Boston bike lanes plan draws opposition: The proposed routes would be ‘deadly’

The City of Boston is moving forward with plans to add bike lanes and reconfigure streets in two neighborhoods, despite heavy opposition from residents.

Two heated community meetings and a flurry of emails shared with the Herald point to safety concerns among residents living in both Back Bay and West Roxbury, where plans to install bike lanes on Berkeley, Beacon and Boylston streets, and Centre Street, respectively, were presented in the past several weeks.

“We understand and support the concept of a system of bike paths connecting all parts of the city,” wrote Elliott Laffer, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, in one such email. “However, we believe it would be irresponsible to implement such a plan in an area where an unsuspecting bike rider or pedestrian would be placed in peril.

“The proposed routes on Berkeley and Beacon streets would be deadly. We ask reconsideration of this deeply flawed plan.”

Another resident, Judy Settana, wrote that she and her husband were opposed to the mayor’s plan to redesign Centre Street in West Roxbury, because they felt it would be “very dangerous for us older folks.”

She said they were nervous about the time it could take for a fire truck or ambulance to reach them in an emergency situation.

City Councilor Erin Murphy said there are “definitely neighborhoods that are pushing back more” than the Wu administration expected. Another councilor, Michael Flaherty, said the loudest opposition is coming from “more active and civically engaged folks, and that gets politically dicey if you don’t listen.”

Flaherty said the opposition is fierce enough to halt or change the projects. A  spokesperson for the mayor’s office said this week, however, that plans “have not been paused” and are still being managed by the Streets Department, which is overseen by Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge.

The lack of bend from the city has been noted by opponents to the project, particularly those who have spoken at the prior community meetings and have left feeling like their concerns fell on deaf ears.

Michael Weingarten, who has concerns with a city proposal to create a one-way separated bike lane on Berkeley and a two-way lane on A/B Beacon, sent a 25-page memo to Franklin-Hodge, the mayor’s office and other city officials, but noted in the email that his suggestions probably won’t be considered.

“It’s important to avoid making plans without first seeking productive discourse where community input is valued,” Weingarten wrote. “I have been informed that the (Boston Transportation Department) has already decided to implement the plan by September and there is no room for alterations, but I hope that my concerns will be seriously considered.”

Flaherty said this approach from the city has “led to residents feeling ignored by the Transportation Department. They feel like it’s being done to them, not with and for them.”

State Rep. Jay Livingstone, who represents Back Bay, said he is working with Mayor Michelle Wu to get his own concerns addressed, which pertain to safety and the disruption of putting a bike lane on Berkeley Street.

“It’s a continuing discussion that we’re still having,” Livingstone told the Herald. “I think the mayor wants a safe set of bike lanes that make sense for Boston, and is considering all public comments in a way that I would expect.”

Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets, said opposition is to be expected.

“There’s almost no bus or bike project that happens in the metro Boston region that there isn’t some group that believes it will somehow cause more congestion or make it harder for them to get around,” Thompson said. “It’s part of a bigger backlash that we see in Boston, and frankly, cities around the country.”

Thompson said her group favors both projects. She described the West Roxbury plan, which pre-dates the Wu administration and goes back several years, as well-vetted, and the two plans for the Back Bay as “no-brainers.”

According to a city description, the Wu administration is working to make Centre Street in West Roxbury safer for all by redesigning the street to calm traffic between LaGrange Street and West Roxbury Parkway.

The area, located in the heart of the West Roxbury Main Streets district, has a history of speeding and crashes that have resulted in death and injury, the city website states.

Murphy opposes the plan, describing it in a statement as a so-called “road diet” that would “impinge emergency rescue vehicle access, choke residential neighborhoods with spillover traffic, squeeze four lanes down to two with a middle lane for turns at some intersections, harm local businesses by restricting customer access, and add bike lanes.”

Thompson and the mayor’s office disagree.

“I think they’re trying to make the bike lanes a boogeyman when the real central purpose of that plan is about making it safer to cross the streets,” Thompson said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said, “The Centre Street project is focused on safety, especially for pedestrians,” and added that the city believes the safety data makes clear that the street design must change.

“The current four-lane road configuration has resulted in a high number of injury crashes, and creates conditions where thousands of motorists per day drive at unsafe speeds through a busy neighborhood business district,” the spokesperson said.

“Over the past four years, the city has conducted extensive engineering analysis to develop a design that provides major safety benefits while accommodating traffic volumes and preserving parking.”

The city is also adding separated bike lanes on Berkeley Street and Beacon Street to connect the South End to the Back Bay, and to bring people from both neighborhoods to the Esplanade.

A third plan moving forward is to add a one-way separated bike lane on Boylston Street from Massachusetts Avenue to Arlington Street, and a bus lane from Ring Road to Arlington Street, the city website states.

A Wu spokesperson noted that the changes on Berkeley and Beacon Street do not require the removal of any travel lanes and will not increase traffic or reduce road capacity.

“Berkeley, Beacon and Boylston streets are all busy streets, and research shows the best way to keep people on bikes safe is by creating dedicated, protected space for them to ride,” the spokesperson said. “The city has reached out to people who live, work, and travel along these streets and has worked to incorporate their feedback into the design.”