As Boston strives to become a world-class biking city, where the car is no longer king of the road, officials are coming together to talk about how its cycling infrastructure can improve even more than it has.
In a matter of years, the Hub has introduced bike-sharing programs, expanded bike lanes through the streets and even handed out free helmets to get riders thinking more about safety when traveling to their desired destinations.
But as more people ride on the road, the risk of fatalities and bike-related accidents become more prevalent.
On Thursday, City Councilors Ayanna Pressley and Felix Arroyo filed a motion for a hearing to explore ways to improve bike infrastructure in Boston and make it a more “liveable city.”
“We have had ambitious efforts to increase access to bikes. We are on our way to becoming— if not already—a world class bike city,” said Pressley.
Pressley said the best way to keep people here in the Hub is to expand on what is already offered, however.
“When we talk about things that keep people in the city, fewer cars and more bike lanes is one of those things,” she said.
According to the request filed be Pressley and Arroyo, increases in bike ridership in Boston can also increase the potential for bicycle accidents and related-deaths, and by tracking that data, officials can find ways to fine tune what isn’t working.
“We need to better understand how many incidents there are so we can best prevent these accidents from happening,” said Pressley. “The fact that we have seen an uptick in these accidents accelerated a need for a hearing.”
The Wheels Are Already in Motion:
Despite the proposal to meet with bike aficionados in Boston to talk about safer Hub streets, much is already being done.
According to Kris Carter, interim Director of Boston Bikes, a program spear-headed by Mayor Thomas Menino’s office, Hub officials “are on the tail end” of wrapping up an in depth “Bike Master Plan” that maps out every inch of Boston’s bike-able roadways and how they could connect to a broader network.
“What it will do is help bring together all the efforts of different city agencies,” said Carter. “It allows us the opportunity to set out a work plan over the next ten years of getting towards the goal to make Boston a world-class bike city.”
Carter, coined the “bike czar” for his role with the Boston program, said the city could soon see more bicycle tracks like those on Western Avenue that separate riders from cars, as part of that plan.
“It’s something they are looking at with great detail and expecting to move forward,” he said.
Carter said the process is a little heavier than it would be in cities like New York, which have grid systems, because of Boston’s complicated street network.
The city has been working on the “Master Plan” for more than 2-years, and expects to deliver it sometime in early 2013.
Until then, Carter said the city continues to focus on safety, using social media as a means of communication, to keep riders up to speed on how to stay smart while biking.
“It’s a primary focus when talking about who is using the roadways,” he said.
However, the safety suggestion are not always well-received.
Last month, a new bike safety campaign that used gruesome images of injured riders, aimed at getting more cyclists to wear helmets, slightly backfired as those on two wheels claimed the ads promoted “victim blaming.”
What Bikers Would Like to See:
Although a lot is going on in Boston from behind the scenes in both the City Council chambers and the mayor’s office in regards to cycling, local bike lawyer Josh Zisson still thinks there is room for improvement, specifically when it comes to night riding in Boston.
“The real problem in terms of safety in the city is people riding unlit. I hear it from so many drivers that you can’t ever see bikers on the roads. People don’t know, or they don’t care,” said Zisson, who runs a bike safety blog in Boston. “I have heard in other cities they give out free lights to bikers at night who don’t have them on their bikes, and I think that is a good way to go.”
Zisson said there are rules in the books, specifically Massachusetts general Laws, that require riders to heed such safety standards, but more often than not, they are ignored.
He said one step to ensure safety, would be if cops enforced the laws more for riders.
“I think enforcement is a big part of it and it can be done in a number of ways,” he said.
Beyond that, Zisson would like to see better infrastructure specifically, separated bike tracks.
But if Carter’s tip-off about Boston’s “Master Plan” is any indication of what Hub cyclists can expect, Zisson may just get his wish.
“I think we will get to a certain point where it’ll be easier to get a cycle track built than it is currently,” said Zisson.