Safety, parking concerns clash in Mass. Ave. bike lane debate
The signs at Wednesday’s meeting characterized the question of whether to install bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue as fairly simple to answer: “Save Lives, Not Parking.”
But as the city prepares to install protected bike lanes — which will place posts between lanes meant for cars and cyclists — on a street that has seen multiple fatal crashes, some residents are concerned about how many parking spots will disappear and how the plan will affect local businesses.
“When you try to correct one problem, you often run into unforeseen other problems,” said Arthur Ullian, owner of the Eliot Hotel on the corner of Massachusetts and Commonwealth avenues.
On Wednesday evening, most of the few hundred people packed into a room at St. Cecilia Parish on Massachusetts Avenue made it clear that they wanted the bike lanes — and they wanted them now.
Felipe Berho, a South End resident who got hit by a car in the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street, said he urged the city two years ago to consider changes on the street, long known as perilous for bikers. A year later, a cyclist was fatally struck by a tractor-trailer in the same intersection.
“If they had done something quicker, she would be alive today,” he said. “We have to act more quickly.”
City transportation officials have committed to installing protected lanes by the end of the year on the southbound side of Massachusetts Avenue from Beacon Street to St. Stephen Street, and on the northbound side from Boylston Street to the Christian Science Center.
Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, said she would have liked to see the protected bike lane go farther, but she applauded the city’s efforts.
Yet even amid cheers from cycling and pedestrian advocates, some businesses and residents rallied customers and neighbors into signing a petition opposing the bike lane.
The current plan would eliminate about 18 legal parking spaces and six illegal spaces, out of nearly 345 spaces on the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue up to Harrison Avenue.
That worries Debbie Malone, who runs the Marlboro Market near Marlborough Street. She said there’s only one parking space outside the market now, and the other parking spots across the street disappeared in 2011 to make way for a bus stop. She said that has slowed business, particularly during Red Sox games.
“I want my friends who live outside the city to come in, but they don’t,” she said. “There’s nowhere to park.”
Ullian, who owns the Eliot Hotel, said the lanes could also affect business because customers getting dropped off would need to walk through the bike lane to get to the curb. Ullian, who uses a wheelchair, added that people with disabilities would also have trouble.
City officials promised that they would tweak the plan to address business concerns.
Cycling advocates have their sights set on additional changes. Michelle Cook, a cyclist with the Roxbury Rides group, asked what protection cyclists can expect once they try to ride Massachusetts Avenue all the way to Dorchester.
“What’s going to happen all the way to Columbia Road?” she said, to cheers.
Vineet Gupta, the city’s director of planning, said the city will look at the section of Massachusetts Avenue past Melnea Cass Boulevard next year. “We wanted to focus on the area of Massachusetts Avenue that had the most collisions because that’s the focus of the current effort to address safety,” he said.
The changes for Massachusetts Avenue this year won’t involve just bike lanes. The city will also change the timing of traffic signals to give pedestrians more time before cars are allowed to turn into the crosswalk, paint crosswalks to become more visible, and restrict right turns on red lights. Officials are lobbying for changes to state law so that the default speed can be lowered to 25 miles per hour in the city