Metro

As students return, frustration from Boston’s cyclists

Advocates say Boston must do more to convince motorists to stay clear of bike lanes.
David L Ryan/Globe Staff
Advocates say Boston must do more to convince motorists to stay clear of bike lanes.

A bicyclist swerved out of the Beacon Street bike lane Thursday morning to avoid the large white moving truck full of boxes blocking her way — just feet away from a city diagram posted on a meter urging drivers to keep the lane clear for cyclists.

Minutes later, Gulong Lin, a bike helmet on his head, pointed out a station wagon sitting in the bike lane with its hazard lights on. It was not far from the site of a fatal bicycle crash that helped prompt city officials to install a protected bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue.

“That’s really dangerous,” said Lin, who regularly takes his foldable bike on the commuter train from Wellesley into Boston and then cycles in the city. “What are you supposed to do? I have to get out of the bike lanes and go into the car lanes.”

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In late August and early September, as students flood back into Boston with moving vans full of gear, a perennial city problem grows exponentially worse. In a community known for narrow streets and ubiquitous double parking, bicyclists say they regularly dodge cars and trucks parked in bike lanes, forcing the bikes to veer dangerously into traffic.

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And as cycling becomes more popular in the city, advocates say Boston must do several things to persuade motorists to stay clear of bike lanes: install more bike lanes that place a physical barrier between bicycles and cars; better educate drivers; and step up enforcement to punish violators.

Jonathan Fertig, a Cambridge architect and avid cyclist who often criticizes the city as moving too slowly to address bicyclists’ concerns, said the Transportation Department sometimes ignores obvious solutions that could help make bikers safer — so he takes matters into his own hands.

On Thursday morning, for instance, Fertig plopped down three of his own bright yellow, 42-inch posts along Beacon Street’s bike lane to prevent drivers from parking in it.

Police officers, who had no idea who posted them there, did not move them out of the way — and for most of the day, they seemed to cue drivers to stay out of the lane.

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“It is a crazy simple solution and incredibly frustrating that the city doesn’t do this,” Fertig said. “It’s what I’ve been saying for a year.”

The Boston Transportation Department’s spokeswoman, Tracey Ganiatsos, said the agency is making progress.

“In addition to issuing $100 fines to vehicles parked illegally in bike lanes, BTD ensures that bike lane pavement markings are clearly visible and that ‘No Parking, Bike Lane’ signs are posted appropriately throughout the City,” she wrote.

Ganiatsos noted that the city would soon create a protected cycle track on part of Beacon Street, with permanent posts separating cyclists from cars.

The cycling community’s frustrations highlight the tensions within a city that’s struggling to make streets safer for bicyclists following several high-profile fatal crashes. Though the city has made sometimes controversial commitments to install protected cycle tracks, some activists believe there is much more work to do, and that more bikers could get hurt in the meantime.

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The city says it is taking its commitment to preventing crashes seriously, particularly through its “Vision Zero” campaign — an initiative that aims to cut fatal and serious street crashes to zero.

There are plans to install more protected bike lanes on Commonwealth Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue, where cyclists have died. The intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street was the site of an August 2015 crash that killed a cyclist, and the city responded by making a protected bike lane — complete with posts — on the stretch.

Frustrations from the cycling community highlighted the tensions within Boston.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Frustrations from the cycling community highlighted the tensions within Boston.

Still, blocked bike lanes happen every day, particularly on narrow streets that must also host commercial drivers who need to deliver goods to nearby businesses, and an increasing number of Uber and Lyft vehicles that pick up and drop off passengers.

Various agencies say they are more aware of cycling safety issues. On Thursday, for example, the Boston University Police Department placed cones outside portions of Commonwealth Avenue’s bike lanes, preventing myriad moving trucks and cars dropping off students from blocking the lanes.

And on Beacon Street, Boston Patrolman Mike Coppinger was on hand part of the day to help keep bike lanes clear and assist parents moving their children into apartments. He said police have been more vigilant about giving $100 tickets to those parked in bike lanes, and the numbers bear this out: In the 2012 fiscal year, 1,415 such tickets were handed out; in 2016, the number reached 2,221, Ganiatsos said.

Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, said even more enforcement could help. “I think if people knew if there were consequences, it would change behavior,” she said. “But because there’s so little risk to being ticketed or penalized, there’s no real deterrent to doing it.”

But Coppinger said some drivers honestly don’t know where to park when there is a bike lane. Beacon Street, for example, has a bike lane next to the curb. White stripes mark the lane, but there are no posts or markings on the other side of the bike lane to indicate that cars park there. Posted diagrams show how to park, but drivers sometimes miss them.

“Sometimes, it’s total ignorance,” Coppinger said.

Thursday morning, Krishna Paruchuri was one of those drivers. He had traveled from Woonsocket, R.I., to help his brother move and ended up parked in the bike lane. He appeared embarrassed when told about the violation. “I didn’t really know where else to park, and they said we could unload it here,” he said, before getting in his car to move it.

Other drivers, of course, seem to know the rules but ignore them. “They know exactly where to park,” a Transportation Department employee said. “Some people just do whatever they want.”

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.