I am a lifelong cyclist who loves to bike around the Garden City, even in December. Today, for example, I cycled from Waban, via Elliot Street and the new Greenway, to my health club on Wells Avenue for a workout. Afterward, I pedaled to Whole Foods to shop and then to 4 Corners Pizza for a slice before returning home. For December, the temperature was a balmy 55 degrees, but I’ll bike with temperatures in the 30s if the streets are dry and the wind light.
Lest you think riding bicycles is only for the young, I am 68 years old. Still, the challenges of biking here are daunting. Not, of course, to those cyclists in aerodynamic outfits who pass through our streets in packs of five or fifteen. No, I mean those who might benefit from doing their daily chores on bike if they felt conditions were safer. For example, in the spring I have confidently biked along Beacon Street to get a haircut in Newton Centre and then wended my way along Parker Street to reach Newton South High School, where I coach girls’ tennis. Neither Beacon Street nor Parker Street has a dedicated bike lane. Walnut Street’s dedicated lane, marked by faded icons painted on a strip by the curb, has no physical separation from automobile traffic. The same applies to the lengthy stretch of Winchester Street between Needham Street and Nahanton Street. Though intrepid cyclists are undeterred, many others forgo the pleasure.
Recent mayors and other city planners have expressed the desire to increase the number of cyclists in districts facing major renovation. It may happen on Needham Street should the Northland Project at Oak Street come to fruition. Similar plans are under consideration as part of Washington Street’s extensive redevelopment. Presumably, funding for these efforts will come from both developers and city government with help from the Commonwealth. Will bike lanes reduce the traffic springing from such large-scale construction? Who knows? Still, designing dedicated bike lanes on streets particularly hazardous to cyclists, like Needham and Washington Streets, deserves municipal support.
But why stop there? Beacon Street from Newton Centre to Boston College has a bike lane, not separated from automobiles, for part of the way. At other points, bikes and automobiles share a lane marked with a sharrow, an icon indicating that bicycles have as much right to be there as cars. Why not construct a truly dedicated bike lane, with some physical separation, the entire way? With few pedestrians in sight, a wider sidewalk might be shared by bikes and pedestrians, as is done in Paris and other European cities. The city ought to study which of our main north-south and east-west arteries might, with reconfiguration, be more hospitable to cyclists.
For now, I avoid as many crowded thoroughfares as I can when cycling. For example, when biking to Newton Corner, I travel on Lowell Street and then Newtonville Avenue before cutting over on Lewis Terrace to Washington Street, within a quarter mile of the circle of death. Approaching via Centre Street and attempting to cross by the Pike would be truly insane. Clearly, a sympathetic city government could ease the danger for cyclists. Not only might automobile traffic ease a bit, but more of us would get valuable exercise as we go about our daily lives. Let’s encourage and support safe cycling in Newton.
— Bob Jampol (among other organizations, I belong to Bike Newton)