Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington Center

John Allen


For this month’s Safety Corner, I take a look at the gap in the Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington Center. The bikeway uses the route of the old Bedford commuter rail line, which was abandoned in 1981. It ran diagonally across the two main streets in the center of Arlington. 17 years of planning and political work led by Arlington Town Planner Alan McClennen got the trail designed, funded and constructed. But no trail connection was made through Arlington Center.

Until 2017, bicyclists had two options: to ride on streets or sidewalks. Bicyclists were supposed to follow rules for pedestrians or for drivers, one or the other. Many bicyclists using the trail were and are casual bicyclists and children. The sidewalk route was inconvenient and slow, as it required crossing two sides of an intersection using pedestrian signals. The best route through the intersection for bicyclists riding in the street was not at all obvious. Most westbound bicyclists rode to the right of motor vehicles waiting to turn right. Quite a bit of chaos ensued.

In 2017, changes were made to accommodate bicycle traffic. The video embedded below shows my rides westbound through this intersection in 2013 following driving rules and in 2017 following the designated route for bicyclists.


As the video shows, I chose my route in 2013 to avoid right-hook risks. In 2017, the right-hook risk was intended to be avoided through separate traffic-signal phases for right-turning motor vehicles and for bicyclists in a bike lane. Questions for today:

  • What would you do along this route to avoid being “doored”?
  • Would you trust motorists to wait before turning right across your line of travel?
  • How would you forestall a potential right hook collision if you are headed to the far right corner of the intersection to continue on the bikeway?
  • What lane position would you take if continuing straight on Massachusetts Avenue, to avoid the squeeze experienced by another bicyclist in the 2017 video clip?
  • In choosing a route to avoid the risks I’ve mentioned, what other risks might you incur? Are they significant? How could you forestall them?
  • Does legality conflict with safety in any of these choices? (Note: it is legal for a bicyclist to use any lane, and to control it, riding in its center, if passing is unsafe. However, it is legal only to turn right from a right-turn lane.)
  • Are any of the applicable laws wrong, and if so, why?
  • Do you disagree with anything I do in the video, and if so, why?

I’ll address these questions in next month’s Safety Corner, which will also show routes in the opposite direction through the same intersection.

And to finish, I’d like to repeat a suggestion I made in the January Safety Corner. It relates directly to the questions which I have just asked. How about spending a couple of hours prepping yourself the cycling season? You or a friend might sign up for the free online CyclingSavvy Essentials Short Course. If you take this material to heart, you will know how to avoid conflict situations like the ones I describe in the video.

You might go further and consider a session where the rubber actually hits the road. There’s one in Waltham in mid-May. It covers all the issues raised in this article, and much more. Check out https://cyclingsavvy.org/events/.