Along Charles Street on Beacon Hill, the dotted white line that divides two lanes of traffic took on a different look Tuesday morning, when more than 100 cyclists formed a “people-protected bike lane” along the busy thoroughfare, in a striking protest to urge Mayor Michelle Wu to install long-discussed protected bike lanes there and elsewhere around the city.
People who use bikes to travel through Boston say Wu isn’t living up to campaign promises to transform the city, including by improving its bike lane infrastructure. In particular, they want to see two glaring gaps in the downtown bike lane network on Charles Street and Cambridge Street filled this year and say the administration is moving too slowly on a project that is crucial for their safety.
“Like so many of you, I was absolutely thrilled when Mayor Michelle Wu was elected because when she was campaigning, she ran on the promise of a Green New Deal, she has the experience of biking around Boston,” Alex Shames, a community organizer at Boston Cyclists Union, said into a megaphone at Tuesday’s protest. “I would be even more excited to see her act on those issues with the speed and urgency that we all need.”
For Wu, who was elected by wide margins last year and has for the most part enjoyed broad support since being sworn in in November, it was a rare public rebuke from a previously supportive constituency. The mayor has emphasized the importance of bike lanes and pledged to make Boston more transit-friendly as part of her promised Green New Deal for the city. But cyclists said that without quick action from her administration, they will continue to face serious danger on their commutes.
Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Boston’s chief of streets, said the city remains committed to improving its bike lane infrastructure and is drawing up detailed plans, including by meeting with local business owners, assessing street features such as medians, and observing parking patterns in the neighborhood.
His message to advocates is “be patient; it’s coming,” he said in an interview this week.
“This administration’s view of what we need in Boston is very aligned with what the advocacy community is asking for, which is a safe, connected network of low-stress bicycle routes throughout the city,” Franklin-Hodge said. But these projects are “not instantaneous,” he added, and his team still has several positions to hire for, vacancies he said make it difficult to juggle all the department’s projects.
And it’s crucial that the city “engages all of the people who will be affected by a change,” he said. “It’s important that local businesses have a seat at the table. It’s important that residents have a seat at the table.”
On Tuesday morning, Wu — who typically commutes by car and via the Orange Line — rode her bike to work for the first time, though she did not attend the Beacon Hill demonstration. In a series of tweets, she described easy riding on the Southwest Corridor and the Melnea Cass Boulevard bike path but cited “slightly scary” conditions biking on Washington Street without a dedicated lane.
“Will be doing this a lot more!” she said on Twitter.
The Wu administration has already committed to some updates, including a bike lane going in one direction on Cambridge Street. But advocates say lanes are needed in both directions and insist the change should happen this year.
Charles Street and Cambridge Street already experience heavy bike traffic because they are the two main roads that lead into downtown Boston from the Longfellow Bridge. At times, nearly one of every five vehicles on Charles Street — a five-lane road with three lanes for car traffic and two for parking — is a bike, according to 2021 city data. On Cambridge Street — with four lanes for car traffic, scattered parking, and a concrete median — bikes reached nearly 10 percent of total vehicles on the road at times last year.
Joan Doucette, 83, a Beacon Hill resident, said she has lost hope that the city will put protected bike lanes on Cambridge and Charles streets in her lifetime. She was hospitalized a few years ago after being hit by a car while crossing illegally at the bottom of the Longfellow Bridge near where Cambridge Street starts.
“I’ll probably be killed before they do something,” she said in an interview at the Boston Cyclists Union event. “You really don’t stand a chance if a car knocks you over.”
Business leaders, concerned about losing crucial parking spots for their customers, are often the loudest opponents to dedicated bike lanes on busy streets. But in interviews, at least some in the area said they can understand where bikers are coming from.
“It’s easy for us to say we don’t want bike lanes,” said Dominic Beraldi, 35, the manager at Beacon Hill Wine & Spirits on Charles Street. “You have to look at it from their perspective. I see a lot of them almost getting hit.”
State Representative Jay Livingstone, who represents Beacon Hill, said he often hears from constituents concerned about the danger for cyclists, and he supports making it safer — but the situation is complicated.
“You have to figure out how restaurants and hardware stores and other stores are going to get deliveries, he said. “It’s incredibly difficult to do,” he added.