Write a letter by Dec. 31!By Alex Nenoupolos and Pete Stidman
Just days before its initial public comment deadline, the advisory group for the South Boston Waterfront Sustainable Transportation Plan momentarily changed its tack and eliminated the long-planned Summer Street Cycletrack from its outlook. The move was seen as a major setback by neighborhood bike advocates who were at a Dec. 18 public meeting to ask for additional better bikeways on D Street and parts of Northern Ave.
“I was quite surprised,” said Joshua Schiedel, who brought his newborn baby Diego to the meeting. “What upsets me about this version of the plan is how it… reinforces the inefficient transportation model that already causes problems. They have an opportunity to build the neighborhood of the future here, but instead they’re giving us what’s already not working.”
The local online news source The Fort Pointer reacted on its Twitter feed by noting that the cycletrack had roots in community planning processes going back to 2007.
Reacting to neighborhood residents, administrator of the plan Ricky Dimino, CEO of A Better City, described a little of the internal debate.
“On one side of Summer Street we’re going to have a pretty expansive hotel and a parking facility,” he said. “On the other side we’re going to have the convention center and we’ll have incredible bus loading operations on both sides plus access to the hotel and heavy pedestrian volumes that need to be accommodated. We want to accommodate bicycles too. We haven’t figured it out yet in the best possible way.”
One of the weaknesses of the Sustainable Transportation Plan has been the lack of any member of the advisory group who has encyclopedic knowledge of professional bike planning. Among major planning efforts in the city in recent years, the Sustainability Plan is unusual in that it does not officially include representatives from any of the transportation advocacy groups in Boston, such as Walk Boston, MassBike, Livable Streets, or the Boston Cyclists Union.
Around the country valet parking and pick up/drop off areas have come up often as nearly 200 cycletracks have been installed in over 53 cities in the last few years. The engineering challenge is similar to that of bus stops. On many projects in the U.S., “floating bus stops” are used to manage bus loading. Similar designs have been in use in Europe since the 1950s and valet parking can be addressed in a similar way.
One benefit of valet parking issues over bus loading is the valets themselves, who can and do act to reduce conflicts. The Seattle Times reported that Hotel guests and valets at the Marriott Courtyard on next to the 2nd Avenue cycletrack had to adapt quickly, because of the bikes now travelling in the cycletrack between the sidewalk and the 3-minute loading zone. But “It took only minutes for bellhops to learn the habit of warning out-of-towners to watch for bikes,” wrote the Times. The Wyndham New Yorker Hotel on 8th Avenue in New York City and hotels on Dearborn Street in busy downtown Chicago also addressed the problem with clearly marked loading, standing and valet areas as well as taxi stands. In Vancouver, the Price Tags blog posits that rather than detracting from the hotel, cycletracks, like the one installed on Hornby Street in front of Vancouver’s Wedgewood Hotel, can be a benefit for congestion and tourism.
“A well-heeled patron of the Wedgewood drives up from Seattle in his Lexus, and immediately checks his car with the valet,” wrote Price Tags. “He won’t need it for the rest of the weekend. Instead, come the morning, he walks out of the hotel to the closest docking station for a bike-share or, more likely, asks the valet to bring him an upscale touring bike especially selected for the Wedgewood’s guests.”
During public comments at the Dec. 18 meeting, Peter Furth, a Northeastern University engineering professor and leader in the Boston Cyclists Union’s Organizing Group questioned the plan’s prediction that cycling will only increase from 3 percent of commuters in 2014 to 4 percent in 2035, even though bicycling to work has doubled in Boston since 2008.
“Well sure, if you do nothing!” he said. “Most people will not ride in a bike lane where there’s high parking demand, likely to be double parked, and where there’s multi-lane traffic. You can just take bike lanes out of the tool box of facilities, if you want normal everyday people to use bike facilities, we need protected bike lanes, we need cycletracks. You look at Kendall SQ and how they were able to add 10 million square feet of office space and… traffic on the streets… went down. How they did that was partially due to employers to charging for parking and [the city] providing great biking infrastructure and public transportation.”
Ruth Bonsignore, a consultant on the plan from Vanasse Hange Brustlin (VHB), countered that Kendall doesn’t see the same nightlife traffic that the Seaport does. She said the city wants to accommodate motor vehicles because more consumers drive to the Seaport at night and truck drivers deliver more product than they do in Kendall.
After the initial comments from residents, tech workers who spoke up at the meeting, and the Bike Union, there appeared to be less consensus on eliminating the cycletrack from the plan. According to an email from the BRA’s Jim Fitgerald sent on Christmas Eve: “the type of facility for Summer Street will not be specified, rather it will be identified as a priority corridor that will provide bike accommodations throughout.”
Dimino also admitted to meeting participants that he thought the bike plan was incomplete, and strongly encouraged comments.
“There’s some elements of this plan that definitely need more work that need more attention and more concentrated conversations from our public agencies,” he said. “That’s why I want you to understand that I know our colleagues in the public agencies see it this way and so I look forward to getting your comments because we want to make sure we’re getting it right now at this particular moment—but also, we’re continuing to get it right.”
The Bike Union recommends writing constructive emails or letters to the Waterfront Plan’s administrators now, before a Dec. 31 deadline. Short or long, every letter will be taken as input for the plan. A simple statement of support for a Summer Street Cycletrack will suffice, but more information on the plan can be found here.
Email your public comments to firstname.lastname@example.org (cc: email@example.com), use the comment form at sbwaterfrontmobility.org, or snail mail them to Rachel Hammerman, Regina Villa Associates, 51 Franklin Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02110-1301.