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Starts and Stops

Walsh unveils new bike lanes, expanded bus stops for social distance

Also: Long closed streets will soon reopen in Somerville in a milestone for the Green Line extension

Mayor Martin J. Walsh plans to install several bike lanes that will be separated from car traffic, circling the Public Garden and Boston Common.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh plans to install several bike lanes that will be separated from car traffic, circling the Public Garden and Boston Common.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Protected bike lanes will soon circle much of Boston Common and the Public Garden — and it only took a global pandemic to make it happen.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has announced plans to quickly install several new bike lanes that will be separated from car traffic, as well as new amenities for bus riders. The initial roll-out of the city’s “healthy streets” initiative is the first step in Walsh’s pledge to dedicate more street space to people and non-auto traffic as the economy begins to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a bold package of street and sidewalk improvements to undertake on a short timeline,” Walsh said Thursday. "This is something that’s not new in the world. We’ve seen [it] in European cities, and it’s something people have been talking about for a long time in Boston. We’re going to take this opportunity to try and help our businesses and help alternative ways of transportation.”

The centerpiece of Walsh’s announcement was the series of new bike lanes on major city thoroughfares, including parts of State Street, Tremont Street, Columbus Avenue, Boylston Street, Arlington Street, and Charles Street.

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The move reflects forecasts that biking may emerge as a major form of urban transportation as the economy reopens, as well as worries that without good biking infrastructure many worried transit riders may instead shift to cars. Several bike shops have reported low inventories as more people take to cycling as a socially distant way both to commute and to exercise.

Taken together, the new lanes would form a ring around the Public Garden and a long corridor from the Common, then along State Street to Atlantic Avenue, as well as feeder lanes from the South End.

Cycling advocates celebrated the move on social media — though some also noted they had been calling for protected lanes around the Garden and the Common for years. The city had presented plans to install such lanes shortly before former Mayor Thomas Menino left office in 2013.

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“This is a great step for Boston to implement some long-discussed changes for sustainable mobility,” said City Councilor Michelle Wu, who recalled one of her first public meetings in office focused on that plan.

Meanwhile, the city said it will expand the size of several bus stops, in part by reducing parking to give passengers more room to wait as buses arrive. The expanded stops will be found in places including on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan, L Street in South Boston, at the Maverick Blue Line stop, and at the Haymarket stop on Congress Street.

The city also said it would improve parts of the above-ground Silver Line by expanding bus-only lanes on Washington Street and re-painting an existing lane through Chinatown; officials hope more bus lanes will allow buses to run more quickly and reduce crowding onboard.

The measures announced Thursday do not increase the availability of street or sidewalk space for restaurant seating, another maneuver the city has said it would explore to help restaurants serve more customers while facing indoor capacity limits. But Walsh said the city has begun surveying restaurants about where more outdoor seating could be useful and intends to act on those findings.

“As of this morning, 264 establishments in Boston have expressed interest in seating on sidewalks or parking lanes, and we are currently reviewing all of the requests,” Walsh said Thursday, adding that the city stands “ready to help” restaurants expand safely.

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Nor did the first phase of the plan include closures of any residential streets to through-traffic, an idea that would allow more socially distant recreational space. These and other ideas could be implemented this summer, the mayor’s office said.

Cambridge on Thursday also announced plans for “shared streets” on a few corridors, including parts of Magazine Street and Harvard Street, that would require vehicles to travel at low speeds and yield to pedestrians and cyclists who would have full access to the road.

Bridge clearance

After more than a year of hugely disruptive street closures, key roads in Somerville will reopen starting this weekend.

Washington Street near the McGrath Highway and the Broadway bridge between Powder House and Magoun square will both reopen to traffic within the next week after long-term closures to facilitate work on the Green Line extension.

Washington Street had been closed to allow overhead work on a railroad bridge that will now carry Green Line tracks, while the bridge on Broadway had to be rebuilt to create more space for the trolleys that will run underneath.

Both sites will still need finishing work over the coming months, with lane closures on the Broadway stretch until later this summer.

A third related closure related to the project, on Medford Street, is expected to be finished this fall. Yet another will keep the School Street Bridge closed until next spring.

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The reopened streets come on the heels of the long-awaited project’s latest disruption to travelers: historic Lechmere Station in Cambridge was also closed last week. The station will be moved to a new site across Route 28 as part of the extension project. Until then, Lechmere riders must catch shuttle buses toward North Station, though those buses are at least traveling in dedicated lanes separated from auto traffic.

The Green Line extension is expected to be complete late next year.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.