Hubway, regional bike investments build community

On May 1, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

mayor_webBy Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

In early April I joined in the reopening celebration of Hubway, one of the smartest bicycle infrastructure investments our region has made—and one of the most telling when it comes to understanding how our city and our nation are evolving. The country is undergoing the greatest demographic shift since the 1950s when people fled cities for the suburbs. Today that trend is reversing. People are returning to the urban core at historic levels as they seek the vibrancy and connectivity of bikeable, walkable, transit-oriented urban neighborhoods. Somerville, and the Boston region, are experiencing this shift too as we seek to make Greater Boston the most bikeable and walkable region in the country. But it’s about far more than sustainable transit. I believe what’s driving this trend is also a desire for community, which is at the heart of what makes Somerville the city we love.

People today demand neighborhoods where they can walk or bike to public transit, work, stores and services. Families want options for getting to work that don’t include sitting in traffic, and want to live where it’s easy for their children to lead active lifestyles. Young professionals crave walking routes and bike lanes, along with access to public transit. Retirees want to walk to the neighborhood store and the local coffee shop. Ultimately, all of these groups want to live in the kind of vibrant, close-knit communities that are created when faces aren’t blurs seen through car windows, but people out on sidewalks and in the streets and paths, walking, pushing strollers and biking.

Somerville is working to meet that demand by making it easier, safer and more appealing to bike and walk. On the biking side, we have doubled our bike network that now has more than 30 miles of bike lanes in a 4.1 square mile city, and added more than 300 new bike parking spots to city streets since 2011. Two years ago, we joined the Hubway bikeshare system with 12 stations, garnering thousands of rides monthly. And the soon-to-be completed Community Path extension will connect it to the future Lowell Street Green Line station and eventually to Cambridge, Boston and beyond.

Meeting that demand cannot be incumbent on a single city, though, and fortunately Somerville is not alone. MassDOT’s rehabilitation of the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge will make this heavily trafficked commuter route better and safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, and plans for the Cambridge Street bridge in Allston now include a cycle track with dedicated bike lanes and barriers separating them from the car lanes. Elsewhere in the metro region, a 4.1 mile stretch of the Northern Strand Community Trail has been paved from Malden to Everett, bringing us closer to a true seamless bike and walking connection from Malden to Somerville’s own Community Path. And MetroWest communities are getting closer to turning a 23-mile abandoned rail line into a bike and walk path that could reach the Waverly commuter rail station in Belmont—not too far from where it could also eventually connect to our Community Path.

Greater Boston is creating a biking and walking network, and we’re seeing the effects of investment. In Somerville, biking has risen by 56 percent over two years. Biking and walking to work continues to increase according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s biennial report released this past month, most noticeably in cities, and Boston has the highest share of walking commuters. Meanwhile, the long-term trend for bicycling and pedestrian fatalities is downward, and biking is safer in larger cities where roads are evolving to accommodate all forms of travel.

We need to seize this opportunity because developing our pedestrian and bike infrastructure, along with building near transit, can eliminate traffic impacts and over time shift more commuters from the roads onto our sidewalks, subways and bike routes. It helps achieve environmental justice: a recent study by the University of Minnesota found that non-white people inhale 38 percent higher levels of air pollution than whites, and Greater Boston has the fourth highest pollution disparity between whites and nonwhites. That’s particularly important to Somerville, where approximately 38,000 of our residents live within environmental justice zones, shouldering a disproportionate burden of environmental impacts caused by traffic and industry.

Building routes for bikes and pedestrians also brings community because it builds the vibrancy that comes when increased foot traffic helps the stores, restaurants, cafes and services in our neighborhoods flourish. And when our businesses flourish our squares and nearby parks are filled—with our neighbors. Making our region walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented creates urban rooms—active streetscapes supported by workers during the day and residents during the night.

This isn’t just about biking. This is about the kind of community we want to build—equitable, connected, healthy and convenient for residents—and a place where you bump into friends on a street corner, chat with other parents at the neighborhood park, or wave to your barber when you walk by his shop. Economic health then follows suit. Thriving squares filled with busy businesses creates a resilient, self-sufficient economic base for cities and the region. And when we make connections that move pedestrians and cyclists between neighborhoods, we create the growth and vitality that will help us bring back historic neighborhoods such as Brickbottom and Inner Belt. Hubway is one of a number of invaluable tools to make and increase those connections. I’m pleased that a new Hubway station is now open at Magoun Square and I look forward to the expansion of Hubway eastward in our city. Spring is here—let’s get out and ride.


27 Responses to “Hubway, regional bike investments build community”

  1. Me says:

    At $20 million per mile, is it going to be paved with gold bricks, or are there back room dealings jacking this cost up.

    Mayor, do you support shutting out 85% of potential bidders due to state prevailing wage laws? When only 15% of the market makes a bid for a project do you think this drives costs up or down? Is the result of this a service to those that decided to elect you?

  2. MarketMan says:

    $40M does sound like a lot, but the project doesn’t look exactly straight forward either. How much do people think is a reasonable cost for the project?

  3. A.Moore says:

    I kept thinking it was a typo the $39 million dollars just for a bike path. What does it cost per mile for a street? We have increased homlessness in Somerville yet we can blow this ridiculous amount of money for a path.

  4. Luke says:

    The path will require a lot of engineering to build it into the embankment. As someone who loves to bike to work, but is concerned about safety, I could not be happier that this is happening. I also think it will be a huge improvement for Somerville.

  5. Me says:

    Quick search of highway costs resulted in

    “In urban areas , widening costs are further disaggregated by the type of roadway (freeways, other divided highways, and undivided roads), and vary from $2.4 million to $6.9 million per lane-mile.”

    This was in 2006 dollars so this becomes ~2.8-8million to add a lane of highway in an urban area. I did adding a lane, because most of the construction is adding to the rail tracks. And this is a bike path, not a highway, so…

    Adding a lane to a 2 lane highway costs $3.45 million here.

    These include the new drainage and movement of lights, ect so I would think a bike path should be less. Of course, when you make it illegal for most of the residents of the state to participate in the project, leaving it to just a few well connected union shops, you would expect to pay a premium.

  6. JimmyF says:

    I don’t know what the cost is, and $20M/mile sounds very high, but how many people gripe if there’s a road rebuilding that costs tens of millions of dollars, yet if it’s for bicycles it’s apparently a waste of money.

    Car infrastructure expenditure never raises an eyebrow, but somehow when it’s for bicycles it’s treated as if it’s not even infrastructure, but a toy. People commute and run errands on bicycles all the time – they’re transport; get over it.

  7. Somerbreeze says:

    “This isn’t just about biking….” What a load of BS!

    This is still more pandering to cyclists from City Hall. Public safety for pedestrians takes a holiday, while sidewalk cyclists continue to imperil pedestrians. And the Hubway just unleashes more clueless cyclists into the mix.

    Joey Cakes, Mayor For Some, but Not For All!

  8. Me says:

    Also, if this thing comes in on budget and is actually only $20 million per mile I will eat my shoe (after its walked down the bike path). More likely it will be over budget and flood anytime it is cloudy out, like the current bike path by Cedar.

  9. jake says:

    I heard that DPW and Fire have to buy all new equipment to service the path once it is built because the patch will not be wide enough for their vehicles to plow, pick up trash or put out fires. If this is true, whats the real cost going to be?

  10. philb says:

    Costs are driven up by “prevailing” wage labor rates for public projects and the legality of unions. Also there is some drainage, lighting etc for this project and probably some other things, so it is not just paving a road.

  11. Rob says:

    The path in Somerville, Cambridge, Arlington and beyond is full of walkers, runners, kids, rollerbladers, and bicyclists. This will be a well used and popular public asset. The Friends of the Community Path deserve recognition for doggedly fighting for this over the years. Thank you!

  12. Me says:

    @Jake: I doubt it. They currently have trash trucks, plows ect… that take care of the bike path, and I assume fire equipment as well. I dont think the width of the new path will be different enough that there is going to be a large capital expenditure in that way.

    @Philb: You are right to put ‘Prevailing’ in quotes, as Mass law sets “prevailing wages” equal to the union contract wage in the area (typically MSA). Just a backroom way to set minimum wages at $80+ per hour. My references included adding in drainage and lighting, but quality enough for a highway, not bike path. You gotta use alot if imagination to justify a bike path costing 4 times more.

    I would respect the ‘friends of the community path’ more if they did not require men with guns take the money from others to pay for this. If they were friends they should have raised the money via donation or from their own pocket as opposed to using coercion.

  13. Facts says:

    Route 128 is being widened at a cost of more than $100 million per mile.

    If you’re going to whine, you should get your facts straight. Highway widening is extremely expensive. Car infrastructure is extremely expensive. Highways typically cost on the order of $100 million/mile or more these days. You whine about a community path, but you don’t blink an eye at automobile welfare that costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Typical entitled drivers.

    This is a community path that requires a lot of structural work, that’s why it’s considerably more expensive than “just a bike lane.” It will still be one of the best projects ever done by the Commonwealth, both in terms of community value and in cost effectiveness for what it provides.

  14. A. Moore says:

    I am not concerned about the use of it by maybe .01% of Somerville using this. I am really concerned about the $16,787,451,118,147 figure that we need to get rid of. I don’t want to leave this for my kids to take care of when we can start work on it now in each city across the country. Spending when so deep in debt does not work.

  15. ritepride says:

    “Car infrastructure expenditure never raises an eyebrow, but somehow when it’s for bicycles it’s treated as if it’s not even infrastructure, but a toy.” An Expensive TOY it is! Cars pay for the roadways thru all kinds of taxes; gas, excise, tire, insurance, etc. Bikes are welfare as they pay nothing towards the infrastructure. However once the insurance companies evaluate along with municipalities, bikes ill become the new autos and have to pay similar taxes for using the roadways/paths.

  16. Matt C says:

    I doubt anyone will say that the price tag is not shocking. However for those that are quoting the national debt, we in MA pay more than our share towards national spending, with almost twenty cents on every dollar we pay never coming back to the state.

    If you want to pick on spenders, pick on the takers, pick on corporate welfare, pick on the guy that makes ten times what you do yet pays relatively lower taxes than you. Pick on the governor that what’s the shrink government but expects bigger and bigger federal payouts.

    Lastly, you may not user the community path, but many more than the .01% you mention do. I and many of my neighbors walk down it all the time to get to the the subway. The extension means that we don’t spend half our walk on the street or have bikes get in the way of drivers.

  17. OMG says:

    so tired of the anti-car stuff. How do you think you get your precious imported beers? How did your beautiful bike get here? Yeah, on a truck. your coffee, gourmet pizza, everything to make gourmet donuts? yeah, all trucks. Evil trucks. Bikes help the environment, I know, but many of us just can’t do it. Some people are delivering kids, parents, and carrying work stuff around all day. I would love the freedom of a bike, but it’s not possible, so get off my back—and my car

  18. JAR says:

    While I agree that $100 million a mile for Rte. 128 widening is a lot of money, remember that it functions as a byway of commerce. Realistically speaking, if we constructed a bike path along it, we could not expect the same amount of goods to be moved by those bicycles as are moved by the many trucks that use Rte. 128 and other large roadways. From what I’ve been told, the Green Line extension is going to cost in excess of a billion dollars for 4 miles of track and associated infrastructure (catenary, signals, stations, bridge widening, etc.). So let’s assume that’s $250 million a mile. Even if we ran a steady stream of Light Rail vehicles over it, it would still pale in comparison to what could be carried on Rte. 128. I realize that’s a largely rhetorical and facetious argument, but it speaks to the issue of density and value of investment. And, yes, as pointed out, the roadways are–or up until now have been–paid for at least in part through the gasoline tax, excise tax, Federal excise tax on tires, etc.

    And I maintain that, when talking in terms of cost-effectiveness, things like proper light timing go a lot further for the money spent than building bikeways toward air quality mitigation. But, they are, unfortunately, not as glamorous or economically profligate politically. I don;t see the Governor, the Mayor, or anyone else getting too many brownie points for saying that they’ve timed the traffic lights on Highland Ave. to help calm traffic and save gas.


  19. Gianni Serpico says:

    Cars kill! Individual people, and the entire planet! Dump your car, be an American Hero.

  20. A. Moore says:

    Many of us can’t get off our own street to get to the path if we wanted to. Three in our household have tripped on the sidewalks here trying to get to the drugstore. I was being conservative on the .01%. I am not as much opposed to this as you think. I am just more concerned about the country on a whole. These frivolous things should be handled with either extra money or contributions. The money would be better spent repaving some of the roads in Somerville like Beacon street or even Cedar street. Not so much for cars as the bumps are handled better by cars but just look at the sides of the roads where the bikes go. Holes and bumps from construction ill repaired most likely by utilities. There are many places money is wasted and I would need to write a novel here just from the tiny bit I am aware of. It’s really a shame as things could be so much better here. We have a great country and I for one would like to see it get back on track before we lose it.

  21. Bambi says:

    A Big Dig over there. A bike/walk path over here. Everyone’s happy.

  22. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    You’re right JAR. I have noticed lots of neglect with timing of lights, broken cross light buttons, and lack of police presence in hazard traffic areas- powder house rotary, Davis and Union squares especially McGrath which looks like a derby race at 5:00 pm M-F.

    $39 million is outrageous for a bike path. I agree if motorists and taxpayers must continually foot the bill for more pet projects by a small percentage of users, the money should be privately funded by some grant by the bicycle brigade. We need our roads repaired the pot holes are everywhere. It’s obvious this administration continues to cater to the yuppies and their rich parents who own condos in our city but live in the rt. 95/2 suburbia.

  23. Tegin says:

    Every time I read comments like this I am deeply saddened. I wish we could get beyond the car versus bicycle argument and all of the nasty, negative comments. It’s easy to be nasty, but not easy to make a more rational argument. Building bicycle infrastructure costs money, yes, and sometimes it seems daunting. However, it’s important to think about the impacts of the different investments. When spending the far greater quantity of money to expand car infrastructure, it benefits drivers, yes, and I’m sympathetic to those of you who want those benefits. We all want our transportation choice to be easier and safer. However, expanding car infrastructure and supporting more car use also hurts both drivers and non drivers for a huge number of well-established environmental and health reasons. I won’t take the space to repeat those. Building bicycle infrastructure not only benefits cyclists, but also *everyone else*. It gets cars off the road (there are many, many interested by scared potential riders out there), reduces pollution and other health impacts, and can even reduce congestion for those of you who do not want to get rid of your car. I understand not everyone made choices in life that allow them to get rid of their car and not everyone may be physically capable of using their own power to get around, but don’t be so hateful towards something with such clear benefits. Nitpick on the high cost if you want, but don’t forget that cyclists are people too, and what they do is helpful to everyone.

  24. bob says:

    I think that the bicyclists have created the division surrounding this issue. Every day when a bicyclist flies down a one-way street toward my oncoming car, I am reminded why I don’t think they should be on the streets.

    If bicyclists want special riding lanes, etc., they should pay for them, just as people who drive cars pay taxes and fees on their cars to fund road maintenance, safety, etc.

    Building bicycle infrastructure does not benefit everyone else, it is harmful. We have built bike paths yet they continue to clog our streets, driving recklessly, and making the roads less safe for drivers and pedestrians.

    I have 3 children. How do you propose I get around without a car? How about the handicapped? The elderly? Bicyclists never take into account the people who are unable to ride a bike. But they do add comments like “…not everyone made choices in life that allow them to get rid of their car….”

    I dislike people riding bikes on the streets because 99% of them are reckless and unsafe. Period.

  25. Me says:

    @Tegin. Its not bikes vs cars. Its not nitpicking about if byclists are helpful. The fact is this money has an opportunity cost.

    This is $40 million that is not being spent on local business because the city decided to take it. This is money that is not being spent on education. If you could get the bike path for $20 million by opening up the bidding process, you could have the bike path and $20 million for better education, drug addiction problems, or lowering tax bills to make Somerville less expensive for the people that live here.

    Trying to make it a biker vs Car this is to belittle the conversation and distract from the fact that this bidding process was done in an opaque way to keep out bidders and enrich a connected few.

  26. ritepride says:

    “Tegin” it’s called fairness! Fact…majority of pollution in major cities is caused by buildings not cars. Bikes use roadways thus should pay the same fees; insurance, excise tax, license fees, etc. as motor vehicle operators do. In tough fiscal times, blowing away $39+million dollars for bike paths is not only foolish, it is unjust and a slap in the face to the taxpayers.

  27. Bambi says:

    Go take a ride through the $24 BILLION dollar Big Dig and enjoy the majesty of it all…no pesky bikes and no tolls!

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