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How we're using separated bike lanes in winter

February 8, 2017


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As we install separated bike lanes in Boston, we are testing new approaches for snow removal.

We've learned a lot throughout the Go Boston 2030 planning process and other project-specific discussions. The people of Boston have clearly indicated their preference for low-stress bicycle routes, and for bike lanes that are physically separated from moving and parked vehicles. In 2016, the City of Boston:

  • installed new separated bike lanes on portions of Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street in the Back Bay
  • opened a two-way cycle track on Staniford Street in the West End, and
  • added flex posts to an existing buffered bike lane on Congress Street in Downtown.

These projects are among the City’s first steps in creating a connected network of low-stress bicycle facilities. They give us the opportunity to test new approaches for maintenance and snow removal.

What we’ve tried so far

On Massachusetts Ave:
  • We placed the flex posts on the outer (traffic side) edge of the buffer zone to provide room for standard snow equipment to clear the bike lanes during small snow events.
  • We added flex posts within some intersections to slow turning vehicles and give bicyclists a place to wait where they care more visible to drivers.
  • We added flex posts within hatched-out “daylighting” areas to physically restrict people from parking too close to the intersection, with the aim of improving visibility for everyone.
  • We used surface-mounted flex posts, which sit atop the asphalt and are connected by several long screws. This type is easiest to install.
  • We’ve used standard plows so far this year.
on Beacon St:
  • We placed the flexible delineator posts in the middle of the buffer area to minimize potential impacts from people backing in and out of parking spots.
  • We mounted the base of the flex posts below the surface of the asphalt, to understand the impacts on the roadway and whether removal and replacement would be easier.
  • We added some flex posts in hatched-out areas after the intersection with Massachusetts Ave. These posts are intended to help direct a wider turn onto Beacon St from Mass Ave and enforce the right-turn only lane from Beacon St -- both helping drivers void pulling in behind the parked cars.
  • We added some flex posts in the hatched-out area before the intersection with Charlesgate East. These flex posts help improve drivers’ ability to see people on bikes to their right.
On Staniford St:
  • We designed and built a two-way bike facility on one side of Staniford St. Because it is two-way, this bike facility is about twice as wide as a standard bike lane.
  • We built Staniford St with curbs to separate the bike facilities from the other travel lanes, which is a more permanent separation.
  • We have tested snow plowing equipment on this route, as well as new techniques to prevent ice, ahead of this year’s official opening of the Connect Historic Boston project.

What we’ve learned

Flex posts that are mounted too close to the travel lane don’t survive the winter. They’re too easily hit by passing snow plows and other vehicles.

When flex posts are spaced too far apart at the beginning of a block, drivers aren’t sure where to drive. They sometimes drive down the bike lane or get confused and wait behind parked vehicles, despite pavement markings and informational signs.

Aligning flex posts with meter locations helps drivers park correctly. Pavement markings (“T”s and “L”s) help reinforce where to park.

What's next

  • We have ordered new, smaller snow plowing equipment to fit between the curb and flex posts and within the dimensions of our curb-protected bike facilities, such as Staniford St.
  • We will evaluate how and when to treat bike facilities ahead of snow events to best prevent ice.
  • Where we have a buffer zone, we will install flex posts more towards the middle of the buffer area — and further from passing or parked vehicles. This will help prevent plows from hitting them.
  • We will consider removing flex posts in advance of snow emergencies. During snow emergencies, parking is banned. By clearing the entire roadway, from curb to curb, we can more effectively remove snow by using our standard (and larger) equipment.
  • We will explore installing more flex posts with bases that are cored into the asphalt, which may make replacement (and removal, if necessary) easier for our teams.
  • We will continue to educate Bostonians and visitors about new street designs and the rules of the road.