City bringing cycletrack to the North End

By Pete Stidman

While bikeways raise controversy in some parts of town, some residents in the North End are calling the City of Boston’s new plan for a “hybrid” of cycletrack and bike lane on Commercial St. and Atlantic Avenue a “no-brainer.”

The city's preferred option for Commercial Street is a parking-protected cycletrack on the harbor side of the street and a bike lane on the other.

Boston Bikes’ Nicole Freedman and the city’s consultant Toole Design Group presented the “Harbor Bike” plan to a small group of residents on April 28. Harbor Bike’s long-term goal is a continuous ring of bike facilities along the water’s edge all the way from Christopher Columbus Park and the Rose Kennedy Greenway to the Esplanade.

“We get a lot of people from Europe visiting here in Boston and they’re used to much more bike infrastructure,” said Urban Adventours employee Baylor Bennett at the meeting. “I’m thrilled that this is potentially happening.” Urban Adventours is a full-service bike shop on Atlantic Avenue with a sizable rental fleet.

The design the city currently prefers includes a five-foot wide cycletrack (physically-separated bike lane) on the harbor side of the street, and a six-foot bike lane on the other side. The cycletrack would be against the sidewalk, with a two-foot buffer on the left hand side to protect from passenger-side car doors. That painted buffer would likely also include flexposts—flexible plastic posts that could be removed during winter to allow for better plowing.

The union has explored the idea of creating a safer and more family-friendly two-way cycletrack on the harbor side of the street, similar to many that run through downtown Montreal. Having such a facility running next to the water brings to mind similar facilities on Kent Street in Brooklyn, NY and even the West Side Highway in Manhattan. Only two or three of the traffic signals along Commercial street get any cross traffic that would require creating special signals for a two-way cycletrack, and these lead to parking lots, not through streets. The other signals are on intersections with no road or outlet on the harbor side.

But according to Nick Jackson of Toole, the cost of redesigning the traffic signals along the street to include phases for bicycles would be prohibitive, and including bikes with the all-walk phase just hasn’t been done in the city yet. A cost estimate for the signal redesigns was not provided but Jackson indicated it would be in the “millions.”

The two-way cycletrack would also mean the removal of five to ten more parking spots than the hybrid option in a neighborhood where parking is a rare find.

The city is organizing a second public hearing on the plan just to ensure North End residents have their say before it is installed. If the community continues to support the hybrid option, it could be installed sometime this year.


  1. Patrick on May 12, 2011 at 8:51 am

    I used to work at AdvenTours (hey Baylor!) and I found this is a great route from the heart of Downtown to the Charles (go under the Charlestown Bridge and around TD Garden). Absolutely a no-brainer: plenty of room on the street for the added lanes, and a good opportunity to connect existing infrastructure. Bostonians don’t always realize that they’re are multi-use paths along most of our waterfront. Great for recreational rides on the weekend or commuting with limited car interaction.

  2. Jeremy on May 28, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    There really should be a two-way cycle track. Signal retiming doesn’t cost very much, and the experience in New York is that most one-way protected bike paths are used by cyclists going both ways, so it should be designed to accommodate that.

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