Since 2008, the City of Boston has made adding bike lanes to our city streets a routine event, with lanes springing up everywhere from Dorchester to Allston and from East Boston to Mattapan. But bike lanes are only one tool in most cities’ toolboxes these days. Boston still has no contraflow bike lanes, which are becoming common in Cambridge and Brookline, and there is still only one cycletrack in the city–on Western Avenue in Allston. When will Boston turn the corner as Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and dozens of other cities have done?
A rendering of what a two-way cycletrack might look like on Arlington Street, next to the Public Garden.
With your help, it could be this year.
While a simple bike lane is still proving controversial in the double-parking haven of South Boston, a contraflow bike lane is progressing quickly on Hemenway Street in the Fenway neighborhood, and full-blown two-way cycletracks are being proposed around the Public Garden. Tying all three projects and much more together, the city’s new Bike Network Master Plan, which the Boston Cyclists Union and other advocates helped create, is due to be released any day now.
If these three projects move forward and a new mayor who is progressive on all things transportation is elected–Boston could be poised on the edge of a new era that raises the bar for all of our expectations for two-wheeled safety on city streets.
Changing a city’s culture is not about meeting in back rooms with transportation officials, nor is it about stories in newsletters, major newspapers or blog articles–it’s about people and relationships. If you live in Back Bay or Beacon Hill, it’s time to talk to your neighbors about the importance of starting a cycletrack network in Downtown Boston. Yes, the Public Garden cycletrack being proposed is circular, but build in a connection to the Fiedler Pedestrian Bridge and to Columbus Avenue and you have the beginning of a new node in the bicycle network that connects the Esplanade to the Southwest Corridor. Make sure you attend the meeting in support, and invite your friends who use the street or live nearby to do the same.
South Boston’s concern around preserving double-parking, and by extension a familiar way of life, is understandable in a certain light-but allowing cyclists some safety on Broadway should stand aside from questions of aesthetics and the convenience of someone’s parking job. Whether you’re born and raised in Southie or just moved in, preventing immobilizing injuries that interfere with livelihoods and sometimes end lives should be paramount. Anger toward developers changing the neighborhood is real-but preventing injury of anyone has to remain a priority.
A contraflow on Hemenway, where many cyclists are already traveling against traffic, could pave the way for contraflows on dozens of city streets-giving bike commuting a greater time advantage over other modes of transport while also creating a safer environment for cyclists. In Europe’s urban planning circles, contraflows go hand in hand with a concept called the “detour factor.” Giving cyclists access to routes that are not allowed for motorists increases the time and distance advantage cyclists enjoy. And each time someone realizes they can ride a bike and get to work or school faster than any other mode, a new cyclist is created, making that person healthier and happier while improving traffic congestion and lowering healthcare costs.
Mayor Thomas Menino understands all of this, and has been a great leader for the bike movement. But he was encouraged by the thousands of Bostonians who regularly attend planning meetings to speak up for bikes, like this one in Southie and this all-important one in Beacon Hill. And now, more than any time in the past 20 years, cyclists have a choice to make for which direction City Hall will take on bikes. This fall, make sure to get active in your neighborhood, on the political campaign you believe will do the most for your commute, and in the voting booth.
Thanks to a handful of dedicated Union members in Jamaica Plain who noticed an unannounced state repaving project on Morton Street late last month, there are now buffered bike lanes on part of Morton Street.
These new buffered bike lanes on Morton Street could easily be converted to cycletracks with the addition of plastic flexposts.
Sarah Freeman of Jamaica Plain was the first to let the Union office know of the project, recalling community interest in connecting the future Casey Aborway project to Mattapan with a cycletrack. With a flurry of phone calls, the Union quickly caught the interest of MassDOT in providing accommodations of some kind, and then garnered the support of Nicole Freeman of Boston Bikes and the Boston Transportation Department, who hired consultant Toole Design Group to crank out a design in short order. The particular section of Morton between Forest Hills in JP and Blue Hill Avenue had not been measured, so two of the Union’s summer interns, Cooper Thomas and Brand Koster went out with a measuring wheel, dodging high speed traffic to create a safer street for bike commuters.
Toole’s original design originally included a mix of buffered bike lanes and regular bike lanes, but MassDOT rejected half of the plan due to a pinch point at Canterbury St. which included 10-foot travel lanes for motor vehicles. Typically the agency disapproves of narrow lanes where buses travel, but has made exceptions in the past on other projects with limited width-such as the BU Bridge.
Given the short time frame, there was no opportunity to appeal the decision to reject the 10-foot lane, but on the upside there may be opportunities in 2014 to strip out the lines and repaint–and thus connect two neighborhoods that have long been separated by a dangerous and impassable street for bikes. Given the right amount of push from Jamaica Plain, Mattapan and Dorchester residents, the city might even find a way to add plastic “flexposts” in order to further protect cyclists from traffic.
Stay tuned as the Union’s new organizing group and volunteers in JP and Mattapan craft a strategy. If you’re interested in participating email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City of Boston is proposing a two-way cycletrack around the Public Garden that could significantly cut down on injuries to cyclists and encourage more people to ride bikes. If you support the idea, sign the statement of support below and show up to the public meeting on Wed. Sept. 18.
Public Meeting for cycletrack proposal around the Public Garden.
The Firehouse at
127 Mount Vernon Street
Boston, MA 02108
Wed., Sept. 18
Nomination Deadline: Mon. Aug. 19
Do you have skills that can help the Bike Union succeed in making Boston the best bike city in the country? Are you ready to dig in and build a small grassroots organization into a powerhouse with an organized network of bike leaders that take advantage of every possible opportunity in the urban core of Metro Boston?
The Boston Cyclists Union is looking for several new board members who represent a wide diversity of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline residents. The Union strives for board diversity in socio-economic background, in race, in gender, in the skills that people bring, and in geography. If you are passionate about better biking and ready to put in the work, this is your opportunity to have a major impact on the future of biking in Boston.
To apply, simply send your resume and a strong cover letter to email@example.com with the subject line: BOARD NOMINATION, and the current board will analyze the Union’s needs and the skills brought by the nominees to come up with a recommended board slate to be announced at the next Annual Party (Meeting) in September. Terms are for one year for new candidates, and two years for previous board members.
Guiding a non-profit through long and short term planning is no simple task, it takes commitment and dedication from all kinds of people to do it right. Here are just a few of the skills that would help the Union grow:
- Bikes! (mechanics, safety, planning)
- Communications & Marketing (including public speaking & graphic design)
- Community Organizing
- Data analysis & Research
- Education, Youth & Adult
- Event planning
- Fundraising & Development
- Finance (Accounting, budgeting, etc)
- Nonprofit management
- Information Technology (Web design, Salesforce, and other solutions)
- Language Skills (Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Cape Verdean Kriolu, Haitian Kreyol, and other languages common in Boston)
- Law (both non-profit and bike law)
- Strategic Planning
- Transportation Planning & Engineering
- Volunteer Management
2014 will be another amazing year for the Union, and this winter the board will again dig in to strategic planning to help improve upon existing programs and organizing for change.
Board members meet once a month and are also expected to participate in or lead at least one board committee, as well as get directly engaged in some aspect of the Union’s programs and/or work. All board members participate in making and achieving their own fundraising goals.
The more you are engaged with the Union, the better you can help guide it from where it is to an even brighter future.
Our Mission: The Boston Cyclists Union is helping Bostonians lead healthier lives by promoting the bicycle for transportation. Among other things, we repair bikes, educate new riders, and organize neighborhood residents who would like to voice support for friendlier street designs, bike paths, and public spaces.
The Boston Cyclists Union strives to represent the communities of Boston in all their diversity. Women, people of color, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and people from all Boston neighborhoods are encouraged to apply.
Nomination deadline is Mon., Aug. 19
Join the Boston Cyclists Union at Circle The City On Sunday, July 14th
from 11am – 4pm, Circle The City will present the first of two Open Streets events this year. Open Streets on the Avenue of the Arts, presented with the Fenway Alliance, will feature car-free programming on Huntington Avenue between Belvidere Street and Brigham Circle. The outbound side of Huntington Avenue will be closed to buses and cars to allow for more than 50 free activities for thousands of residents and visitors to walk, bike, roll, dance and play together in the streets of Boston.
Come ride your bike and check out the Boston Cyclists Union at the corner of Huntington Ave and Gainsborough. We will be using temporary barriers including planters and seated areas to create a segregated bicycle track to enjoy and relax.
Other activities along the route include live music including Salsa Y Control, an REI Climbing wall, and a dedicated Kid’s Zone. From OMBE Yoga to Zumba, dance and fitness classes will be offered through out the day for all ages along the route. Remember to keep an eye out for neighborhood and sculpture tours near the Christian Science Center Plaza and Brigham Circle, Art Making at the MFA and Food Trucks for a tasty bite.
By Anna Flinchbaugh
Bike Union Intern
|Anti-bike symbols at several entrances to the Boston Common not only renew an old debate, they send a very negative message about bicycles overall.
There are two complaints that come in more often than all the others, Boston Parks Commissioner Toni Pollak told a room full of bike organization leaders earlier this week: dogs off the leash, and bikes going too fast or coming too close.
The meeting was organized in response to several anti-bike symbols the Parks Department painted at certain entrances to the Boston Common. For years, the Public Garden has been clearly marked off-limits, but bike riders have gotten accustomed to using the Common even though a park ordinance has technically banned them since 1882.
Many cyclists were incensed by the new rule-and unfortunately at least a few sent nasty letters to the department. (Note to the wise: Always be nice when asking for something.) Their anger isn’t entirely unjustified, as many have been injured on the streets around the common, including one fatality on Beacon and Charles in April 2010. But preliminary crash data reveals that pedestrian-bike collisions are also fairly common in and around the Common, sometimes involving small children whose parents doubtless trust the Common’s paths as a safe place to play.
|The scene of a fatal bike crash at Beacon and Charles in 2010.
The original decision to ban bicycles from the Common resulted from an 1882 letter to the “Committee on Common and Squares” detailing the danger that “wheelmen” posed to pedestrians. The author, Sam’l H. Russell, explained, “They move so silently, and swiftly, that when several are in company it is difficult to avoid them, and where there are so many children, and careless people about, the danger of collision is considerable.”
But even around the time the ban was put in place, and for a time after, the wheelmen of Boston from various bicycle clubs and the League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W. – nowadays known as the League of American Bicyclists) were proposing ways to make biking in the common a regular occurrence.
An 1881 proposal, for example, urged the city council to consider the “expediency of laying out an oval path on the parade ground of the Common,” conceding that it would only be used “at suitable times and under proper restrictions.”
Another plan, submitted shortly after the ban was enacted and with apparently little effect, addressed the ways in which clearly delineated bike paths would provide relief to pedestrians and provide some order. Its champion Alderman Slade explained: “…if that track was made for the use of the bicycles, we would have good reason to keep them off the malls where people congregate the most, which might be a relief to the foot passengers.”
In subsequent years bike path proposals kept on coming. Riding on the Common was a hot topic for the L.A.W. in Boston, just as it was for their fellow wheelmen in New York City regarding Central Park. As one defender of an 1898 path proposal explained: “there is no doubt of the fact that [cyclists] are directly affected by the great inconvenience, trouble and danger of tumbling around among the vehicles on Beacon and Tremont Streets.”
This argument failed to persuade many decision-makers, who balked against “any encroachment on the sacred common [sic].” They believed that the Common was to be a space for recreation and pleasure, untainted by concerns of commerce and commuting; this same sense of precious open space pervades much of the discussion today.
Despite being banned in the Common, bikes nonetheless remained a cherished part of the Boston community. Newspaper articles from the end of the nineteenth century speak in ecstatic terms about (permitted) races held on the Common as well as the pleasantness of riding in parks more generally. One bubbled, “The brightness and the clear atmosphere are just what cyclists enjoy, and the popular resorts…were visited by thousands of wheelmen and wheelwomen.”
It was also argued back then, just as it is today, that the Common has always been intended to be a shared public space, open to all communities. At present, it plays hosts to school groups, visiting tourists, Freedom Trail trekkers, downtown commuters, T riders, and bicyclists. As an advocate of bicycle paths explained back in 1898, “The Common is for the people, and for the whole people, and it is not to be set up in our minds as a thing to be venerated and looked at…” Rather, it is to be used well, safely, and inclusively – a goal that would benefit significantly from a solution to allow all users to enjoy the park.
The Bike Union and other bike advocacy groups are going to continue the discussion with Commissioner Pollak and under the leadership of Nicole Freedman and Boston Bikes propose a few alternatives to the ban. These new ideas may include allowing cycling on certain paths but not others, and are likely to be combined with campaigns to urge cyclists to slow down around pedestrians.
The whole episode is instructive to all who ride a bike. When cyclists run afoul of pedestrians, they awaken an even more vulnerable and numerous lobby against bikes in general. Simply slowing down, showing care, and saying excuse me can go a long way toward ensuring that all who ride continue to have access to safe routes.
|An artist’s rendering of how the trail’s entrance at Mattapan Square might look, including a new building that could house community programming.
Gov. Deval Patrick said last week that the state would spend $1.9 million to complete the design for several unfinished gaps in the Neponset Greenway and paths along the Dorchester coast Trail that, when finished, will provide a bike route from Mattapan Square to South Boston. Additionally, MassDOT committed to funding the $11-$15 million construction project.
Mattapan, Hyde Park and Dorchester park and bike advocates as well as the Boston Natural Areas Network, DotBike and the Boston Cyclists Union have been pushing for the path’s completion for years. One Mattapan advocate told a crowd at a recent public meeting for the project that he “still had hair” when the community first began asking for it. The Bike Union contributed extensive bike counts and a descriptive video of the project to two federal TIGER grant applications that were not funded, but may have helped keep momentum going for the project.
“I think it was a combination of the strong advocacy from the Neponset Greenway Council with support from state legislators and people in DCR that made it their mission to get it done, like Cathy Garnett and Jack Murray.” Said Candice Cook of the Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN). “We’re really excited to see that all the sections are going to be designed and completed.”
“For me it’s been a long time coming,” said Savin Hill resident Paul Nutting. “It’s going to link two great things in Boston together-the Neponset Greenway and Boston Harborwalk, and it’s going to make it safer.”
Elected officials that played a role were state Rep. Marty Walsh, Mayor Menino’s office via former cabinet member Jim Hunt III, and former state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry who was elected to the State Senate this spring.
“I’m just so happy it’s going to be done,” said Forry in the Dorchester Reporter. “The greenway is an amazing asset in all these communities. From Hyde Park, to Mattapan, Dorchester and South Boston, it’s about connections and connecting communities.”
If paired with better bike infrastructure on Old Colony Ave., the new trail could also provide a safe bike-commuting route to downtown for thousands of Dorchester and Mattapan residents-creating a potential SW Corridor to the east. The existing part of the Neponset Greenway appears to be creating higher numbers of recreational bikers in southern Dorchester, according to the Boston Cyclists Union’s GIS project. But bike-commuting rates tend to be highest when adjacent to safe infrastructure that connects to jobs. The SW Corridor is Boston’s strongest example of this phenomenon.
According to the Dorchester Reporter, the project will be carried out in phases, beginning with a stretch next to the iconic gas tank along I-93, then the piece from Victory Road to Tenean Beach, followed by the section between Central Avenue and Ryan Playground-including a little piece of Milton and a bridge over the Neponset. The last phase runs from the Ryan Playground to Mattapan Square, and currently includes a canopy walk and a pedestrian crossing above the MBTA tracks.
Many advocates, having worked on the project for over a decade, are taking a “I’ll believe it when I see it,” attitude-but the design funding and construction commitment are certainly a welcome sign from the Patrick administration, and hopefully the beginning of a trend to complete other outstanding bike/ped path projects in the urban core.
Letter writing time!
Allston bike advocates are on the march to improve a new plan to reconstruct Cambridge Street over the Massachusetts Turnpike, and we’re asking you to back your fellow cyclists up!
The first public meeting held by MassDOT on the project was held June 18, but was described as the 100% design and no commitment to a follow up meeting was given despite a plethora of concerns expressed by residents.
Chief among the complaints was the elimination of the informal pedestrian and bike crossing that serves Linden St. and at Highgate St. and feeds the footbridge over the pike to Franklin Street. Residents also said they would like physical separation on the buffered bike lane in the plan, making it into a cycletrack-and requested that that cycletrack go all the way to the intersection of Cambridge and Harvard streets instead of ending at Linden St. as it does now in the plan.
Most of all, the current plan calls for one way buffered bike lanes on either side of the street on the bridge only (from Harvard Ave. to Lincoln Ave.), but residents want to know how that configuration would work on the rest of the street, in particular when navigating the on and off ramps to I-90.
Cambridge Street has been thought of as one of the worst streets in the city for cyclists for decades. Residents see it as a barrier in their community, but it was also the site of bike rider Kelly Wallace’s death in 2007, which sparked the rise of the group H.E.L.L. (Helping Everyone Live Longer) that distributes free helmets. On the other side of the footbridge, Lincoln Street was the site of Kiersten Malone’s fatal crash, which sparked the beginnings of the Livable Streets Alliance, the Boston Cyclists Union, and many other efforts.
Particularly if you have biked or regularly bike Cambridge Street-you need to send a letter to MassDOT to let them know how important making this street safer is to you.
Please send an email before July 3!
(include a reference to: Project #606376)
For the information distributed at the June 18th public hearing, click here.
More information about proposed improvements:
More and more Bostonians are putting two wheels to the road – and the media has certainly taken notice this Spring. Leading the burst in the seasonal coverage was “Right of Way,” a week-long series exploring the relationship of drivers and cyclists on Boston’s streets produced by WGBH and Wicked Local (otherwise known as Gatehouse Media, a 386-newspaper media giant). True to it’s name, the majority of the coverage was balanced and thoughtful.
Originally, the series was to be named “Wheel Wars” but earlier this year supporters of the Bike Union and other groups flooded the “Wheel Wars” Facebook page with complaints, called editors, and used other avenues to influence a more balanced title.
Some quick highlights, for those of you who prefer to be on your bike rather than staring at your computer, include:
- A WGBH sponsored poll of 500 Boston residents found that only 1 out of 3 residents feel that cars and bikes are sharing the road safely. The poll indicated some support for increased bicycle infrastructure – 45 percent of respondents believe that more bike lanes are the key to a better driver-cyclist interaction. A panel discussion on the poll revealed, however, that compared with other transportation initiatives such as improving the T, bike lanes are given lower priority by most respondents. Clearly cyclists want more bike lanes, but understandably the wider population demands good transit (even cyclists, we assume).
- In another segment of the series, Bike Union director Pete Stidman made the case for better bicycle infrastructure — cycletracks in particular — throughout many neighborhoods in the city.
- Wicked Local profiles other advocacy efforts as well, in particular a push led by MassBike to pass the Vullnerable Road User Bill that would put harsher penalties on drivers who intentionally harm cyclists and pedestrians.
- In panel discussions, bicyclists from all walks of life discussed the joys and challenges of biking as well as on an interactive map of “problem areas” for bicyclists and more informal postings the “Right of Way” Facebook page.
- The series explored how to be both a better driver and cyclist, with a safety quiz and tips for bikers, as well as a piece featuring Dan Strollo, President of Massachusetts Driver Education Association, who discussed how drivers can improve their skills of sharing the road with bikes. Number one suggestion? Ride a bike to see how it feels in their shoes. Number two? Brush up on the rules – dust off that driver’s manual you haven’t looked at since the permit test.
- Coverage extended beyond Boston proper, with pieces from WGBH on hot spots of bicycling debate such as Arlington and Wellesley and an inspiring piece on Wicked Local about the healing benefits of cycling for veterans in Plymouth.
- On a lighter note, the series also sampled some exciting new bike inventions – including a bike horn that can hold its own against cars – as well as cyclist fashion statements.
If there was any consensus in the varied commentators in the series’ panel discussions, it was simply that cycling and bike infrastructure has grown rapidly in Boston in the last six years – going from 1 to 60 miles of on-street bike infrastructure. Bike commuting shot up by 80 in the last ten years, but Boston has a long way to go before it is truly a “bike city.” Part of that will be increased civility on the road. WGBH’s Callie Crossley got to the heart of the matter: “Nobody’s life is worth a claim to the right of way.”
All in all, the stories, interviews, features, and response to “Right of Way” did much to further the ongoing conversation on the challenges and opportunities of truly “complete” streets in Boston. The Bike Union sends a big thank you to the stellar reporting, editing, and producing staff of WGBH and Wicked Local who worked on the series, as well as to all our members who participated in the coverage. It is this continued conversation and the connections and relationships that we are forming in the diverse cycling community that are transforming Boston into a better city for cycling.
Each year the Climate Ride from NYC to DC brings together hundreds of cyclists to inspire and empower citizens to work toward a new energy future——and bicycles are a big part of that. For Bike Union members, the Climate Ride has proven an excellent way to raise money and enjoy a magnificent ride trough the Mid-Atlantic states.
This year board member and cyclo-cross enthusiast Phil Stango is captaining the Bike Union team and leading them to fundraising victory. From the exciting departure by ferry in Manhattan to the hero’s welcome and rally at the steps of the US Capitol, the east-coast version of Climate Ride is more than a bike trip – it’s an inspiring journey with 200 like-minded people who are united by their passion for sustainability, renewable energy, and bicycles – the ultimate carbon-free form of transportation.
You’ll find out why they call New Jersey “The Garden State” as you cycle through the lush landscape. You’ll explore the historic Delaware River Valley, discover Pennsylvania’s Amish country, and pedal through horse country in Maryland before arriving at the Capitol in Washington DC. Evening programs and dynamic speakers combine with world-class riding to make this charitable event exciting, informative, and fun.
Climate Ride takes care of all the details, so you can focus on riding the 45-70 miles per day of carefully planned routes on back roads that meander through the countryside. It’s challenging yet doable, and you have all day to make it to the next rest stop. The ride has followed the same route between the two cities since the first Climate Ride in 2008, although portions change from year to year. The Climate Ride support team is always nearby to assist you, keep you happy and healthy, and make your ride worry-free and memorable.
Ride with us!
Join our team by registering for this year’s Climate Ride, then clicking on the ‘Join this Team’ button and looking for “Boston Cyclists Union.” Once you’re signed up, you’ll be able to customize your own personal fundraising webpage and get started.
And if you can’t spare the time to go, you can always live vicariously through the team by fueling their fundraising dreams at the Boston Cyclists Union Team fundraising page.