Cyclists hope for Beacon Street track

On April 10, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

The cycle track proposed as part of the Beacon St. reconstruction has many enthusiastic advocates, as well as a number of concerned detractors. ~Photo by Bobbie Toner

The cycle track proposed as part of the Beacon St. reconstruction has many enthusiastic advocates, as well as a number of concerned detractors. – Photo by Bobbie Toner

By Harry Kane

Planned reconstruction on Beacon Street has been under discussion since the late 1990’s, but the delays in funding kept pushing the project back on the city’s agenda. Now it looks like Beacon Street will be reconstructed with a cycle track included.

“The number of cars has gone down, which is contrary to conventional wisdom,” says Alex Epstein, chair of the Somerville Bicycle Committee. “At the same time, bicycle traffic is going up through the roof.” Automobile traffic decreased 13 percent from 1999-2012, and over the last decade, bicycle traffic has increased on Beacon Street substantially, according to a Somerville city official.

According to Epstein, who lives on Beacon Street and bikes everyday, there are more bikes traveling through the corridor than anywhere in Massachusetts. “One out of every three vehicles on Beacon Street is a bicycle,” he says. But riding in rush hour traffic is a little like “running with the bulls.” Because of the intrinsic danger of riding in traffic, children and the elderly aren’t able to participate in the cycling fun.

The bike lanes on Beacon Street, says Epstein, can be dangerous for cyclists when a driver opens a car door into the bike lane. “It becomes a negotiation between not getting in front of moving cars in the travel lane and not being in the zone where the parked cars are going to fling their doors open in front of you.” He says these are the most common sorts of accidents.

“As more drivers eat breakfast or talk on their cell-phone, and do their make-up while driving, you can’t be sure that they are going to spot a bike,” says Epstein. Children on bicycles are less visible and at more risk of injury. “A cycle track puts someone out of harms way from distracted drivers.”

Beacon Street’s new design is 25 percent complete. The concepts and the general layout of the street – sidewalk, cycle track or a protected bike lane, trees, intersections – are still being “tweaked,” says Epstein. He says the design has changed a lot based on community feedback. So far it’s been a 6-month long process.

“The cost of the design is approximately $500,000,” says Hayes Morrison, Director of Transportation and Infrastructure for the City of Somerville. The design will be finalized in September, with construction to begin in the spring of 2014.

The construction portion of the project will be paid for with 80 percent federal funds from the Federal Highway Administration and 20 percent state funds from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The estimated cost of construction is approximately $7 million, said Morrison.

Ben Carlson is a cycling advocate and proponent of the cycle track. He lives on Beacon Street and bikes everyday to and from his job in Union Square. In his opinion, Beacon Street is the busiest bike thoroughfare in all of metro Boston. By putting a cycle track on Beacon Street, Carlson says, Somerville is “making a statement.” Motorists should be happy because the cycle track will cut down on commute times, and improve the air quality. A cycle track is infinitely better than bike lanes, he says.

There are active opponents to the proposed cycle track. Some criticism focuses on the loss of parking spots associated with the reconstruction of Beacon Street. It is important to remember, officials say, that even though the entire reconstruction plan will result in the loss of some 100 parking spots, the cycle track will only be responsible for 30 percent of those lost spots.

Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston thinks the design is flawed. “It does not accommodate the parking needs of long-time residents and businesses,” she says. Heuston sees a lot of “merit” in the cycle track, but she says, “As the design stands now, I can’t support.”



30 Responses to “Cyclists hope for Beacon Street track”

  1. Bostom says:

    Unbiased reporting or pro-cycle track propaganda screed? This article consists of nine paragraphs in favor of this widely-criticized – both here on these pages and elsewhere – plan; one noting the loss of 100 parking spaces quoting unnamed officials who claim the cycle track will be responsible for the loss of only 30. And the other other 70 will magically disappear into thin air? And just one paragraph quoting Alderman Heuston in qualified opposition.

    All so that Somerville can make a taxpayer funded $7 million dollar “statement” of questionable value that does definite damage to the area’s residents and businesses in favor of those bicyclists passing through.

    There’s still time to stop it. I hope Alderman Heuston and her colleagues come to realize that the wishes of Somerville’s residents, homeowners, taxpayers, and voters in opposition to this boondoggle are at least if not more powerful (and may be even more so at election time) as those with a vested interest in spending tax money on a project we don’t need when so many others of greater benefit to all residents wither and die from lack of funding.

  2. Charlie says:

    The other 70 parking spaces are being eliminated for two reasons: (1) to make room for a sidewalk on the south side of Beacon St by the Academy of Arts and Sciences where there currently is none, and (2) to remove illegal spaces that are too close to cross streets and driveways based on the City’s current traffic regulations.

  3. Brian says:

    Although I don’t believe vehicle traffic has actually gone down on Beacon Street, the statement that it has is interesting for what it leaves out. Even if vehicles have decreased and bicycles have increased, what is the current number of each? Because if vehicles numbers decreased, but there are still 1000 who travel the road each day, versus 100 bikes, the weight still must be given to the vehicles. I’d like to see that number comparison, because I see many more vehicles than I see bikes. It’s also interesting that the reasons given for this are all because of acts perpetrated by the evil car and the equally evil driver. Why doesn’t it mention the havoc caused by bikes running red lights, cutting between cars, not stopping for pedestrians, etc.
    But this, by far, is the best statement: “Because of the intrinsic danger of riding in traffic, children and the elderly aren’t able to participate in the cycling fun”. Good luck to all the kids and elderly who wish to ride in this track, while dodging the above-mentioned bicyclists who don’t follow the rules.

  4. Sam says:

    This article leaves out how the design fails to comply with MassDOT safety standards for bicycle accommodation – the standards which the designers (who are getting paid..a HALF MILLION DOLLARS for this…when they don’t have any experience or expertise in building these things?!) are required to comply with per RFP agreement so the project can be approved for state and federal funds.

    All this fuss about narrowing an already narrow road is getting out of hand. Sorry, but a sidewalk-style cycle track is not a substitute for proper on-street accommodation for cyclists. Cyclists still have a legal right to bike on the roadway (and will need to do so when cars inevitably park on the side with a mountable curb) even in the presence of a cycle track that is incomplete and runs for half the length of the street. The design of this cycle track forces cyclists into the roadway anyway (on bike lanes and getting around parked cars or other cyclists on the mountable curb portion of the track).

    Why should we spend so much money going over budget for something that won’t actually deliver the car free urban biking experience you’re trying so hard to sell people on? Especially for a project that is so painfully over budget on estimated construction costs when our state and federal government are in the midst of a pretty major transportation budget crisis….and now that we know the city has to absorb $500k out of pocket for this haphazard design alone it’s a truck load of salt in a pretty big wound for those who live here.

    “A cycle track puts someone out of harms way from distracted drivers.” and puts them in harms way when drivers who DO pay attention can’t even see them coming when turning into a driveway because they’ll be hidden behind a row of parked cars until the moment of impact. MassDOT pointed out that very little of the retained parking can safely remain on the even side of the street because of all the driveways and Somerville’s “2ft rule” about parking behind or in front of them. That’s not enough of a sight line when checking your blind spot…even people who aren’t affected by the parking change because they have off-street parking are terrified about not being able to see cyclists coming. Source:

    I want to see more bike specific infrastructure that helps encourage more to bike, but I can’t get behind the design the city keeps trying to push through for funding for a multitude of reasons. You can’t let yourself be so blinded by ideological goals that you can’t properly acknowledge the serious flaws with this design or its lack of a proper public process. You can say whatever you want to save face – and further fear-monger people from biking on the streets we have today – but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s so much sketchiness going on behind the scenes that no one has a big enough rake clear all the muck away… If I didn’t truly care about my community, my city, I would not nearly be as involved in finding out what’s really going on here.

    Wouldn’t have been nice for the Bike Committee or the general public to see and vet designs BEFORE they were submitted to MassDOT? The city started submitting things for the 25% in July…the first public meeting wasn’t until September. The public meetings and presentation of cycle track designs “after the fact” are pretty troubling:

    By the way Alex, I thought your request to have the bike committee help future proposals from designers on street redesigns at the last meeting was great and something you should definitely not back down on. No doubt in my mind that this is a side-effect from Beacon Street and previous experiences you’ve had.

    You want to know why the committee never got a chance to vet different design contractor proposals from Beacon Street (and perhaps other street projects?) The real answer will make you sick. But I’m done being one of the few people in this city not afraid to seek out the truth and make it known for the day.

    There are a lot of good, bright people on the bike committee – don’t let pride cloud your judgement.

  5. j. connelly says:

    Hey the non-resident (majority) cyclists cutting through Somerville & Tufts come first regarding safety, then later the citizens count. There still tying up taxpayer dollars for police enforcement of the crosswalks & Stop signs (Packard Ave/Powderhouse Blvd. leading to Tufts tax-exempt property. Meanwhile heavy trucks having no business on the Blvd, posted “No Truck” signage right by the parked cruisers continue to drive by & the cruisers do not stop them

  6. Somerbreeze says:

    Even with this ill-conceived cycle track in place, cyclists will still ride on the sidewalk, wreaking havoc on pedestrians, especially seniors and the disabled.

    And hey, No Enforcement, No problem, right?

  7. Boston Kate says:

    I’d like to know who blew whom, to give this idea so much traction (pun intended), to the point of possible approval? All this $$$$ and redesigning, to accommodate one cycle track for ONE street, that is used by 50+ cyclists a day? Aaaaand, the 2 major proponents live on Beacon St. The large majority of society is never going to favor bicycle ownership/use over automobile ownership/use, and we need a place to park those cars.
    After how many years, we suddenly need a sidewalk on that stretch of the South side of Beacon St.? That’s unnecessary, walk on the other side, as people have been doing.
    “One out of every three vehicles on Beacon Street is a bicycle,” Epstein says. But riding in rush hour traffic is a little like “running with the bulls.”
    There is definitely some Bull in his story.
    “Because of the intrinsic danger of riding in traffic, children and the elderly aren’t able to participate in the cycling fun”. (You’re right, Brian, that was the kicker.)
    So, kids (of what age) and the elderly (70+ years?) will take their lives in their hands, pedaling through the other dangerous streets of Somerville, to the haven and refuge of cyclists that will be Beacon St.? Will they, then, spend their day riding up and down Beacon St.?
    For the cycle commuter, is Beacon St. the only way to cycle where one is going? Of course not, so, why not push for a cycle track on Somerville Avenue, and Summer Street, and Highland Ave. and Broadway, and Mystic Avenue? There’s a statement for you..
    I’m curious, who asked us to make a statement, anyway? If ‘they’ want a statement, the best one Somerville could make is that we don’t waste millions of dollars in funds, to build a cycle track that would benefit as few as 100 people. Now that’s a statement that make$ $en$e!

  8. gregtowne says:

    Bosom you couldn’t have said it any better.

    I ride Beacon street to get to work in the warmer weather and I am totally against this bike lane. I wish I could say its the biggest waste of tax payer dollars I can think of but this administration is full of them! Our city leaders are held hostage by spend happy progessives, curtatone leading the pack.

    Have you looked at your most recent homeowners tax bill? To all the renters out there that don’t think higher taxes should worr you, think again…as the taxes go, so go the rents!

  9. A.Moore says:

    As for the driver open door business if the biker was going at a safe speed and paying attention this would not happen. 50 years of biking here and I do not find that to be a problem if you are paying attention. Same as driving a vehicle. These are not country roads and to be safe you need to be looking out for yourself. I always watched for heads on cars and where I was going which is why I missed out on being doored. Too many bikers are going too fast for the area, these are not country roads here, it is the city. If you keep crashing and burning and may not always be the fault of a car. And bikers eating while biking, headphones full blast are no better than automobile drivers multitasking. Just repave the road and make the residents who pay the high taxes here have the the parking they need to be able to live here. Where is our ceo’s input on helping his employers?????

  10. MarketMan says:

    BostonKate: Where do you get “as few as 100 people”? I think there are many more than 100 people cycling through that area on a daily basis.

  11. Akpelo says:

    Can’t wait to see this happen. It’s a major upgrade to the street.

  12. Bostom says:

    Boston Kate said: “After how many years, we suddenly need a sidewalk on that stretch of the South side of Beacon St.? That’s unnecessary, walk on the other side, as people have been doing.”

    Big revenue loss, too, because as often as not I see those meters (in front of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on Beacon Street) bagged so that people attending events there can park. If it’s now going to be a sidewalk and those spaces disappear, where will those cars go?

    As for the other spaces lost to the “two feet from a kerb cut, driveway, or interesection rule”, how’s that? I’ve woken up with cars parked across my driveway completely blocking it, or two or three feet into it, and the Somerville PD responders who come by an hour or two later (“Sorry, it’s not a priority” per 311. My boss respectfully disagrees when it prevents me from getting to work on time, though…) don’t want to ticket them because as one said, and I’m quoting here: “We all have to get along.”

  13. Mia says:

    Just follow the money……..
    And as for Sam’s comment about the public input coming after the design was submitted? A minor slip-up, but it shows what we have known all along, about all ‘public input’ meetings. They are nothing more than a dog and pony show, if it is being presented for public review you can trust that it has already been decided. I have been to Planning Board/ZBA meetings where members actually stated that their job was to make the neighbors ‘comfortable’ with the proposal. And as far as children and elderly taking part in cycling fun, I kind of thought that’s what the bike paths were for.

  14. K says:

    Sam, how do you know the designers lack the necessary credentials? Can you point me to the information? Thanks

  15. Mia says:

    Bostom, you’ve hit on something. I’ve gotten a ticket while parked in my driveway, because I neglected to pull up far enough and maybe 1/4 inch of my car was ‘blocking’ the sidewlak.

  16. K says:

    Brian:”Why doesn’t it mention the havoc caused by bikes running red lights, cutting between cars, not stopping for pedestrians, etc.”

    While I understand much of the criticism directed towards this project, you’ve got to be kidding in making this kind of statement. The same complaint you made about a handful of cyclists could easily be made (or similar ones could be made) about motorists — especially about dog-eat-dog motorists on and/ or trying to get onto Beacon Street. A dedicated bike track would cut down on those cyclist sins, doncha think? But then again, there are only about 100 of them per day, according to you and your non-verifiable facts.

  17. harry says:

    This would be funny if it wasn’t costing us so much money. The people who want a bike track on Beacon street should create a fund and pay for it. The property taxes and fees/fines the city levees is already at the highest % allowed by state law. How are we going to afford this?

    Joe “Nooky” Curtatone can’t go any higher or tax us more – he’s tapped that all out. The thing is he’ll be long gone (he’s hoping for higher office before he goes to jail) before the SHTF, but when it does we’ll be left paying for all these giveaways to the wackjob progressive minority.

    I said it before – expect a lot more road pizza as some of these nitwtis continue to ride like….. nitwits.

  18. Josh says:

    To K: The havoc caused by bikers is rampant throughout the city, and not enforced, as the same behavior by a motorist would be. I live on a one way street and know that eventually someone pulling out of their driveway is going to hit one of the numerous bicyclists racing down the street the one way. I’ve seen many bicyclists race by, almost knocking over a pedestrian who was crossing because the evil motorists had stopped for them. And how would this tract fix this? It will be, what, 100 feet long? The bicycle world needs to understand that people will oppose this type of special treatment until cyclists conform to the law and are held to account when they don’t.

  19. A. Moore says:

    The sad part is it really does not matter what we want. If we had a vote on this we already know the answer, but Joe wants this and it is a done deal regardless. I did look around the web at bike tracks but they all looked like they had room for them and not a bunch of driveways either. I don’t know about the credentials of the people designing this but past projects have been awful in this city. Broadway is a mess, go from one lane to 2 lanes back to one lane over and over again. Try Cedar street in the morning, half the people don’t know what lane to get in to go where. But screwing over the residents is normal here. Taxes, they will find another way to get our money. They are doing a good job with parking getting more money, let’s see what other ways to fine us they can dig up. Maybe charge you to go to all those free festivals that block up the city, or probably the ones that don’t go will be fined.

  20. JDH says:

    Harry, this is being funded by the MADOT and the feds.

    I think it’s a worthwhile investment to build bike infrastructure. It improves safety for existing cyclists and encourages the “concerned but interested” crowd to get on a bike. Cycling isn’t for everyone, but it’s a mode of transport that still has a lot of room to grow in Boston & the surrounding area. In the long run, a healthy transportation cycling culture offers a lot of general perks — improved health, less pollution, less car traffic, more livable streets and neighborhoods, among other things.

    The question is whether this project accomplishes those goals. Clearly, the Beacon-Hampshire corridor is an important one. It sees a lot of bike traffic already and if trends continue that’s only going to increase. But will the proposed cycle track really help? It’s only .4 miles long and is located in some of the least dangerous sections of the corridor. Furthermore, the proposed track will be obscured from view behind parked cars and will intersect with many driveways.

    IMHO, cycle tracks aren’t a good fit on roads with a lot of contact points. An industrial/commercial road with no driveways? Sure. An avenue in Manhattan? Sure. I don’t see Beacon Street as an ideal fit.

    I haven’t seen much discussion of buffered bike lanes. I say repave the road (something we can all agree on!), keep the bike lanes, and narrow the auto travel lanes slightly by painting a small buffer. The buffer will make cyclists feel more comfortable riding in the left edge of the bike lane (to avoid getting doored) without feeling like they are about to get sideswiped.

    The narrowness of the auto travel lanes, the addition of a few needed crosswalks, and perhaps a stop sign or two will provide traffic-calming measures to slow down car traffic on Beacon, which would be beneficial to cyclists and especially to pedestrians.

  21. harry says:

    JDH, MA DOT and the fed get their money how? Thin air? or our taxes?

    I don’t care which pile of money — it’s still our money.

  22. A.Moore says:

    Regardless of where the money is funded it is still from the taxpayers and the money will be borrowed as the government is in crtical debt and in reality has no money.

  23. Brian M says:

    Holy cow, after all of the actual back-and-forth and discussion that has taken place, we’re still getting articles this superficial and one-sided on the issue? What is this, a high-school newspaper?

  24. JDH says:

    Harry, I’m aware that it’s still taxpayer money, but the context of your post clearly indicated that you were under the impression funding was coming from city coffers.

    In any case, I support a cheaper solution to Beacon St than the construction of a cycle track.

  25. Lucas Rogers says:

    I think it’s great that bicycle infrastructure is being improved. Although I drive a lot, a city with more biking and less driving is, in my better, a better city. Less noise, less air pollution, less stress, and healthier and happier citizens. I’m really excited about the plans!

  26. Robb says:

    This sounds awesome. Beacon St. is like the bike superhighway of the area, because it’s such a straight shot.
    I’m not sure what all you cheapskate car people are whining about; it’s like you’d prefer to live in the old, gritty, ugly, dismal Somerville of the past. Do you know how much tax money we non-car people have to pay for automobile infrastructure? I don’t either, but I’m sure it dwarfs the $7M for this project.
    I also love how you (1) don’t like sharing the road with cyclists, and (2) don’t want a bike track built that would keep cyclists out of the road. Would you just prefer that all cyclists drive around everywhere too, clogging up the roads even more?

  27. Anne says:

    You should read up on this project. This project in this location will not be safe for bikers, drivers, or pedestrians. And you complain that non-drivers pay for automobile infrastructure? Do you never take a cab or a bus? How much money is paid for schools by those without children? How much money is paid for fire protection for those who have never used it? And I would like to point out that automobile drivers pay the bulk of the money used for infrastructure through registration fees, excise fees, tolls, etc.

  28. sarah says:

    Finally, a story that clearly spells out that there are rules for bicycles as well as for cars:

  29. JPM says:

    Let’s be honest – most of us commuting to an office job in Boston are not going to be commuting to work on a bike from Somerville – even in months when the weather permits, which would probably only be April, May, September and October (when it’s not raining!) The idea that making Somerville more bike friendly is going to reduce reliance on cars is doubtful.

  30. ritepride says:

    Sarah’s referral to In that article is states “Even when a marked bike lane exists on a roadway, a cyclist can choose to ride in a travel lane, like any other vehicle on the road.

    Excellent point and justification for bicycle owners to be mandated to carry same insurance as auto drivers and all bikes display a license plate and be annually inspected like cars.

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