Friday, April 15, 2011

Mass Ave Bike Lanes, For Real

I was wrong (not unusual) and impatient (usual). Last evening's presentation of the proposed Mass Ave bike lanes proved both.

By the end of 2011, the allegedly intractable problem of adding lanes from the oddly named Harvard Bridge (crossing the Charles at MIT) South to Roxbury seems solved. The always chipper, relentless efficient Boston Director of Bicycle Programs Nicole Freedman brought on the consultants and wowed maybe 150 jammed into and pouring out of the Copley Library ground floor meeting room.


The show-and-tell largely fell to Senior Planner (and cyclist) Nick Jackson of Toole Design Group. As an update on 4/19, Freedman sent the proposal. I extracted the real proposal diagram and reproduce it here.

The idea is to claim two five-foot cycling lanes by removing parking from the West side of Mass Ave in the stretch. Then it's 5' bike, 11' travel (bus/truck), 10' travel, 10' travel, 11' travel (bus/truck), 5' bike, 8' parking.

This is where I was particularly wrong. I have been sure this city lacked the political will to take parking. Even though numerous U.S. and European cities have done that for years, we have seemed to have been short on the guts. No more.

Of course, this being oddly suburban-ish automobile-centric Boston, it did not approach the ideal of isolated cycle tracks, so motor vehicles, pedestrians and bikes each got safe, separate paths. Hey, this is still a huge advance and again, a solution to the insoluble.

We should note that NYC does it far better, but it has considerable advantages we lack. Most obviously, its avenues, the North/South arteries, are almost entirely much wider and either one-way or two way with a wide median of some sort. There's a lot more real estate for redevelopment.

Here, the city and the designers headed off the big problems. They surveyed the devil out of the abutting businesses and residents as well as the commuters. They also worked internally and with cycling groups to count who uses Mass Ave throughout the day and week and overnight. They know when cyclists are up to 16% of all traffic, when and where the LOS (level of service for traffic) was great (A, B or C) or sucky (D, E or F), and how filled the parking spaces were when.

The stretch runs from the river South past Symphony (connecting the heavy blue existing bike lane streets). With only 60 feet in play, solutions that worked elsewhere didn't in this stretch. However, they found that overnight parking took a quarter or fewer of the spaces, permitting removing them from one side.

They also knew that Mass Ave is the location of 10% of bike crashes and EMS reported from Halloween to Halloween 2009-2010 that they hauled away 25 cyclists, mostly hit or doored.

There are issues to resolve, such as enforcement of bike-lane parkers and stoppers, loading zone times and locations, HP spaces and such, but last evening's hearing got a great response from the almost entirely cycling audience. The residents and businesses seem to be at ease after all the outreach and study.

This effort is only the latest and most visible of Freedman/Tom Menino's to continue and complete Boston's transformation into a bike-friendly and 21st century city. She said we have 50,000 regular cyclists now, but she is aiming for five times that in the next decade. That would be 10% of all trips here.

Freedman returned repeatedly to a theme I have heard her sing many times (including our Left Ahead podcast with her and a similar one with her Cambridge counterpart Cara Seiderman). Real and imagined the number one complaint of motorists and some pedestrians is a perception that all cyclists run every read light, endanger walkers, and otherwise act as scofflaws — while of course, all motorists are safe, considerate and law abiding.

She was quick to poll the audience and lump us together as jay walkers, red-light runners and so forth, regardless of our mode of transit. However, she said during this expansion of cycling, it behooves cyclists in particular to behave legally and respectfully. As cycling-oriented cities have seen, when enough cyclists use the roads, everyone obeys the traffic laws and regulations much more.

The local D-4 police captain, Paul Ivens (also a cyclist), backed her up. He was jolly but firm. Along with their regular duties, his officers have issued several hundreds of tickets to bike-lane car parkers since July. He noted that they would likely be handing out non-ticket tickets to cyclists soon as warning educational devices.

Freedman added that the city had already expanded its educational efforts with info in auto excise tax statements. She added that as more cyclists participate in the pending bike-rental program and otherwise feel comfortable enough with bike-lanes and other safety features her department will be expanding its how-to-bike safely (and legally) efforts.

The car culture certainly is entrenched here, with many non-cycling drivers clinging to fantasies that they are safe and bikers and walkers are all idiot scofflaws. Yet advances like these Mass Ave bike lanes hearten me. I'm a constant cyclist who drives weekly for major grocery shopping and such. I am a very law-abiding and safe driver, who never runs a red light, always signals lane changes, turns and rotary exits and such.

I'm getting there with cycling. I do signal unless it is patently unsafe to remove a hand from the bars. I stop and yield like I was in a car. Now, if I can made the emotional sacrifice to wait for every red light to change...

Cross-post: This being political and avocational for me, I post it at Harrumph as well.

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