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10 Ways Boston Can Beat Portland As America’s Most Bike Friendly City

Bikers make their way across the Boston University bridge. Boston is working to increase the number of bike lanes throughout the city. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Bikers make their way across the Boston University bridge. Boston is working to increase the number of bike lanes throughout the city. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

You’re on the sloth-like green line and late for work. There are no parking spaces in sight. You wish you could get more exercise before sitting in an office all day.

Does this sound like you? Why not try biking around bean town? It seems like a great idea, but recent data has raised concerns about the high rate of cyclist collisions in Boston. Sure, we all want to be green, healthy and efficient, but bicycle advocates say more needs to be done to make biking safer in Boston.

Not long ago, bicycling.com. ranked Boston 16th on a list of America’s most bike-friendly cities.

Much has to change to move Boston from number 16 into the top five, along with cities like Boulder, Colorado, Minneapolis, or top-ranked Portland, Oregon.

Guests

Pete Stidman, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union and an avid bicyclist.

Dahianna Lopez, Ph.D. student in health policy at Harvard University. She’s collecting bike collision data in Boston as part of her dissertation.

Rob Sadowsky, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland, Oregon. He tweets @rsadowsky.

10 Ways Boston Can Beat Portland As America’s Most Bike Friendly City

1. Continue making progress:
Pete Stidman: “We ha ve made a ton of progress, I think. We’ve put down a lot of bike lanes on what the city likes to call ‘low hanging fruit’ — streets that are wide enough and don’t have much controversy tied to them in terms of trade offs with parking or travel lanes or other uses. But now we’re getting into the more difficult stuff, and it’s an interesting time to watch what the city does.”

2. Work on long-term goals:
PS: “The long-term goal is to have a connected network of low-stress bike ways around the city, so anybody would be able to travel with their kids, or if they’re a little bit scared of cycling now, this would be… almost like having a bike path on [the] street… We’re famous for having narrow streets, but we’ve measured, actually, all of them now… and there is potential for this kind of system.”

3. Make Commonwealth Avenue safer:
PS: “One of the challenges right now that people are watching the news is Comm. Ave and the city has a lot of trade offs to consider. They’re widening the green line… there are some new standards having to do with the [American Disabilities Act] but the city is not currently planning any improvements for bicycle infrastructure although we think that’s totally possible.”

4. Design protected bike lanes:
PS: “Comm. Ave. is the clearest example of where you need a protected bike lane in the city — other than Mass. Ave. — because we see so many crashes on it. So, we had 68 crashes, and 17 of those were dooring — which we know cycle traps are really good at preventing… The basic definition is that they’re protected by some kind of physical buffer. So actually, on Comm. Ave., we’re looking at, now, a median cycle track on the left hand side, similar to what they have in a bike lane, on the other part of Comm. Ave. towards the Boston Common.”

5. Map bike collisions:
Dahianna Lopez: “In terms of safety, it does give us a sense of what corridors might be places where cyclists might want to take instead of other corridors that might have more crashes. But at the same time, I think perceiving the map — looking at it and saying, ‘It’s full of dots, you know, it’s not safe to be here.’ I don’t think that that should be the case. I think the dots on the map should be… explaining where we need to focus in terms of the infrastructure that Pete is talking about.”

6. Remember that bike collisions are rare:
DH: “I think it should still be perceived as safe. One of the things that needs to be remembered is that bicycle crashes are rare events. It just so happens that we’ve compiled these points, over a four-year period of time, and so it ends up looking like a lot of points. But if you look at the number of cyclists that are going through, which we don’t know the full number, but also the number of vehicles that are going through, if you really think about it, it’s a rare event.”

7. Prioritize capital investments:
DH: “What we’re learning from this map is the areas that need infrastructure are those areas that have hotpots — or those areas that, if you look at them in a… geographic map, have a high density of crashes. And what it’s allowing us to do is prioritize these capital investments. In terms of something that Pete mentioned, with regards to the infrastructure… it’s always really difficult to get something done in terms of installations, mostly because you have to deal with multiple agencies all in tandem. So, you have… the transportation department but you also have the police department and you have multiple departments that are working on one area. And so to get everyone on the same page, you know, a lot of it is the politics, but a lot of it is also the funding for the infrastructures. It’s hard to coordinate.”

8. Eliminate bureaucratic obstacles:
PS: “It’s a big bureaucracy. It’s the city, and the state, and the feds that we really have to turn around and get thinking more about bicycling because, actually, when you do invest in bicycling, it pays off in much bigger ways… A bike line, or a cycle track, does not cost nearly as much when it’s included in a project as a full street, so you get more bang for your buck. There’s more usage… It’s a lot less than it would be to just reconstruct all the streets in the city.”

9. Focus on a network of bike lanes:
DH: “I actually did research on this when I lived in San Francisco. Of course, San Francisco is very similar to Boston in the sense that it’s not a grid, and we had similar challenges. And I think one thing that Pete will probably mention is building infrastructure that separates the bicycles from the motor vehicles. A lot of research has shown that if you can actually separate it, which is what they do in European countries, that you can reduce the fatalities and the injuries dramatically. So, that’s definitely something that I think Boston should focus on and I think focusing on an actual network rather than going street by street is what would be important.”

10. Build neighborhood green ways:
Rob Sadowsky: “There’s no number one magic bullet — it’s combining things and putting things together things in a combined network. It’s important not just to have those nice, safe streets on the arterial boulevard that Pete was talking about, but it’s also important to have neighborhood streets where you can get from your house and to your school, or from your house to that arterial street or two from your house to a trail, so you can get through to that. We have 319 miles of bike ways, a little more than was reported earlier… More than 60 of those are neighborhood green ways where they are neighborhood streets designed for 20 miles an hour, but easy for bikes to ride side by side with priorities. You can still get to drive on them if you’re driving in a car, but you can’t go many blocks because you’ll end up being diverted. It’s really made for local traffic. Combine that with our great ‘Sunday Parkways’ — our open streets. Five times a year, we close 13 miles of neighborhood streets to cars, for people walking and biking and strolling and dogs, and then throw into that… our ‘Safe Routes to School,’ program which is in 80 of our schools, where we’re teaching kids bike safety first in the classroom, then on the blacktop, then, finally, on the street.”

More

Boston Bikes: Boston Bike Network Plan

  • “The Boston Bike Network Plan proposes a seamless network of on and off-street routes linking destinations from one end of Boston to the other.”

The Boston Globe: Cambridge Debuts First Bicycle Traffic Signal

  • “As local transportation officials and engineers work to improve safety for Boston’s cyclists, they’re starting to realize that the things we think make Boston bad for bikes…are exactly the factors that made the Dutch bicycle revolution possible half a century ago.”

The Boston Globe: A Cyclist’s Mecca, With Lessons For Boston

  • “In recent weeks, a new traffic signal has appeared on Cambridge’s Western Avenue, between Massachusetts Avenue and Memorial Drive, to accompany the new separated cycle track recently finished in a round of construction.”

Other stories from this show:

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  • J__o__h__n

    There are bike lanes on the Mass Ave and Moakley bridges yet every single time I have walked over the bridges there are bikes on the sidewalks. Why should we add bike lanes if the cyclists aren’t using them? I support the lanes in theory.

    • Brian

      i’m pretty sure the people who ride on the side walks are too afraid to ride on the street. people go nearly 40 mph on the mass ave bridge which can be intimidating to a cyclist.

      • J__o__h__n

        So why should they endanger pedestrians?

        • Brian

          it seems to me that if you ride slowly enough, while being a big pain in the neck, it’s not that dangerous to the pedestrians. it is certainly disorderly and undermining the efforts people have put forth to legitimize bike travel in the city. i do empathize with people who fear for their lives on some of the faster roads like the mass ave bridge, but i can’t speak for anyone who recklessly charges down a pedestrian-filled side walk.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            Cyclists can’t have it both ways. Can’t have the city spending millions trying to make it safer on the streets only to then ride on the sidewalks.

          • Brian

            I agree. In order for cycling to work in cities it will take cooperation between all parties.

          • JS

            Yet me spend billions on cars and drivers still break the law, and kill people, every day. No problem with that I guess.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            I don’t even know what that means.

          • JS

            You say cyclist can’t have it both ways (spend $ for them, yet they still break the law)

            Yet we accept this situation with cars all the time: billions spent, yet they pollute, kill people, cause noise pollution, speed, and sometime even drive on the sidewalks or through buildings.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            Yes, cars run people over but no one expresses sympathy for them as did the poster I was responding to and suggests they can ride safely on the sidewalk.

          • JS

            The poster was empathizing, not sympathizing, with people who fear for their lives on some of the faster roads,

            And bikes shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk, it’s against the law. But it can be done safely. Just like driving 31 in a 30 is against the law, but can be done safely, just like not coming to a full complete stop at a stop sign is against the law, but can be done safely.

            The solution is better bike paths, safer bike lanes, eduction for cyclist and drivers, and common sense enforcement of existing laws.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            And I return to my main point: Cyclists can’t have it both ways. They are cars or they are pedestrians.

          • JS

            They are neither cars nor pedestrians, but a cyclist with a legal right to the road.

            Cars have it both ways ($ spent despite misuse)
            Pedestrians have it both ways ($ spent despite misuse)

            Why should cyclist have it any different?

          • Jackie Ferrara

            Yes- to the road. Within driving laws. Not on the sidewalk, running red lights, ignoring stop signs. No one is arguing that cars need to be on sidewalks or have elevated lanes to protect them from trucks and no one defends driving like an a hole.

            Cyclists should not have it any different- that is my argument. They should be treated like motorcycles are. The entire universe should not have to redesign itself to accommodate them. We have roads- feel free to use them at your own peril.

          • JS

            I didn’t realize we were redesigning the entire universe here.

            Cars violate driving laws all the time, often with fatal results, and people do not seem to get as upset as they do when a cyclist “ignores a stop sign” at a speed no different that a car’s “rolling stop” method of ignoring a stop sign.

            Yes, some cyclist sometimes ride on sidewalks. It is against the law and should not be done or encouraged.

            Driving a car over 30mph in a 30 mph zone is also illegal, but I bet (if you drive) you probably commit this crime every single time you do drive.

            I believe there are sometimes when driving a car 31mph in a 30mph zone can be done safely, just like in some situations a bicycle can be ridden on a sidewalk safely (i.e: a slow, walking speed, when no pedestrians are present, and when it is safe to do so).

            Driving recklessly over the speed limit or cycling recklessly on the sidewalk should not be done and infractions should be dealt with severely.

            We do have roads, paid for by the taxes of the people, which includes cyclists. It is perfectly fine to lobby for the redesign of roads to decrease the peril associated with cycling. That’s all that’s being proposed here. There’s no reason why our transportation infrastructure cannot be designed to accommodate cars, cyclist, and pedestrians.

            Incidentally, it was cyclist that first lobbied to have roads paved.

  • http://twitter.com/spencer4fire Spencer

    what are the laws that apply to prohibit cars, taxis, delivery trucks, and even cops from parking on top of bicycle lanes? Bike lanes are a great idea, but when they are blocked they put us cyclists at risk when we must circumvent an illegal vehicle on top of the lane.

    • J__o__h__n

      I saw several police motorcycles parked in one once near an event they were attending.

    • Dorian

      many municipalities explicitly outlaw parking in bike lanes (It’s illegal in the city of Boston) – there’s no statewide ban, but it’s implied through the law. If you see this happening a lot in certain places, you should report it.

  • bilbo44

    Hi
    As a pedestrian in Boston, i see so many bicyclists who do not follow the laws and are a danger to me and other pedestrians. Examples going thru red lights, riding on sidewalks, going down one ways streets, weaving in and out of traffic riding in Boston Common and Public garden. i have almost been run over or run into a bike 4 times in the last 5 months. It is difficult for one to hear bikes coming.

    • Jackie Ferrara

      This is my experience as well.

      • AngryDoc

        Stop jaywalking. The red hand means don’t walk. I am SO TIRED of people like you whining about bikes “almost hitting me” when you are the ones crossing against the light and I am the one with the green light. Get over yourself, pay attention, and stop jaywalking!

        • Jackie Ferrara

          That’s not me. I’m talking about the bikes going the wrong way down a street, blowing through stop signs and red lights, and riding on the sidewalk.

    • Nick M

      I walk more than I ride, or drive in the city. As a pedestrian I see motor vehicles performing all sorts of dangerous maneuvers. I’m more concerned about a car or truck taking me out than I am a person on a bike hitting me. The person on the bike has something to lose too, but driving a motor vehicle is a license to kill in MA.

    • Nick M

      As a driver I’m horrified at many pedestrians, people on bikes, but mostly other drivers.

    • Jb Fentner

      -Almost-. Stop victimizing yourself and, I dunno, try looking both ways before you cross streets.

    • Jeremy Morrison

      Almost is key. How many pedestrians have been hit by a bike in Boston compared to cars? I believe it’s almost none, if not none, to a whole hell of a lot.

    • AngryDoc

      Stop jaywalking and crossing when you don’t have the light and we will talk.

  • Jeanne DeMartinez

    I wonder about the basic logic of bikers in the right lane with the flow of traffic where car door and right turn accidents are so likely to occur. Why not bike against the traffic, allowing everyone to make eye contact?

    • Jeremy Morrison

      Because bikers need the traffic lights, signs, and lines like a car does. Because riding on the opposite side of the road would not work in so many road situations whatsoever. Because even getting doored is less dangerous than getting hit by an oncoming car.

    • MattyCiii

      First, because the law requires it.

      The law in this case is smart and right. A cyclist moving at 20mph hit by an overtaking vehicle doing 30 is hit at a relative speed of 10 mph, and will likely survive. The same two road users moving in opposite directions is a 50mph combined speed, which is certain death for the cyclist and possibly even injury for the driver

  • Jackie Ferrara

    Bike riders and the people who love them just need to accept that cycling is dangerous. In the same way and for the same reasons motorcycles are dangerous. People should be and feel free to ride them despite the risk, but it’s unrealistic (in terms of expense) and unfair to try and alter the behavior of everyone around the cyclist to try and mitigate that risk.

    • Nick M

      Why should we just accept that behavior can’t be changed?

      • Jackie Ferrara

        If there was something wrong with the behavior of the drivers, I’d say it should change. Bikers, again like motorcycles, are a tiny minority of people engaging in a risky behavior. More power to them, but they should work within the existing system rather than expect that system to accommodate them.

        • Jeremy Morrison

          Work within the current system? I’m trying to, riding on the roads like a normal cyclist. The only accommodation I want is not to be hit by another vehicle, which really doesn’t seem like much to ask.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            I was referring to the suggestion new bike lanes be created so that cars no longer park on curbs.

          • Jeremy Morrison

            Fair enough. But that kind of bike lane would go a long way to accommodating my and other cyclists’ will to live while not disadvantaging drivers to any greater degree. In fact, it may increase drivers’ awareness of cyclists and prevent less accommodating drivers from parking/double parking in bike lanes – so it seems like a win-win, really.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            Of course it will disadvantage drivers (and taxpayers, generally!) It would be a total transformation in parking, but expensive and culturally…. well, I can only call a change like that huge. I’m all for you living- but if you really want to be safe on the roads, you’d be safest in a car. Or on a train. Or a bus. Or a motorcycle, for that matter. Or a horse. Or a pedicab. Or your feet. Pretty much the very most dangerous thing you can be on is a bike.

          • Jeremy Morrison

            The biggest change really would be drivers parking a few more feet away from the curb than usual. We have these kind of lanes in a couple places around Boston and people have adjusted just fine. As for me: I’m a biker. It’s healthy, it’s fun, and it’s faster than car, bus, train or any other form of transportation in this city. I’ve been doing it here for over a decade and it can’t be beat. The more drivers accept that bikes are a normal, not-going-away-anytime soon form of transportation, the safer it will be for me and all cyclists. Also, if the drivers I see multiple times every day running reds, not using their blinkers/mirrors, and texting put that stuff to a stop, it wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous as you’re making it out to be, which it isn’t, by the way. Yeah, it’s riskier than a lot of things, but it’s not a death trap. You’ll have to take my word for it.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            I’m all for riding bikes. I just think that people need to be responsible for their choices. If you choose to ride a bike, great. Motorcycle? Fabulous. I live in Nevada now- no helmet law. Every other week a guy dies on a motorcycle. Now, I’m sure we could make special lanes for them, too. But we don’t because we accept that it’s a risky choice. There’s just going to be certain areas it’s more risky. I lived in and around Boston all of my life and people are just being crazy with the bicycles now.

          • Jeremy Morrison

            I agree there are a lot more bicyclist these days. And I agree we need to be responsible for our choices. Irresponsible drivers and inexperienced bikers are what makes biking risky. If drivers hold themselves accountable for watching out for and driving safely around bicyclists, and bicyclists learn how to bike better and communicate clearly with drivers, then we’ll be in a much better position. I find this less likely to happen, however, when the default position of many drivers is “bikers are risk-takers and they disadvantage me. Why should I do anything differently? They should change their behaviors to accommodate me.” And that’s the polite version. You’ve plenty of drivers here who outright call bikers a menace and say that the majority of us break laws. I ride every single day, and while I see multiple drivers break laws every single day, I see hordes of timid bikers following the law, sometimes too much so for their own safety. How can we compete with that hardened and misinformed attitude? Just like how can a biker compete with a moving ton or more of metal? Drivers need to be responsible for not hitting bikers and we all have to share the road.

        • AngryDoc

          You don’t get around much, do you? If you have ever cycled in Portland or in Europe you would realize that poor driver training and fundamental lack of enforcement is a big part of the risk around here. Boston drivers are poorly skilled, poorly trained, yet motorized. Drivers are a big source of the risk.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            I’ve cycled in Berlin. In order to build that biking infrastructure, we need three things: First, we need to eliminate a giant percentage of our population to thereby reduce the total number of people that are living in Boston. Germany’s solution to this was sort of frowned upon. Second, we need to be bombed extensively so that Boston must rebuild itself from the hundreds year old city it is to a modern city. Third, we need to up the gas prices to Berlin numbers. That’s almost $9 per gallon.

            Good luck.

          • MattyCiii

            Yeah that’s how Copenhagen and Amsterdam did it!

        • MattyCiii

          Jackie please understand some facts about modern day road designs (including designs with proven-safe bike treatments):
          1. They don’t necessarily reduce motor vehicle throughput volume or speed.
          2. They improve safety for all road users: drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
          3. They can cost very little – sometimes they cost absolutely nothing (e.g., better design is implemented during routine replacement of the road bed or painted lines). And they can bring great economic benefits to the community, thereby turning a net profit on the initial investment.

          Research/studies/data backing all of the above are available on line, but please do ask if you have any questions.

          Just think, if people fatalistically lobbied against improvements in automobile design safety half a decade ago. We’d be stuck with 1960′s car designs: no traction control, no anti-lock brakes, no air bags. The probability of a driver being killed on the roads was way more than twice what it is today. But change we did and it was good. Roadway design, like car design, has improved vastly in the last 5 decades. As our roads designed and built 40-50 years ago are replaced, we as a society must do the right thing: implement designs that are safer and more efficient for all users.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            Look at it like this: Why not do this for motorcycles? There’s many more motorcycle deaths than bike deaths each year. To the tune of thousands vs. hundreds. Why not build them special lanes or allow them to ride on sidewalks, or down one ways?

            We are talking about Boston. A city with a carpool lane, which is ridiculous. A city fighting (itself) against wheelchair curbs in Beacon Hill right now. There’s not going to be any elevated bike paths.

            Bike deaths are increasing, despite these bike lanes. If you want to do the one single thing that will save lives of cyclists, don’t worry about the cars. Worry about the helmets. From IIHS, in 2012, 65% of the fatalities on bikes were not wearing helmets. Could be more, because another 18% of those fatalities it was not known if they had a helmet on.

    • Steven Bercu

      The dangerousness of cycling is largely a feature of the way that our streets are designed. It is possible to design a bicycle network that is very safe indeed, as has been done in the Netherlands. Cyclist seldom wear helmets in the Netherlands because they are unnecessary. In this country we have designed everything around cars for decades, and we are only now attempting to retrofit the urban landscape in order to prioritize non-motorized modes of transportation.

      • Jackie Ferrara

        Please, the BRA is fighting handicapped accessible curbs in Beacon Hill.

    • MattyCiii

      Walking on the sidewalk is equally dangerous, and the cause of that danger is reckless driving.

      A recent study calculated that death and injury caused by vehicular violence in the USA is over $850 billion a year. With such a staggering cost, it is unrealistic (in terms of expense) and unfair to **not** try and alter the behavior of the ultimate cause of roadway danger: drivers.

      http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/06/22/back-bay-crash-leaves-one-dead-one-critically-injured/XcXGe6912hL9rxT6rVpH3K/story.html

      • Jackie Ferrara

        Cars are dangerous, yup. Which is why…. bikes are.

  • Jb Fentner

    I like this pic of two helmet-clad cyclists riding on the sidewalk in the snow on a bridge. It’s quite a good example of the average cyclists approach to riding in Boston; it follows no real logic and is utterly fear driven. Anyway, in the ~14 years that I’ve been pedaling Boston I’ve been told, in equal parts, both to “GET OFF THE STREET!” as well as “GET OFF THE SIDEWALK!” I’ve never caused a 15 car pile-up, and I’ve never hit a pedestrian. So, frankly, I’m going to ride wherever the hell I want to and if that’s a problem for anyone, well, catch me. >;)

  • Steven Bercu

    Increasing the percentage of trips taken by bicycle within the City of Boston will benefit everyone, including drivers. Benefits include cleaner air, less congestion, quieter streets, a fitter populace, reduced health care costs, and more open space (due to reduced need for parking, which occupies a huge amount of public space). Therefore, the City will receive a high return on its investment in bicycle infrastructure, which is relatively inexpensive to build, especially in comparison to what it costs for other forms of transport infrastructure such as roads and rail. The case for these investments is compelling, and they should be made, indeed must be made if the City is going to have a chance of realizing its 10% mode share goal for bicycling by the year 2020.

  • JS

    I think part of the problem people have with cyclist is the person nature of someone cycling next to you. People get cut off by cars, almost hit by cars as they are crossing the street, see cars “roll through” stop signs (at about the same speed as a bike would “Blow through” a stop sign) and they don’t complain as much.

    The driver is behind glass and steel and the car is impersonal, while the cyclist is right there, you can see them clearly and even reach out and touch them. It’s a more person experience so people have a more visceral reaction to the close encounter.

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