I should be doing reading right now for Fred’s class, so forgive me, Fred, if my response this week is a little thin, but it’s time to talk about fixing Massachusetts Avenue.
Mass Ave is the north-south thoroughfare for Boston and Cambridge. It may not have as many cars as some other roads, but with the Red Line, and cyclists, and especially tens of thousands (perhaps more than 100,000) bus passengers along much of it, it is the main drag. It connects Harvard, MIT, Berklee, Symphony Hall and Boston Medical Center and comes within a stone’s throw of the MFA, the BPL, BU and Northeastern. It doesn’t touch downtown Boston, but does touch some of the most important innovation, education and medical centers in the state, if not the world.
The level of human capital along Mass Ave may be unmatched by any single four-mile stretch of roadway in the world. Yet we accept a dangerous road choked with single-occupancy vehicles blocking transit vehicles and endangering the lives of everyone else. This must change.
In the last five years, there have three cycling fatalities on the street that I can think of off my head: One at Beacon, one at Vassar and the most recent one in Porter Square. All have involved large commercial vehicles. These have not been daredevil bike messenger types: they’ve been doctors, researchers, and engineers; the “second order” of cyclists: the people who are biking because there are better facilities and because there are more cyclists.
But the facilities we have are disconnected, and they are not good enough. There have been innumerable close calls. Buses transporting thousands cut in and out of stops across the bus lane because god forbid we would remove parking to build floating bus stops or separated lanes. The road was designed, mostly in the 1940s to 1960s, for throughput and parking, even though people in cars are the minority of users of the corridor.
It’s high time for that to change.
This page (and its author) has spent a lot of time discussing Mass Ave and advocating strategies to make it a complete street, one built for safety of all users first, and then built for transit, bicycling and pedestrians before people in cars. (Deliveries are important, too; we should build loading zones where commercial vehicles can safely load and unload without impeding traffic.) It is time to stop talking about what we could do and start talking about what we will do. In many cases in Boston and Cambridge, street real estate makes such implementation quite hard: we’re an old city with very narrow streets. But not on Mass Ave. In most cases, there’s plenty of room to build something better. Parking on both sides: medians (I’m looking at you, highway north of Harvard Square), multiple lanes catering to people in cars at the expense of everyone else.
Mass Ave connects many some of the great institutions of the world. Technology? MIT and Kendall Square. Law, arts, sciences? Harvard. Contemporary Music? Berklee. Classical Music? Symphony Hall. Cities? Boston and Cambridge. Yet these institutions are linked by a thoroughly mediocre street, one which wouldn’t pass muster in many of the world’s great cities.
Here’s what I have so far. Let’s talk about this further. Let’s meet and talk about the plusses and the minuses. Let’s not leave anyone out, but let’s remember that it’s 2016, not 1966, and we’re planning for a sustainable, mobile future, not one where everyone sits in a traffic jam:
So here’s my call to politicians and citizens: let’s make that change. Let’s rebuild a Mass Ave that works for everyone, not just people in cars. Let’s create a street that says: “yes, this is a place I want to be, and a place I want to go.” Let’s #FixMassAve.
Now, back to my reading.