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  Thursday, March 26, 2015
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August 22, 2013
No to Bike Lanes on Broadway
By Rick Winterson

On Tuesday, Southie Bikes hosted a meeting at the Condon Community Center, concerning a proposal to establish formal bike lanes along West Broadway. 

The meeting was conducted by Nicole Freedman, Boston  Bikes Director (Boston Bikes can be Googled up, if you want more information on this City of Boston program).  The key slide she showed depicted numerous future bike lanes along all key roads in South Boston, as well as along many of their feeder roads.

The meeting was spirited, to say the least.  Basically, two contingents were there:  1.-  Long-term South Boston residents, who were concerned about traffic problems, the effect of such lanes on merchants, and safety; 2.-  Comparative newcomers, who want to share the roads here and who enjoy bicycling as good exercise and a “green” way to get around.

To South Boston Online, it became very clear that we aren’t ready yet for an extensive network of bike lanes, especially anywhere along Broadway.   We have many reasons for stating this opinion.  Here are some of them:To start with, the organizers of Tuesday’s meeting did not specifically invite Broadway merchants by leafleting their businesses.  That was a communications mistake - all South Boston interests have to work together on such a program.

And South Boston’s streets are filled with construction sites that involve water lines, new residential construction, Reserved Channel storm drains, and leaking gas lines. That must be fixed.  All of this work will go on until at least 2015.  Putting in bike lanes this year doesn’t make any sense.

The numbers don’t support the value of bike lanes.  Perhaps 2% of Boston’s current traffic is by bicycles (one trip out of 50).  Now, at 60 feet across, Broadway is a very wide street.  But two six-foot bike lanes will take up 20% of Broadway’s width.  For only 2% of current traffic?  That simply does not compute.

South Boston Online apologizes for using a lot of numbers, but here are a couple more.  At Tuesday’s meeting, Boston Bikes said they have “a 10% goal for bike traffic in Boston”.  That’s a nice figure, but it’s also a pipe dream. For example, Portland (Oregon) is the most bike-friendly city in the U.S., but its bike traffic is way less than 10% - last year, it was only 6% (one trip out of 16).

And speaking of Portland, where is Boston going to find the money that Portland spent (and is still spending) for signs, bike maps, road painting, Hubway units, licensing of bicyclists, safety features (including training of truck drivers), and enforcement (bicyclists break laws, too, but aren’t being ticketed in Boston at this time). Also, bike lanes are essentially useless in icy or snowy weather, which Boston has far more of than Portland.

And speaking of Hubway, why are they installing their units on South Boston’s valuable parking spaces?  Can’t they find public land, as they did at JFK/UMass and South Station?Ask yourself another question:  How will it be possible for all of South Boston’s smaller merchants, businesses, and restaurants to receive their shipments, if bike lanes are in place and double parking for unloading is totally banned?

South Boston Online didn’t hear any compromise proposals at Tuesday’s meeting.  Here’s an idea:  Let’s discuss first putting selected bike lanes only on streets that don’t have bus routes.  That may not be a perfect solution, but it’s one way of “sharing the roads”.  Southie Bikes actually mentioned putting bike lanes along West Broadway as early as this fall.   That’s much too soon; much more discussion is required.

One attendee advocated that an overall urban plan, which would integrate bicycle traffic, be developed before bike lanes are painted in.  She has lived here for three years, intends to live in South Boston indefinitely, and is very much in favor of bicycling.  Yet, she advised approaching this whole issue carefully and completely.

South Boston Online agrees with her.  More bike lanes in South Boston?  Not yet.

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