Monday, May 17, 2010

Boston, the new Portland

Note: I've been working on this post for a few days, well before news today that a bicyclist had died in Newton. With any luck, the improvements to Boston and the improvements that they inspire will make biking safer and reduce the chance of more cyclist deaths.

In the course of a week, whole sections of first-class biking facilities have popped up in the parts of Boston I travel through. It's like bike-lane fairies moved into town for the week!

Kenmore Square now has bicycle accommodations inbound and outbound on Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. And, not just whatever-we-could-squeeze-in bike accommodations. East of Kenmore Square, Beacon Street eastbound has been reduced by a lane to create space for a nice wide bike lane. That's the picture above. The same is true of Comm. Ave. eastbound and Beacon St. eastbound approaching the Brookline line, below.

Where there isn't room for bike lanes, there are sharrows every few feet: eastbound from the Brookline line until the bridge over the Turnpike, for instance. Or, as in this picture, from the bridge to Park Drive. (The sharrows start after the two dashed lines meet. Click through for the full-size image, where the sharrows are more visible.)

And, what has happened on Comm. Ave. from Charlesgate East, under Mass. Ave., and down to the Public Garden is nothing short of miraculous. At Charlesgate East, there's a painted bike box for bicyclists to wait for the light ahead of traffic (a common accommodation in Europe, but novel 'round here). The bike box positions riders to get left for bike lane on the left side of the road. The bike lane continues through the underpass, where two travel lanes have been reduced to one. Then, the left-side bike lanes run the length of Comm. Ave. to the Public Garden. Which means that you can ride that just-under-a-mile stretch of Comm. Ave. in a separate bike lane, without having to worry about double-parked cars and opening car doors. This design, by the way, is a student's idea. Then Northeastern student and now Boston DPW civil engineer Zach Wassmouth produced the design for a senior design project under the direction of NS&S fave Peter Furth.

This picture is from Mass. Ave. looking east and shows the treatment in and out of the underpass.

It's really tough to put into words how remarkable these bike improvements are and what a sea change it is to have Boston setting the standard for comprehensive bike accommodations.

There are (at least) two implications for Newton. First, there is some degree of bicycle accommodation along most of the route from Newton Centre to Kenmore Square through to the end of Comm. Ave. A gaping hole is the section of Beacon Street from to the Boston line, which will be filled in the next few weeks. Newton is connected to a growing regional network of bicycle facilities.

Second, the bar has been raised. Boston's been an easy target. And, has not always been clear that the promise of naming Nicole Freedman as the city's bike coordinator would change actually result in any meaningful change in Boston's bike friendliness. But, there can be no question now. They're taking lanes and spilling paint! This is a city that's intent on being world-class, not just the best in the neighborhood. Newton's now lags not only Brookline and Cambridge, but Boston, too. (Boston!?!?!?) Locally, signs are good (see the pro-active city attention to the Beacon St. gap), but the effort needs to be sustained.

This last picture is Beacon St. westbound heading towards the bridge over the 'Pike:


Jass said...

Just wanted to add that the bike lanes around Audobon circle are temporary. The circle will be completely remade in the next 3 years, and include bike lanes in all directions. Im glad they painted some this year anyway, because we all know paint doesnt make it past 2 winters.

Nathan Phillips said...

One gets the sense that a critical threshold has been crossed, and regional bike planning is poised for transformation. Municipal planners and engineers will increasingly be looking across borders to keep up with innovations, lest they be left behind. Newton's first bike lane on Beacon Street is a highly significant demonstration of this cross-border, inter-municipal fertilization effect.

Fixed Grip said...

My normal commute from Newton to Boston is along the Charles River path, but every once in a while I take Comm Ave or Beacon for variety. I took Beacon last week and was delighted to see the changes. Comm Ave east of Kenmore is now a treat; that left lane bike lane is great fun, making it safe to take the underpass, and early in morning, when the traffic lights are on steady flash, it's one of the fastest miles of my commute. Warm praises to all involved. Let's hope Nathan is right and we're close to a tipping point in the metro area as a whole, and especially in Newton. (On that, it was encouraging to see the Bike Newton ride on Sunday being led by the new Mayor.)

Annalisa said...

It is really, really awesome to see how the city is adding bike lanes in so many places. In Roslindale and West Roxbury they have added some on Belgrade Ave going into Roslindale Village. While I might not commute all the way in to my office in South Boston, I have definitely been riding to Forest Hills and using the secure parking there. It's fantastic, and welcome, and needed. Let's hope the trend continues!

Anonymous said...

Newton lags Somerville, too. Perhaps Everett also.

Steve R said...

Replacing excess car travel lanes with bike lanes--I never thought I'd see it in Boston! I'm just about ready to hop on my bike to go test drive these lanes!