Comm Ave bike lanes, rough draft to final design

Holy Moley! We’ve got lanes leading from Allston!

Bike lanes have been painted from Packard’s Corner to BU Bridge! Another piece of the thermoplastic puzzle is down! Fresh 5-ft wide path down the street! That means, except for a few major intersections like Kenmore Sq, we can bike all the way from Allston to the Public Garden, through the entire Back Bay, following the little helmeted bike-dude on the pavement! So many exclamation marks can’t contain the excitement!!

A big shout out to Boston, Boston Bikes, BTD, Toole Design, BU, all the city workers and advocates and anyone and everyone involved in laying down more paint for the cause of bicycle transportation. Big props.

Headed to Boston in a 5-ft bike lane on Commonwealth Avenue

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Yesterday I got a photo-text from a friend calling the lanes a “rough draft.” He was referring to how the thermoplastic paint hadn’t yet been applied, how we had skinny painted lines to mark the coming lanes (oh Boston, you can be such a tease…):

rough draft for Commonwealth Avenue bike lane

The way in which he referred to these as a “rough draft” made me think of our standards for bike lanes in Boston. Thanks to the first lanes striped in 2008, we now have an expectation of the classic 5-footer, with little bike dude in helmet, as being the approved bike facility. It’s a bar that has been set in Boston thanks, in large part, to Nicole Freedman and Boston Bikes.

Now, and specifically here, this style may work in places where parking is scarce or prized, and places where taking away a travel lane isn’t a possibility — but there are a few serious drawbacks to this lane, especially when compared to physically separated facilities commonly known as “cycletracks,” which remove bike traffic from car lanes entirely by a curb, or bollards, or a wider shoulder (such as seen on Comm Ave as it dips under Mass Ave). In a short ride down the new strip, I’ve concisely documented a few issues below:

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To fit the lane, the designers tightened both travel lanes as well as the parking lane to squeeze in a lane for bikes. Too bad they couldn’t shrink down the cars as well. The result — cars oversized for the alotted lane.

encroaching SUV in the bike lane

If cars can’t fit IN the lanes, they’ll simply park ON them, creating a greater zone where us vulnerable bikers can be “doored.” Check out this image below from BostonBiker regarding how to envision riding in a bike lane. Now look at the above image to see just how much of that 5-ft lane will be taken by a swinging door of the SUV. Ouch! Better to ride on the far side of the left line, than in the middle of the door zone….

Watch Out for doors!

If you watch this video below taken of the rough draft (yes, we’re multimedia), you’ll see how tight the lines are. Count how many parked cars, mostly normal-sized sedans, either don’t fit or don’t try to fit within the parking lane. Their driver-side wheels encroach into the bike lane, making an already tight 5-ft squeeze even smaller for bikers.

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And check out how commercial trucks, which Comm Ave sees all day every day, fit in the new parking lane. This entire left wheel and overhang is out into the bike lane.

FedEx truck "trying" to fit in the parking lane

Now imagine you’re a student at BU, a relatively novice biker, heading down Comm Ave, trying to get to your 9 am class, with rush-hour traffic rushing by you at 35-40 mph. How would you feel about the stripe on the ground, leading you into a FedEx truck?

Take that lane, pass that truck

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Another question: Would you rather bike on a street with a bike lane that may squeeze you between too-closely parked cars and quickly moving traffic, OR ride on a street with no lanes, forcing you to merge and share space based on the situation and your own confident volition?

Here’s a video of the same stretch of road with no lanes, taken the day before, as a comparison:

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Something the City has done here, which is not seen in every new lane put down, is to dash the bike lane through the intersection (see image below). At the particular intersection shown, by Agganis Areana, it is a smart concept, since heavy volumes of left-turning traffic are not expecting to navigate with a bike lane. Notice the car turning onto Comm Ave while giving the cyclist a good breadth.

I also present to you a video of a biker navigating the rough draft near Packard’s Corner. She should have ample space on the pavement, yet she’s weaving to the right when she can — seemingly to put more space between her and any passing cars:

Although these lanes do not provide any physical protection for bikers, they do provide an important psychological service for helping keep riders on a predictable straight path, and making drivers aware of bikers on the road. And these lanes are also important to demonstrate the right to the road space — the City says so through its thermoplastic stenciling.

Still, one must be reminded that a strip of paint will not keep you from getting hit by a car. This comes from someone who has been struck only while riding in a bike lane. What WILL help keep you from getting hit is a constant state of awareness, preparation, and caution by both bikers and drivers.

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I am curious to see if the statistics will change on this stretch of road, now that we have bike lanes. (are there statistics being taken…?) Will there be more doorings, since parked cars are so close to the edge of the bike lane (Police take notice, it’s a $100 fine for whomever opens the door)? Will moving violations and accidents decrease with biker-awareness? Will we see a style of bikers who stay in the bike lane now that we have them, or riders who still take the lane while keeping the thermoplastic stripe just to the right?

All these questions will be answered, or not, in time. What we DO know now is to expect a drastic increase in ridership, especially as the BU students return to campus.

And for now, we can still champion the efforts of a City trying to fit a bike network into arguably the most frustrating transportation layout of any city in this country. Keep going, you fine public servants! I applaud your efforts as much as I ride your streets.
You keep up the good work, and we’ll keep riding!

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5 Responses to Comm Ave bike lanes, rough draft to final design

  1. J says:

    There are bike lanes through Kenmore square!

    I dont understand why dont dont repaint the crosswalks while theyre doing the bike lane.

    I hope that when BU bridge-Packards gets rebuilt like kenmore-BU bridge, it will also be reduced from 3 to 2 lanes, and they’re able to make an even better bike lane. Personally, I feel like a left side bike lane from kenmore to packards would be best,

  2. Frances says:

    I do not like the new bike lanes on Comm. Ave from Packard’s Corner going east bound. I rode in them on August 19th pulling a wide bike cart that my 7& 9 year old nieces were in. We were going to the Swan Boats. When I am by myself, I usually ride right next to the left hand line in order to be at least 5 ft. from the cars and out of the door zone . See (A video demonstrating how to avoid the door zone.) Doing that put the bike cart in the travel lane & I felt uncomfortable with the bike cart there. I did not dare “take” the travel lane which should have been safer. I ended up pretty much riding in the middle of the bike lane. And being even more vigilant on where the cars were behind me and being uncomfortable with all of the doors of parked cars. As it was the cars flew by me at little over a foot away. Once we got to the other side of the Kenmore Square we rode down Commonwealth Mall which is illegal for bikes but finally gave us a respite from the car traffic. When we are given dangerous, inadequate lanes sometimes we need to take alternatives.such as the Mall or sidewalks.
    The people biking in bike lanes shouldn’t be just young adults in their 20’s or older, avid cyclists but also people who just want to get somewhere maybe with their kids on bikes also and know that they will be safe doing so. They do it in the Netherlands and we could do it here it too if we had the political will to reduce our roads by a car lane or to remove a parking lane. In my opinion the bikes lanes create an illusion of safety to inexperienced cyclists. What they do do is make the mayor of Boston feel like we are becoming a cycling city. None of my middle aged friends will cycle on the major streets like Comm. Ave or Beacon Street and they are correct in their judgment. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for safe cycling conditions and we shouldn’t praise the inadequate infrastructure that we are being given. And please not a left hand bicycle lane from Kenmore to Packard” s Corner!

  3. neff says:

    This perspective isn’t backed up by any statistical research, but my opinion is that bike lanes largely just give cyclists a misplaced sense of security. Bikers don’t get hit from behind, they get hit by doors and by oblivious right hand turns (I very nearly got taken out by a cop car turning without a blinker recently). Simply put, the best we can hope for to improve cyclist safety is more cyclists on the road. To that end, bike lanes do contribute to bike safety but only by encouraging more people to ride.

  4. Charlie says:

    While these bike lanes may not be perfect, they are a huge step forward from what we had before. Confident bicyclists would sometimes ride away from parked cars before these lanes were installed, but many tended to hug the parked cars quite closely. These lanes should encourage more people to ride and should actually give many bicyclists the confidence to ride further from the parked cars than they did in the past. The narrower travel lanes also help bring the motor vehicle traffic a bit closer towards the MBTA reservation, giving bicyclists a little bit more breathing room. Maybe at some point in the future when we have even more bicyclists (and maybe even fewer cars!) the City of Boston can remove a travel lane to create wide buffered bike lanes or cycle tracks.

  5. Pingback: Franklin Street in N. Allston gets the sharrow treatment | Allston-Brighton bikes

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