Conditions could not have been much better for my bike ride this morning to BSC Newton. The Wells Avenue sports club lies about four miles from my Waban home. At 10:30, under blue skies, traffic had subsided and skies were sunny.
My journey began along Woodward Street, a quiet residential road except during rush hour. Things got trickier when the road swung right for the long block to Route 9. Without a bike lane, I passed with caution alongside trucks and cars to the corner.
Once across Route 9, I traveled down and up Elliot Street until I reached Columbia Avenue, my shortcut to the greenway behind Needham Street. My hybrid bike, with wide tires, had no problem pedaling along the sandy path. Once I reached Oak Street, more peril awaited me. This narrow street carries a great deal of traffic from the Upper Falls to Needham Street. To my left lay the desolation that, according to plan, will someday become the immense Northland project: more than 800 residential units, as well as small businesses. Imagine how many cars the tenants will operate; where will they park them? Poor residents of Oak Street, Needham Street, and Christina Street!
Once I turned right towards Needham, I faced my greatest challenge: crossing Needham Street in the face of incoming traffic to reach a half-mile greenway on the other side of the river. Fortunately, an inbound driver took pity and waved me across. The path led to Fourth Avenue in Needham, which in tandem with Second Avenue, connects Highland Avenue with Kendrick Street. At the corner of Kendrick/Nahanton, I faced a left turn without a traffic signal- hazardous for both cars and bikes- and the ensuing stretch to Wells Avenue was choked with speeding cars.
Wells Avenue, hellishly congested during rush hour in the morning and evening, is quiet mid-day, and no surprise: many buildings are only half-rented. Thus, it baffled me when I passed by 2 Wells Avenue, a large office building finally completed in the spring. Since then its huge parking lot has sat empty, the building vacant despite the large “To Lease” sign in front. Why construct such a building without a tenant in mind, given the apparent glut in office space?
After my workout, I journeyed home via Nahanton Street, Winchester Street, Centre Street, Walnut Street, and finally Beacon Street. En route I shopped at Whole Foods and Walgreens and ate lunch at 4 Corners Pizza. The route was treacherous in two spots: on Nahanton Street, especially as I had to cross traffic to make that left onto Winchester; and the crowded stretch of Winchester and Centre Streets from National Lumber to Walnut Street. Less experienced cyclists might have hesitated to push forward. But those are the precise conditions of many stretches of roadway in Newton. Little wonder that active cyclists like me are uncommon in Newton.
Not only did this odyssey provide me with some stimulating exercise, but it taught me some hard lessons about the Garden City: 1) If civic leaders are serious about promoting bicycles in Newton, many roads will require reconfiguration; 2) The city’s traffic infrastructure seems outdated, consisting largely of crowded, antiquated streets with little room for cars, let alone pedestrians and cyclists; 3) I passed no buses though at least one bus crosses my route at points. But it runs so infrequently that most people with cars would rather drive than take it; 3) Plans for mega-developments like Northland and Riverside must take this antiquated infrastructure into account. Without drastic improvements, Newton will become as choked and impassible as other congested areas in greater Boston.