour bus parking was relocated?) plus school buses and crossing guard. Safety of students is paramount and this last part of Commercial Street looks like it too is being narrowed. In the meantime our mail delivery people along with FedEx, UPS, Peapod etc. all struggle to figure out where to park to make deliveries for all of us. Many use the space by fire hydrants now as do I to unload groceries. One can argue about the legality of double parking to load and unload but it was doable without creating a major obstacle for auto and bike traffic when Commercial
    street was 4 traffic lanes.
    BTW I ride a bike in Boston and if someone is double parked I stop until auto traffic is clear and I can safely pull out into the open lane to pass the double parked vehicle.

  11. It’s important to note that there’s debate in the larger transportation engineering/ design community about sight-lines. Often the better the sight-line, the faster people drive and the more dangerous it is. In fact you’ll hear designers say, if it looks dangerous it probably isn’t and if it looks safe, it’s probably dangerous. In general if people go slower, it’s safer, so any design choices that accomplish this are safer.

    Clearly the cycle track is controversial, but the fair thing to do is to wait for it to be finished before evaluating things like are people using it and is it safe. It’s like going into a house under construction ans saying the bathrooms don’t work. Now if there are specific variations from the design this is a real problem. If the contractors fault they should fix it.

  12. It is amazing with all the infrastructure issues Boston is suffering from how much has been spent on this frivolous project that servers the very small minority that rides bicycles. Public safety, traffic and the extra pollution traffic congestion creates were never taken in consideration. Over $25 million dollars spent plus the added yearly maintenance cost promoted as an urban improvement run by hacks. There are several intersections where a wide main artery to our community has been reduce to narrow one lane street that can only accommodate small vehicles. Regardless of point of view our infrastructure is under siege, it is obvious that those who manage our city are oblivious to proper infrastructure planning and have no regards in how it affects our neighborhoods. During rush hour traffic the North End is trapped in a belt of traffic that makes access to our neighborhood nearly impossible.
    Bicycle lanes, the false sense of security they provide and the added emboldened attitude and rage of cyclists, are responsible for a long list of accidents including deaths. In addition the increasing demands from riders (about 2% of the population) for more protected bicycle lanes will most decently contribute to this problem and with the consent of our misguided liberal leaders is sure to make this matter worse.

  13. I so agree with the last post. And to bore readers again. The addition of the concrete side walks and elimination of the bricks. Wrong wrong. Looks like some unappealing suburb in no there there land. Very sad

  14. Cars are double parking on 1 way Streets, like Prince St. I never saw this in all the years I lived here.

    I don’t mean jumping on the sidewalks, They double park on Prince & the Traffic has to squeeze by the
    cars. Insanity. Where are the cops? I have also seen cars parked on the sidewalk & the remainder
    of the car is on the Street. Why? They got away with it. People drive up & down Margaret St., Layfette Ave. &
    Foster St. like they are major highways. There is no regard for Trash Days, people are still putting Trash out
    whenever they feel like it. The City is obviously, not doing what they are suppose to do. This is nothing new,
    it has been going on for far too many years. Strength is in Numbers. The Wheel that squeaks the loudest gets
    the grease & the Neighborhood that protests outside City Hall with all kinds of Reporters way also get some
    of that grease. My opinion & I am not changing it.

  15. Simply put – a terrible idea!!!!

    And if we think enforcement is going to stop the double parking then we are sorely mistaken. I have yet to see a single car with a ticket on a double parked car on commercial street. The City would need to “patrol” commercial street regularly and we all know that’s not going to happen.

    Won’t be long before someone is seriously injured due to this project.

    1. Steven, it is Not a terrible idea if it works. No protests No correcting any issues. You are right about a patrol
      on Commercial St. The Police stayed far away from Commercial St. when the No. End Park & Bocce Court
      were flocked with teenagers from God knows where, drinking & drugging. It was like an invasion, this is
      a major hangout all summer long for any kid that comes in the neighborhood. I believe there is always a
      solution, we are lacking in enforcement & nobody up City Hall seems to care. The casino in Everett is
      really going to ad to our problems. It someone should get seriously injured due to this project, they may
      correct it, but if there is Big Money involved, there might be no correction at all.

      1. Joan, it’s a bad idea because it doesn’t work. The bike lane before this project worked just fine. You will see and hear about the accidents this will cause over the next several months…. pedestrian and cyclist alike. This street is already too busy with pedestrians, parking lots, businesses, parks and residences that it’s only a matter of time.

        Oh, by the way, did you catch the segway tours utilizing the track??? I did. Just another obstacle to go around

        I stand by my comment/opinion But I respect your opinion.

  16. ‘Where are the cops’? is a good question. I’ve posted about this issue before, specifically regarding the two recent robberies. As a community, we pay a lot in property taxes and drive a lot of economic activity. I cannot understand why there are not two cops in and around the North End 24/7 to enforce parking, track suspects, etc.

    As for the bike track, I hope the final plan/result comes together because in my opinion it gives “The (proposed and canceled) Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska a run for its money. Aside from purchasing a rickshaw or goofy Segway, I’ve no use for it. My building does nothing to accomodate bike ownership so its not likely I will embrace the mode of transportation. Maybe that will change someday, but in my building leaving an umbrella outside your door leads to an obnoxious letter from our “management” company.

  17. The bike lane was planned, designed, being constructed, and managed by the city with people that suffer from rectal cranial inversion. The bike lane construction has resulted an increase in illegal double parking, sight line safety concerns, speeding and angry North-enders with numerous concerns tyrannized by the bike riding minority. Since Mayor Walsh, the Public Works Department, Boston Police and Historic Boston have turned a deaf ear to concerns of the residents of the North end we should replace them with our ballots.

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