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The Argument: Should Brookline install a buffered bike lane on Beacon Street?

Should Brookline install a buffered bike lane on Beacon Street?


Joshua D. Safer

Chair, Brookline Transportation Board

Joshua D. Saferhandout

The proposed buffered bicycle lane for Beacon Street westbound from Coolidge Corner to Washington Square in Brookline represents a necessary advance in our accommodations for bicycle traffic. Such an accommodation would fill the most significant gap in what is otherwise a nearly continuous dedicated bike space running west from central Boston, through Brookline, and through Newton.

It is generally agreed in Brookline that we should encourage bicycling when we can, with the primary point of contention being whether a given accommodation is feasible.


The stretch of Beacon in question has a sidewalk, a parking lane, and two through motor vehicle lanes. Squeezing a bike lane into the mix must compromise one of the four. Pedestrian use of the sidewalk is significant. Parking is in high demand.

Given state law mandating that bicycles have full use of the car lane if needed, increasing bicycle traffic often results in the right lane becoming a de facto bike lane anyway. However, because many bicyclists find that stretch of Beacon intimidating due to the significant hill that slows them down in front of impatient commuters in cars, some who might ride bicycles do not. Further, others bike on the sidewalk there to the consternation of pedestrians.

Deterioration in traffic conditions in Coolidge Corner is the fear. Thus, it is a fortunate surprise per a recent study by Brookline that motor vehicle traffic can be accommodated with only one through lane. The implication of the study is that the bottleneck in Coolidge Corner is so severe that it’s effectively worse than one through lane. Once cars break free, they’re good to go even with only one lane over the hill. There is no significant net change by the time cars reach Washington Square with the plan.


A buffered bicycle lane on Beacon Street westbound from Coolidge Corner to Washington Square would close a gap in regional bicycle accommodations, improve the experience of pedestrians, and preserve motor vehicle parking. It would not result in significant deterioration for motor vehicles even during the evening commute. There should be no delay in its implementation.


Lee L. Selwyn

Brookline resident, member of Town Meeting and of the Advisory/Finance Committee

Lee L. Selwyn handout

Public streets are shared by private automobiles, trucks, commercial vehicles, buses, pedestrians, bicycles, and motorcycles, among others. The needs of these users and groups are often in conflict.

The growing interest in cycling has spawned demands for special accommodations for bicycles whose effect is to divert a portion of that shared capacity from everyone else. When a traffic lane is converted into a “bike lane,” the total traffic-carrying capacity of the street is reduced. For streets with only two travel lanes, earmarking one for exclusive use by bicycles leaves only a single travel lane for all other types of vehicles.

A vocal and politically active “bike lobby” in Brookline has been particularly successful in achieving just this outcome. The bike lobby has also gotten the town to create special wrong-way (they call them “contraflow”) bike lanes on a number of one-way streets, not only reducing the number of travel lanes, but also creating potential safety hazards for pedestrians.

Town Meeting later this month will consider a proposal to create a bike lane out of one of only two travel lanes along a narrow and heavily used half-mile stretch of Beacon Street in the westbound direction between Marion Street and Washington Square. This stretch of road carries about 12,500 vehicles each weekday, around 1,000 during the busiest hour. The trip is often slow going even with two travel lanes in use. With very little evidence to support it, bike lane proponents claim removing one travel lane will add only about 17 seconds to each automobile trip. Even if that was the full impact, this small increase in average driving time for each of the 3 million or so car trips each year along this stretch of Beacon Street would, by my calculations, annually increase gasoline consumption by nearly 6,000 gallons and add some 15,000 hours to drivers’ combined commute times.


These impacts should not be lightly dismissed. The disparate interests and needs of drivers, pedestrians, and bikers must be addressed in a fair and comprehensive manner before the special interests of a small but vocal minority are allowed to prevail, creating inconvenience and safety concerns for the rest of us.

Last week’s poll: Should Wellesley approve the debt exclusion for the proposed senior center?

No: 51.5% (17 votes)

Yes: 48.5% (16 votes)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com