Bike lanes to grace Centre and South streets!

A sign proposed for Centre and South streets, to be affixed to parking sign posts. These signs and a further innovation in the bike lane marking are designed to decrease the incidence of dooring.

In Jamaica Plain, a bubbling controversy over bike lanes on Centre and South streets has been the talk of the town for the past few months. For those of you not caught up in the JP rumor mill, it began back in early February when a handful of cyclists took an anti-bike lane stance during a planning meeting looking at a redesign of both Centre and South streets—Jamaica Plain’s main drag. These folks were quoted in the Jamaica Plain Gazette, making it appear as though Boston’s bike-happiest community was against bike lanes. A flurry of pro-bike lane letters graced the next edition of the Gazette, which prompted a further volley of anti-bike lane letters, and a very unfortunate adversarial situation developed. The debate even had roots in Boston bike history, as the main opponent was former bike czar Paul Schimek, who has traditionally opposed bike lanes in the city.

To convince the city that the majority of Jamaica Plainers were in support of bike lanes, JP Bikes and the Boston Cyclists Union hit the streets and gathered well over 1,400 signatures from Jamaica Plain residents in support of bike lanes “wherever possible” on the street. The “wherever possible” being an acknowledgment that certain parts of the street would likely be too narrow to squeeze them in.

On Thursday this week (April 29), a CAC meeting of over 80 JP residents—over half of them cyclists by a show of hands—approved of a plan that would alternate bike lanes and sharrows on different parts of the Centre and South streets. A more detailed design could potentially change some of the particulars, but by the proposal given by the city this is what will be painted on the street this year (yep, 2010!):

  • Bike lanes will run on both sides from Sedgwick Street on South Street to Lakeville Road on Centre Street, except for a narrow two-block patch down by the JP Post office which will use sharrows.
  • Jackson to Hyde Square will have a “climbing lane,” essentially a bike lane on the uphill side, where bikes will travel slower, and sharrows on the downhill side.
  • Another climbing lane between McBride Street and Sedgewick.
  • Sharrows for all other parts of the street.

The bike lanes will also have an exciting innovation that helps keep riders out of the “door zone.” Perpendicular lines will jut out of the stripe on the parking side of the bike lane, looking a bit like long teeth. They will extend roughly halfway across each bike lane, and a narrow guide arrow in the direction of travel will hug the stripe on the traffic side of the bike lane. A study from San Francisco has shown that this marking innovation encourages more riders to travel outside of the dreaded door zone.

Parents of young children at the meeting were a bit dismayed that bike lanes will not run the length of Centre Street (Note: the Gazette mistakenly reports this as a sentiment that the bike lanes will be “less safe”).

But given a tough situation, the city’s plan does everything possible to make the street as safe as possible without the removal of parking or other changes that would require a total curb to curb reconstruction. It is a big step in the right direction. And the ongoing BRA planning process for Centre and South streets is an opportunity to do more. Keep track of it and check out the bike lane power point (look for the 4/29 meeting, should be up soon) here.

Special thanks to Bill Schultheiss, an engineer from Toole Design Group who was flown in particularly for this meeting. His detailed presentation of the pros and cons of bike lanes played a big part in showing the amount of careful thought and consideration that went into the city’s plan. Schultheiss is an active member of the Bicycle Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), the latter of which sets the standards for road markings for the nation.


  1. matt on May 1, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    This is such wonderful news. (I wish I could have been there on Thursday, though I am not a JP resident and so my vote wouldn’t’ve counted.) My commute from Westwood to East Cambridge comes up South St. from the Forest Hills T to Pond St., where I join the Jamaica Pond bike path. Assuming I’ve understood correctly, I can’t believe there will be a northbound lane from McBride all the way to Pond!! this is amazing!!!

    I get honked at all the time, including when I rode it yesterday morning, and this will help. I get honked at even when there are sharrows, but I”ve never been honked at when there’s a bike lane.

    I’m particularly delighted to hear that the perpendicular “teeth” will be painted on these bike lanes. I was bike-commuting for a few weeks before I happened to see something on about the “door zone” – I had no idea. the teeth will serve as a visual warning, and I”m sure will become a model for bike lanes all over the city.


  2. matt on May 1, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    ah, I see “most” of the way not “all” of the way. still, a huge step fwd

  3. […] might even have special signs to help decrease dooring! (img via Boston Cyclist Union) A sign proposed for Centre and South streets, to be affixed to parking sign posts. These signs and […]

  4. JP on May 9, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    I love to bike and have been an avid urban bicyclist for several years. I am a little hesitant to jump on the go bike lane bandwagon that so many planners seem to promote, as I believe that “cheap” bike lanes often take the focus off of more comprehensive and yes, more expensive long term transportation improvements.

    I guess Bendy Buses & Bikes are the new mantra along former trunk streetcar corridors in “bohemian” American neighborhoods such as Jamaica Plain. What’s happening to Centre/South seems like a dream come true to a certain Jamaica Plain bike shop owner and his transportation planner wife.

    While I enjoy biking my first love is mass transit. I haven’t been to Centre/South in 2 years since the former streetcar tracks were paved over ahead of long overdue plans to restore streetcar service. I doubt the new bike lanes will lure me back to Centre/South. Much of what I dislike about the outlying neighborhoods within the city of Boston is the extent to which the pre-WWII urban fabric in these areas has been eroded by the automobile and automobile related infrastructure. I doubt that Bendy Buses & Bikes will lure enough people out of their automobiles and re-knit the urban fabric to the same extent that modern streetcar service would.

    For reasons inexplicable to me, it seems that whenever space along a proposed rail corridor is given away to bikes instead of rail service, (in the Boston area at least) the proposed rail service might as well be written off forever as unlike in countries like the Netherlands, hard-core bicyclists in the US seem to hate most aspects of rail service and will do everything within their power to prevent streetcars or light rail from encroaching upon what’s perceived as their territory.

  5. MC on May 14, 2010 at 6:10 am

    Great to hear that JP is getting bike lanes. I can’t wait to ride on them!

  6. JP_Too on May 15, 2010 at 9:15 am

    a) So happy to see some sort of plan moving forward. I hope it spreads to the rest of Boston (especially since my commute takes me down the oh-so-gnarly Columbia Road)!

    b) So disappointed to see JP’s comments trying to pit bicyclist against public transit riders. I use both, and I think most bicyclists would agree that both are needed. I agree with JP that far too much accommodation/capitulation is given to the auto industry and its proponents. But I also think that too much hope and speculation has been invested into what restoring trolley service might have provided for JP. Regardless of my mode of transportation, the place I feel the second least safe in is where South Huntington turns onto Route 9, and I have to contend with pedestrians, bicycles, cars, the Green Line, and the tracks for the Green Line.

    We’re making room for bicycles and buses, which makes a lot of people happy, and which seems to make sense when we do not have the resources for more light rail. Let’s work with that and push for other ways to tame the auto-addicts and their pushers, like traffic calming devices, more buses with bicycle racks, bus-only lanes, head-start traffic lights for buses, bicycle lanes on sidewalks, and more no-car zones (or no-car days like they have in South America). AND the biggest one of all–more enforcement of existing speeding and other traffic laws, so we all feel safer!

  7. pete on May 18, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Good news for you JP_Too,

    Thanks to the advocacy of Boston Cyclists Union, a new design for Columbia Road that includes bike lanes has been submitted to the state and will likely be approved and painted either this summer or fall or in 2011.

    We regularly collaborate with DotBike on efforts like this, so please send us your requests for new facilities and other improvements. We read these comments and the emails you send!

    -Pete Stidman,

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