The death of research scientist Anita Kurmann, who was struck and killed at a Back Bay intersection, is the latest sobering reminder that creating a safe city for cyclists involves more than painting white lines for bike lanes on congested Boston streets.
Although public discussion around sustainable transportation tends to focus primarily on automobile traffic and the MBTA and commuter rail systems, urban planners and city and state officials should accelerate their efforts to factor in the swelling ranks of bicycle commuters as they build and repair the region’s streets and parkways.
Since late Mayor Tom Menino launched a bike initiative with great fanfare in 2007, scores of bike lanes have been designated in Boston. But those painted lines are merely a beginning, and sometimes impart a false sense of security, creating confusion as parked cars, buses, and cyclists vie for the same turf. The city should follow the lead of Washington, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis — all of which are on Time’s list of the best cities for biking to work — and look well beyond bike lanes.
The new cycle track planned for the busy section of Commonwealth Avenue that runs through the Boston University campus offers one promising model: The track will be on raised pavement, separate from cars and pedestrians alike. It also will incorporate innovative intersection design that improves the line of sight for pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists, according to James Gillooly, the city’s deputy transportation commissioner. Although the track, which will be built with federal and state funding, will only extend six-tenths of a mile, it is a crucial buffer on a crowded street traversed by more than 30,000 cars a day. Another project in the works, called Connect Historic Boston, will result in a two-mile-long cycle track that links the North End and Beacon Hill.
The most promising effort by far, however, is the city’s Vision Zero initiative, which will work to identify the most dangerous intersections. That program is commendable for its focus on big data and its long-term scope. Mayor Marty Walsh’s office is developing themes for the city’s Imagine Boston 2030 project, which includes transportation and accessibility. Cycling should be an important part of that effort, and planners would do well to include Stefanie Seskin, who starts next week as the city’s transportation director responsible for enhancing bike infrastructure. In recent years, there were 14 collisions involving cyclists near the site where Kurmann lost her life; aggressive steps need to be taken to make conditions safer not just for this intersection, but for every major street and intersection in the city.