Tipping point for the city? (Only if you get involved)

Since 2008, the City of Boston has made adding bike lanes to our city streets a routine event, with lanes springing up everywhere from Dorchester to Allston and from East Boston to Mattapan. But bike lanes are only one tool in most cities’ toolboxes these days. Boston still has no contraflow bike lanes, which are becoming common in Cambridge and Brookline, and there is still only one cycletrack in the city–on Western Avenue in Allston. When will Boston turn the corner as Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and dozens of other cities have done?

A rendering of what a two-way cycletrack might look like on Arlington Street, next to the Public Garden.

A rendering of what a two-way cycletrack might look like on Arlington Street, next to the Public Garden.

With your help, it could be this year.

While a simple bike lane is still proving controversial in the double-parking haven of South Boston, a contraflow bike lane is progressing quickly on Hemenway Street in the Fenway neighborhood, and full-blown two-way cycletracks are being proposed around the Public Garden. Tying all three projects and much more together, the city’s new Bike Network Master Plan, which the Boston Cyclists Union and other advocates helped create, is due to be released any day now.

If these three projects move forward and a new mayor who is progressive on all things transportation is elected–Boston could be poised on the edge of a new era that raises the bar for all of our expectations for two-wheeled safety on city streets.

Changing a city’s culture is not about meeting in back rooms with transportation officials, nor is it about stories in newsletters, major newspapers or blog articles–it’s about people and relationships. If you live in Back Bay or Beacon Hill, it’s time to talk to your neighbors about the importance of starting a cycletrack network in Downtown Boston. Yes, the Public Garden cycletrack being proposed is circular, but build in a connection to the Fiedler Pedestrian Bridge and to Columbus Avenue and you have the beginning of a new node in the bicycle network that connects the Esplanade to the Southwest Corridor. Make sure you attend the meeting in support, and invite your friends who use the street or live nearby to do the same.

South Boston’s concern around preserving double-parking, and by extension a familiar way of life, is understandable in a certain light-but allowing cyclists some safety on Broadway should stand aside from questions of aesthetics and the convenience of someone’s parking job. Whether you’re born and raised in Southie or just moved in, preventing immobilizing injuries that interfere with livelihoods and sometimes end lives should be paramount. Anger toward developers changing the neighborhood is real-but preventing injury of anyone has to remain a priority.

A contraflow on Hemenway, where many cyclists are already traveling against traffic, could pave the way for contraflows on dozens of city streets-giving bike commuting a greater time advantage over other modes of transport while also creating a safer environment for cyclists. In Europe’s urban planning circles, contraflows go hand in hand with a concept called the “detour factor.” Giving cyclists access to routes that are not allowed for motorists increases the time and distance advantage cyclists enjoy. And each time someone realizes they can ride a bike and get to work or school faster than any other mode, a new cyclist is created, making that person healthier and happier while improving traffic congestion and lowering healthcare costs.

Mayor Thomas Menino understands all of this, and has been a great leader for the bike movement. But he was encouraged by the thousands of Bostonians who regularly attend planning meetings to speak up for bikes, like this one in Southie and this all-important one in Beacon Hill. And now, more than any time in the past 20 years, cyclists have a choice to make for which direction City Hall will take on bikes. This fall, make sure to get active in your neighborhood, on the political campaign you believe will do the most for your commute, and in the voting booth.

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