The Saga Continues…

February 8th, 2010

On Friday of last week, I sent this email to Cara Seiderman (cseiderman@cambridgema.gov), Nicole Freedman (Nicole.Freedman.bra@cityofboston.gov) and the nameless entity at Traffic@somervillema.gov. It has yet to be acknowledged at all, but I do have hope, since I have had contact with Cara and Nicole in the past.

The email:

Hello Nicole, Cara,
and whom it concerns in the Somerville traffic department,

Nicole and Cara, we’ve spoken in the past, and I thank you for following up with me about the development of the Harvard Ave. bike lane and the problems with taxi parking in Harvard Square. I thank my lucky stars for every inch of bike lane I have the privilege to use on my commute to and from work every day. I have cc’d you both, as well as the Somerville traffic department, on the following issues because the more I explore the problem, the more accounts of abuse I hear reported in all parts of the greater Boston area. I started out concerned with one particular intersection, but the problem may be much much larger than that.

The issue I have for you today is a difficult one, because it involves the MBTA, who I’m told are not in any way influenced by either the Boston administration or the jurisdiction of the local police. I’ve been told this on the phone by government officials and police officers. Regardless of these statements, I’m really hoping you can help me with this, because it doesn’t seem like I’m getting anywhere in terms of rectifying the situation in my talks with the MBTA, the police, or the people of these cities.

On January 29th, 2010 I had an incident involving an MBTA Route 66 Bus headed West on Cambridge Street at Harvard Ave. in Allston. I had come to a stop at a red light on Franklin, facing the northern entrance of Harvard Ave., and was waiting to proceed. As I was waiting, Route 66 Bus #0721 stopped to my left to let passengers off at the Cambridge/Franklin stop. I watched the Cambridge Street light turn yellow, then red, and then stood on my pedals to prepare for my own signal. As my signal changed and my foot came down on my front pedal, the bus, which I had been ignoring since it was stopped completely at a red light, cycled up and roared through the intersection causing me to slam on my brakes and dodge. It had gone from a complete stop to proceeding through a red light.

I contacted the MBTA about this. I left a complaint on the line and received a form email in response. I’m sure you’re familiar with these.

I then sent an email to the Superintendent of Cabot Garage.
I received an email back on February 2nd:

Gabrielle Collins,

Thank you for your e-mail concerning the route 66.  I apologize for reckless driving exhibited by one of our employees. MBTA Bus operators must complete a comprehensive Defensive Drivers Course prior to being certified to operate an MBTA vehicle in passenger service. This operator has been identified and will be re-instructed on her duties and responsibilities as a professional driver. Any further violations of the MBTA’s Rules and Policies will subject her to more severe progressive discipline up to and including recommendation for discharge. Additionally, I have forwarded your correspondence to the Instruction Department in order for them to include the intersection of Cambridge Street and Harvard Avenue in the Safety Related Compliance Program. This intersection will be monitored by Safety and Instruction personnel to ensure all traffic rules are strictly followed. Again, I apologize for your unpleasant experience with the MBTA.

Sincerely,

John J. Houghton

Superintendent

Cabot Garage

I found this to be at least somewhat reassuring. Unfortunately, not three hours later on my ride home I had an even more ominous experience. I’ll let my email to John Houghton sum it up.

John Houghton,

February 3rd, 2010

Yesterday, not three hours after I’d received my response from you regarding the bus that nearly hit me on Monday, I was again waiting at a red light on Harvard Avenue to cross Cambridge Street. As the light for Cambridge Street became yellow I put my foot on my pedal, and made ready to move. As  I watched the light turn red, my body exhibiting the intent to scoot out into the intersection at a moment’s notice, I became aware of a growing roar from my left, west on Cambridge Street. And then a sharp honk. Route 66 Bus #2294 (or 2293, it was going over 30 MPH so it was difficult to catch the number) not only roared through the intersection against a red light, but gave me warning that it had ABSOLUTELY NO INTENTION OF SLOWING OR STOPPING.

I realized after this that the drivers of Route 66 deserve not just our disdain and our everlasting disappointment, but also our FEAR. The drivers of these buses are blatantly neglecting the safety of the citizens of the Boston area, and breaking the trust that we put in them to hold our lives in their hands every day, whether we are their passengers or merely sharing the roads with them.  I am disgusted by this neglectful behavior, having witnessed it daily for over a year on my route to work; having been hit by an MBTA bus while on my bicycle and then told by the driver that she was in no way required to provide me her information; having watched the them proceed through intersections against the traffic signals; having watched buses stop in the middle of the lane the entire length of their route to meet passengers, even though it is policy that they pull into each stop completely so traffic can get by. The list of their transgressions goes on and on. I have written to the local newspapers and the Governer about this latest infraction, and I expect some type of response from yourself and the MBTA at large, in terms of punishment for this action and prevention – form letter will not be good enough this time. I call for the bus driver who ran that red light yesterday at 5:10PM on Route 66, number 2294 or 2293, to be removed from service completely. To run a red light at speeds of 30 MPH and give warning shows premeditated disregard for traffic law, and a comfort with such acts that cannot be tolerated.

I have so far received no response.

My blog about these events was picked up by the local Blog and broadcast to many Bostonians. You can read their horrifying responses at UniversalHub, like this gem:

Don’t blame the drivers for doing their jobs and getting us home. Blame the state for not giving them technology found in most cities, a simple transponder that holds the green a couple of extra seconds so the bus doesn’t have to run the red.

So not only is it common knowledge in Massachusetts that MBTA vehicles are not subject to traffic laws, and run red lights and commit other various traffic violations without repercussion, but apparently there is the pervasive sentiment of apathy, sometimes even approval! As one who was almost killed not two weeks ago in the very same spot where Kelly Wallace died in 2007 under similar circumstances, I DO care, very much. As I said in my second email to John Houghton, I have also been hit by an MBTA bus, and then the driver refused to open the door, let alone stop the bus and exchange information. If I had ended up underneath the wheels of that bus, would anyone have known how neglectful the driver had been? Would I just be another ghost bike, locked to the pole by the Cambridge/Franklin stop until it became so rusted as to be a disgrace to my memory, and then subsequently removed?

Ultimately my question is this: Can you help us do something about this?
Thank you for your time and concern,

[Grimlocke]

If you are as concerned as I am about this issue, please take the time to reiterate this call to action. Thanks for your support, everyone!

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5 Responses to “The Saga Continues…”

  1. oldroads Says:

    Grimmm, I’m glad you’re quick and smart and OK.
    The Somerville Traffic Dept and their Parking Dept all totally suck. While looking for a retail space for expansion we’ve ruled out that city, I have a stack of pedantic, BS parking tickets which would cover half a month’s rent to show why. Their people who ran a recent bicycle auction were great, but when you deal with anything beyond that, they’re too busy.

  2. cyclostat Says:

    I remember seeing Kelly’s ghost bike on the corner, and I’ve seen the 66 run that red light before. It seems likely to me that this red-light-running is systematic, and not the exception in any way. You’re most likely going to keep getting stock apology letters from the MBTA, and the local government officials.

    The problem seems like it is 1 part bus driver and 1 part time restriction for the 66 bus (which is never on time…somehow). No one is going to get these drivers to stop running that red unless you make it easier for them to be on time. It’ll be unlikely that the drivers will just instantly change their ways, unless the MBTA finds a solution that allows them to get through their route without running a red.

    The best solution to this would be (as the commenter suggested) one of those green-light transponders, or a committed bus lane.

    To that end, I say that the best thing to do is to hang out with a flip cam and get some footage of this repeated violation. Then use said footage to shame the MBTA to upgrade, and maybe invest in the local T, rather than the commuter rail (for once).

  3. grimlocke Says:

    Vin! Great to hear from you! If you’ll notice, I have a pic of lovely Calypso on my bio page (that’s the Phillips I got from you), and she’s still going strong! It’s funny, one of the main reasons I became a Bike Kid is the horrible parking situation in Somerville. I will not be stopped, however. I am definitely taking Cyclostat and other’s advice and bringing a video cam into this fight. If I have to keep this up until I finally fly the wintery clutch of New England for warmer pastures, I damn well will! By the way, your twitter feed is HILARIOUS! But I think your website feed for it is bork D: You are so followed!

  4. 100psi Says:

    its unfortunate that you are dealing with a government runaround. its seems safety and traffic enforcement is always some “other” departments responsibility.

    are there options to ride an alternative route and bypass this intersection? i know that part of allston is cut in half by the pike and train tracks, but going a bit out of your way could greatly reduce your chances of an accident.

    i no longer ride on beacon st. btw coolidge corner and wash. sq. during rush hour for safety reasons. its like a goddamn drag strip.

    oh, how i wish boston/brookline/cambrige were mapped out grid style like so many other cities in the world. then we wouldn’t be forced to take the busiest roads to get anywhere.

  5. Danimal Says:

    I’m going to post urging people to push the Acting Directory of somerville’s Parking and Traffic to respond. Expect a ping back.

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