Boston’s First Bike Lanes a Hit With Drivers

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Last month, Boston moved toward shedding its rep as one of the country’s least cycling-friendly cities by installing its first-ever bike lanes on city-controlled streets. According to the Boston Globe, the lanes — on Commonwealth Avenue and American Legion Highway — will be accompanied by some 250 bike racks around the city, and represent the first phase of what Mayor Thomas M. Menino sees as an eventual citywide bike network (though specifics remain unclear).

If these photos, sent to us by Boston University grad student Aaron Manders, are an indication, traffic enforcement and driver education are lagging behind the new physical infrastructure. Writes Manders:

Everyone was happy that Boston government is finally "embracing" bike culture, but there is still so much room for improvement.

Unfortunately, the first/only bike lanes in Boston are constantly blocked by idling and parked cars. There are two sections (one on the inbound, one on the outbound sides of Commonwealth Avenue) of the bike lane that hug the curb. The inbound portion is right next to Warren Towers, which are the largest dorms at Boston University. The outbound section of the lane where it hugs the curb is in front of BU’s George Sherman Union. Since school started I have not ridden past either section of bike lane without at least one car or delivery truck blocking the way. Usually multiple cars block the lane … even though there are clearly visible "No Parking Anytime" signs.

I guess it’s tough for the police to do anything when they ride around campus on standup gas- or electric-powered tricycles.

The Globe reports that Boston bike coordinator Nicole Freedman says the city is also looking into the possibility of a bike-sharing program, with a potential launch date of 2010. Here’s hoping that by then Boston will have figured out how to coordinate the missions of its transportation and police departments. Who knows, maybe it can even pass that know-how to its southern neighbor.

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  • James

    Somehow this doesn’t surprise me. Boston is at least 5 years behind NYC in its efforts to promote bike-friendly streets, and they don’t have a Janette Sadik-Khan equivalent working for them, either. They do have the right idea with their Bike Czar, hopefully they won’t give her the axe like they did the last one.

  • Looks like need to start filling up: http://boston.mybikelane.com/

  • Paul

    I lived in Boston for the month of August this summer and am so glad to be gone. Doesn’t surprise me one bit as the drivers suck-suckety-suck there. $1000 fine and license suspensions may or may not deter drivers. I saw 2 people in Cambridge nearly squashed from right hooks right in front of me in a 4-week period in a bike lane. Both of them 100% driver fault.

  • Carice

    Unfortunately the place that they put the bike lanes was already ALWAYS lined with double parked cars. There are three lanes for a traffic volume that only really needs two vehicle lanes, so historically double parked cars have been “accepted” there, and there are a lot of high density dorms and student housing where people “just need to run in for a second”.

    The bigger problem with those particular bike lanes is the horrendous intersection, connecting three major thoroughfares and an onramp of a bridge, that this bike lane goes through. IMHO it needs a lot more signage/ physical barriers/ green paint to get the attention of already distracted drivers.

    That said, it’s a start, and hopefully will be followed by more bike lanes and infrastructure. Nichole, the bike czar, is very enthusiastic and has lots of plans, but I’m not sure if she’s in a position yet to make significant changes in a slow to adapt city.

    That said, I bike commute from Cambridge to Boston, and the Cambridge side is normally quite pleasant- lots of other bikers, fairly respectful drivers, bike lanes, etc.

  • Dave

    James:
    Boston, however, is light-years ahead of NYC in managing its street parking as it has the strictest permit parking system I have ever encountered. Remind me again why we can’t have permit parking in New York, like Boston, San Fran, Philly, Hoboken, even New Brunswick for pete’s sake?

  • ddartley

    unbuffered, un-separated bike lanes on the side of the street: gee, I wonder how effective they’ll be!

  • I agree. The intersection at the BU bridge which deals with Mass pike traffic is horrible.

    If they had real street planning sense they would have placed the bike lane one traffic lane to the left. If they had done that cyclists would not have to deal with traffic changing lanes through the bike lane to make a right hand turn.

    Cheers and see all you Boston bikers around town.

  • d

    I live in New York but am in Boston for a work assignment and bike to work each day. While these pictures are a fair representation of something that happens all the time – and I’m definitely an advocate for people using pictures to make small changes in their neighborhoods – I’ve found Boston to be about a million times better for cyclists than New York.

    Yes, the drivers here have bad reputations, but the idea that they are any worse or ruder than drivers in New York seems like a myth. In a week of riding in Boston I’ll probably get honked at once. In an hour of riding in Boston I’ll get honked at dozens of times. Drivers here tend to give a lot of space when passing riders. If there isn’t space to pass, most of my experience has been that the drivers are a tad more patient while waiting for an opportunity than they are in NYC.

    Also, the sheer volume of bikes on the road is amazing. I couldn’t quote any specific numbers, but I definitely see more people commuting to work through Boston than in New York. I think that’s partly due to the number of students here (something like 25% of the population during the school year and the fact that it’s possible, although less so than in Manhattan, to not own a car. Either way, the number of bikes on the road is probably why drivers are a little more patient. They expect riders on the road these days.

    My ride to work covers about 8 miles through Jamaica Plain, Back Bay, Cambridge and Somerville. (About the same distance as from some neighborhoods in Brooklyn to Manhattan.) Of that eight miles, my first mile and my last half mile are on separated bike paths. During the bulk of my commute, I’m in a painted bike lane on the street for over half of the time, although that number is growing every day. In just three weeks of riding, I’ve seen new bike lanes added to the streets I ride every day. No joke, one day I’ll ride down a street without a bike lane and the next day there will be one.

    Parking is much easier around town. Either there are multi-bike racks in most locations or single bike racks spaced down a sidewalk. I rarely have to lock my bike to a lampost or a streetsign. It probably helps that bike theft seems like less of a problem here. I can’t cite any statistics, but given the fact that you see more basic Kryptonite locks (even the kind that can be opened with a ball point pen) than heavy chains, I’d say people have just a slightly bigger amount of faith that their bikes won’t get stolen.

    I don’t want to give the impression that Boston is Mayberry compared to New York’s Gotham City. Far from it. I still recognize how dangerous it can be to ride on city streets even in a more bike-friendly city. It gets darker here a little earlier and without the denser population there are more neighborhoods without a lot of streetlights or ambient light from buildings.

  • I didn’t mean to knock Boston with my sarcastic remark above. I meant to knock that kind of bike lane. And I know enough to knock it because here in NY we’ve got plenty of them, and they’re ALL “preferred double parking zones.”

  • Bernard

    I think we need to change what we consider our definition of “infrastructure” for bike lanes. A little bit of paint on the street is hardly “infrastructure”. The only way cyclists will have unrestricted and safe use of a bike lane is to separate it, by grade, from the road and side-by-side with pedestrian sidewalks. This is becoming quite common in parts of Europe, but can only be done by private entities here in the US because such things are otherwise against code (MIT in Cambridge did this and had to pay for it because the state wouldn’t). I live just outside Boston, love to cycle, but wouldn’t dream of cycling to work because it’s just not safe enough out on the street. Call me a cynic, but I have yet to see a line of paint stop a car from swerving at a cyclist. Until we get serious about building “real” infrastructure, the would-be, casual, non-Lance Armstrongs won’t be riding their bikes anytime soon to work.

  • The biggest challenge I’ve always had with protected bike lanes is how to deal with intersections. With the painted bike lanes, it’s very easy to merge out of the bike lane to make a vehicular left turn. Also, motorists can merge over the bike lane when turning right, as they should. How do you guys handle this with the protected bike lanes in NYC?

  • Yes

    The MIT lanes on Vassar Street are terrible, leading to increased conflicts with pedestrians and motorists. Worse than the painted lines on the street for cyclists _and_ pedestrians, but much better for motorists to speed along uninterrupted. A bad deal for cyclists and counter to the best traffic engineering – MIT lost credibility on that one.

  • Safe Cyclist

    There is nothing “bike friendly” about a stripe that requires bicyclists to ride next to or in the gutter, or next to parked cars, which is all a bike lane is. Not only is that a crappy place to ride, but it’s less safe than taking the lane.

    When riding near the curb motorists are less likely to notice and pay attention to the bicyclists, especially when separated by a stripe – making them more vulnerable to get hit, especially at intersections where most crashes occur. And Dana Laird was killed in a Cambridge bike lane when she swerved to avoid an opening car door, and fell in front of an overtaking bus. Yeah, real bike friendly. Let’s bring that friendliness to Boston. 🙁

    Boston is a great place for bicycling. Bike lanes can only make it worse. Much worse.

  • Omri

    I have a 6 mile bike commute in Boston, and from d’s description, I can see we overlap on 2 miles, specifically Beacon & Hampshire streets.

    Bike lanes are not great. They’re by the parked cars and gutters. But they DO stop drivers from swerving into your path (my experience before and after the lanes got painted on those streets indicates this.)

    As for the bike lane at MIT: it’s not something you see in the US, so people are not used to it. That will change.

  • Charlie D.

    “Safe Cyclist”, I’ve heard many of your arguments before, but I have seen no evidence that they are true. I have however seen evidence that bike lanes actually cause bicyclists to ride FURTHER FROM parked cars than they would without the lanes.

    Please see: http://www.cambridgema.gov/~CDD/et/bike/bike_safety.html

    Also, I’m not sure if Ms. Liard would appreciate you blaming a bike lane on her death. There were a number of factors involved, and for all we know, the same thing could have happened were there no bike lane at all.

  • What else should one do with a bike lane?

  • jsallen

    Yes, about 3 inches farther on average, but still in the door zone, and the grouping was tigher so more were in the door zone. See reviews here, http://truewheelers.org/comments/cambstudy/index.htm and here, https://bicyclingmatters.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/cambridge_critique5.pdf

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