More bike lanes, sidewalks urged
In a future Quincy, the click-clack of bicycle gears and the cadence of walking feet could be more prevalent than the hum of passing cars on some city streets, as cyclists travel in dedicated bike lanes and residents meander on foot.
At least, that is the goal and the “if you build it, they will come” mentality behind a recent Metropolitan Area Planning Council report that suggests more than 23 miles of bike lanes for Quincy streets, along with numerous upgrades for pedestrians.
“It’s the visibility; it’s the encouragement,” said David Loutzenheiser, transportation planner for the MAPC. “The more you have on the road, the more drivers are used to it. Safety in numbers . . . drivers are more aware and act accordingly.”
The report is the latest endeavor to create safer streets for those outside a car. While Quincy may trail communities like Boston and Cambridge, it is among the leaders south of Boston in promoting pedestrian and cycling growth.
Changes could materialize as early as this year. The occasional cyclist pedaling alongside zooming cars on Hancock Street could be joined by dozens more as bike markings and bike lanes begin to adorn the roadway.
Other throughways — including Adams Street, School Street, Franklin Street, and Independence Avenue — could see similar changes, nurturing Quincy’s burgeoning bicycle community and slowing traffic in the process.
While walking is already common in Quincy’s urban areas, the council report suggests that sidewalks could extend into more neighborhoods and communities. Over the long term, the plan recommends connecting sidewalks through current car-only corridors and making crosswalks more visible.
While Quincy may be at the forefront of changing roadways, several nearby communities are catching up. According to an MAPC chart, out of 19 council communities south of Boston, five have some sort of on-road bike accommodations.
In Dedham, plans to improve or rebuild sidewalks have been linked to development of bike lanes. The town also conducted a study with the council to advance pedestrian and cycling goals.
“We recognize the fact that there is a genuine interest in additional use of bikes,” said Town Administrator William Keegan of Dedham. “It’s better for the environment, but also healthier for people to ride bikes. We recognize that and are trying to do our part to make our community more accessible in that regard.”
Town Administrator Annemarie Fagan of Milton also said her town is committed to ensuring bike access on roads.
In Quincy, the new attitude did not happen overnight. Numerous bike racks were installed in 2007. Pedestrian transportation plans were adopted in 2010. City officials have held workshops in neighborhoods and with schools to encourage walking.
After pedestrian accidents hit a record 98 in 2012, the city launched an initiative that included pedestrian education and enforcement, numerous community meetings, substantial outreach, and increased sidewalk painting. Those steps were credited with reducing pedestrian accidents to 74 last year.
Joining with MAPC to figure out the next steps is the latest move.
“That was the point of this report: identify opportunities that are low cost and could be rolled out when the city completes its street resurfacing once a year,” said Kristina Johnson, Quincy’s director of transportation planning.
A new Adams Green park in front of City Hall, coupled with a more pedestrian-friendly Quincy Center, will help push walking and biking agendas even further.
While some may argue that the big downtown revitalization project prompted the changes, Quincy officials say these initiatives are part of urban planning throughout the city.
“I think the entire concept of smart growth [is] the framework of everything we’re doing, Wollaston, Quincy Center, North Quincy,” said Christopher Walker, spokesman for Mayor Thomas P. Koch. “Folks go to these areas around transit-oriented development, pedestrian access, cycling.”
Planners and city staff members say that any measurable change will take time and that drastic changes to the roadways, such as reducing the number of lanes in some areas, are only dreams at this point.
Still, they envision a network of “off road” travel that’s accessible and easy to navigate.
Cities such as Somerville and Boston, which have spent more than five years championing bike infrastructure, are the models.
Metropolitan Area Planning Council data show that out of Somerville’s roughly 111 miles of roadway, nearly 19 miles have bicycle lanes. In Quincy, only a half mile of the city’s 240 miles of roads is striped.
“Strong biking patterns follow strong biking infrastructure,” said Pete Stidman, director of the Boston Cyclists Union.
The maturing bicycle culture is leading Boston to the next phase, creating “cycle tracks.” These pathways, separated from the roadway by barriers or parked cars, often are the most effective drivers of bike activity, Stidman said.
Quincy should strive for the same, he said.
“I think it’s awesome that Quincy is ready for any kind of bicycle infrastructure,” Stidman said. “It shows the sign that smaller towns in the region are waking up to this need. But it’s also important to think about families and older folks: How are you really going to get people riding?”
The idea that city streets may be teeming with people and bikes is anathema to Councilor Brian McNamee, who said the country made a commitment to drivers long ago.
“I’m vehemently opposed to it,” McNamee said of additional bike lanes. “I think it puts the motoring public in a dangerous position, and I think it creates a false sense of security for bicyclists when they have marked lanes and when they are in them [they think] they are somehow safe.’’
McNamee said creating bike lanes also creates a dangerous precedent for acquiescing to small interest groups.
“If you really want to extend the argument, why don’t we have dedicated lanes for joggers?” he asked.
But for groups looking to promote cycling in Quincy, such as the newly created Quincycles, the expanding infrastructure is a welcome sign.
“One of the things we’ve experienced is a fear of the roads in Quincy,” said Nathan Pipho, presid ent of Quincycles. “ We think bicycle infrastructure raises awareness that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities to be on the roads.”
Quincy police Lieutenant Tim Sorgi, an avid off-road cyclist, said that he too would feel safer riding on city streets with bike lanes.
“It would give me more security,” said Sorgi, a Quincy Bicycle Commission member who also oversees the community policing officers who cycle around Quincy Center. “While it’s only paint on pavement . . . it does give me a measure of confidence that I am OK, it’s legal, it’s safe for me to be here.”
Moreover, as a motorcyclist, Sorgi knows the importance of driver awareness.
“I’ve been involved in a motorcycle accident, and a lot of people say, ‘I just didn’t see them,’ ” Sorgi said. “This is where we’re going with [bicycle lanes]. It doesn’t have to be an infringement on motor vehicle traffic. We can share the road.”