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Creating a Better Beacon Street

The upcoming reconstruction of Beacon Street in Somerville has a lot of people talking. There are many challenges and no shortage of opinions. But is there a design that will make everyone happy?

The upcoming reconstruction of Beacon Street in Somerville has a lot of people talking. It’s a project that has been in the works for many years, having been delayed by a lack of funding and then by the reconstruction of nearby Somerville Ave. While nearly everyone agrees that it needs to be fixed (particularly the pock-marked roadway surface), there are very strong opinions about what the reconstructed roadway will look like.

The current proposed design put forth by the City involves creating cycle tracks (exclusive bicycle facilities physically separated from car traffic) for about half of the length of the project by removing parking from one side of the street. While most agree that this would make the street more bicycle-friendly, some believe that the removal of parking in order to do so is an unacceptable tradeoff.

The good and the bad

Before getting into the parking/cycle track debate, I want to first comment on the good and the bad of the current project design from a complete streets perspective. While the current proposed design is an improvement over what we have today, it’s certainly not perfect, and could actually go much further to improve safety and accessibility, particularly for bicyclists.

The good

  • Newly built sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian signals will improve safety for pedestrians, as will eliminating parking spaces that are too close to crosswalks
  • New sidewalk by Academy of Arts and Sciences will eliminate the need for pedestrians to cross the street or walk in the roadway through that section
  • Newly created cycle tracks along with repaved and restriped bike lanes will enhance safety and comfort for bicyclists. Cycle tracks will appeal to people who would consider bicycling but are not comfortable bicycling between moving and parked cars. 
  • Resurfaced roadway will be safer and far less damaging to people’s cars
  • New parking regulations should make parking more readily available to people who live on Beacon St or visit Beacon St businesses, or in the worst case not make parking any more difficult to find than it is today
  • Narrowed roadway in cycle track sections will reduce traffic speeds, increasing safety for everyone

The bad

  • Cycle tracks are only planned for about half of the project rather than the entire length
  • Cycle tracks do not meet minimum recommended NACTO dimensions, mainly because MassDOT is requiring travel lane widths wider than are necessary
  • Some parking will have to be removed to make room for cycle tracks

The challenges

The Beacon St project poses many challenges coming from a variety of sources. Thankfully, I do not think any of these challenges are insurmountable. 

The first challenge is the physical limitations of the street and what the project can encompass from a cost perspective. One big limitation is that the curbs cannot be moved outward at all (narrowing the sidewalks) since there are utilities buried underneath them that the City does not have money to move. (The above-ground utility poles will also remain where they are, as there is not money to bury the electrical lines either.) Generally, narrowing the sidewalks should be a last resort when it comes to making space for other uses, but on Beacon St in general the sidewalks are more than wide enough for current and future pedestrian volumes. If the curbs were able to be moved outward, it would be possible to create a bit more space for bicyclists, although narrowing the sidewalks alone would not result in enough extra space to create cycle tracks.

The second big challenge is on-street parking. Certainly, no one wants to create a hardship for Beacon St residents or for business owners, customers, and delivery people. However, the only way to create enough space for cycle tracks is to remove parking on one side of the street. The question this poses is if this reduced amount of parking can be managed in a way to still meet everyone’s needs.

Another challenge is the requirements put onto the City by MassDOT that the City would otherwise not have to deal with if the project was being designed by them alone. This includes the desire to include wider travel lanes (12’ and 13’ against parking) in the cycle track sections rather than 10’ or 10.5’ travel lanes that the City would typically use. MassDOT claims that this extra space is needed to create space for snow to pile up in the winter and to accommodate larger vehicles. This constraint is causing the cycle tracks as currently designed to not meet the dimensions recommended by NACTO for cycle track designs that would allow for one bicyclist to pass another or for two to ride side by side (The NATCO recommendation is 6.5' clear width plus 3' buffer adjacent to parking or 1.5' buffer adjacent to a travel lane, while the current planned width of the cycle tracks in the City's plan is 7' including buffer). And given the high numbers of bicyclists using Beacon St, this requirement is essential to making the cycle tracks work. It should be noted that Vassar St in Cambridge, which also has cycle tracks, has two 10.5’ travel lanes along with a 7’ parking lane on one side (the same width as the parking lane proposed for Beacon St), along with buses, trucks, and the same snow as any other street in the Boston area, so it doesn’t seem reasonable that MassDOT is creating such wide lane requirements here. 

In addition, MassDOT is designing Beacon St with a 30 mph design speed since it is considered a minor arterial and it considered a regional route. This limits the ability to switch the parking from one side of the road to the other at various locations and is part of their justification for wider travel lanes. It also encourages traffic to drive faster than is considered safe in a dense urban environment. Google traffic data shows that on average, traffic travels 22 mph on average at non-peak times and 12 mph during rush hours. So why design for 30 mph?

Solving the parking issue

Parking is an issue that most people have strong opinions about. Many residents who own cars have no choice but to park on the street. Businesses without off-street parking depend in part on the ability for their customers to have reasonable access to short-term parking and for delivery drivers to have space to unload their goods. The big question on Beacon St is whether parking on one side alone can meet those needs, particularly since the benefits from reclaiming that space are huge.

The City has the right idea by studying how the parking is currently being used. While it is nearly impossible to get perfect numbers that take into account all the different times of the year, times of day, and weather variations, some data is nearly always better than none at all. It’s easy to anecdotally claim one thing or another, but having numbers to refer to usually helps everyone to make a more informed decision.

The good news about Beacon St is that the on-street parking in general is underutilized. For the western part of the project (Zone 1, from Oxford St to Washington St), the overall occupancy rate is less than 50% (41% during weekdays, 35% during weekends). For the eastern part (Zone 2, from Washington St to the Cambridge City Line), the overall occupancy rate is 63%. The City has therefore concluded that for Zone 1 it should be possible to remove parking on one side of the street while still accommodating all of the cars that are there today. For the eastern part, the City has decided to preserve all the parking because the overall occupancy rate is above 50%.

Some people have claimed that these numbers are misleading because they are not granular enough. For example, the parking study states that the occupancy rate towards Oxford St is indeed higher (reaching a maximum of 80%) than closer to Museum St (reaching a minimum of 2%). However, the study also looks at the reasonable distance people should be expected to walk to their parked car. The City used ¼ mile, the distance often used when determining how far someone should be expected to walk to a bus stop. Using this as a guideline, it was determined that all residents in Zone 1 would be within ¼ mile of an open parking space on Beacon St if parking were to only be provided on one side of the street.

The issue of access to businesses has also been brought up. It is clear that some businesses are more dependent upon on-street parking than others. One solution that I have heard to this would be to alternate which side the parking is on from block to block in order to serve the maximum number of businesses (and residents) that do not have off-street parking available. Changing the parking regulations in front of businesses would also help to prioritize this parking for customers. Currently, the majority of spaces on Beacon St on signed “2 Hour Parking Except by Permit 8:00am to 2:30am, Permit Parking Only 2:30am to 8:00am”. This means that someone with a resident permit could occupy a space in front of a business for the entire day. By changing the regulations directly in front of businesses to 2 Hour Parking during the day and resident permits overnight only, these spaces would be more readily available to customers. In addition, for businesses that depend on high parking turnover, signing some of these spaces as 1-hour, 30-minute, or 15-minute parking could be useful, as could adding meters. For businesses that are not on the side of the on-street parking but do not have off-street parking available, a few spaces on adjacent side streets could be dedicated to loading zones and/or handicapped parking.

One big issue that the parking study finds is that a non-trivial number of people are driving and parking on Beacon St during the day from other parts of Somerville and leaving their cars there all day. This is most likely people who work in Cambridge (for example at Harvard or Lesley), or who are trying to get to Porter Station but don’t live close enough to walk there. It is estimated this makes up at least 15% of the vehicles on Beacon St during the day. The City has proposed one solution to this, which is creating a Beacon St residential parking zone. This would make resident on-street parking only available to Beacon St residents and should eliminate the problem of people from other parts of Somerville parking on Beacon St all day. (Those same people could still park there in the general 2-hour (or less) parking spaces if they wish to visit the local businesses.)

A big gap in the parking study, however, is that it does not provide any data about off-street parking. Beacon Street is fortunate in that compared to other parts of Somerville, there actually is a good deal of off-street parking available. Many of the houses have driveways or paved yards and many of the businesses have parking lots. The big question is whether they are being fully utilized. For at least some of these lots, the answer is not very much. The biggest opportunities are the Star Market, Dial-a-Pizza, Foodmaster, and Walgreens parking lots. The manager of Star Market has said that he has permission from corporate headquarters to rent out some of the unused spaces in his lot to nearby residents or businesses, but he would need permission from the City to do so (he already rents out spaces for ZipCars, but additional spaces need additional approval). Shared parking agreements are very common in situations like this. If the City could foster the creation of these types of agreements between the businesses with excess parking and those businesses (or residents) with little or no parking, the off-street spaces could be much better utilized, taking further pressure off of the on-street parking.

Because there is no comprehensive inventory of off-street parking and how it is being used, it’s difficult to tell exactly how much on-street parking is actually needed. The good news is that even if the off-street parking situation remains the same, the utilization in Zone 1 is low enough that removing parking from one side should be feasible by making the regulation changes that the City already has the authority to do. Zone 2 is obviously a bit more complicated, but since it is in the 60% range rather than the 80% or 90% range, I believe enough can be done to bring demand below 50%, allowing the cycle track to be continued through there as well.

It should also be noted that out of the 111 spaces that are proposed to be removed, approximately 49 of those spaces will be removed to create room for a sidewalk where there is currently none adjacent to the Academy of Arts and Sciences, regardless of whether any parking is removed to make room for cycle tracks. There are also spaces that will be removed throughout the project that are too close to crosswalks or intersections.

Good for business

A number of other cities such as New York, Portland, and Montreal have shown that creating a more complete street, one that is more appealing to walking and bicycling, is good for business, and that even when some parking is removed, businesses benefit. It’s understandable that some business owners on Beacon St are concerned that removing parking will hurt their business. But the data that’s been collected so far shows that this simply isn’t true. According to a recent survey in New York City, “Using data from the city’s Department of Finance, the DOT found an increase of as much as 49% in retail sales at “locally based businesses” on 9th Avenue from 23rd to 31st Streets since the bike protected lane [aka cycle track] was initiated in the fall of 2007. In that time, retail sales increased only 3% in the rest of Manhattan.”

It’s also likely that many Beacon St business owners are overestimating how many of their customers drive to their establishment. The Boston Cyclists Union in conjunction with LivableStreets Alliance recently did a survey of customers along Beacon St. They discovered that customers are overwhelmingly local, typically arriving by foot. 68% of customers arrived by walking, 11.4% by car, 10.1% by bike, and 7.9% by MBTA. When those 11.4% that were car customers were asked how they would respond to having to park across the street or if parking was harder to find, only 30% said they would go somewhere else instead. 32% of them said they would park farther instead, 12% said it had no impact, 10% would walk instead, 12% would use transit instead, and 2% would bike (assuming the street had bike lanes as it does today). When customers were asked if they would bike more on Beacon St if it had cycle tracks, 43% said that yes they would indeed.

There is even precedent for removing parking along a major street in the Boston area to create room for bicyclists. In January 2012, the City of Boston removed 71 parking spaces along the east side of Mass Ave through the Back Bay in order to make room for bike lanes. Some business owners there were concerned about this negatively affecting their businesses as well. To date, there have been no complaints by the local businesses, while the numbers of bicyclists along the corridor has gone up between 50% and 100% depending on the time of day.

A pilot program?

It is clear that a cycle track along the full length of the project is very desirable since this is the most heavily traveled street by bicyclists in the Boston area -- a third of all users of the street during rush hours are bicyclists (approximately 300 per hour) -- and that it would encourage even more people to bike on Beacon Street. It’s also clear that the only way to achieve this goal is to remove parking from one side of the street. Based on the parking data and the variety of ways to make better use of off-street and on-street parking, it should be possible to do so without creating unreasonable hardships for residents or businesses. But it’s also understandable that it’s impossible to predict what will happen when we make such a change. This leads me to a new proposal: 

What if we created cycle tracks along the entire length of the street, but as a pilot program?

If street-level cycle tracks were used instead of raised cycle tracks, the configuration of the street could be changed much more inexpensively than with raised ones. As part of the reconstruction project, street level cycle tracks could be installed for the entire length, using plastic bollards to separate the cycle tracks from the parking and travel lanes. Parking regulations could be adjusted in ways that have been proposed to make maximum use of the remaining parking spaces. The parking situation would then be monitored for one year to see if the residents and businesses are being adequately served. Further tweaking could be done to the regulations as well as with off-street parking arrangements. At the end of the one year trial, the City could decide if and where to keep the cycle tracks. In locations where there simply was not enough parking, the cycle track could be removed, parking reintroduced to the no parking side, and bike lanes would be created in that section. In locations where the parking situation was working well, the cycle tracks would be made permanent by replacing the plastic bollards with planters or narrow medians. 

Conclusion

The Beacon Street project has stirred up a lot of emotion both in favor and against what the City is proposing. It has also shown that we all care deeply about our streets and we want make sure they meet all of our needs. The most important thing to me is that we all keep an open mind, and think not only of our own needs and desires but those of everyone else who uses Beacon Street. We must also think about designing a Beacon Street that will last us another 50 years, and that responds to the fact that car use is going down, not up, as more people walk and bicycle on a regular basis. It is true that not everyone who has an interest in this project has known about it for as long as they should have, that the data from the parking study is not perfect, and of course that some people will always choose or need to drive a car, regardless of how appealing walking or bicycling is made. I have no doubt, though, that our City officials are trying to keep the best interests of everyone in mind. Designing a Beacon St that makes everyone happy is turning out to be no easy task.

What do you think is the best solution for Beacon Street? How can we make it work for as many people as possible?

More Information

Beacon Street Somerville Project City of Somerville

Beacon Street Reconstruction Would Eliminate Parking, Add Cycle Tracks Somerville Patch 14 Nov 2012

Somerville businesses object to proposed removal of parking spaces on Beacon St Boston Globe 14 Nov 2012

Somerville residents and businesses question parking study on Beacon St Somerville Journal 14 Nov 2012

Cycle Tracks NACTO

Report: Bike Lanes, Pedestrian Plazas Good for Business Wall Street Journal 24 Oct 2012

DOT: Local Retail Thrives After Projects Improved Transit, Walking, Biking Streetsblog 24 Oct 2012

Bicycle Infrastructure Is Good For Business The Urban Country 2 May 2011

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

AHM November 19, 2012 at 11:10 PM
East answer here. I am also a businessman and I am close to other businessmen in this city and I can tell you this administration is and has been very antibusiness to begin with, especially small businesses. And some aldermen are not very good with businesses either. Have run into this first hand. So I would not expect much help. This is why I have disliked Curatone right from the start, but only business people see that side
SomervilleGirl November 19, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Sergio, You will have to get use to it because they want us to all walk, take the T and ride a bike. Didn't you hear? They are close to announcing a ban on all cars. It will be looking like the streets of China in no time.
SomervilleGirl November 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM
AHM, They have a master plan to ban all cars from the roadways and eliminate what is left of the working class community. Families with small children must rely on cars and parking spaces, as well as the elderly. There is a great push to get cars off the roads and force people to use public transportation, walk or ride a bike. The idea is more foot traffic will increase business. I disagree. The majority of people who go out to dinner and shop would prefer to rely on their vehicles. They also wish to eliminate all parking garages. Can you imagine what will happen to businesses in the winter with 10 inches of snow on the ground and no cars allowed to park? Not everyone wants to take the T or ride a bike, businesses will suffer. Also, they do not account for the high increase of commuters who will be relying heavily on the already broken-down Red Line. If you commute on the T after the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., you are among those packed like sardines on the trains. 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. are also heavy and they stop along the tunnels for 5-10 minutes in between stops (for what purpose I have no idea) also work being done between Davis and Alewife, so don't be surprised if you are taken hostage from Harvard to Alewife and have to take a train back due to their urgent "express" trains that don't make other stops. If they want all this, fine, but you have to put money into the decades old and worn out train system. But hey, who cares about how others get home!
SomervilleGirl November 20, 2012 at 12:15 AM
They are only catering to one segment of our city and forgetting about the needs of the many. Where is all the money coming from to make all these changes? I don't buy that it's all from a grant. I bet most of it will come from taxes. Many also have this "condo association" mentality where they feel they can dictate what a neighbor should be doing with their landscaping, etc. Not every home in this city is going "condo". There are many locals still here who would rather keep their home as is --whether it be a single family or with multiple units. Once you change to condo's, they get to make the rules and everything becomes uniform which I consider ugly because it lacks character and style of the individual who should be entitled to paint their home their color of choice. Same applies for landscaping and color of their mulch. I deal with a bad neighbor who wants everyone to conform to his style of exterior design and he's annoying as hell. That's what will happen if the entire city goes condo--people who wish to be individuals will no longer have that privilege.
AHM November 20, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Makes me want to cover up my wood shingles with some of that blue vinal siding.
SomervilleGirl November 20, 2012 at 12:30 AM
HA HA HA!...I like your style, AHM. I think perhaps we may even be acquainted. Can you imagine the horror of having to live in a condo association with some of these people? I'd rather be living in a jungle with rattlesnakes and take my chances. I'm sure they would be less deadly.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. November 20, 2012 at 12:44 AM
The parking study is not imperfect, it is invalid. And anyone who isn't a cycling activist, like the author, would call it that. It is invalid if for no other reason than it was first conducted on May 19 at least two weeks after Harvard, Tufts and Lesley held their last finals. Conspicuously favorable timing if you’re the City and you want to skew study results in your favor. As for studies showing that increased bike traffic increases business, I think anyone advocating reference to those studies might want to walk down 9th Ave. in Manhattan and judge for themselves how closely it resembles Beacon St., Somerville. Seriously? Same for the other cities alluded to. Finally, since when are street surveys conducted by a party in interest that has no professional methodology behind it's "study" valid? A group of bike advocates from the Boston Cyclists Union occasionally walked Beacon Street asking people of their selection a series of questions. Without identifying themselves as members of the BCU. That’s the level of integrity and critical rigor that was brought to that “study.” This is the level of “analysis” the Curtatone administration’s Planning Dept. has used to support this project. It’s a professional disgrace and a disservice to Somerville. And yes, the Curtatone administration is anti-business. But they seem to like bikes a lot. Oh, that's right, the mayor bikes a lot, as I understand.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. November 20, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Thank you, Mark, for a sensible suggestion. But why on earth isn't this kind of creative thinking coming from the Curtatone administration's Planning Dept. and their consultants? Why do they insist on backing a plan that everyone is recognizing as less than a sterling piece of urban planning? What is driving this plan over the objections of residents, businesses and business patrons?
SomervilleGirl November 20, 2012 at 01:22 AM
The bike project is separately funded--that's the best educated guess I can come up with and unless someone comes forward with data to the contrary, that sticks. I know there are plenty of tax breaks and incentives for people who ride a bike and there must be some grant money by a special interest who are pushing their own, small minded agenda. I use to ride a bike through the streets of Cambridge during the 90's when I worked at MAH--those days are long gone. Bicyclists may think they have an advantage with lanes as they did not have them in the past, but now we have an extremely high number of commuters on our roads each day, thousands more than in years past. I was raised in this area and have commuted by car, bike, bus, train and by foot. There are many dangerous intersections throughout cities of Cambridge and Somerville with many bicycle accidents which go unreported, some have been fatal, many could have been avoided. To change all streets to accommodate bicyclists is irresponsible. One case, was in Boston, where the bicyclist collided with an MBTA Bus, near our major hospitals. One suggested an entire reconfiguration of that roadway in order to make it safe for bicyclists with complete disregard for ambulances which frequent this particular road in some cases--with patients in life threatening situations.
AHM November 20, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Only one thing to do. Build a bicycle overpass on Beacon Street, problem solved. If you had the construction company that builds these roads you would love it.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. November 20, 2012 at 01:42 AM
Sorry, one more comment. I'm just so sick of all the false narratives being perpetrated by the City and the Boston Cyclist Union. This one deals with the theory that Beacon Street is so dangerous for cyclists that the cycle track is necessary for their safety. I am not certain from what source the City or the BCU get their bike accident statistics, but according to a report from the Somerville Police Department, Crime Analysis Unit, compiled by Fbates on 04/09/12 titled "Incident Report: Beacon Street from 01/01/2009 to 04/08/2012" there were 36 accidents involving cycles. That's over almost 2 and 1/2 years. Of those, over 60% happened at intersections. So, of 36 accidents, 22 took place at intersections. Of the 14 accidents that did not happen at an intersection, the majority of those took place closer to the Inman Square section of Beacon Street. So why are we putting two 7' cycle tracks at the opposite end of the street where very few cycle accidents actually occur? The report does not mention how many of those accidents were caused by cyclists and how many were the fault of drivers. (There appears always to be an assumption by the cycling community and the City that all accidents involving cycles were the fault of motorists. To anyone who has driven on Boston roads where cyclists violating traffic laws is a common sight, that assumption is highly questionable. )
SomervilleGirl November 20, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Beacon street is one of the safest routes for bicyclists because the existing bike lane is wider than others in the city. I used this road many mornings on my way to work and I can say without a doubt that there were no problems with bikes or drivers on this stretch of road. They are using false statistics to push their own agenda which is to widen the bike lanes to further deter cars from using this road. The reason the accidents happen at intersections is because many bicyclists refuse to obey rules of the road and do not stop at red lights and stop signs. I've witnessed Cambridge police issuing tickets to offenders who are without patience to stop and potentially cause accidents with motorists which could be avoided. There has been some talk among students in the area that a great deal of bicyclists have never driven a car before, do not know or care to learn how to be responsible while riding a bike. Many were raised in the suburbs and have been pushed out of the nest, to fend for themselves. A great deal of this having to do with the Wall Street meltdown of 401k's and trust funds which once served to keep them living at home. The parents are fed up with them living off them and now that their investments have shrunken, they kicked them out. So now we must deal with their entitled attitudes since the parents won't. You know..."I want, I must have, you have to give me.....". I've seen this growing epidemic for too long, but it's time they deal with real life.
David Olmsted November 20, 2012 at 04:22 AM
As a resident and property owner on Beacon, my comments are based on first hand knowledge. I bike casually, drive, and walk. This article states a design pro: "Newly created cycle tracks along with repaved and restriped bike lanes will enhance safety and comfort for bicyclists. Cycle tracks will appeal to people who would consider bicycling but are not comfortable bicycling between moving and parked cars." Agreed. That covers both ends of the cyclist spectrum. The first are skilled cyclists, who will continue to use the road regardless; as it can only get better. Since the current proposal has no provisions for a cycle track along the busiest (most dangerous) section, cyclists will be required to share the road with cars, with the added safety and appeal identified in this "pro". That being the case, without a full length track, this group may not view the design as a significant benefit compared to the major disruption it causes. Maybe cyclists will shun the track and prefer the road for its adequate passing clearance, reducing everyone's safety. Casual bikers like myself already have several safe routes to use today (i.e. Oxford). Yet again, leaving the design short of warranting the permanent disruption to businesses and residents. Why not make the bike-lane a different color, or flank it with granite? Install signage to reduce dooring. Deploy embedded reflectors in the asphalt. What is blatantly clear to me is that there needs to be alternatives that appeal to all.
Eric Herot November 20, 2012 at 05:21 AM
Wow, so many comments by non-bicyclists here about how unnecessary it is to improve the cycling infrastructure on Beacon Street and how reductions in parking are always bad for business. Surprise. I think it's important to remember that one of the primary goals of this project is to get more people onto bikes in the first place. Thus it makes little sense to use statistics showing that bicycle use in Somerville is low as a justification for not improving the infrastructure. Bicycling is unpopular in Boston and Somerville *because* the infrastructure is so poor. Adding this cycle track is as much about improving actual safety as it is about improving the perception of safety for people who are still on the fence about biking. In that respect I think it's likely to be a success as currently designed. Of course it would be better if it went the whole length of Beacon Street.
Eric Herot November 20, 2012 at 05:29 AM
As for the parking situation, I think it would be very helpful for some business owners and long time, car-owning residents to try to think about this from a viewpoint *other* than that of an automobile driver. A bicyclist traveling in front of your business is far more likely to stop on a whim (as I have done several times at Petsi Pies) than a driver, because we move much more slowly, we're out in the open air (so we can smell the pies), and the thought of having to look for parking never even crosses our minds. If you couple this with the fact that someone who drove out of their way to go to a Beacon Street business is probably going to walk just about any distance to park their car, practically speaking, this means that if you only gain one bicyclist for each parking space sacrificed, it will still be a net improvement for businesses (and even the most modest estimates show that you get a far high number of bicyclists per sacrificed parking space). And that's to say nothing of the improvement of the overall atmosphere of the place. Right now outdoor seating is a relative rarity on Beacon Street because the wide roads, high vehicle speeds, lack of separation between moving cars and pedestrians, and poorly maintained sidewalks give it a pretty "urban wasteland" feel. The widened separation from moving vehicles and lowered vehicle speeds would make sitting outdoors in that are much more appealing (and not to mention nicer for residents, too).
SFC November 20, 2012 at 11:38 AM
"the thought of having to look for parking never even crosses our minds." it's funny because there are so few actual bike racks on Beacon Street (there is one in front of Petsi's) and half the time my friends come over they're constantly looking for a place to lock up! One of the things that really drives me nuts about the cycle track design is that it does nothing to improve the safety at intersections. Most of the accidents happening on Beacon Street are at the intersections (Washington and Beacon being the site of the highest number for cyclists and automobiles). You know what Beacon street DOESN'T have at either of the two major intersections? TURNING LANES!!! Which make it a lot safer for both cyclists AND cars!!! I always have to get off my bike and walk across Washington street because I fear for my life going left there. Oh and about that not having a place to lock your bike up...how about putting in one of those "parking space" bike racks like in Davis or Union at the intersections...you're not supposed to park a car 15 feet or so at an intersection anyway, but because the parking situation on Beacon can be pretty tough (especially on street cleaning) and people always do this. It makes it INCREDIBLY dangerous for everyone...bikes, cars, pedestrians when people park so close to the intersections. Blocking this off with a bike rack that people can easily see over and give bikes a way to lock up with out cluttering the side walk is win-win for everyone.
Arugula November 20, 2012 at 11:43 AM
I am a regular year-round cyclist who has been using Beacon Street once or twice every week for ten years. Cycletracks and any other kind of separated facility are not good for cyclists and I desperately hope that the city will not ruin such an important corridor with an unproven experiment that departs so radically from established transportation planning practices.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. November 20, 2012 at 12:35 PM
With all due respect, you might stop for a cup of coffee and a pastry on a whim, but you are pretty unlikely to stop on a whim while biking to buy a bookcase at the unfinished furniture store, or a case of beer at the liquor store or do 20 lbs of laundry at the laundromat. No one is anti-cycle. Everybody involved in this wants to see greater safety for cyclists on Beacon Street and everywhere else. No right thinking person is unsympathetic to the need for greater bike safety. ALL some of us are saying is that we need to find a way to do that without taking away the parking that many of our livelihoods depend on. The real point, however, is that instead of folks on both sides of this issue seeing each other as the unenlightened ones, we should all be looking at the Curtatone administration and it's Planning Dept. to scrap this plan and come up with alternatives that better address the needs of all interests in this matter. If anyone has displayed a lack of enlightenment, it has been the City's Planning Dept. While on this forum and others folks of good will are doing their best to come up with alternatives to the current plan, the professionals planners at City Hall remain steadfastly silent. Why is that? Perhaps this current plan's real value is to gild the Mayor's resume. Fair question, I think, since no one can find a better reason for why the City would continue to back such a poorly designed, poorly researched and thoroughly divisive plan.
Charlie Denison November 20, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Just wanted to add some additional information that some of you may not know. This project is funded through the same channels as most standard roadway reconstruction projects, with the majority of funds coming through MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, as determined by the Boston MPO (the MPO picks the projects). The City controls the design for the most part, working with their consultants to bring it through the various stages (right now it's nearly 25% completed), which must be approved by MassDOT as meeting their design guidelines. Part of any MassDOT project involves determining what the pedestrian, bicycle, and motor vehicle facilities will look like. MassDOT is not requiring cycle tracks but they are supportive of concept. Here is the MassDOT project page for those of you that may be interested: http://www.mhd.state.ma.us/ProjectInfo/Main.asp?ACTION=ViewProject&PROJECT_NO=607209 In addition, although the City has not presented any changes to the design in the recent public meetings, my understanding is that they are working on changes based on feedback from the public and from MassDOT. I would expect those changes to be reflected in future public meetings.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. November 20, 2012 at 01:01 PM
That the City may be making changes is indeed welcome news. Especially in light of the fact that at the last meeting, after listening to a great many comments from residents and business owners on Beacon Street in opposition to the elimination of parking, and receiving in hand a petition signed by nearly 800 individuals opposing the elimination of parking, the Planning Director in her closing remarks mentioned, not once but three times, that the current plan was the one still favored by the City. Leaving everyone who was present to wonder if the last 2.5 hours had been, from the City's perspective, merely an opportunity to let people blow off steam. I think it is fair to say that many people who attended that meeting felt that their comments received lip service at best, and at worse went in one ear of the City and out the other unimpeded by thoughtful consideration on the City's part. There was certainly no sense at that meeting that the City was willing to consider alternative approaches. It is heartening to see that they might now be. We all eagerly await their changes. This project can and should be made to work well for everybody.
kevin thomas crowley November 20, 2012 at 01:11 PM
for the 50 years i have been riding my bike on that portion of beacon street i have not had a problem.
SFC November 20, 2012 at 01:26 PM
No one's saying it's unnecessary to improve cycling infratructure, just the idea of eliminating 100+ parking spaces that businesses and residents rely on when there are SEVERAL reasonable alternatives. I bike commuted all of last year (changed jobs and it's just not practical for me to bike 15 miles to work where there's no shower) and my boyfriend bike commutes to Kendall on Beacon. Cycling infrastructure CAN be improved, but you don't need to sacrifice the viability of local businesses and people's quality of life by removing that much parking. Somerville DOES have existing infrastructure for people not "street ready" to bike yet - the community path is awesome! If the current plan goes through, all it's going to do is funnel all those inexperienced cyclists into regular bike lanes (even if it did go the whole way to the city line) and through the most dangerous intersection in all of MA (I'm talking about Cambridge St and Hampshire in Inman). Maybe you didn't realize this but most of the houses in my neighborhood were built PRIOR to the invention of the model T...an era where most people did not own cars. The fact that these businesses and residents make due as it is without ample off-street parking is a miracle.
AHM November 20, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. One of my lifetime problems in government which really ticks me off(trying to be nice) is that these are hired officials by us. They could not do what they do in the real world of working. My best way of putting this is I you hired me to come to your house and paint your kikitchen yellow, I say I can do the job better than anyone, be economical and do so to make everyone happy. I come to the job and paint the living room blue because I think that is the way it should be done and you should be happy with this and be grateful because I know what you really want and this is in your best interests. I don't know about you but I think I would be home without anything to do if I ran my business that way. A little common sense goes a long way in these projects. And they are supposed to be working for us. I don't kow how long ago that went out the window. That's why I refer to Curatone as ceo of the city. He does not work for us. Thanks Charlie for the real helpfull information.
AHM November 20, 2012 at 01:43 PM
You shouldn't have a problem, I have ridden the road many times myself. Just idiot bikers and matorists. Years ago I knew I would have to stop and walk accross some of those bad intersections. They are a horror show without bikes or pedestrians. Mayeb we need police there and those who violate the law should take classes in safety and a fine. And I don't mean just bikers. I know the road well, I used to live in the area. It should not be a problem once repaved except for the intersections where it seems that's where all the problems are. Just common sense.
mark November 20, 2012 at 04:58 PM
@Somerville Girl: who is "they"-- I have never heard anyone talk about banning "all cars from the roadways and eliminate what is left of the working class community." I think there's a balance between every kind of transportation. For 100 years we've been expanding roads, paving over yards and making it very difficult to do anything but drive. Banning cars would be the other extreme. This is just moving towards a balance. Which is never easy.
mark November 20, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Arugula-- i hear echoes from the past before the bike lanes were put in, the cyclists who used them said very much the same thing about bike lanes-- they didn't like them and were not good for cyclists. This is less about current cyclists, but future ones. The ones who are too afraid to cycle now.
Rob Buchanan November 20, 2012 at 06:40 PM
I would like to put in a plug for more pedestrian infrastructure than what is proposed in the plans on the City's website. For whatever reason (maybe it's a Boston thing??), I've noticed that crosswalks are not, as a matter of standard roadway design, located at all corners of intersections. More often than not, crosswalks are either non-existent, or if there are any, they only connect one or two corners of an intersection. For example, at a regular intersection of two roads, one would expect there to be four crosswalks, allowing for pedestrians to safely take the most efficient route across the intersection. Instead, many intersections only have one, two, or three crosswalks, which, depending on where you are going, may mean you have to make three crossings instead of one. For example, I live in Union Sq. If you want to walk from Bloc 11 to Capone's (across the street from each other), the only legal way to cross is using the three crosswalks at the intersections of Bow St and Warren Ave. I notice this problem every time I want to get to Somerville Ave or take my dog to the Union Sq Vet Clinic. Naturally, you see people jaywalking across Bow St ALL the time. I see this problem on the design renderings for Beacon Street. At virtually every intersection, there are insufficient crosswalks. What gives??
Charlie Denison November 20, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I totally agree Rob. Some people brought up the lack of crosswalks in the current design at the last public meeting. The City said they will be adding more crosswalks, especially in the western half of the project, as they revise the design. But I also agree in general that the City often does not put enough crosswalks at intersections. No one is willing to cross 3 crosswalks to get across one street. As you've noted they will just jaywalk instead.
Meg Muckenhoupt February 04, 2013 at 02:07 PM
I'd like to know what percentage of people using that road park there. Is it 1%? Why is it so important to subsidize car storage for so few residents?
Meg Muckenhoupt February 04, 2013 at 02:19 PM
On-street parking spaces are a public subsidy for car owners. Parking costs money. If it's "free" to residents, it still costs money to maintain paved spots, and they take away space from other uses--like wider streets and turning lanes, or broader sidewalks, or even cycle tracks. Plenty of people living in Boston pay a separate garage if they want a parking space--just like you have to pay a landlord if you want to rent a place to live. Just because you're used to the government paying for something doesn't mean that it should.

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