In a disappointing development this week, the City of Boston is delaying the striping of bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue between Symphony and the Charles River——possibly until spring.
The Boston Cyclists Union learned of the decision during a regular check-in on the project, which has been highly anticipated since May of 2010, when Mayor Thomas Menino first spoke publicly about extending lanes to the bridge. In the spring of this year, anticipating push-back from motorists and possibly businesses, the Boston Cyclists Union petitioned in order to show support for the project and pack an April planning meeting which drew over 100 cyclists. A subsequent letter campaign from the Union riled BTD commissioner Thomas Tinlin, who then reiterated the fact that at that meeting, “the City unequivocally stated that it would install the bike lane between Symphony and the Harvard Bridge in 2011.”
But some measure of push-back about the plan did end up materializing unbeknownst to the union, delaying the project into 2012 and leaving Boston’s most dangerous street for cyclists un-striped till the weather warms. The delay appears to have been fairly innocuous however, a mixture of a councilor’s concern and a fear or angering local business owners, and the department is still bullish on installing the lane.
“Councilor Ross had some initial issues and concerns… and we talked them through with him,” said Freedman. “It was important for us to let him know that we had talked with businesses numerous times and I think he needed to hear that from us.”
Ross’s concerns were raised in November, and by the time they were fully addressed, the Christmas shopping season had begun, said Freedman, and it was thought that removing parking during this time would send the wrong message to local businesses.
“If that’s the case I feel horrible,” said Ross, a cyclist himself, when asked if he knew his concerns had been part of a delay. “I did not ask them to delay, I only asked that they refer to it as a temporary solution until we can make a better plan.”
Ross, who was unaware of the plan until he read about it in the Boston Herald in November, was also involved in neighborhood discussions surrounding the Berklee College of Music’s plans to develop a new 800-bed dorm and music hall at 168 Mass Ave. An idea was brought up at those discussions to begin a roadway redesign process for the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue between Symphony and the bridge, possibly leveraged with funding from the new development and other upcoming developments along the street.
“They’re very open to it and they’ve talked to the Fenway Cultural District and the BRA [Boston Redevelopment Authority] to see how they would implement the plan,” he said.
In this new design, Ross said, it might be possible to recoup some but not all of the parking lost by installing the bike lanes by widening the street. He also said that a physically separated bike lane could be part of that plan, but it likely would require narrowing sidewalks in some areas where they are “incredibly wide,” such as in front of the Christian Science Center and the Church Park Apartments.
Such a project would take at least five to ten years to complete from design to construction, and might need to reclaim as much as 12 to 16 feet of sidewalk——a move not likely to be popular with pedestrian and accessibility advocates.
In terms of the current plan for the bike lanes on Mass Ave, the city is still determined to install them, but when is not clear due to the cold weather. A warm streak could possibly change that.
“We’ll give it a try if we can, we need a few days of dry,” said Freedman. “It’s not a zero percent chance.”
But that scenario is made unlikely not only by the potential of cold weather and snow, but also by the unusual nature of contracting road striping in the dead of winter. Road striping crews are generally not called together at this time of year. If it were to happen, the lanes would be actually laid with paint, as opposed to the longer lasting thermoplast that most bike lanes are “painted” with.
Neither Freedman nor the BRA could be reached in time for this newsletter to explain where the idea for a new planning process Ross said was under discussion with the BRA stood today, but the Boston Cyclists Union will stay abreast of any new developments and keep you informed.