The North End “cycle track” proposal was presented this week to move the current bike lanes along Commercial Street and Atlantic Avenue off the road and elevate them to be flush with the pedestrian sidewalks.  The existing bike lanes will be removed and replaced with a 10-foot wide, 2-way colored pathway along the waterfront side of the street.

The return of the cycle track plan is supported by $23 million in new funding secured through the Connect Historic Boston initiative, of which $15 million is coming from the Federal Highway Administration in a TIGER grant. Initial design plans are due in December 2013 in order to meet grant milestones with construction starting in late 2014.

About two years ago, the cycle track option was rejected by the neighborhood due to public safety and parking reduction concerns after a series of contentious meetings. (See Back to the Drawing Board for North End / Waterfront Bike Lanes.) Instead, standard bike lanes were installed by removing one lane of traffic along Atlantic Avenue and Commercial Street.

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The new cycle track proposal preserves existing parking spaces by moving bus stops and gaining more efficiency, according to city officials. The three remaining lanes would be narrowed further by about one foot to make room for the width of the dedicated cycle track.

Rendering of Cycle Track flush with the sidewalk on Commercial Street (City of Boston image)

Biking-related special interest groups outnumbered North End / Waterfront residents at the meeting. As such, attendee response generally favored the new cycle track plan. BTD’s Vineet Gupta tweeted after the meeting, “We now have the go ahead for the north end cycle track !

The highlighted benefits of the cycle track include broadening the bicycling population and a “family-friendly” experience for cyclists by moving the lanes away from traffic. Increased tourism and reduced vehicle traffic were also cited as a benefit of the cycle track.  Nick Jackson, Toole Design Group, led the design presentation and said the cycle track will “support all types of bicyclists.”

North End / Waterfront residents raised the following issues at the meeting:

  • Maintenance – The new cycle track will not be part of regular street sweeping or snow plowing. Public Works said they are working on alternative methods for “secondary road” clearing of the cycle tracks after snow storms.
  • Intersections and driveways – Cars will have to be aware of bicyclists when crossing the cycle track. Designers are considering elevating crossings so that drivers will have to go over a bump to traverse the cycle track.
  • Traffic congestion – Residents along Atlantic Avenue and Commercial Street noted that since a lane of traffic was removed, cars have been backing up from Cross Street to Battery Street, especially on busy weekend evenings. (See Bike Lane Changes on Commercial Street Causing Traffic Congestion)
  • Head on vehicle collisions – With another reduction in the width of the vehicle travel lanes, the risk of head on collisions was raised as a safety issue especially around the curves of Commercial Street.
  • Potential pedestrian conflicts – Flush with the sidewalks, there will be no physical barrier between pedestrians and cyclists. One exception is around Columbus Park where a curb divider will exist between the sidewalk and cycle track.
  • Trees, poles, utilities and sidewalk width – Various sidewalk features will need to be relocated and some parts of Commercial Street may lose sidewalk area to accommodate the cycle track. Low tree branches will have to be cut to allow for bicyclists.
  • Segways, mopeds and motorized bicycles – In the North End, Segways often outnumber bicyclists in the bike lanes. It is not clear how Segways, mopeds or motorized bikes will be accommodated, nor how the cycle track will be treated under city ordinances.
  • Turn at Cross St. and Atlantic Ave. – This was identified as a difficult turn for motorists to avoid entering the existing bike lane.
  • Traffic signals – It will be difficult for cyclists in the proposed cycle track to see traffic lights.
  • Funeral home, school and tour bus accommodation – Potential traffic issues exist along Commercial Street with unique requirements.
  • Langone and Puopolo Park ball field, skating rink and bocce courts – Activities at these facilities often result in double parking.
  • Sea level rise – How will this be incorporated into the proposed cycle track?
  • Cyclist acceptance – Cycle tracks on sidewalks are often avoided by serious bicyclists that prefer to travel at higher speeds on the roadway.

The meeting was hosted by Vineet Gupta, the Director of Planning for the Boston Transportation Department, on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 in the North End with representatives from Boston Bikes, Public Works, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Toole Design Group. Similar meetings are scheduled in Beacon Hill, Charlestown and the West End to create a 4 mile continuous trail as part of Connect Historic Boston.

Presentations and more information have been posted on the Connect Historic Boston Bike Trail website.

Future meetings are expected to be held when the design includes more details. Surveyors have been active for weeks along the proposed route and traffic data is also being collected.

Standard Bike Lane vs Cycle Track Design Configuration (City of Boston image)
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19 COMMENTS

  1. Quite obviously, the bike lobby came out for this. What is never spoken about is how do bike riders get summoned for a moving violation? They never, never, ever stop for me, as a pedestrian, when I’m in a cross walk. Cars are bad in that regard but bikes are 100x’s worse. If we are trying to get more bikes on the road, make them register like a car and make them pay an excise tax like a car. More revenue for MA They should be paying for the upkeep of the road just as a car owner does.

    And if they think that taking away an auto travel lane in front of the Mercantile building had minimal impact, they are not qualified to do this job.

    • Um…no! We are already taxed enough, no reason to make everyone register their bikes. Do you really want to have to file registration/pay excise tax for your kid’s bikes? I can’t believe you actually think that is a reasonable idea.
      I’m sorry you run into bad bikers who don’t give you the right of way as a pedestrian. As a biker myself, I do go through red lights when the intersection is clear, but ALWAYS defer to pedestrians (sometimes means going around them if it won’t cause any issue).

      • Why should bikes be exempt from a tax? I’d pay for my kid’s bike…sure. They use the road with no fear of ever getting a violation because they don’t have to give a cop a real name because their bike isn’t registered. If they are going to use the streets as a means of transportation, bikes should pay a tax and be subject to enforceable moving violations.

        You should not be going through traffic lights…period. It’s not up to you to decide when it’s clear and when it’s not. The rules of the road apply to bikers and cars alike.

        • I’m pretty sure the rules of the road don’t apply to cars in Boston. At least, that’s how most people drive. Maybe bikers are just trying to fit in with the local culture?

          • I see cops pull over cars every day. I’ve never seen a cop stop a biker who blows through a stop sign. Because there’s no way to make them pay any kind of a fine because their bikes aren’t registered. I would say 20% of cars stop for me in a cross walk. 0% of bikers do. That’s just my experience of living on this Earth for roughly 60 years.

        • John –

          There are already laws on the books that dictate the rules of the road for cyclists and they are subject to enforcement similar to motor vehicles. Most cycling infractions I witness seem to result from poor judgment and lack of education. Bicycling is good for ones health, our infrastructure and transportation short falls. Let’s not weigh down the cycling populous with bureaucratic red tape and taxes. People may hate middle age men in tight shorts, hipsters with a death wish and confused tourists on sidewalks but my advise is to walk with your head up or drive attentively and we’ll all be a little safer moving about this fine city.

  2. You’ve got to be kidding me!

    When will the city stop trying to make the North End into Disneyland. I wouldn’t want to be walking next to that thing and get mowed down.

    How will pedestrians cross the cycle track when bikers dont stop for anything? Ive never seen them stop at any traffic light ever. I was walking in a crosswalk and got cursed at so a biker could go through a red light. Now I just take my car. It’s safer.

    This is the last thing the people that live here need or want!

    • Nothing is ever a biker’s fault. It’s amazing. I’m all for more people riding bikes and less cars on the road…IF there’s a way to enforce the laws the bikers break. It amazes me that bikers want everything and want to pay nothing.

  3. NO ONE WITH A BIKE WANTS THIS ONLY PEOPLE WITH DO DON’T GET IT MYSELF OLD NORTH END GOING GOING GONE AND ONE VERY VERY IMPORTANT THING THAT EVERYONE HAS MISSED IS OF BLIND AND DEAF PEOPLE THEY CAN’T SEE OR HEAR THEM AND WHEN THEY GET HIT BY ONE GOING BY ITS GOING TO HURT OR EVEN KILL SOMEONE ITS A VERY VERY BAD IDEA I HOPE SOMEONE STANDS UP FOR THE BLIND. DEAF & ELDERLY BECAUSE IT’S GOING TO EFFECT THEM 100%

  4. The problem of inconsiderate cyclists is there regardless of this proposal, in my opinion. How many times have we all started crossing the street at Cross St. when the cars are stopped, and some -head flies by going 30 mph blowing through the red light? I am now constantly aware of this and brace myself waiting for the day that I get to have the pleasure of “accidentally” knocking one of these folks off their bike.
    Seriously, I personally have no problem with this proposal. I am not a cyclist but I am a jogger and jog along Commercial St. in the current bike lane pretty much daily. So this proposal would be great for me and any others who jog along the path. The thing I find curious is that I really don’t see this area that populated with people biking. Maybe if they marketed it as a “jogging/running path” it would fly better?

    • I am also a regular runner along Commercial Street but I have a different experience than MB because I run on the sidewalk, in order to be protected from vehicular traffic. I frequently encounter cyclists biking on the sidewalk, headed towards me. I have nearly been run over on the sidewalk twice just in the past few months. (The problem is particularly bad in front of 585 Commercial where the sidewalk is just wide enough for two pedestrians to pass and bends suddenly, creating blind spots.)

      Riding on the sidewalk is illegal for a reason: it’s a hazard to pedestrians. The law should be enforced. If someone drove their car at 15 miles an hour along the sidewalk I am sure the police would take notice. This is no different. Instead I’ve never seen a sidewalk riding cyclist ticketed but have observed that these cyclists assume that the pedestrian will leap out of their way.

      I strongly oppose the idea of making bike lanes level with the sidewalk, further encouraging cyclists to speed towards and around pedestrians. For safety’s sake there needs to be a barrier.

  5. I can’t wait. More people on bikes means fewer people driving and taking the T, which means:

    1) Easier drives with less congestion and fewer traffic jams
    2) More open parking spots (and possibly cheaper parking if competition is reduced)
    3) Fewer packed trains and buses

    Drivers and T riders should be the first people advocating for bike lanes, especially on wide streets where it makes the most sense.

  6. Realizing there are several issues to work out (please don’t kill the trees), having a cycle track through the neighborhood could be a very good thing. I commute via bike from the North End and am really looking forward to the cycle track. And it will really help the hubway people that are not so sure of themselves on bikes. I strongly support the cycle track.

  7. Just wondering with the New elevated bike lane will this stop Btd from towing the FedEx and Ups trucks on commercial st that are makeing deliveries to the residents of the North end? Seriously their are only two spots on the entire st for us to service our customers in the north end

  8. I am a 22 year resident in the North End and a biker rider. I live on Commercial St. I use this bike lane up to 6 times a day. I think that this fancy new track is a waste of money. The present bike lanes work great. Pedestrians are now a nightmare because everyone is either texting or talking and not lifting their heads anymore. This is a HUGE problem and dangerous for us, the bikers, and the pedestrians. Keep your heads up, Bostonians. Don’t walk with your face in your phone or worse in your e-reader. Is that safe?! The advantage of the raised tract would be to keep the tour buses, funeral parking and idiots parking in the bike lane. Biking is just as dangerous due to bad pedestrians and drivers!

  9. Twenty-three million taxpayer dollars for this cockamamie idea. And the City and State and Feds can’t find 50 Grand to finance a toilet for the hundreds of thousands of tourist on the Freedom Trail in the North End. If they were all on bicycles, they’d get the Taj Mahal of comfort stations.

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