The implementation of Boston’s Complete Streets Policy and the Bike Network Plan will radically improve the safety and comfort of walking and cycling in the city.  But full implementation will require many different kinds of changes to many roads all around the city.  The best way to lower the inevitable anxiety about change is to have lots of examples already in place, demonstrating (as the passage of same-sex marriage did in its own sphere) that it won’t precipitate the end of the world or even disrupt our everyday lives.

One of the things that Boston will need to create are Bicycle Boulevards (sometimes called Slow Zones or Bike/Ped Priority Streets) – multi-block stretches of road that keep traffic volume and speed low while prioritizing bicycle and pedestrian movement through structural traffic-calming methods (such as speed bumps and  corner extensions) as well as new intersection signalization (such as bike-specific signals).  To further encourage non-expert use, City’s often keep Bicycle Boulevard pavements particularly well-maintained, smooth and clear (e.g. after snow storms).  Cars are typically only allowed to travel in one direction while bicycles are sometimes allowed to go both ways.

(More terminology:  Bicycle Boulevards are permanent changes while a Cyclovia is typically a temporary although also multi-block event.  Boston is beginning to use the term “Neighborway” as part of its Bicycle Network Plan to describe shorter stretches of permanently traffic-controlled street.  A temporary banning of traffic on a particularly block can be the basis of a one-time Block Party or, if repeated regularly to allow children to safely use the pavement for play, a seasonal Play Street.)

Whatever it’s called, and no matter how many blocks long it runs, it seems to me that at least the inbound (“east-bound) side road paralleling Boston’s stretch of Commonwealth Avenue from Chestnut Hill Avenue to Harvard Street, or even all the way to Packards Corner (where North Beacon forks off), would be a wonderful place to create a pilot Bicycle Boulevard – if only because the road is already used in that way and finishing the job, at least on a trial basis, would require nothing more expensive than paint and perhaps some planters.  (This wouldn’t address the issues that led to Christopher Weigl’s death on the BU stretch below Packard’s Corner, but it might help make things safer further up the road.)  Of course, there are probably even better places to conduct this type of pilot than along the CommAve side road…Suggestions?

There are side roads on both flanks of Commonwealth, mostly used for car parking – and bicycling.  While the out-bound service road is both incomplete and steep, the in-bound side is continuous for the entire way.   However, both of the side roads are already being used almost as if they were a Bicycle Boulevard – cars move slowly (usually below 15 mph), pedestrians walk across wherever they want, people play in the space, bicyclists ride down the middle of the lane often in both directions.  The continuing car-dominance of operations of the major intersection will need to be rectified, and the city will need to find ways to create public awareness of the new Bicycle Boulevard nature of the route.  But those issues can be addressed.

Explanatory signs and 15 mph Advisory Speed suggestions would be put up at various points.  One way to dramatize the new status would be to change the current areas of dangerous “head-in angle parking” (requiring drivers to blindly back out into an unseen road) into safer “head-out angle” parking (placing the driver facing outward towards on-coming movement).   It might also be possible to add temporary (rubber) speed bumps in a of couple spots.  Maybe a bike rack or Hubway station might be installed.  That’s it.  Cars would still be allowed.  No parking spots (there are thousands!) would be removed.

Of course, it would be better to do more – corner bulb-outs, retiming of all the traffic lights, etc.  And differing treatments would be needed on the major and minor intersections.  But much of this could be done with low-cost tools….Then all that would be needed is the press release saying that this is a pilot effort to test an exciting new approach to making our city safer for everyone – without disrupting anyone’s ability to get around in the method of their choice.  Maybe the PR should occur during late August as part of outreach to entering students reminding them to obey traffic rules, turn on lights at night, wear helmets and give way to pedestrians – especially the elderly and the baby-carriage pushing new parents who seem to make up such a large percentage of the population along upper Commonwealth.

Any thoughts about other relatively quick-easy-and-low-cost places to start?


Previous related posts:

SIGNS, PAINT, AND FLEXIBILITY: Creative No-Cost Ways To Improve Road Intelligibility

OPEN STREETS & CYCLOVIAS: Creating Space For Urban Transformation

QUICK, VISIBLE, REMOVABLE: Improving City Life By Unleashing Citizen Creativity Through Government Initiative

CONTRA-FLOW LANES: Fear and Comfort on Your Own Block


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