Thursday, April 22, 2010

Two Way Cycle Track – North Side of Concord Ave. Between Alewife Brook Parkway and Birch Street, Cambridge

Submitted by Joe Ellis

The city of Cambridge has built a two way cycle track between Fresh Pond Shopping Center and Birch Street on the north side of Concord Avenue. It is assumed (not knowing the true intentions of the designer) that the bike path was implemented to provide a route for cyclists which connect the mixed use path on Alewife Brook Parkway to the residents in the neighborhoods off Concord Ave.

The north-south arterial, Alewife Brook Parkway, is a destination for cyclist and pedestrians because it provides access to Fresh Pond Shopping Center, Fotra Apartment Buildings, and the Alewife T Station. Alewife Brook Parkway provided a wide mixed use path which is frequently shared by cyclists and pedestrians. However at the southern end of Alewife Brook Parkway the mixed use path terminates at Fresh Pond Shopping Center. At this located it was decided to transition from the mixed use path to a two way cycle track which travels east along the North side of Concord Ave. and terminates before Birch Street.It is believed that intent of the two way cycle track, instead of continuing the mixed use path, was to provide a better separation between pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles in this area. This area along the North side of Concord Ave. is home to a number of busy business including Dunkin Donuts, Best Western, and Ma Magoo’s Pizza. This heavily traveled area required that all modes of transit be separated to reduce the risk of crashes.

There are aspects of the treatment which can be considered successful however there are features of the treatment which seem to be a failure. The town was very successful with the signage and pavement markings along the cycle track. They use a few different pavement markings successfully to inform all modes of transit where they should be and who has the right of way. Bike symbols with arrows tell riders which lane they belong in and discourage pedestrians from walking in the bike lanes. Also the bike area is further delineated from the pedestrian area by using hot mixed asphalt for the cyclists and concrete for the pedestrians.

Every driveway along this route has two bike symbols painted in the bike lanes on the driveway to inform the drivers further that the right of way belongs to the cyclists in this area.

The cycle track uses pavement markings with the word “STOP” along with a small stop sign and cobble stone stop line to successfully inform cyclists that they need to come to a complete stop and give priority to vehicles or pedestrians.There are however a few locations where the cycle track fails and should be looked at for possible alternatives. The first location is the transition from the mixed use path to the two way cycle track. The transition is made through a drive way and makes the area very confusing for all modes.

The next area where improvements could be made is at the intersection of New Street and Concord Ave. Prior to this intersection the cycle tracks come to a stop with stop signs and cobble stop lines. The designer was limited to space in this area so they couldn’t accommodate bikes and peds at the same time but they do not inform users what to do at this intersection.

And finally the termination of the cycle track just west of Birch Street is extremely abrupt. Both directions of the two way cycle track terminate at this location and encourage cyclist to continue down Concord Ave using same sidewalk designed only for pedestrians. Overall the two way cycle track was a great idea to provide a safe path for residents or the area to access the mixed use path on Alewife Brook Parkway. Many of aspects of the treatment made traveling in this area safer for all users. It seems however little thought was put into the transitions at the beginning and end of the track which significantly hurts the function of the route. If small improvements were made to this area it could be use as a template that other towns to use because overall it is a great design and provides a safe route for all users.


  1. Good observation of the treatments to improve safety at crossings, and of the poor design at the eastern end of the path (maybe the City intends to continue the path?).

    Is the Stop sign for cyclists at the New Street junction appropriate? Don't they have the right of way?

    It's not clear what the problem is at the transition from shared use path to cycle track.

    The analysis fails to mention that one major reason for a 2-way cycle track is that the alternative (bike lanes or 1-way cycle track) would require cyclists to go around 2 very busy roundabouts and make several difficult crossings. Whatever safety weaknesses the design may have, they pale compared to the alternative.

  2. Thanks for your writeup. The details you provided are very helpful.