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Boston installs new downtown bike lanes — for now

The cordoned-off lanes around the Boston Common and Public Garden were first floated by previous Mayor Thomas Menino.

A cyclist on Charles Street rides in one of the new "pop-up" bike lanes around the  Public Garden and nearby streets in downtown Boston.
A cyclist on Charles Street rides in one of the new "pop-up" bike lanes around the Public Garden and nearby streets in downtown Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

City transportation planners have been deliberating for the better part of a decade about installing protected bike lanes around Boston Common and the Public Garden.

Then came COVID-19, and City Hall just went ahead and ... did it.

Long lines of orange traffic barrels now dot the perimeter of Arlington, Boylston, Tremont, Beacon, and Charles streets, setting a lane of road aside for cyclists and providing a measure of separation from auto traffic. A similar lane has been installed on State Street down to the Rose Kennedy Greenway; another was installed further from downtown, on Cummins Highway in Mattapan, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Tuesday.

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These “quick-build” downtown bike lanes were announced by Walsh in May, as part of an initiative to encourage more biking as the economy reopens. The thinking is that cycling is a socially distant option for some transit riders who may fear crowding on buses and trains, and it doesn’t create the traffic congestion of cars. A number of cities around the world have adopted the strategy, most ambitiously in places like Paris and Berlin.

The recently installed lanes in downtown Boston came about seven years after then-Mayor Thomas Menino wanted dedicated bike space around the two historic parks. More recently, under Walsh, the city had been discussing similar ideas as part of a larger study study of ways to improve space for bikers and walkers.

Now, those bike lanes are here. But they may not be for long. Walsh’s office said the new lanes are “temporary,” and the plan, for now, at least, is to remove them for winter.

That confirmed the fears of Becca Wolfson, director of the Boston Cyclists Union, who said she will push the city to keep the lanes in place through the winter and beyond, especially as sales of bikes have skyrocketed during the pandemic.

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“Especially due to COVID and the perceived or real risk of being in an enclosed transit vehicle, we expect people to continue to bike in the winter,” she said.

Wolfson held out hope Boston will reconsider before winter. She pointed to the city’s prior planning initiative, noting officials had already indicated they were interested in having bike lanes in the area. The temporary infrastructure, she said, “is a proof-of-concept to get this on the ground and make it more permanent.”

Permanent bike lanes are a bit more complicated than the pop-up system installed around the parks, usually requiring paint on the street and flex posts rather than barrels to mark the boundaries for cars. Cycle tracks, which are typically built alongside a sidewalk and are fully separated from the street, require still more planning and infrastructure.


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