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Boston-area voters support changes to local streets, even if it means less space for cars, poll finds

In Boston's North End, a cyclists rode by outdoor diners on Hanover Street. A MassINC poll showed 75 percent of respondents from the Boston-area support new bike lanes.
In Boston's North End, a cyclists rode by outdoor diners on Hanover Street. A MassINC poll showed 75 percent of respondents from the Boston-area support new bike lanes.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Residents in and around Boston have become accustomed to sharing the street with bikers and outdoor diners over the past year, and a strong majority want both trends to continue, according to a new survey by MassINC Polling Group.

The poll found that 79 percent of Boston-area respondents support more space for outdoor dining, while 75 percent support new bike lanes, even if those changes meant less space for parking and driving.

“It’s very easy for someone to say that they would support [bike lanes and outdoor seating], but when you tell people it would mean that you might not have a place to park your car right next to the restaurant or it might be one lane of traffic on the road that might change somebody’s calculus,” said Richard Parr, research director at MassINC Polling Group.

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With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the future of expanded outdoor dining, a fixture during the pandemic, remains unclear. Governor Charlie Baker recently filed a bill that allows local municipalities to issue expedited outdoor dining permits until Nov. 29. But groups such as the Massachusetts Restaurant Association are hoping to extend such permits until 2022.

“Pandemic or no pandemic, I think Bostonians have realized they really like [outdoor dining]. It’s something I think everybody wants to make more of a permanent fixture,” said Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

The poll was conducted from May 23 to May 28 and surveyed 670 Boston-area voters, 418 from Boston and 252 from the inner suburbs.

Becca Wolfson, executive director of Boston Cyclist Union, was encouraged by the strong support for bike lanes.

“It shows that people actually aren’t so unhappy with those changes and they want to see more,” she said.

The poll found that the number of bikers increased across the city, and 17 percent of respondents reported biking more than before the pandemic.

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Over the past year, the city has made new bike lanes a priority. In 2020, the city built six-and-a-half miles of permanently separated bike lanes, compared to one mile in 2019 and three miles in 2018.

The city has announced that only four-and-a-half miles of bike lanes will be built this year, but Wolfson hopes that the poll results will spur city officials to reevaluate their plans.

“I’m really hopeful that this city uses data and understands that bike lanes are more popular than anticipated, and actually accelerates and commits to putting down much more than four-and-a-half [miles],” Wolfson said.

About half of all Boston-area respondents own a bike, and 69 percent said they hope the city will install more bike share stations to increase availability.

On public transportation issues, 84 percent of respondents supported discounting fares for low-income riders and 65 percent supported, or strongly supported, making MBTA services free for everyone. Levels of support varied by age. More than 60 percent of those 18 to 29 strongly supported making the MBTA free, while just 17 percent of those 60 and older did.

While a majority wants to keep changes such as outdoor dining and additional bike lanes, 42 percent expect that traffic will soon reach pre-pandemic levels, raising the question of whether the influx of cars will clash with the changing streetscape.

“If we find that traffic really does come back and does create conflicts with these policies that’s the balancing act that these mayors, senators and all these folks who are working on these issues are gonna have to deal with,” Parr said. “I think this poll has data points that suggest that is going to be a challenge.”

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Kate Lusignan can be reached at kate.lusignan@globe.com.