Permanent Bike Lanes? Some Applaud Decision, Others Question Transparency of Process Surrounding it

The city’s decision on Tuesday, Sept. 15, to transform the temporary bike lanes around the Boston Common and the Pubic Garden into permanent infrastructure was met with a largely positive response from elected officials and community leaders, but the process surrounding it has been proven somewhat divisive so far, with some maintaining the matter was thoroughly vetted beforehand while other stakeholders say they wish the city had consulted them first.

“I think it’s a good change, and that there has been a need for better bike infrastructure around the Common and Public Garden for some time,” State Rep. Jay Livingstone said. “Hopefully these improvements will cause fewer bikes to drive through the Common and the Public Garden.”

As part of the second phase of its Healthy Street initiative, the city will replace the “pop-up” lanes it installed in late-July around both parks on Arlington, Beacon, Boylston and Charles streets with permanent infrastructure this fall, Mayor Martin Walsh announced Sept. 15, by exchanging the existing orange barrels now used to delineate the temporary lanes with permanent flex-posts. These permanent bike lanes were already in the works as part of the Connect Downtown project, according to the city, which aims to redesign the streets in the downtown neighborhoods.

“Traffic signals will be adjusted to improve safety and predictability,” a press release from the city read in part. “Additional planning and design work will continue through the winter to improve intersections for people walking and to grow this network of bike lanes.”

City Councilor Kenzie Bok applauded the news and agreed with Rep. Livingstone that, with any luck, the permanent infrastructure would serve to deter bicyclists from cutting through the parks.

“I’m really excited about permanent infrastructure being installed before the winter,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of good feedback, especially from families who are using them.”

Councilor Bok added: “With the pandemic, more people are biking, and more people are expected to continue biking into the winter months…and we know the temporary infrastructure isn’t going to work well once we’re into the snow-plow season.”

Besides improving pedestrian safety by shortening crossings, Councilor Bok also believes the permanent bike lanes will slow down traffic on the side streets around the parks, as well as provide a “key connection” to downtown.

“They’re also great for those who live around here,” she added.

The decision to make the infrastructure permanent, Councilor Bok said, followed an extensive and lengthy process.

“Bikes lanes were first proposed around the Public Garden around five years ago, and it’s something I’ve heard a lot of support for from the community and the Friends of the Public Garden,” she said, “and these particular lanes have been well vetted with a lot of community conversation over time.”

Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden – a nonprofit that works with the city to care for and enhance the Public Garden  and the Common, as well as the Commonwealth Avenue Mall – wrote in email: “We see the new lanes as increasing bicyclist and park safety.”

Ben Starr, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association Traffic and Parking Committee, on the other hand, said while it’s supportive of the permanent infrastructure, his organization feels as though it was overlooked during the public process.

“The Beacon Hill Civic Association supports multi-modal transportation solutions and recognizes that the safest and healthiest modes should receive some priority,” Starr wrote in an email. “We are, however, disappointed that the city was so quick to abandon the Connect Boston community process that commenced under a year ago. A public process can amplify overlooked voices and bring about fresh ideas which contribute to a better result.” 

Elliott Laffer, incoming chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, echoed this sentiment and further postulated that the permanent infrastructure could create a whole new slew of unforeseen problems for neighbors.

“The concern that I have is that the City has been making decisions on this and other transportation-related issues without looking for the reaction of those of us who live in the neighborhood,” Laffer wrote. “I think that the plans are aimed at addressing one set of issues but may have caused problems that become clear to those who are around them all of the time. Gathering that kind of input can, I understand, slow down decision making; but it often makes for better decisions as well as more acceptance of the choices made.”

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