|DCR Commissioner Jack Murray met with representatives from several bike groups and WalkBoston last month, and welcomed new ideas for improving bicycling conditions on major bike routes.
The frenzy of social media posting that was the #WinterBiker campaign in February is setting the stage for some big improvements for cyclists come fall. Last month the Bike Union and other advocates were invited to meet with a phalanx of DCR staffers including representatives from path maintenance, community relations, planning, recreation, and DCR Commissioner Jack Murray.
The hats, mittens and scarfs of the photo campaign gave way to ties and jackets at the meeting, and Boston’s advocacy groups went in armed with a list of desired outcomes from grassroots participants in the campaign. Input came from the Union’s Organizing Group and another meeting of the minds hosted by MassBike and the Bike Union.
It was people using social media that triggered the meeting, but it was clear the Dept. of Conservation seemed to have been waiting for an excuse to recalculate their priorities in the light of the increase in bike ridership in the state’s larger cities. In fact, many of the DCR staffers around the table are avid riders themselves, including director of external affairs Conrad Crawford, senior planner Dan Driscoll, and director of recreation Gary Briere.
It’s the Bike Union’s hope that the new process to review policy will address not just the snow & ice removal that tripped this all off but a host of other items affected by the new acknowledgment of the DCR’s important role in bicycle transportation.
“The meeting was very positive and productive, with DCR acknowledging its important role in bicycle transportation and sharing agency plans to update its snow removal policy to meet current needs,” said Crawford in an official statement. “DCR committed to a transparent and public process to address these issues this year.”
It’s possible that a public process will be coupled with a community advisory group to help frame the wider discussion beforehand, but this detail is yet to be hammered out.
Want to be involved in the discussion? Join the Union’s Organizing Group. We meet monthly and talk about a wide variety of campaigns from the most local to state and even nationwide. Call 617-516-8877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
First public meeting next week
The area to be reconfigured. The Pike will be straightened into the Beacon Park Rail Yard (bottom) and its on- and off- ramps reconfigured, opening up more than 60 acres to development and offering opportunities for cycletracks on Cambridge Street and a new bike path connecting three major college campuses.
Will the future Lower Allston be a place that invites people to walk, bike or stay in? Or will it be primarily a place where cars zip through to get somewhere else? Those are the questions Allston’s neighborhood activists are hoping you will help answer next Thursday, April 10 at the first meeting of MassDOT’s massive I-90 straightening project.
By its official name, the “Allston I-90 Interchange Improvement Project Public Meeting,” one would not be able to tell how important this meeting is for people. To highlight the massive opportunities for changing Boston’s future, local activists have given a new name to the project: the “People’s Pike.”
What they’re excited about is the opportunity to connect Allston Village and Lower Allston to Central and Kendall squares via an off-road bike path, the opportunity to rebuild Cambridge Street in Allston with cycletracks and strong pedestrian amenities, and to set the stage for development along the Charles that enhances the city for everyone—not just for Harvard University.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to bring back together Allston north and south of the pike and to completely change how we use the pike in Boston,” said Alana Olsen, director of Allston Village Main Streets. “At this point the piece of land [that will become available] is a 100-acre blank slate. The potential is amazing for what it could be.”
MassDOT comes to the project out of a need to replace aging infrastructure in a way that will mean less maintenance costs in the future, to implement All Electronic Tolling instead of tollbooths, and to straighten the turnpike to occupy the now defunct Beacon Park railway yard—thus opening up a large parcel of land that will end up in Harvard’s ownership.
Back in the days before the railroad took over, the area next to the Charles at this location was a horse track. What it will become next depends on you.
MassDOT has estimated it will save $45m a year in operating expenses going with cashless tolls throughout the state, and the pike is the biggest toll road the state operates. Because the new system will also simplify toll collection rates, many say it’s also likely to increase the annual toll revenue of $329 million. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of money at stake. The project itself will cost between $260 and $500 million, according to various estimates, and spark massive development in the neighborhood, including a small network of new streets.
As it stands, the City of Boston and MassDOT are planning to add cycletracks to the sections of Cambridge Street to be rebuilt—-but have yet to incorporate the more ambitious plans to build a Boston-side landing for the Grand Junction Path that could directly connect the campuses of Harvard, Boston University and MIT.
“What we’d like to do is continue the Grand Junction Path across the railroad bridge that’s under the BU Bridge and parallel the tracks and rail yard all the way to Cambridge Street,” explained John Sanzone, who leads the Friends of the Grand Junction Path. “The main thing is the design of the rail yard. However they resolve that, it would have to accommodate the space for the path. And right now the current push for design and feasibility ends at the BU Bridge on the Cambridge side. To get across the river, we have to start working with the City of Boston.”
The City of Cambridge has conducted a favorable feasibility study on its part of the Grand Junction Path (from the Charles River to the McGrath Highway) and may be convinced to add design money to the coming year’s budget. MIT is commencing its own feasibility study this month, and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority also included a small piece of it in a public design charrette last month. If people speak up and get it included in the I-90 straightening project as an air quality mitigation measure for the pike’s daily pollute, it would mark the first time the project was taken seriously on the southern shore of the Charles River.
“The meeting on April 10th is a crucial moment to set the tone for this entire project,” said Allston neighborhood activist Jessica Robertson. “If we have a huge turnout, MassDOT will know people care about this project, and they’ll be more motivated to work with us to make sure the end result is designed with people in mind, not just cars.”
Public Meeting for the People’s Pike
(Invite your friends on Facebook)
Thurs. April 10, 6:30pm
Jackson Mann Community Center
500 Cambridge St.
A rendering of what a two-way cycletrack might look like on Arlington Street, next to the Public Garden.
The PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project has selected Boston as one of six new U.S. cities to join its intensive two-year program to build protected bike lanes. Boston will receive financial, strategic and technical assistance to create protected bike lanes, also known as cycletracks. The Boston Cyclists Union helped support the city’s application this year, and also helped the city apply for the first year of the program in 2012. Boston, Atlanta, GA, Denver, CO, Indianapolis, IN, Pittsburgh, PA and Seattle, WA.,were chosen from more than 100 U.S. cities that submitted letters of interest for the program.
Cycletracks are separated from traffic by curbs, planters, parked cars or posts to make riding a bike an appealing option for more people.
“It was extremely difficult to narrow down our selection to just six cities; we are seeing an upsurge of interest in accommodating bikes on busy city streets,” said Martha Roskowski, PeopleForBikes Vice President of Local Innovation. “Boston has ambitious goals and a strong vision supported by the elected officials and the community. They are poised to get projects on the ground quickly and will serve as an excellent example for other interested cities.”
“Over the next six years, I want to take Boston from one of the best bicycling cities in the country to one of the best in the world. Investing in protected bike lanes is a critical path to that success,” Boston’s Mayor Martin Walsh said.
Since 2007, Boston went from the worst bicycling city in the country, according to Bicycling Magazine, to one of the best. Boston launched one of the first bike share systems in the country, the New Balance Hubway system, which has since grown to 130 stations and more than 1100 bicycles. Boston has added 82 miles of bike lanes and1500 bike racks and created one of the most successful community bike programs in the country, donating 1,000 bikes to low income residents and training 5,000 youth in 2013.
Under Mayor Walsh’s leadership, Boston will begin investing in protected bike lanes consistent with the recently completed Bike Network Plan, implement a women’s cycling program and expand Hubway into the neighborhoods. “With Connect Historic Boston planning underway, we are on track to see some incredible improvements over the next few years, not just for people on bikes, but for all road users, “said Boston Director of Bicycle Programs, Nicole Freedman.
In the first two years of the program (2012 and 2013), the Green Lane Project worked closely with other major U.S. cities – Austin, TX, Chicago, IL, Memphis, TN, Portland, OR, San Francisco, CA and Washington, DC – to build protected bike lanes. Since then, the number of protected bike lanes on city streets nationwide has nearly doubled from 80 to 142 – with more than half of all growth coming from the Project’s six focus cities. The founding cities will continue as mentors to the new class while continuing to build their bicycling networks with the momentum driven by the Project.
Boston leaders will join the Green Lane Project at an official kickoff event in Indianapolis in late April.
Bubbling up out of the Bike Union Organizing Group’s brainstorms about how to build skills among the city’s bike advocates, Northeastern University is set to offer a workshop on Bicycling Infrastructure Planning and Design to all.
The class will be taught by engineering faculty members Peter Furth, a member of the Organizing Group and contributing author of City Cycling and of NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide, and Daniel Dulaski PE, former consulting engineer and Town Engineer for Amherst, Mass.
For those who didn’t catch it live at BU’s Agannis Arena, Prof. Furth now has a TED Talk, and we’re anxiously awaiting the online version. He is one of Boston’s most tireless bike advocates, and a member of the Bike Union’s board and Organizing Group.
Furth and Dulaski’s one-day workshop, aimed at planners, designers, and advocates, will be offered on two dates, giving people a chance to choose the date that suits them best:
Bicycling Infrastructure Planning and Design Workshop
Sat., Mar. 1 or Mon Mar. 3
West Village G Building, room 104 (Campus Map)
8:30am to 3pm
All members of the Bike Union get in for $95 (Join the union here.)
Bike Union is offering low-income discount (call us at 617-516-8877 or email us at email@example.com to request.)
General price is $295.
To register, contact Arianna Kaplan, Northeastern University Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, either by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (617-373-2444).
|Taken from the BU Bridge looking into Allston. (Imagine a bike path on the left.)
The Boston Cyclists Union is helping to bring together a couple of amazing activism groups on the subject of the Grand Junction Path. After introducing leaders in Allston and Cambridge, the Union helped invite bike leaders from around a tour of the path organized by the Friends of the Grand Junction Path
on Sunday, and spent an hour discussing possible next steps in the campaign in this week’s Organizing Group meeting.
The path idea would be huge for one of Boston’s bikey-est communities, the college students, as well as residents. The City of Cambridge is active on it–but the path is just starting to get attention from the cities of Somerville and Boston.The Grand Junction Path would stretch from Allston Village or Commonwealth Avenue through Kendall Square to the McGrath Highway in Somerville, where it could one day connect with the future Somerville Community Path. The Grand Junction has huge potential to boost commuting by bike.
Each stretch of the path has a different challenge in this early stage, and the Friends of the Grand Junction Path are working to encourage the MBTA to support a stretch in Somerville, monitoring the early stages of a Cambridge Redevelopment Authority plan to design a stretch alongside Galileo Way, and Allston activists are starting to pull the sleeve of MassDOT to have them include the path’s Boston side in the upcoming $500 million project to straighten I-93 in their neighborhood.
For it’s part, the Union is helping connect activists to the people and resources it takes to get the job done, and of course, throwing some great parties to bring the whole city together. (The Annual Spring Kickoff is coming up on April 24.)
Bicyclists have strong voices on Mayor Marty Walsh‘s transportation transition team. In addition to Bike Union Executive Director Pete Stidman, the team included Bike Union volunteer and public health specialist Jenny Molina, Jackie Douglas from LivableStreets, Wendy Landman from WalkBoston and others with an affinity for the pedal.
The details of the plan are still under wraps as the administration assesses their priorities for the Mayor’s first term, but suffice to say there is an abundance of good ideas therein, including quite a few you’ve heard in this newsletter before.
The Bike Union would like to thank Mayor Walsh, Chief of Policy Joyce Linehan and the Mayor’s team for selecting such a great team, and team chairs Vivien Li and Rick Dimino and all the fantastic members for all the incredible discussions that took place. We stand richer as a city for their contributions, and we look forward to continuing the conversation.
“I’m Alletta heading to class. Biking year round is normal where I’m from.” Shot by Organizing Group member Galen Mook of Allston-Brighton Bikes.
Tuesday morning——after increasing pressure from Allston-Brighton Bikes, Southie Bikes, Bike Union volunteers and dozens of everyday riders posting to Facebook and Twitter——the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) paid a call to the Bike Union to invite the bike community to the table to discuss their snow & ice removal policies.
“We most certainly respect the commitment that bike commuters make in the winter,” said DCR director of external affairs Conrad Crawford, offering to hold a public meeting to discuss a possible review of the agency’s snow & ice removal policy, last updated in 2005-2006. “We have an opportunity to take a look at the increase in bicycle traffic in winter and applying that to our snow & ice removal plan.”
Crawford’s message of peace follows a grassroots campaign involving several groups across the city who coordinated their actions through the Union’s Organizing Group. The Organizing Group includes bike activists from several points in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville. The quickly organized campaign was a reaction to a leak of an internal email chain at DCR where one staffer, described by UHub as a higher higher up (but dubbed someone not involved in policy decision by the DCR) wrote,
“Frankly, I am tired of our dedicated team wasting valuable time addressing the less than .05% of all cyclists who choose to bike after a snow/ice event… If someone is completely depending on a bike for year-round transportation, they are living in the wrong city.”
Rather than get in a squabble about just how many winter cyclists there are in Boston, the Organizing Group chose to instead own the derogatory term “.05%” and humanize the actual riders through photos and video—also playing off the DCR’s mission of offering natural resources to all.
More details about the DCR’s meeting and response, including timeline and scope of the discussion, will likely be made public today or later this week.
A winter cycling photo uploaded to the Union’s Facebook page by member Alfred Gadway as part of a campaign to get the DCR to change their snow & ice removal policies.
On Sunday the UHub blog
posted a chain of emails from several Department of Conservation and Recreation staff members that revealed a strain of anti-bicyclist thinking at the state agency. The following was written by a DCR employee described as a “higher higher up”:
“Frankly, I am tired of our dedicated team wasting valuable time addressing the less than .05% of all cyclists who choose to bike after a snow/ice event… We should not spend time debating cyclists with poor judgement [sic] and unrealistic expectations, and stick with [the staffer]‘s recommendation that they find other transportation. If someone is completely depending on a bike for year-round transportation, they are living in the wrong city.”
This quote is not endorsed as policy by the DCR. It was part of an internal discussion about how to respond to a constituent, and the sender followed it up with a brash “Feel free to forward this to those complaining.” The agency so far has not identified the staffer or apologized for their remarks, and their official response to the person isn’t completely different.
Instead of suggesting people move, it simply suggests people just shouldn’t ride their bikes.
“While we do treat some high-priority crosswalks (such as at schools and T stations) with salt, we do not treat all the pathways and sidewalks throughout DCR (including on the Southwest Corridor) as this can have a detrimental effect on landscaping. Unless you have appropriate winter bike tires that can handle normal winter weather conditions on these paths, we recommend you use alternate forms of transportations at this time of year for your own safety.”
This policy, as stated here, seems to run counter to the City of Boston’s goal of achieving 10 percent bicycle share by 2020 and the state’s goal of tripling biking, walking, and transit share by 2030. Year-round cycling and cycling in “normal winter weather conditions” would certainly be key in creating a bicycling habit in large numbers of new riders, and it’s part of mode shift strategies in Portland, Minneapolis, New York City, and even places further north like Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In places like Netherlands, where good safe infrastructure like the SW Corridor is everywhere, people bike through snow in huge numbers.
But in Boston, the SW Corridor, the Paul Dudley White Path and other key commuter routes have been icy lately, according to riders reporting to the Bike Union. And several times this winter, the new North Bank Bridge between Charlestown and Cambridge has simply been left unplowed. Cyclists complaining there have been told to take the Gilmore Bridge——which is a heart pumping experience in any weather.
Oftentimes the fear people have of winter riding isn’t so much about the cold or even the snow, because Bostonians know how to dress for winter and people know that good fenders keep you as dry as if you were walking. Moreso it’s about the perception that it’s more dangerous to be around the cars on the streets in the wintertime. The bike paths are the one refuge people have from cars, and are pleasant even in a snowstorm——as long as ice is kept at a minimum.
In fact the best bike path in the country, according to USA Today, is in snowy Minneapolis. That city gets 20 percent more snow than Boston, and the 5.5-mile Midtown Greenway is plowed year-round by the city’s Public Works Dept. and treated with sand mixed with salt, according to Soren Jensen, Executive Director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.
“Does it hurt the vegetation? Maybe a little bit, but not that ever noticed.” Said Jensen. “When you salt your sidewalk at home it doesn’t kill your grass. So I’m not sure what they’re talking about. It might be more of a red herring to be honest. Mostly it’s about plowing it right away and making that a priority. We had seven inches of snow yesterday and it’s plowed right now and people are riding.”
Jensen said at times there is hard pack and ice, so it’s never a perfect result, but it’s clear that in Minneapolis that the Public Works Department’s explicit goal is to keep the path open and safe for people who ride bicycles. “They plow it faster than most side streets. It’s cool,” he said.
This kind of acknowledgement of cycling, and of inviting people to do more of it, is the common goal bike activists in Jamaica Plain had in mind to start building with the DCR when the agency requested, along with pedestrian and access activists, that bike lanes in the plan for Casey Arborway be removed in order to make a shorter crossing of the street. The Casey Arborway is a MassDOT project that will essentially build an extension of the SW Corridor to connect Franklin Park and the Arnold Arboretum, while getting rid of a 1950s era highway overpass and sparking economic development in the area.
To get comfortable with the idea of removing bike lanes and having only two-way bike paths on either side of the future Arborway, the Bike Union negotiated with MassDOT to build the DCR’s capacity for snow removal. After a series of Bike Union requests at public meetings, letters, and calls, MassDOT agreed to purchase a new Trackless snow plow for the DCR as part of the project.
It would be hard to imagine that any cyclist would not share in the DCR’s mission “To protect, promote and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural and recreational resources for the well-being of all.” But given the quotes of their staff, it’s currently not clear that the DCR includes cyclists in their definition of “all.”
Before Frederick Law Olmsted designed many of our parks, he was a journalist interested in social reform. He took up landscape architecture after an epiphany in Yosemite where he saw clearly that nature could be a “civilizing force” that brought people together. He called nature’s effect an “unbending” of our faculties that can be mitigated by the stress and fatigue brought on by urban life. Nature, he said, can produce a “temperate, good-natured, and healthy state of mind.” Much later, Edward O. Wilson dubbed this restorative effect of nature Biophilia and the idea that nature is good for people is backed up in research on everything from school performances to domestic violence, healing to mental health, and crime to economic development.
It’s likely just about all of DCR’s champions these ideas. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t we be working harder together to find solutions for the people who visit the parks most often–twice daily even, as a matter of routine? Surely, any experiment or method or long-term solution we could discuss would be more inline with the central mission of the agency than suggesting that a potential visitor take the train or a car instead.
The Bike Union is ready to work with Gov. Patrick and the DCR to come up with a solution, whatever it takes, to ensure that the public——and far more than .05 percent of them——can access our natural resources daily, as part of their commute.
Thanks to the work of Allston-Brighton neighborhood activists (with longtime support from the Bike Union) and other advocacy groups, a new kind of cycletrack for Boston will be added to the Cambridge Street bridge over I-90 when it is reconstructed in the next year or two. It puts cyclists inside of a crash barrier at sidewalk level and uses colored asphalt to separate cyclists and pedestrians.
The facility will be a significant safety upgrade on a bridge that has taken lives before, including the life of Kelly Wallace, whose death inspired the group Helping Everyone Live Longer (H.E.L.L.) because of its history, the new plan is a symbolic accomplishment for cyclists in Boston. Yet, the design is still not optimal.
After much public pressure at public meetings, led by a stellar local crew of Allston-Brighton neighborhood activists, MassDOT created the cycletrack and made many other adjustments to the design, but stuck stubbornly to a 3-foot wide shoulder that many wanted to reallocate to the sidewalk and cycletrack to ease potential bike-pedestrian conflicts.
MassDOT’s manager on the project, Mark Gravallese argued that the shoulder was required for snow storage and potential breakdowns on the four-lane road. The state’s roadway design guide has strong language guiding Gravallese’s decision, it requires a 4-foot shoulder on main arterial. Neighborhood activists and the Bike Union argue that this width isn’t required in the Urban context and is more suited to rural roads. The snow could be stored on a narrower shoulder and would likely spill over the barrier (as happens on the Mass Ave. Bridge), breakdowns are quickly cleared in the urban context, and wide shoulders are likely to encourage higher speeds as they are more common on rural roads and highways.
Despite the remaining issues, Gravallese and MassDOT deserve credit for making several changes asked for by the neighborhood and for designing a new kind of facility that is a first for the department. Improved crash data collection in the city will allow close monitoring of the new design’s success, and inform future work on the bridge and the rest of Cambridge Street, which will be part of the $500 million I-93 straightening project that is just beginning to get underway at MassDOT.
Huge turnout at a public meeting for Cambridge St. improvements in Allston.
Your support of the Bike Union, Boston Bikes and similar efforts in Greater Boston have given our city the seventh fastest growing mode share for bike commuters, according to a new USPIRG report. Boston’s Bike to work mode share is growing faster than in Seattle, and is within a hair of matching the growth rate of Minneapolis, one of the country’s top biking cities. Portland Oregon is still far outpacing the pack, but a number of new opportunities for cycletracks and bike paths in Boston could completely change the game.
In a fall season filled with public meetings for cycletrack projects, one in particular stands out as an indicator of what the near future could be like. In Allston last month hordes of people crowded into the Jackson Mann School in Allston for a public hearing on the Cambridge Street bridge reconstruction project, and showed overwhelming support for a physically separated cycletrack. The tenor of the meeting was far different than others in the city, where cycletracks are still unfamiliar futuristic ideas. But perhaps because residents there have experienced the protection of the city’s first cycletrack on Western Avenue since 2010 (which resulted from a Bike Union ask), vocal opposition was largely absent.
The short stretch of cycletrack the neighborhood seems likely to for its two-wheeled residents could also stretch all the way to the Charles River some day relatively soon. In addition to a pending short term project from the city, a new I-90 Interchange reconstruction project is getting underway that could reconfigure the on and off ramps to the pike and turn the highway-like Cambridge St. into a separated facility safe enough for children. There is also a dreamy idea to use the rail beds underneath the Cambridge St. Bridge into a bike path that would connect to the Grand Junction path bike activists in Cambridge have been asking for–ultimately creating an off-road connection from Allston Village to Kendall Square.
Perhaps even more inspirational is the fabulous Connect Historic Boston project, which the Bike Union helped inform along with other community members as part of a design advisory group. The project has been fast-tracked with a $15 million federal TIGER grant. What it means for bikes, essentially, is cycletracks along Atlantic Avenue, Commercial Street, Causeway Street, and Staniford Street appearing sometime in the next three years, replete with bike signals and strong wayfinding signage.
This group of streets is phase one of a larger project that will form a figure-8 low-stress bike loop that will also include Cambridge Street, Tremont Street, Summer Street, and State Street.
With the addition of other pending projects such as the Public Garden Cycletrack, the Neponset Greenway Extension, the Rutherford St. Greenway, the Casey Arborway and the future Morton Street Cyclectrack’s extension of the existing SW Corridor, and the Community Path being planned as part of Somerville’s Green Line Extension one can see a very solid network of safe cycling options developing in the city at a fairly rapid pace.
Safe access to cycling is a key indicator of quality of life used to judge any city, and with young people driving far less and biking more in Boston-this new network can be expected to help retain far more of the college and university graduates so sought after by high tech companies, increasing Boston’s competitive edge in the innovation fields, not to mention helping to trim waists citywide and give affordable access to jobs for all residents. Add all this to a new mayoral administration in Boston and it’s a very exciting time to be a Bostonian.