Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On unruly cyclists, part II -- Learning from Charles Street

Important prefatory note: Bike riders who put pedestrians at risk of injury or who even make pedestrians anxious about their safety are bad. There is no excuse for adult bike riders on a sidewalk (when there are pedestrians around).

It's striking that the Globe article on "unruly [bike] riders" features a picture of biker riding the wrong way on Charles St. (The picture accompanied the article when it was on the front page of boston.com, but I didn't grab it and boston.com is lousy about including pictures with articles once they are off the front page.) It's unfortunate that the article didn't address the conditions on Charles St. that explain the wrong-way scofflaw. Charles St. is a great example of how motorist-centric design decisions degrade the experience for non-motorists: pedestrians, cyclists, shop-owners, and neighbors. The wrong-way biker is an illustrative symptom. The infrastructure made him do it.

The biker in the picture quite literally had no choice. Between the entrance to Storrow Drive and Bowdoin St. (above the State House), there is no legal way to go northbound from Beacon. All the streets in-between, including Charles St. are one-way soutbound when they meet Beacon. (Click the image to see the big picture.)

The picture of supposed biker carelessness is more damning of a city that doesn't provide any accommodation on a stretch that really needs it. But, it's not just bikers who are shortchanged by the configuration of Charles St.

Quite obviously, allocating all the space between the curbs to either parking or auto travel doesn't serve the needs of those on two wheels. Less obviously, the three lanes of one-way travel ill-serve the neighborhood. Three lanes of one-way traffic serve one principal purpose: moving traffic. Local merchants don't benefit from through traffic. Nor do the folks who live in the area.

Attending to the needs of the neighborhood first, you'd limit traffic to two lanes, one lane in each direction. It would be easier to get to Charles Street as a retail/restaurant destination. Speeds on the street would slow. It would be easier to cross the street. And, by taking a travel lane out of the mix, there would be room for bike lanes in both directions and wider sidewalks. In short, it would be an even more charming neighborhood.

In fact, there's no compelling reason for any of Charles St. to be one way. The entire stretch would be better served by more on-street parking and the kind of local traffic that a multi-lane one-way cut-through pushes out.

Of course, two-way traffic on Charles St. would eliminate the opportunity to wag our collective finger at the the reckless biker riding against traffic.

Cross posted at Blue Mass. Group.


Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't cars face the same issue? Do you want cars driving the wrong way on Charles St. too?

Anonymous said...

In some forward-thinking cities, municipal leaders have created "contra-flow" bike lanes, some of them separated by curbs, that allow cyclists to ride independent of car traffic and against the flow of four-wheeled vehicles. Charles St. could be a good location for such an innovation. See http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/bikesafe/case_studies/casestudy.cfm?CS_NUM=209 for more information.

Anonymous said...

It is entirely possible to go up the Storrow Drive "ramp" lane and make the right onto Mt. Vernon without ever going onto the high-speed lanes of Storrow Drive.

It is not impossible to do it without going up Charles St in the wrong direction, however it is stupid that they flipped Charles a few dozen years ago and did not compensate by rearranging some of the other one-ways. But it doesn't help your case to say that the biker had "no choice" since legal options exist and you don't even have to go that far out of your way for them.

Lovely Bicycle! said...

I very much agree with you about Charles Street: There is no need for thee one-way lanes there. However, cycling against traffic on a street like that is incredibly dangerous. Given the choice between that and sidewalk, slow and vigilant sidewalk cycling is the safer option.

Steve Runge said...

No matter how "slow and vigilant" someone's sidewalk cycling is, it's still illegal. Now, it may be the lesser of two evils, but unless I'm mistaken, the original criticism of the behavior was about its legality, not its safety merits.

And as to using the Storrow Drive ramp lane & turning onto Mt. Vernon... well, this is an instance where you could exhort people to do the conservative, inconvenient, safer thing 24/7/365, but the fact is, a sizeable portion of the population simply won't change. You can even ticket like crazy; they still won't change. It's like trying to get drivers not to speed through residential "shortcuts" near major arteries. You can exhort and enforce and argue, but until you change the driving landscape, the behavior simply isn't going to change.

Filigree said...

Steve - Yes, it's illegal and should not be done. I walk my bike on the sidewalk when I need to go in that direction on Charles Street. But if a cyclist is absolutely determined to disregard the rules and cycle there, I'd rather it be on the sidewalk than on the road the wrong way. Both are illegal, but the latter is more likely to get them killed IMO.