Friday, August 30, 2013

Does Beacon Street need more cycling infrastructure?

Somerville has been struggling with the idea of putting cycle tracks on Beacon Street for some time.  The actual plans look like this.  Some people disagree with the concept or at least the implementation.  See Jan Heine's recent blog post about cycle tracks and cyclists' opinions on them (and look for hist other posts on this topic).  Between the vehicular cyclists, the neighborhood opposition, and the reality of how well these things work, it seems that Somerville ought to be sure this is what they should be doing.  What is clear is that the Beacon/Hampshire corridor is one of the busiest in the Boston area.  What's clear to me is that it is pretty well signed and marked right now.  It does have one pressing issue - the quality of the pavement.  It's unfortunate that with all of the money coming from outside Somerville that the issue has taken so long to come to a resolution.

I personally don't want the cycle tracks.  I'm happy with a bike lane, although I would want it wider so I could avoid the door zone without getting so close to the main travel lane.  Otherwise it all works for me and, apparently, a lot of other people.  So why go through with this tedious process?  And where are we in this process anyway?  The above document from the City of Somerville suggests that construction starts in 2014.  Is is really on track for that timing?  Is this what that corridor really needs or should Somerville focus on other, needier places?  My least favorite place is Elm Street from the just west of the Somerville Theater and on Highland Street heading into Davis Square.  In the latter case, cyclists can't ride on the section reserved for buses and walking a bicycle is often difficult at commuting hours and Highland Street is very congested.  This corridor is the obvious cycle route between the linear path and the Beacon/Hampshire corridor.

As an Arlington resident, I don't have much say over what happens in Somerville, except that Beacon/Hampshire is considered differently as it connects multiple towns and state and federal funds are involved.  But the final say ought to be with Somerville residents who can make their city whatever they want.  I'd be happy with decent pavement and bike lanes.

Arlington itself has had some growing pains in this area.  The Mass Ave project from the Cambridge border went up to a popular vote and narrowly lost (admittedly on a minor election - but the pro bike candidate beat the anti bike candidate).  And this eliminates a lane on the chaotic stretch of Mass Ave (multiple lanes but no lane marking) which, in my opinion, would work smoothly in any configuration if people would drive competently.  And the most recent Mass Ave reconstruction didn't even include bike lanes.  The bike path does parallel Mass Ave in the reconstructed sections but the access points to the bike path are few and far between for young and/or inexperienced cyclists.  I was hopeful they would be included.  There was no public discussion and I guess they weren't deemed important.

Regarding Beacon Street and cycle tracks, I have a couple of questions:
  • How many accidents and reported incidents are there on Beacon Street?
  • How many accidents in cycle tracks (wherever they may be implemented) can be attributed to drivers not seeing cyclists as they emerge at intersections and how many can be attributed to cyclists misunderstanding they rights and responsibilities at the intersection of cycle tracks?

Any thoughts are welcome.

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