Comm Ave cycletrack campaign heats up

Bike Union director Pete Stidman explains to Mayor Marty Walsh why a bike lane on Comm Ave is not enough.

Bike Union director Pete Stidman explains to Mayor Marty Walsh why a bike lane on Comm Ave is not enough.

Since the Walsh Administration took over in January, the bike movement has been watching the actions of interim Transportation Commissioner Jim Gillooly, the Public Works Dept. and Boston Bikes closely to get a sense of the new direction.

Outside of the addition of paint to a few locations such as Cambridge St. in Allston, and the groundbreaking new truck sideguards ordinance pushed by the Mayor himself, the city’s progress on bike safety has slowed significantly in 2014. Public meetings on and talk of the cycletrack around the Public Garden have evaporated. The plan for the first contraflow lane on Hemenway Street in the Fenway neighborhoods has been shelved without notice. A bike lane set to be added to a key connection for South Boston residents–the W. 4th St. Bridge–has been put on hold.

But when it comes to the Commonwealth Ave 2A reconstruction project, the leaders of the bike community agree it is time to draw a line in the sand. BU Bikes, the Bike Union and all of Boston’s big biking and walking advocacy groups are calling an all-city rally for Tues.. Dec. 9, 6:30pm at the Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, 871 Comm Ave. Boston’s Interim Transportation Commissioner Jim Gillooly has said he’ll be there, and here’s why you and everyone you know needs to be there too:

The 7-block stretch of the street from Packard’s Corner to the BU Bridge has hosted more bike crashes than any other similar stretch of road in the city. At present, the city intends to widen the bike lane there, but statistics show that a bike lane clearly is not enough.

The Bike Union’s analysis shows that of 68 crashes between 2009 and 2012, 25 percent were caused by doorings and a further 8 percent are related to lane changes and parking issues, adding up to 33 percent that are likely to be entirely preventable if people are using a cycletrack. Another 17 percent are from right hooks, which could be mitigated with a protected intersection design. All of these crashes caused at least 31 ER visits, four hospital admissions and one fatality—incurring an estimated cost of $1.7 million to the victims in just four years, using cost estimates developed by the Center for Disease Control.

Compare that to the roughly $250,000 it would cost the city, the state, or Boston University (or all three ponying up) to revise plans to include a cycletrack, and the picture becomes very clear. A small expenditure for the city now will save residents millions in hospital bills and likely save lives.

If that’s not convincing enough, a recent study by a student at Northeastern University has shown that 45 percent of cyclists who use the existing bike lane are actually forced out of it by illegally parked cars.

In October, Jeff Rosenblum of LivableStreets Alliance and Pete Stidman of the Boston Cyclists Union made these points and others in a presentation to Interim Commissioner Jim Gillooly at a meeting of over 20 other staff and consultants from the city and state. The result of that meeting seems to be a shift toward a cycletrack, but it’s still unclear.

To counter any technical objections to the cycletrack, a few Bike Union volunteers who happen to be traffic engineers created a full conceptual design for the street from end to end, showing conclusively that fitting a cycletrack within the street’s parameters is a solvable problem for Commissioner Gillooly——even with the challenging fact that the MBTA’s reservation for the Green Line is significantly expanding.

With all the evidence piling up, including a downward trend in motor vehicle traffic on the street, and skyrocketing biking and walking numbers, “If not here, then where?” is the question many in the Bike Union’s organizing group and other leaders are asking. But it still isn’t completely clear where Interim Commissioner Jim Gillooly stands. It’s a new kind of infrastructure, but also one that all major cities in the U.S. are now implementing in one form or another.

“What about the little old lady getting out of her car door?” Gillooly asked, shortly after Stidman and Rosenblum’s October presentation ended. ”What about the kid listening to his headphones?”

Even the city’s walking advocates—while cautious about creating a design that will keep pedestrian and bike conflicts to a minimum—see the point of protecting people who ride bikes from harm.

“This is one place in the city where we must increase safety and capacity for walkers, cyclists and transit users,” said Wendy Landman, Executive Director of WalkBoston. “Any plan that does not: (1) create safe and accessible Green Line platforms that are served by safe street crossings; (2) maintain and improve the space and amenities for pedestrians; and (3) provide safe and well regulated separated bicycle routes (cycle tracks), is just not adequate. The redesign of Comm Ave. will help to set the stage for Go Boston 2030, Mayor Walsh’s forward looking mobility plan. We need to get this right.”

And on a bike ride with Mayor Marty Walsh last Saturday, organized by the Bike Union, both the mayor and Commissioner Gillooly seemed to be warming up to the Comm Ave Cycletrack proposal. Riding in the door zone on Comm Ave, Mayor Walsh said he could feel his own tendency to shy away from the oncoming traffic to his left, and he recognized the calamity a quickly opened door would bring. Commissioner Gillooly proposed an idea to help people visualize where the cycletrack would be—and agreed to let advocates work with him on the dimensions of it. He also accepted an invitation to participate in the BU Bikes public meeting on Dec. 9.

Because this project will help set the tone for the next 20 years of the Walsh Administration, the Bike Union is billing this as perhaps the most important bike planning meeting this decade. Be there, bring friends and family, and be ready to speak up for a cycletrack on Comm Ave!

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