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Spring Staycations | Globe Magazine

10 great Boston bicycle rides, minus the cars

Whether you’re looking for a lunch-break jaunt or a weekend 20-miler, traffic isn’t a problem on these routes.

FOR METRO. Chestnut Hill, MA 7/9/2012 Runners, walkers, and cyclists walk along the path by a flock of geese at the Chesnut Hill Reservoir in Chestnut Hill, MA on Monday, July 9, 2012. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff) Section: METRO Slug: n/a Reporter: n/a LOID: 5.0.1725229525

Yoon S. Byun/Globe file

One 7-mile ride can take you from outside Kenmore Square to a path around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, seen here.

Long considered among the worst metro areas to navigate by bike, Greater Boston has improved dramatically. One ranking last year named Boston the fifth friendliest city for cyclists in the country. Whether it’s by Hubway or your own steed, for an hour’s break from the office or a daylong meander, there are plenty of pedaling options. Here are 10 of the best.

JAMAICA POND

Length: 2.9 miles 

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There are few places as serene as the Jamaica Pond boathouse. This ride takes you along the pond’s edge, where each October thousands of people line lights around the water during the Jamaica Pond Lantern Parade. The pond also hosts free concerts throughout the summer. Follow clear signage to stay on the cyclist path — rather than the pedestrian way — into Olmsted Park, named for Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape designer responsible for much of the green space in Boston. After the ride, grab a sandwich at City Feed and Supply or an ice cream at the J.P. Licks mother ship, both on Centre Street.

Where: Take the Orange Line to Jackson Square Station and follow Centre Street to Perkins Street, which takes you directly to the park. Bikes are allowed on Red and Orange MBTA lines, except from 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; there are no restrictions on weekends. There is some parking along side streets around the park.

FRANKLIN PARK  

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Length: 3.4 miles

Sprawling Franklin Park is etched with bike paths, both paved and unpaved, hilly and flat. For a simple loop, start at White Stadium, which once hosted performances by Sly and the Family Stone and comedian Richard Pryor, then follow Circuit Drive to the right along the park’s edge. You’ll pass the marshy Scarboro Pond, the golf course — one of the first public courses in the country — and the Franklin Park Zoo. Bring a picnic to enjoy at one of the many groves, and check the performance schedule for the Playhouse summer series. Each May, the Franklin Park Coalition also hosts a kite and bike festival with food trucks, crafts, and bike tours.

Where: Take the Orange Line to Green Street Station. Exiting the station, turn right onto Green Street and continue straight past Washington Street onto Glen Road. Turn left onto Sigourney Street, which becomes Walnut Avenue. Turn right at Pier Point Road to enter the park. If you’re driving, there are parking lots at White Stadium (usually weekdays only) and the zoo, and a handful of spots at most entrances around the park.

EMERALD NECKLACE AND THE FENS

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Length: 3.9 miles

Frederick Law Olmsted intended the Emerald Necklace to connect Boston Common to the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Pond, and Franklin Park. While the string of parks wasn’t completed exactly as he envisioned, the bike paths along the Emerald Necklace are a testament to Boston’s attempts to integrate green space into its urban planning. Starting at the community gardens at the tip of the Back Bay Fens near Kenmore Square, this quick loop passes the stunning James P. Kelleher Rose Garden before cutting up into Longwood and then back past the Museum of Fine Arts. (A careful jump across Washington Street in Brookline can take you to the 2.9-mile Jamaica Pond ride also listed here.)  

Where: There are plenty of parking garages in Fenway, including on Ipswich Street.

SOMERVILLE COMMUNITY PATH

Length: 3.8 miles

The Alewife Linear Park begins at Alewife Station in Cambridge and cuts toward Davis Square in Somerville, following the Red Line subway tunnel directly underneath. After passing Massachusetts Avenue, this ride connects to the Somerville Community Path, the hard-won result of ongoing advocacy by cyclists. Right now, the wide pathway stops abruptly at Lowell Street, making the well-paved stretch a short and kid-friendly ride. But plans call for the trail to be lengthened into Cambridge following the Green Line extension — the timeline for which remains in flux — to make the path a functional connector between MBTA lines.

Where: Take the Red Line to the Alewife Station. There is also a parking garage at the T station, as well as a small lot at the McCrehan swimming and wading pool.

AUDUBON CIRCLE TO CHESTNUT HILL RESERVOIR

Length: 7 miles

It’s a straight shot from Audubon Circle near Kenmore Square to Cleveland Circle and the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. Following Beacon Street, you’ll quickly reach Coolidge Corner in Brookline, passing gracious town houses on the way through Washington Square to the reservoir. The Waterworks Museum on the southern edge enshrines the critical role that the reservoir played in Boston’s growth, as infrastructure struggled to keep up with surging population in the late 19th century. The path around the reservoir is unpaved but well maintained. Stop in Coolidge Corner for a pastry or latke-brisket sandwich at Zaftigs Delicatessen.

Where: Bikes are not allowed on the Green Line, but there’s parking along Beacon Street as well as a garage at the Landmark Center mall.

ARNOLD ARBORETUM  

Length: About 5 miles

The Arnold Arboretum is a partnership between the city and Harvard University, and much of it is bikeable. Enjoy the thousands of plants cultivated by the Arboretum since the late 1800s, including native trees and a collection of bonsais, some of which are older than the United States. It’s worth the huff up Bussey Hill and Peters Hill, which offer fantastic glimpses of the Boston skyline. Each May, the Arboretum celebrates Lilac Sunday to mark the blooming of its white, magenta, pink, and lavender lilacs.

Where: Take the Orange Line to the Forest Hills Station (or the Needham Line on the commuter rail, though check online for times bikes are permitted). There is an entrance to the park just across from the bus depot. Street parking is available outside the Arboretum main gate and along the park perimeter, and there is a parking garage around the corner from the Forest Hills Station.

SOUTHWEST CORRIDOR

Length: 5.2 miles

The Southwest Corridor Park cuts through Back Bay and the South End toward Jamaica Plain. The park was created in the wake of “people before highways” protests in the 1960s that prompted then governor Francis Sargent to cancel a massive highway project. The Pierre Lallement Bike Path, named for the man who brought the pedal bicycle to America, weaves throughout the grassy strip of parkland. This is a great route for kids: It’s well paved, clearly marked, and, since this ride starts at the Ruggles Station, a little over a mile from the park’s start in the Back Bay, entirely separate from streets.

Where: Take the Orange Line to the Ruggles Station (or the Franklin, Needham, or Providence/Stoughton lines on the commuter rail). There’s some parking on side streets near the Boston Police Department headquarters or at the Renaissance Park Garage off Columbus Avenue.

JFK MUSEUM TO CASTLE ISLAND

Length: 7.7 miles

Take in some of the best views of the Harbor Islands and the vast Massachusetts Bay along this seaside path. From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum at the tip of Columbia Point, you’ll follow the HarborWalk around the edge of the harbor and Pleasure Bay. Explore the granite bastions of Fort Independence, the pentagonal fortress on Castle Island that is open for tours from late spring to early fall. Before looping back toward the museum and UMass Boston, try the fried clams at Sullivan’s.

Where: Take the  Red Line to the JFK/UMass Station (or the Greenbush, Kingston/Plymouth, or Middleborough/Lakeville lines on the commuter rail). Turn right as you exit the station onto Old Colony Avenue and follow it past the overpass onto Mt. Vernon Street toward the UMass Boston campus. Turn right onto University Drive and left at the softball field, then left onto Columbia Point. There is also a large parking lot in front of the museum.

CHARLES RIVER ESPLANADE

Length: 16.4 miles

The Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path follows the banks of the Charles River from Boston to Watertown and beyond. It’s a favorite path of cyclists and runners on both sides of the river (not to mention aggressive swarms of power walkers). You’ll pass sailboats from MIT, BU, Northeastern, and Harvard — and even a gondola in the Storrow Lagoon, if you time it right — before getting out into the suburbs. The path is better paved on the Boston side of the river, but for a true loop, you can cross to the north side in Watertown and wind back to the Museum of Science.   

Where: Take the Red Line to the Charles/MGH Station. Turn left as you exit the station onto Charles Street, then turn right toward the footbridge to the Esplanade. There’s limited street parking near the Hatch Shell, but the Charles Street Garage is close by, as are garages at Massachusetts General Hospital.

MINUTEMAN BIKEWAY  

Length: 20.6 miles

Among the country’s most famous rail trails — unused railways that have been revitalized as bike paths — the Minuteman Bikeway winds from Alewife Station in Cambridge to Bedford, passing through Lexington and Arlington along the way. Take care navigating the trail gap in Arlington Center, which involves crossing often-busy Mass. Ave. (though the town is making some improvements to the intersection). Don’t be daunted by this ride’s length: Breeze along the well-maintained pavement, face precious few inclines, and have plenty of chances to stop and take in the views at Spy Pond and Arlington’s Great Meadows. The historic freight house at Bedford Depot Park sells drinks and snacks, and check out the restored train car at the bikeway’s terminus before returning to Alewife.

Where: Take the Red Line to the Alewife Station, where there is a parking garage.

Shawn Musgrave is the author of “Best Bike Rides Boston: Great Recreational Rides in the Boston Area” and a reporter at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.
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