Brookline goes big for Route 9 cycletrack design

A rendering of the Bike Union's redesign of a key section of Route 9 in Brookline. Rendering by Jessi Flynn.

A rendering by Bike Union volunteer Jessi Flynn of the Bike Union’s redesign of Route 9.

The Bike Union’s efforts to create a new vision for a protected bike lane (cycletrack) on Route 9 paid off big at a large public meeting in Brookline last Wednesday, Dec. 3.

The meeting was billed as a design charrette and several groups, some from local schools, gave presentations of their ideas for the street’s future. Several presenters projected a cycletrack rendering created by Bike Union volunteer Jessi Flynn. Her rendering was based on a redesign of the street complete with cycletrack created by volunteer Mark Tedrow and board member Peter Furth, which was also referred to. It became clear over the course of the evening that their design was a powerful tool that helped gather support for the cycletrack among Brookline residents.

The meeting was held to discuss the Gateway East project, which involves the reconstruction of a short stretch of Route 9 within Brookline Village, roughly from the Jamaicaway to Washington and Walnut streets.

When the first new design for this stretch of Route 9 was originally drawn up for the town in 2012, one of the stated goals was to improve bicycle accommodation. However, the 2012 plan did not include bike lanes, much less cycle tracks. Instead, it “accommodated” bikes with the kind of unmarked shoulders you’re likely to see on a rural highway.

When the project was designated for funding earlier this year by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Brookline Bicycle Advisory Committee began asking if a cycletrack would fit on the street, and at a committee meeting the Bike Union picked up on it and began working with Tedrow and Furth to answer the question. It was clear Route 9 would benefit from a safer facility because of its high traffic, and the critical link it provides between the Muddy River paths and relatively calm bike routes that fan out into Brookline along Walnut, Washington, and Harvard streets.

The drawings, completed in August, include advanced features such as protected intersections and “floating bus stops” (where the cycletrack goes behind a bus stop). Union volunteer Jessi Flynn then created an appealing hand-drawn rendering of what the cycletrack might look like.

Of the other 25 or so members of the public that commented after the presentations, nearly all expressed enthusiastic support for cycletracks, and there was not a single comment in opposition. The main point made again and again was that for this street to serve “normal” people going to work, school, shopping, or recreation, a shoulder or bike lane will not do. Cyclists need to be protected from traffic in a cycletrack.

A representative of Children’s Hospital, which is developing a large office building along the road and is contributing $1 million to the project’s $5.4 million cost, also spoke out in favor of cycletracks. They said that their new building has limited car parking because it was designed with the expectation that people would get there by other means, including by bike, and so for their project to succeed, they need safe bicycling access along Route 9.

Listening to the presentation was Selectman Neal Wishinsky, along with many of the town’s transportation planning and engineering staff, MassDOT officials, and representatives from VHB, the engineering consultant hired by the town to redesign the street. In order to respond to the Union’s cycletrack design, the town also recently engaged Toole Design Group, a firm specializing in bike planning, to be part of the project’s design team.

After hearing the unanimous, enthusiastic community support for cycletracks, it may be hard for the town of Brookline’s transportation department to come back to the public with anything less than real physical protection for cyclists in the next iteration of the street’s design.

Stay tuned to the Bike Union’s email and social media sources to be alerted about that meeting when it is scheduled. The town wants to have a design ready for construction bids by winter 2015-16, so quick action is expected.

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