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Derrick Z. Jackson

Boston needs bike tracks

Painted bike lanes currently in Central Square mix bicycles and vehicles on the same driving surface.Derrick Z. Jackson

When Jessi Flynn came to, her bike helmet was shattered, her leg was gashed open, her shoulder was bruised, and she was lying on Mass. Ave. just feet away from a city bus that could have ended her life.

That was three years ago, yet she still thinks about that ride, the SUV door that she crashed into, and how her name could have been added to the roster of the city’s cycling fatalities.

She was mere feet from becoming another Amanda Phillips, the 27-year-old nursing student and barista who was killed early this summer in a collision in Inman Square in Cambridge. She would have been another Dana Laird, a 36-year-old Tufts University graduate student, who was similarly “doored” by a parked car in Central Square and thrown under an MBTA bus, which crushed her to death in 2002.


Laird’s death haunts me because the girls in the Cambridge scout troop I volunteer for benefited for many years from a scholarship fund established in Laird’s honor to promote physical activity in girls.

These cycling deaths, year after year, can’t seem to spur Boston or Cambridge to action to make their cities truly bike friendly. Meanwhile, Chicago; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Minneapolis are much further along than us in installing protected bike lanes or cycle tracks completely separated from vehicular traffic.

Jessi Flynn for MASS Design Group

The difference is life and death. According to the Alliance for Biking and Walking 2016 report, all those cities, with the exception of New York, have higher percentages of bicycle commuters than Boston, but lower bicycle death rates.

While Boston, according to the Globe, averaged at least 520 bicycle accidents and nearly 3 cyclist fatalities a year from 2010-14, Copenhagen, where bike commuting is double that of car commuting, had 90 accidents and 1 fatality in 2014.

On paper, Boston has one of the nation’s best-looking bicycle master plans to create a network of cycle track. The city is beginning to make some improvements on a short stretch of Mass. Ave. in the Back Bay. Cambridge has short stretches of European-style cycle track at sidewalk level. There is even a pleasant new shared cycling and jogging path on the Cambridge side of the Charles River.


But that still is a fragmented set of short trails that falls far short of an integrated system. The best way for Boston and Cambridge to prove they are serious about world-class urban mobility is to build cycle track along the entirety of boulevards that serve as transportation spines. Massachusetts Avenue is indisputably one.

As a resident of Central Square who is tired of seeing cyclists sandwiched in between cars, buses, and semitrailers at rush hour, I’ve been taking pictures at its most congested and chaotic intersection, where Prospect and River streets and Western Avenue converge at Mass. Ave. Then I asked an urban landscape designer to come up with an idea of what the avenue could look like with cycle track.

That person happened to be Jessi Flynn, who works for the Mass Design Group. “I feel like I’m a walking ghost who cheated death and obligated to do what I can to make the idea of cycle tracks real,” she said.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.