Cycle track mania on the slippery slope in Somerville, Massachusetts

My attention recently was drawn to a proposed project for Beacon Street in Somerville Massachusetts, a couple of towns away from where I live..

A presentation from a public meeting is online here:

(I was unfortunately not able to attend the public meeting last night (November 13), so I can’t provide any comments about it.)

This project would narrow the roadway between Oxford Street and the Cambridge city line, removing parking on one side of the street and installing cycle tracks in the some sections, and reinstalling bike lanes in others. The proposal would narrow the street by moving curbs, making it expensive to install and expensive to revise or remove.

There has been pushback from a residents’ association on the issue of parking removal, though without any discussion of bicycling issues, here:

As a bicycling advocate, I support the removal of parking (probably requiring substitute parking though to bring residents on board with the project), but I want to see a bicycling treatment that works.

The proposed cycle tracks, at sidewalk level, are seriously inappropriate here on a sloping segment with heavy bicycle commuter traffic and crossed by dozens of driveways, in a residential area where there is heavy pedestrian traffic and where children will wander around and play. The usual arguments about making bicycling attractive to women and children have been put forward, but the proposed reconstruction is best described as creating an attractive nuisance. Bicycle commuters are not going to slow down to a safe 8 miles per hour riding down the hill on Beacon Street, and that is going to be a problem. On the uphill side, where parking will remain, bicyclists will have been moved from the door zone on the street side to the door zone and walk-to-car crossing zone on the sidewalk side. Bicyclists will be subject to harassment for riding on the narrowed roadway.

Snow and ice removal will be a problem in winter — the cycle track will be where snow gets dumped from the street, creating a barrier and preventing water from draining.

The proposal for the segment with bike lanes is just as bizarre, failing to take advantage of the removal of parking to move bike lanes out of the door zone — but instead narrowing the roadway so that bike lanes can be reinstalled in the door zone.

Beacon Street isn’t wide enough for parking on both sides, while comfortably accommodating bidirectional motor traffic and bidirectional bicycle traffic, Removing parking on one side could resolve that issue. My preference for the entire length of the project would be to take advantage of removal of parking to accommodate bicyclists outside the door zone on the roadway, and throw in a bit of traffic calming to slow motorists..

I note that a rail-with-trail in the Fitchburg line corridor, which is nearby and nearly parallel, also has been proposed, and would offer an option for bicyclists who are not comfortable riding on an arterial street.

2 responses to “Cycle track mania on the slippery slope in Somerville, Massachusetts

  1. Pingback: Cycle track disease is contagious! « Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

  2. Hi John, Great article and thanks for your insight on both the existing track on Concord Ave and the proposed one for Somerville. I’m a Somerville resident and I bike on Beacon regularly so I’m following this project closely. Unfortunately there are a number of real-world limitations that make having a 7ft wide cycle track extend the entire length of the street on each side not possible that were addressed at the meeting. On the other side of Washington Street (the section of Beacon closesr to Inman), removing street parking was just not feasible given the lack of public off-street parking for a dense commercial center (on top of its lack of proximity to mass transit…only a couple bus lines serve Inman). Many of the residents on this section don’t have access to private off-street parking and the proximity to the Cambridge border makes alternative parking extremely for Somerville residents in an already very limited parking situation. There’s also a lot of issues with the businesses that rely on store-front loading zones – losing them will create a number of safety issues with having to double park and handtruck goods across a very busy street. Not sure how familiar with Beacon, but there’s the Academy of Arts and Science wall that takes up a considerable length that extends so close to the street that there is currently no sidewalk there and the city is under pressure to remove the metered parking (that hardly anyone uses on this stretch of the road by the way…) to create it. Residents really want sidewalk there because of the number of pedestrians on the street that are currently forced to cross a relatively dangerous intersection (or jaywalk).

    I’ve studied a lot of the accident data for the street and your commentary about Concord Ave cycletrack not doing much to mitigate the risk of getting nailed at intersections or driveways is really concerning to me. Beacon has tons of side streets and little driveways on both sides of the road. The side where parking is to remain is going to create a very dicey situation for both cyclists and motorists who need to make turns on the street or enter the road (removing parking the entire length on both sides just isn’t feasible, off-street parking is already very limited and the proximity to the Cambridge border makes alternate on-street parking very hard for both businesses and residents). The biggest intersection for accidents (both bike and car) on Beacon is at Washington Street…this is a major intersection where two main aterials meet and there are no turning lane at all on Beacon. As a cyclist I find myself frustrated because I would prefer to make this dangerous turn from an actual turning lane but since cars can barely make this turn safely let alone cyclists without a lane and it’s such a busy intersection, I find myself dismounting and walking my bike in the cross walk to re-position myself. I think there are a number of ways to make Beacon safer for everyone, but the proposed cycle track (which has its own major design flaws: grade separation, maintenance and cleaning, the funneling into bike lanes) coupled with the issues for businesses and residence with the large parking make it extremely difficult to support this track.

    There are a lot of cycling advocates pushing hard for the cycle track design because they believe it will make cycling more appealing to those who don’t cycle. I think you hit the nail on the head with the faulty logic of the “build it and they will come mentality” – regardless of what happens to Beacon Street, when commuters pass the Cambridge border they will be in regular bike lanes. The rest of Somerville’s main streets have regular bike lanes (many of which were first painted less than 5 years ago, so getting cycletracks on these too just isn’t in the cards for many, many decades)…the major intersection at Inman Square at Cambridge and Hampshire street is the site of the HIGHEST number of cycling accidents in the Commonwealth (again, this is mainly due to no turning lane at a high volume intersection where 2 aterials meet). I have a lot of hesitation about supporting a cycletrack design which will give inexperienced riders a false sense of security for a brief moment on their new bike commute as they get funneled into a notoriously dangerous intersection for cyclists.

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