On narrow downtown streets, where Puritans once brought produce to market, cars and bicycles now weave around each other, in an uneasy dance that sometimes leads to unfortunate accidents. Those old streets aren’t wide enough to allow for designated bike lanes, the safest way to separate cars and bikes. But the same isn’t true for all city neighborhoods.
Now, as Boston looks to increase biking in low-income and minority neighborhoods, it has a chance to create a safer biking system. While fatalities on highly trafficked streets in downtown, the Fenway, and Back Bay have sparked outrage from the cycling establishment, there also have been plenty of reported accidents in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan along such thoroughfares as Washington, Morton, Parker, Dudley, and Harvard streets and Blue Hill, Geneva, Talbot, and Columbus avenues. Many more accidents possibly go unreported from immigrants and residents who do not trust the police.
Cycling in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan has some inherent challenges. There are few bike repair shops, and access to accessories such as high-quality bike locks, helmets, lights, and reflective clothing is limited. But even if all those problems were addressed, cyclists would still lack the safety of bike lanes that are truly segregated from traffic. Outside of the Southwest Corridor, there is a dearth of protected bike lanes in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan.
The 2012 book “City Cycling,” co-edited by urban planners John Pucher of Rutgers and Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech University, said, “No city in Europe or North America has achieved a high level of cycling without an extensive network of well-integrated bike lanes and paths that provide separation from motor vehicle traffic.” That’s a huge challenge in central Boston — but a more manageable one in the wider expanses of Boston’s neighborhoods. The city should explore the creation of segregated bike lanes in neighborhoods that can accommodate them, and that would benefit most from a healthier lifestyle and better transportation. Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan would be good places to start.