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South Boston debates bike lanes on W. Broadway

Posted by Patrick Rosso  August 21, 2013 12:14 PM

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Residents of South Boston debated the merits of bike lanes proposed to be installed on West Broadway, one of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfares and business districts, at a Tuesday night community meeting.

Convened by the city of Boston and Southie Bikes, the neighborhoods’ cyclist advocacy group, proponents of the lanes touted them as a way to improve safety for cyclists, reduce the number of cars on the road, reduced pollution, and encourage more and safer cyclists.

Opponents of the lanes, however, said they would make the street more dangerous for bikes, pedestrians, and vehicles, and would impact businesses that rely on double parking, which is illegal and dangerous, but rarely enforced.

West Broadway, which runs from the Broadway Bridge to Dorchester Street, is a two lane road with parking on both sides. There are currently no bike lanes on the street, although it is heavily used by cyclists, according to the city of Boston.

According to the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, bicycles can be ridden “on any public road, street, or bikeway in the Commonwealth, except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bikes have been posted.”

Bike lanes are also not a new initiative in the city of Boston, with lanes, similar to those proposed for West Broadway, running along Commonwealth Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, Dorchester Avenue, Tremont Street, Blue Hill Avenue, and A Street.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Nicole Freedman, the director of Boston Bikes, the city’s bike agency, laid out the preliminary design of the bikes lanes, which are proposed to connect to Albany Street in the South End and run along West Broadway to Dorchester Street in South Boston.

Plans call for an approximate six-foot wide bike lane to be painted along West Broadway. The bike lane for the Broadway Bridge would be four-feet wide. Plans also call for a two-foot wide buffer to be included with the bike lane from B Street to D Street. Travel lanes for vehicles would be between 10- to 12-feet wide. No parking would be lost in the plan and the lanes would consist only of paint.

“We heard from the cyclists that there is a demand for lanes on West Broadway,” Freedman explained Tuesday night. “We try to only put in bike lanes when there is a demand. You shouldn’t have to rely just on your car; you should have a number of options.”

Resident reactions to the plan were mixed.

“It’s dangerous,” said Jack Keefe, a 68-year-old South Boston resident. “The most dangerous people on wheels are the bike people. We’d like to have a bike route, but in a non-business area. ”

Many said they were not anti-bike, but opposed to bikes on the main street.

“There is no place for a bike lane,” explained Linda Castagna, a 55-year-old South Boston resident. “It’s dangerous enough as it is and on top of that I now have to be aware of a bicyclist? I’m opposed to them biking on a main street.”

Others said flatly opposed the idea.

“This town is getting victimized by stupid ideas and this is right up there,” said Tom Flaherty, a 43-year-old South Boston resident and Boston firefighter, who says he regularly drives an engine up and down Broadway. “To set aside a lane for bicyclists is going to endanger cyclists. Maybe if I was a bike rider moving to the neighborhood I might have looked at South Boston and said, ‘maybe my bike won’t fit.’”

Opponents of the plan also called into question the impact the lanes could have on local businesses, saying they would force the police to enforce double parking rules, which would impact the businesses’ customer base.

“Having this bike lane on West Broadway would be a tremendous burden to businesses,” said Don Wilson, the interim-president of the South Boston Chamber of Commerce. “Once a program like this is implemented it’s the city’s job to make it safe, which means further enforcement of parking laws.”

Mark McGonagle, a representative for City Councilor Bill Linehan, also said the lanes should be reevaluated.

“The Councilor has some concerns about instituting bike lanes right now,” McGonagle said. “We’re not so sure it’s the safest option right now.”

Representative Nick Collins was also in attendance, in addition to a representative from Senator Linda Dorcena Forry’s office and a representative from at-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley’s office.

Many debated the economic impact that the lanes would have, with cyclists touting studies, like the one commissioned by the League of American Bicyclists, that suggest bike infrastructure actually brings economic growth.

Commissioner Thomas Tinlin of the Boston Transportation Department, was also present Tuesday and said double parking is still illegal and cyclists deserve the chance to safely use the neighborhood’s streets.

“Our streets and our sidewalks are a public space and they are not built just to get a car to someplace quickly,” Tinlin, a South Boston resident, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “If it comes down to double parking then my decision is easy. Nobody should build a business plan around double parking.”

Supporters of the lanes voiced strong support for the new infrastructure, saying it would allow them to safely travel through the community and use their cars less.

“I bike more frequently now because we have bike lanes [in Andrew Square],” said John Paige, a 42-year-old South Boston resident. “I think it’s safer now with the bike lanes and they make total sense.”

“They have a ton of businesses and traffic over there [the South End] and you can still bike safely,” said Dawn Sommerville, a 37-year-old South Boston resident. “You should use the main access routes to encourage people to come to businesses.”

Others said bike lanes are needed to encourage more cyclists to do it safely.

“I’d like to bike, but I’m scared,” said Jane Callahan, a 32-year-old South Boston resident. “I’m one of those people that needs bike lanes so I can go to businesses on West Broadway and not have to take my car and take up a parking space.”

“I feel without bike infrastructure it’s unsafe to bike,” said Harsh Vahalia, a 35-year-old South Boston resident. “It shouldn’t be that cars are the only mode of transit.”

A timeline for the project has not been developed, but if the lanes are approved they could installed at the soonest by the fall of 2013 or spring of 2014.

A follow up meeting is also expected to be scheduled to allow input from the businesses that could potentially be impacted.

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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