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

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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, 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.


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."


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."

This article was originally published on August 04, 2014.

This segment aired on August 4, 2014.


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