Somerville split over Beacon St. cycle track

Beacon St. is a busy commuter route lacking safe cycling infrastructure

The third public meeting on Somerville’s ambitious Beacon Street cycletrack proposal started out with a series of surprising slurs on bicyclists.

“When I was a kid and I got my first bike, the first thing my dad told me was: Don’t ride in the street,” said Vincent Drago, a longtime Somerville resident. He added that Somerville Ave. runs parallel to Beacon Street and has a bike lane “as wide as two tables.” “Why do you need to bike on Beacon Street at all?”

A second resident stood up and asked why the city would encourage bicyclists to come into the neighborhood when they wouldn’t be able to afford a house. In all five speakers trash-talked cyclists before Boston Cyclists Union Executive Director Pete Stidman got to the microphone.

“I am not a Somerville resident, but I am someone who represents cyclists who don’t normally have a voice in these decision-making processes… and I have never heard such insults,” he said.

Stidman presented a crash map of Beacon Street and cited results of the Union’s Customer Survey of Beacon Street (carried out with help from Livable Streets Alliance) and encouraged residents to take the decision “seriously,” because people are getting injured on the street.

Over the previous weeks, Union and Livable Streets Alliance volunteers from Somerville and beyond criss-crossed the street’s business areas to collect 406 surveys that asked people about their shopping habits and how they got to Beacon Street. The results indicated that the grand majority of shoppers (68 percent) were pedestrians, that cyclists and cars were roughly even (even though cyclists make up roughly a quarter of the through traffic on Beacon), and MBTA transit users a close fourth.

When motorists were asked how they would respond if parking was “harder to find,” one third said they would go somewhere else, that group making up 3.4 percent of the total customer mix.

The Union concluded from the study that efforts should be made to make parking for businesses easy to find through better regulation or metering near business storefronts—neither of which are done now for Café Rustica, Beacon St. Laundromat, or the businesses around Star Market. Also, based on evidence collected when other cycletracks have been installed around the country and the world, a longer cycletrack (e.g., all the way to Inman Square) is more likely to increase the cycling rate. Given that cyclists are stopping to shop more often than motorists on Beacon, such an increase could be a boon for local businesses.

A long evening followed Stidman’s comments as people on each side of the debate stepped up to the mic to state their opinion—each getting roughly the same volume of applause, albeit from different parts of the room.
“[The number of people biking] was in the dozens seven or eight years ago when I started and it’s going to keep growing,” said Somerville resident Phil Goff, citing the city’s bike count of 253 cyclists at peak hour at the intersection Beacon and Washington streets. “I think the city should really be considering a cycletrack all the way down to Inman Square.”

About as many speakers described times they’d been doored or hit while biking on the street as did shop owners predicting doom for their businesses. But a few paths toward resolution were also forged.

Hayes Morrison, Somerville’s director of transportation and infrastructure, said the city would go back and study the parking situation in depth, confirming the counts made before and also looking at the twice-a-week street cleaning nights when half the parking is off limits on Beacon. The city is also pursuing parking space leasing arrangements with Star Market and other parking lot owners on the street, many of whom have vast amounts of parking to spare.

Despite studies that indicate massive reductions in injury risk for cyclists when cycletracks are installed, and the fact that streets are fully reconstructed only every 30 to 50 years or so, there are still a number of people against improving Beacon Street for cyclists—or calling for a simple repaving. It’s important that those who recognize the opportunity in this $4 million project to increase access to this key commuter route make their opinions known.

There are two ways you can help ensure a safer ride on Beacon Street.
1.     Sign the petition here.
2.     If you are a Somerville resident, write a letter (as short or as long as you like) and cc the following list of people including the Somerville Chief of Staff, Somerville Director of Transportation and Tranposrtation, MassDOT Project Manager, Somerville Aldermen At Large, and your ward alderman. Find their email addresses here. Not sure which ward you live in? Click here!

Want to learn more? Check out our Beacon Street Factsheet and our Beacon St. crash map.

3 comments to Somerville split over Beacon St. cycle track

  • MacCruiskeen

    If business owners don’t want to support cyclists, then cyclists shouldn’t feel obligated to support those businesses and we can easily take our money elsewhere (after all, we’re on wheels!). Maybe cyclists need to be a little more proactive to make their economic impact felt.

    Though, personally, I’d be thrilled if the city just repaved them damn street; parts of Beacon are like riding on the Moon!

    And someone needs to learn what “parallel” means.

  • Mark

    Did Phil Goff claim to live in Somerville?

    What drives much anti-cycling sentiment is a large amount of lawless and reckless behavior by cyclists. People’s attitudes towards motorcyclists improved after motorcyclists cleaned up their behavior. Cyclists need to do the same to advance their cause.

  • infoferret

    Yeah, the next time I see a bike parked and locked in a car travel lane I’ll think of you. Oh, wait. Or a car taking an illegal turn on red or blocking an intersection or plowing into a crosswalk on red – like I do every day downtown. Or when a cyclist kills a motorist and pretends nothing happened. Oh, wait.

    Why hasn’t Mark been blocked? He’s a crank that has been poisoning multiple forums with his fact-free and fact-deficient rantings. He wants the world to be paved so he can feel the g-forces – only cars allowed. He also thinks that getting bikes off the street will take care of traffic jams, not getting people out of cars on streets that have been jammed for thirty plus years.

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