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Newton Gets Bronze for Bikes

2013 June 14
by Andreae Downs

How bicycle-friendly is the Garden City?

Find out Monday, June 17, 6pm at the War Memorial Auditorium.

That’s when Mayor Warren will join Lois Levin, Newton’s Bicycle Coordinator, for Newton’s Second Annual Bike Summit!

(Spoiler: the League of American Bicyclists awarded Newton a Bronze — a tremendous honor — up from an honorable mention last year)

How big a deal is this?

Expect Mayor Warren and Lois Levin to be joined by  members of the Board of Aldermen, Chief Howard Mintz, Transportation Director Bill Paille and the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Lois and Bill will highlight the new bike lanes, Steve Heinrichs will describe the Middle School bicycle safety education package, and Capt. Marc Gromada will review crash statistics and enforcement of the state Bike Laws.

Plus, you’ll learn about what’s planned for next year, and be able to offer your ideas on making biking better in the city.

The Bicycle Advisory Committee is a subcommittee of the Transportation Advisory Group, formed by Mayor Warren to help advance his vision of a sustainable Newton. The TAG works to make Newton’s streets safe and healthy for all residents.




19 Responses Post a comment
  1. June 15, 2013 03:33 PM

    I saw a man with his child (under 5) sitting on the front of his bicycle – both with helmets – at the corner of Church and Centre Streets this morning. IMHO, even with these quasi-bike lanes in Newton, you are taking a huge risk riding amongst the drivers of Newton who are on cell phones talking, driving (and sometimes texting). Who cares how Newton is rated, its still extremely dangerous!

  2. dulles permalink
    June 15, 2013 09:21 PM

    Cycling infrastructure in Newton has definitely improved over the years. Some of the worst-behaving motorists also have wised up. I’ve been cycling for nearly 20 years in Newton, and used to be yelled at, honked at, have things thrown at me… because I was operating one of those hated velocipedes! I don’t think I’ve had that sort of incident for about five years now. On the other hand, in my experience, both distracted/clueless motorists, and absolute moron cyclists (example: riding helmetless, with headphones, on the wrong side of the road, straight through stop signs and red lights), have stayed pretty much on par over the years.
    While I wouldn’t characterize cycling as a “huge risk” or “extremely dangerous”, cyclists do need to have their wits about them and exercise caution on Newton’s roads.

  3. Mike Striar permalink
    June 16, 2013 12:00 PM

    I’m not a bicyclist, but I’m curious what local bikers think of the recent changes to Beacon Street at the Langley intersection in Newton Centre. The articulated bike lane there runs between two lanes of auto traffic–the lane staying on Beacon, and the other lane turning right onto Langley. From a driver’s perspective it’s awful, and my expectation is that it’s going to result in auto/bike accidents by squeezing bicyclists between those two lanes. Just to add a bit more opinion… I think the entire revamp of the Beacon and Centre Street intersection is awful, [with the exception of the new traffic light].

  4. dulles permalink
    June 16, 2013 05:26 PM

    Hi Mike, I’m very local to Newton Centre.
    The revamp you mean is the Centre/Cypress Street intersection, adjacent to the Centre/Beacon Street intersection. IMO it’s a disaster for all types of traffic (driving or cycling) entering/exiting Cypress/Parker Street. It’s just a bad idea that doesn’t work on many levels.
    From a cyclist’s perspective, the articulated bike lane at Langley/Beacon is vaguely better than nothing. As a motorist, why do you see it as awful? I’ve never had a driving incident there with bikes. The painted lane shows bikes how they should enter the intersection, and indicates to right-turning cars that they need to yield to straight-moving bicycles. That said, cyclists should be wary that motorists don’t honor the signage (MIT’s Dr. Kanako Miura, killed in Kenmore Square in May, was traversing one of these types of bike lanes when she was struck by a truck).
    Beacon/Centre intersection is a terrible mess for cyclists, made worse because that great bike lane that goes all the way through Brookline just ends — it dumps cyclists right into Newton Centre’s traffic mess. There are three lanes each west/east on Centre St., two lanes northbound on Beacon St., and three lanes (two lanes plus a makeshift right-turn lane) southbound on Beacon. So three out of four directions, cyclists have to be wary of right-turning traffic, and they are *safest* when they take a position at the front, immediately to the right of the straight-moving traffic lane.
    But it’s not just about the lanes, it’s even worse than that. Eastbound and northbound, cyclists get squeezed into chokepoints immediately after the intersection (high risk of dooring); southbound there’s the threat of immediate turners onto Herrick road, and then threat of a right-hook collision from cars turning from Beacon onto Langley; westbound it’s a frying-pan-into-the-fire situation heading into the adjacent Cypress/Centre intersection.
    That’s why a lot of cyclists — myself included — roll through the Beacon/Centre intersection when the pedestrian walk signal goes off. As much as I want to follow all traffic laws, in this case it’s self-preservation to get a headstart, and get the heck away from the pandemonium when the light turns green! Articulated bike lanes might help a little here, as basic signage to help cyclists not familiar with the intersection how best to approach it. I think Beacon/Centre would also benefit from bike boxes, which would give cyclists a marked, safe place to stop (and be visible to other traffic) when the light is red.
    Anyway, that’s my thinking.

  5. Mike Striar permalink
    June 16, 2013 06:19 PM

    @dulles– Thanks for responding. Yes, Centre and Cyprss, what a mess they’re creating there. Regarding Beacon and Langley [in front of Bill’s Pizza], the problem I see is that cars shift from right to left, in order to get in the straight lane. That shift pulls them across the bike lane. It’s particularly confusing because for the past 30 years or so motorists could stay straight on Beacon from either lane. Chaos takes over just about where Murray’s Liquor is, as cars start to shift left. As I mentioned, I don’t ride a bike, but I also wonder how bikers feel about that bike lane [and others] being in-between two lanes of cars. Instinctively it feels less safe to me for a biker to be exposed to moving traffic on both sides of them, rather just on their left side.

  6. dulles permalink
    June 17, 2013 09:08 AM

    @Mike, I’d have to go down the street and check, I think it’s almost but not exactly as you describe it. Straight and left-turning traffic does shift into the left-hand lane. The right-hand lane is now a right-turn-only lane (onto Sumner St). The bike lane goes between the two, which does pull bicycles across the right-turn lane. That’s where a cyclist going straight needs to get to, for (relatively) safety once they’re in the intersection. Previously, the left lane was left and straight, the right lane was right and straight. Cyclists riding next to the curb were at higher risk of being hit by right-turning traffic onto Sumner. The ‘chaos’ shifted from inside the intersection (where two lanes merged onto Beacon), to traffic criss-crossing as it queues up behind the intersection. So speaking from a cyclists’ perspective, I think the Beacon/Langley bike lane is just marginally better — but overall I don’t see Newton Centre’s traffic issues as “solvable”. It seems like the city’s just spending money to try random fixes, which do little fixing or make things worse.

  7. Max Goldsmith permalink
    June 17, 2013 09:27 AM

    My suggestion for the Centre/Beacon/Langley triangle surrounding the parking lot is for it to become roundabout.

  8. Adam permalink
    June 17, 2013 10:35 AM

    @dulles, your rolling through the intersection trick won’t work much longer. Instead of an exclusive pedestrian phase, Beacon/Center will soon have concurrent crossing (aka cross on green). Concurrent crossing will hopefully help with congestion, and it will mean a shorter wait for pedestrians as well. Pedestrians will also have a shorter distance to cross — one of the few benefits of the new design. Without any new accommodations, cyclists are going to continue to get squeezed. I remain skeptical on the project, but I guess we won’t see the full impact until the new signal timing is put in place.

  9. dulles permalink
    June 17, 2013 11:22 AM

    Thanks for the heads up @Adam. As a cyclist, I realize it is breaking the law to roll through the pedestrian walk light. So personal safety concerns aside, cyclists just have to deal with what they get: Considerate traffic design in some places, an afterthought in others, and being totally dismissed in still other places.
    I’m deeply concerned about your observation that “pedestrians will have a shorter distance to cross”, it’s the first I’ve heard of this. What else is being done? Has it been vetted by the facts on the ground, or is it, like the Centre/Cypress bottleneck, design by committee based on abstract theories? My concern is, e.g., curb bumpouts that are considered pedestrian friendly can also squeeze cyclists into traffic.

  10. David Kalis permalink
    June 17, 2013 11:59 AM

    Congratulations on the bronze to everyone who has worked so diligently to move the needle on biking in Newton. I do, however, agree that cycling in Newton is dangerous and sometimes scary. Award or no award, I hope this topic continues to get more attention, resources, and awareness throughout the community. The awareness piece is critical – especially for drivers who are confused by the bike lanes or simply unaware they exist.

  11. fignewtonville permalink
    June 17, 2013 04:07 PM

    Now we need Hubway in Newton!

  12. Adam permalink
    June 17, 2013 09:00 PM

    @dulles, do not worry. The shorter crossing at Centre and Beacon does not cut into traffic lanes and should not be a problem for bicycles. It’s a bit hard to explain without a picture. They enlarged the landscaped island in front of Piccadilly Square a bit and they’re building a raised crosswalk across the right turn lane to get to it from the adjacent corner (turning on to Beacon Street eastbound) My understanding is that peds will walk to the island, perhaps without the need for a signal, then wait on the island for the signal, having made it part way through the intersection. From there to the opposite corners is now a shorter distance and perpendicular to traffic, therefore safer. Also, with the concurrent crossing, I think the signal is supposed to give peds a few seconds head start (sort of like what bike boxes would do for cyclists, if they were included in the plan)

    I understand your concern with bumpouts that extend into what otherwise might be a bike lane, but I don’t think that narrowing roadways to calm traffic or better defining traffic lanes is necessarily bad for cyclists. How about the curb extension at Herrick Street? That seems to have worked out well for all parties.

    The curb extension at Cypress is a bottleneck, but I’m not sure it’s fair to say it makes it more dangerous for cyclists. If anything, the multiple lanes of criss-crossing traffic it eliminates was unsafe for cyclists. And it unquestionably makes for a safer and shorter pedestrian crossing there as well. Nothing abstract about that. My main concern is the potential for lots of queueing and chaos, now that they’ve flipped the right of way from Cypress to Centre, blocked intersections for those taking a left turn onto Cypress, and maybe even starvation for Cypress traffic stuck at the stop sign unable to enter the queue. I think they’ll ultimately have to put in a signal there as well.

  13. dulles permalink
    June 18, 2013 08:44 AM

    @Adam, thanks for clarification. Sounds like pretty minor actual infrastructure changes for pedestrians. The curb extension at Herrick Street has little in common with the bottleneck disaster that is Cypress/Beacon: Herrick is one-way traffic onto a relatively lightly traveled side street.
    As a cyclist, it’s the left-hand turn from Beacon onto Cypress/Parker that’s now more dangerous. Before, if I could get into the left-hand lane, I had right of way to exit the intersection. Now I’ll be stuck in the middle of the intersection until there’s a break in oncoming Centre Street traffic, or it gets so blocked up no cars can move. Trust me on this one: Standing in the middle of the intersection on a bicycle, trying to find a gap in the traffic wide enough to get out of there safely, while a growing line of impatient drivers are queuing up behind, is not a safe situation.

  14. Lucia permalink
    June 18, 2013 09:56 AM

    David – I think the danger and scariness of biking in Newton depends on where you live. In Newton Centre, there are quiet side streets with many bikes and pedestrians. The more bikes and pedestrians there are, the more cars anticipate them.

  15. andreae permalink
    June 19, 2013 09:01 PM

    I just saw this on Bike Safe Boston, and its very good advice for bicycling safely:

  16. Vicki Danberg permalink
    June 19, 2013 11:26 PM

    A very good Second Annual Bike Summit Monday night. Thanks Lois, Helen and Andreae for your leadership. We are making progress and will continue to move toward safe and ubiquitous bike presence in Newton.

    Tues. night we held a needed public forum on the Centre /Cypress “bump-out” in Newton Centre. Though I had to leave before the meeting was over due to a conflict, I understand that the meeting allowed good public commentary on this controversial project.

    For those who have not navigated the Beacon/Centre crossing recently, the DOT (State Dept of Transp) changes to the intersection, designed to improve traffic flow and make crossing safer for pedestrians have so far created unprecedented back-ups on Beacon, Centre, Cypress and Parker cars entering the Centre.

    Tonight I had a conversation with DPW Commissioner Turocy, and he agreed that if the bump-out, which narrows what was originally two lanes approaching the intersection to one, results in continued traffic back-ups, he will examine options that would include re-configuration or removal of the bump-out.

    I support Mr. Turocy in the completion and re-timing of the lights to see if things improve, and giving it a couple of weeks to see what happens. He agrees that if the bump-out does not work well in July with lighter traffic, it must be re-examined.

    I hope this helps.

    Vicki Danberg

  17. Adam permalink
    June 20, 2013 11:11 AM

    Next time, I hope there is better notification for public meetings such as this.

  18. Mike Striar permalink
    June 20, 2013 02:01 PM

    I get so few chances to predict the future, so here it is… The bump-out will continue to be a problem, and will remain unchanged for many years to come. Frankly, I’d have a lot more confidence if the people responsible for this simply admitted the mistake, and changed it back. That’s the problem with government at every level. No one ever admits their mistakes.

  19. nathan phillips permalink
    June 27, 2013 10:23 PM

    @Mike, an example of a fairly effective bike lane crossing a car lane is in Boston on Commonwealth Ave. westbound just east of the bu bridge. Google maps shows it well. The main difference between that and the bike lane you referred to is the highly visible green paint coloring the whole bike lane in boston, while the Newton lane, with only hash marks, is much less visible. Hopefully some green paint can go in this lane in Newton.

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