Boston Arriving, One Bike Lane at a Time

October 15th, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

alhi.jpg As is my wont, I went to the annual Moving Together Conference. I’ll post some lore learned and some observations.

The first useful snippet came from Boston’s director of bicycle programs, Nicole Freedman, a.k.a. bike czar. She shared a session with Cara Seiderman, her Cambridge counterpart. There will be more on their show later, but the first thing to note is that Seiderman is the pro and we are the farm team. Freedman is working to change that.

Cambridge in an order of magnitude ahead of Boston in bike accommodation. We are still largely in the hatin’-them-Spandex-dudes cliché class. This is despite Mayor Tom Menino’s relatively new rotary joy.

Cambridge has bike lanes seemingly everywhere. They treat cyclists with respect and responsibility. Hell, they even ticket bike guys who run stop signs.

Freedman, the former Olympic and world champion biker, is, if nothing else, competitive. She wants us up and out quickly, chasing Seiderman’s rear wheel.

The former failed, fired bike czar, Doug Mink, was there as usual too. Freedman notes with affection and respect that he developed the major cycling plan she uses. Through circumstances and personalities downtown, he just didn’t get a chance to implement it. His office was dissolved; he was robbed.

She can point to many quick successes, maybe because we started from zero. That was zero bike lanes, almost no public bike racks and on and on. It’s facilities that encourage cycling and we didn’t have any.

nicolef.jpgFreedman is a perky and jolly sort. She notes with glee that she can and does plagiarize freely. Cities like Cambridge, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle have done what we need to. She’ll take the best and avoid their stumbles.

Here, I’ll point to bike lanes. They make cycling more desirable. Cyclists ride the direct routes, which generally means the main thoroughfares and not the buckled and often slow and few paths. She’s trying to use efficiency, common sense, and cheapness, while obeying the laws.

As noted in some of the earlier years’ postings on this conference, when a road gets rehabbed or even re-striped, it has to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists unless that is wildly impractical (like stone walls in the country). That’s required to get the state and federal highway funds. Freeeman is doing her damnedest to make sure that really happens and cycling considerations don’t get waivered out.

An example of her what’s-possible and low-hanging fruit is bike paths. A few major avenues, primarily around the central fist of the city and near universities, have already gotten them. Another is in the shot above, American Legion Highway in Roslindale.

This two-plus-mile stretch of the pretty straight thoroughfare is known as a death highway in my parts of JP. There are quite a few pathetic carnival-class plush animals in colors that have never appeared in nature. Tied to phone or light posts, these memorial artifacts mark where some late night or early morning drunken or drugged up driver raced down the road before careering into a tree or median.

It has four broad lanes with trees in the middle and on each curb. Now it suddenly has a bike lane next to each curb running from Walk Hill to Blue Hill. In typical Bostons fashion, if you bike to Walk Hill Street, you’re on your own from there, but let us praise two miles of relative safety.

The stripes went down in a recent resurfacing. As you regular readers know, I can quibble, as in:

  • There are no markings or signs of any type indicating what the bike lanes are.
  • Drivers don’t get it and many encroach into the lanes.
  • Neither side has NO PARKING signs, and many cars use the Blue Hill end by Franklin Park as a parking lane, endangering both cars and bikes.
  • The newish 30 MPH limit is, shall we say, not fully in the public consciousness. Biking the route today, I estimate that the average speed was 45, with many going faster.
  • Cyclists don’t yet know it is there.
  • It’s not the best example of where people live to where they want to travel.
  • The bike lanes are broad, as in the picture at Walk Hill (click for a larger view) where they piggyback on a bus zone, but narrow in the Northern region to perhaps 3 or 3.5 feet, not really adequate.
  • The travel lanes are quite broad and should have each given another foot to the bike lane to make it safe.

All those listed, I’m delighted to see it and shall use it more. It whets the cycling appetite for accommodation.

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