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Beacon Street Reconstruction Would Eliminate Parking, Add Cycle Tracks

It's "called Beacon 'street' and not Beacon 'bike path,'" said one resident. "Your businesses are going to boom with more cyclists coming down your street," said a biker.

A plan to reconstruct Beacon Street calls for eliminating parking on one side of the street over a nearly mile-long stretch of roadway. Doing so would make space for dedicated cycle tracks for bicycles.

At a presentation about the reconstruction held Tuesday night at the Kennedy School, many neighbors and Beacon Street businesses were adamantly opposed to the proposal.

"Parking is a priority," said Vincent Drago, a lifelong resident of Beacon Street. "You can ride your bike on any street. Tell me where I can park my car."

"Beacon Street is called Beacon 'street' and not Beacon 'bike path,'" he said.

Matin Filosi, who owns property on Beacon Street, said eliminating parking on one side of the road would "destroy" the value of his property, and "I have a hard time thinking of finding a bike rider who can buy my house."

Ed Abrams, who lives near Beacon Street on the Cambridge side, said "Spillover [of parked cars] into our neighborhoods is going to be disastrous."

"If we get rid of all those parking spaces," said Justin Villet, "Where are they going to go? They've got to go someplace."

Cycle tracks, 111 fewer parking spots

Under the proposal put forth by the city, parking would be eliminated on the south side of Beacon Street (the same side as R.F. O'Sullivan and Son) from Oxford Street to Washington Street. That amounts to about 111 eliminated spots.

This would allow for the construction of cycle tracks, which are dedicated bike lanes separated from car traffic by a barrier. In this case, a line of parked cars would serve as that barrier on the north side of the street, and curb would serve as the barrier on the south side. The cycle tracks would end at Museum Street, and there would be normal painted bike lanes from that intersection to the Cambridge boarder near Inman Square. The proposal doesn't call for the elimination of any parking along the stretch of Beacon Street from Washington Street to the Cambridge line.

Cyclists support redesign

Bicyclists had a different perspective. Pete Stidman, director of the Boston Cyclists Union, objected to some of the comments leveled against bicyclists at the meeting. "That people can't bike down Beacon Street, that bicyclists can't afford houses … I've never heard such insults," he said.

Shannon Simms said she was hit by a car when cycling on Beacon Street over the summer. "I want to thank the city of Somerville" for supporting biking infrastructure, she said.

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Good or bad for business?

Mark Pano, owner of P & K Deli, said he would lose customers if they can't park on his side of the street. "We're all going to get hit by a 20, 30 percent reduction in customers. People need to be able to park," he said.

Doug Johnson, a cyclist, said, "This doesn't have to be so divisive .. it doesn't have to be black and white."

"Bikers have a ton of disposable income," he said. "Your businesses are going to boom with more cyclists coming down your street."

"Cyclists are spending money in Beacon Street shops," Stidman said.

Peter Yao, who owns propery on Beacon Street, thought  the Beacon Street redesign, with its cycle tracks, would increase property values in the area.

A $4.5 million project with federal and state funding

Reconstruction of Beacon Street is slated to begin in early 2014, and the final design needs to be complete by the end of 2013, according to a presentation delivered by Hayes Morrison, Somerville's director of transportation and infrastructure. She said the city hopes take into account everyone's concerns as it makes the final design.

The project is expected to cost about $4.5 million. Federal dollars would pay for 80 percent of the project, and state dollars would pay for 20 percent, Morrison said.

You can learn more on the city's website.

LSG November 15, 2012 at 05:08 PM
But Benjamin, nobody is suggesting making one whole side of the street disabled parking (let alone "all" of it). It seems to me that the burden should be on the people who are seeking to make one whole side of the street less accessible to people with mobility issues to prove why the able-bodied cannot be accommodated without further limiting those who already have a tough enough time getting around in this town.
Lucas Rogers November 15, 2012 at 08:54 PM
LSG: Parking spots are reserved for persons with disabilities. If there aren't enough spots for the disabled, surely it would be more effective to make more disabled spots, not more spots for everyone.
Lucas Rogers November 15, 2012 at 08:57 PM
I see infants on the 85 bus.
Lucas Rogers November 15, 2012 at 09:09 PM
The cycling lane in Union Square is great, but I'm not sure I would call it "safe." Car traffic more often than not encroaches on the bike lane. The lane is protected by nothing more than paint, after all. This is why cycle tracks are such an improvement.
Lucas Rogers November 15, 2012 at 09:13 PM
I think a cycle track might seem "too much" just because it will be one of the first in the greater Boston area. In cities like Montreal, they are routine, and add enormously to bicyclists' sense of safety. I hope cycle tracks become routine here as well.
Lucas Rogers November 15, 2012 at 09:14 PM
What about disabled spots on side streets off the side of Beacon that would have no parking? Put them right next to Beacon Street.
BrianM November 15, 2012 at 09:36 PM
What is the assertion that non-Beacon Street Somervillians are parking on Beacon Street during the day based on -- fact or hypothesis?
BrianM November 15, 2012 at 09:46 PM
How are those who have driveways on the cycle-track side going to get out of their driveways? Aren't they going to have to back out of the cycle track? In that case, those bicycle commuters who are going to be flying down the track at 20 miles per hour are going to be in peril of being cut off by a car backing out of a driveway, aren't they? Isn't that less safe than sharing the road with cars that are at least moving in the same direction? Along with that, what about bikers who are moving in different speeds and going in different directions? Now, if there's a fast biker and a slow biker, the fast biker can pass by going into the travel lane. Now, however, everyone will be crammed into the bike path -- and if there's traffic both ways, you risk head-on collisions. Maybe I'm ignorant in the mechanics of cycle tracks, but I'm not sure this is any safer. I'd be all for improving bicycle safety by painting the existing bike lane (which is invisible in many places) and improving signage. There even are ways -- including narrowing the road -- to slow down car traffic, which also improves safety. The intersection at Beacon and Oxford is a mess every single day. It's dangerous for drivers, bikers and pedestrians. How eliminating the parking
LSG November 15, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Lucas, are you aware that this proposal eliminates ALL of the parking spots on one side of the street for a mile? That a disabled person can park in a legal spot regardless of whether it is marked for disabled parking? That there is more than one disabled driver in Somerville and that parking for us is already difficult? This proposal makes all of the businesses on that side of the street inaccessible to disabled drivers. Why is that necessary? Why can't cyclists share the road with drivers and abutters?
BrianM November 15, 2012 at 09:49 PM
Aren't most bikers on Beacon Street just commuters, flying by on their way to Harvard or Kendall or wherever? Is there any evidence that any bikers are more likely to visit Cafe Rustica with a cycle track than they are now? (How a laundromat or furniture store could possibly stand to benefit from a cycle track is an entirely different story...)
BrianM November 15, 2012 at 09:53 PM
You're going to stop patronizing his business because he's valuing a significant chunk of his customer base more highly than you as an individual?
LSG November 15, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Lucas, that would definitely help me - I'm not so sure the residents on those streets would like it much.
Rog November 15, 2012 at 10:09 PM
I am a Somerville resident. I either bike or drive on Beacon st. everyday and both are terrifying. This is long overdue and I welcome the proposed improvements. I question how many of those 111 spots are actually used. When I pass through I always see an excess of empty parking spots on Beacon st. especially the section from Washington st. to Porter Sq. I agree with Michael, safety trumps parking in my book!
Sand Man November 15, 2012 at 11:11 PM
LSG, bicycle safety is promoted lamely and sporadically in Somerville; bike enforcement is neither promoted nor practiced (check out Union Square sidewalks)...
Benjamin Mako Hill November 15, 2012 at 11:24 PM
No, I'm going to stop patronizing his business because he is using the successful nature of his business to engage in political activity against what I think are the interests of our community. He's perfectly free to use his position oppose the cycle track. And I'm free not support his business while he's doing so.
Benjamin Mako Hill November 15, 2012 at 11:29 PM
BrianM: You seem very concerned about the safety of cyclists! But have ever used one of these tracks? I have. Without question, I found them safer and more comfortable than the current situation. By far. Overtaking cyclists within cyclepaths is easy and safe. Cars pulling out is both infrequent and not substantially safer then when the emerging car is behind a parked car. Indeed, because they are pulling out over the sidewalk instead of a car, it is much safer and more visible for both motorist and cyclist.
BrianM November 16, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Yes, I'm concerned about bikers' safety. I'm trying to be receptive to what are legitimate concerns like the danger of being doored. But, as you're implying, I do have other concerns as a resident of this neighborhood: * I have concerns that my input as a resident was not solicited by the town and that it is worth less than the input of cycling advocates who simply use the area as a thoroughfare. Apparently two or three other meetings already have been held to discuss this plans, but residents were not notified -- nor were they invited, frankly, of this meeting. If not for the activism of the affected businesses, we never would have known. We were told at the meeting that the city could not afford to send a mailing to affected residents; apparently a $4.5 million project budget does not include enough money to send a leaflet to maybe 250 residents. * I'm concerned that the parking study was horribly flawed. It was conducted on just two days, giving it a small sample size that creates tremendous margin for error. It included as potential parking spaces the metered parking spaces near Museum Street at which residents cannot park without constantly walking outside with quarters. It ignored the fact that street sweeping is conducted on Tuesday mornings, which means cars had to be moved off the street -- artificially lowering the number of cars parked there...
BrianM November 16, 2012 at 05:07 AM
... and I'm concerned about the safety of myself and my fiancee. We both work in non-traditional jobs and often return home (separately) after 10 p.m. (That means we might not have been, incidentally, counted in a 6 a.m.-8 p.m. parking study.) If the parking on Beacon Street is 95 percent full -- or more -- when we get home from work, we're looking at having to walk up to a mile back to our home on a road that is not well-lit and does not feel particularly safe. The issue is not that we don't think we'll find a place to park. There are enough side streets. The issue is that we don't think we'll find a place to park that leaves us within a safe distance of our home at 11 p.m. or later -- and on the same side of the street, to boot. So when someone says "safety trumps parking", I would argue that bikers aren't the only ones who have a right to be safe.
Rog November 16, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Wait, the cycletrack will end at MUSEUM STREET?!?! This is the most dangerous section of road for bikers in the STATE. Adding a protected bike lane for 3/10ths of a mile will do nothing! If you are going to do it, do it right and have the cycletrack run the complete stretch of Beacon street to the Cambridge line. If you can't do that, then don't bother and just pave the road already. This plan is a joke!
Chev November 16, 2012 at 08:28 PM
I am a biker who rides down Beacon street everyday and I would not call this an "incredible project". Do you realize that this protected bike lane will end at Museum street? So, this protected bike lane will only run for a couple of blocks. This is a complete waste of time. Somerville is obviously not serious in improving bicycle infrastructure.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. November 28, 2012 at 12:44 PM
All, 1. Parking study that this plan is premised on: conducted first on May 19th, well after Harvard, Lesley and Tufts concluded finals. Still think the study is valid? 2. Cycle safety: in the 28 months concluding April 2012 there were 36 cycle accidents on Beacon St. Of those over 60% took place at intersections. Of the remaining 20 odd accidents, most took place closer to Inman Square. So how does this cycle track at the opposite end of the street where few cycle accidents occur improve safety? 3. Business will increase if cycle tracks go in: the City of Somerville bolsters this claim with reference to studies of other cities. My personal favorite is the study of 9th Ave. in Manhattan. I doubt it would be possible to find a more disingenuous and inapt comparison than 9th Ave. Manhattan and Beacon Street. This latter point, however, is typical of the level of analysis engaged in by the Planning Dept. of Somerville. The plan is based on faulty premises, skewed analysis with holes in it you can drive a truck through, and a genuine lack of care or concern for the people who will be most severely impacted by it, the residents and businesses of Beacon Street. The City's shame for the its ham-fisted and unenlightened piece of urban planning should be outdone only by its shame for how it continues to cram this plan down the Beacon Street neighborhood's throat. This is not how representative governance is supposed to work. It's a disgrace.
Alex December 11, 2012 at 05:16 AM
Speaking as a resident and a believer in evidence-based discussion, I feel compelled to address Mr. Ruccio's points: 1. The school year may not affect parking demand. Harvard undergrads live on campus and do not own cars. Grad students and staff work year-round. Lesley's undergrads may have an impact if any are Somerville residents who dump their cars on Beacon Street. Tufts is far away. 2. Yes, ideally the entire stretch of Beacon Street will have cycletracks for the greatest safety benefit. Protected cycletracks prevent dooring crashes, one of the most common and severe types. Dooring killed a woman in Central Square several years ago--she was thrown under an MBTA bus. Since many bicycle crashes go unreported, police numbers also lowball reality. 3. The increase in business revenue from bicyclists is well supported for several business types, based on data from Portland, Oregon (less dense than Somerville), Toronto and San Francisco. Increased revenue was measured for convenience stores, bars, and restaurants; whereas driving and walking customers spent more at supermarkets. Over 21,000 people were surveyed in the Portland study: http://tinyurl.com/aqnugtn Locally, 71 parking spaces were removed on Mass Ave in the Back Bay a year ago for bike lanes. Businesses protested and threatened to sue Boston. A year later, bike lanes are in, everyone's still in business, and I've heard at least one owner openly endorse the bike lanes. Can we learn from this?
Sam December 12, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Evidence based discussion? Alex you're making tons of assumptions. There hasn't been an actual parking study released yet that takes into account when the schools were in session to rule out the effect of colleges (the current study LIES about doing this). And as someone who knows quite a few grad students (some of them at Tufts!) who have cars registered, live here, that both work and go to school, you're certainly lacking "evidence" in re: student car dumping. The city even states on the T&P website that there is a parking shortage. I have to street park my car and can tell you it's certainly much easier to find on-street residential parking in the Summer - working stiffs like me often go on these things called "vacation" during this time as year as well. Also as someone used to bike to work everyday on Beacon and still bikes it regularly, I find the proposed design for a raised cycletrack to be not ideal for cycling - there are just too many driveways and intersections that the track will have to dip down to cross. NATCO even recommends NOT having a raised track on streets with tons of driveways and intersections because of this. Flat track or extended bike lanes make much more sense, especially since the highest cycling volume areas in the current proposed design will be just regular bike lanes anyway. And the Mass Ave comparison for businesses is ridiculous - Beacon is much less commercial and has far less pedestrian traffic and public transit options than Mass Ave.
BrianM December 21, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Did as many people in the Back Bay have to drive to work as people living on Beacon Street? Just because you might be able to ride your bike to work doesn't mean the rest of us are able to do. That the parking study was conducted while colleges were not in session was only one of the flaws. It counted metered parking -- which is frequently bagged -- between Museum and Washington Streets as available parking for residents. It didn't address the fact that cars had been moved for street sweeping before their Tuesday morning report and in advance of their Wednesday evening report -- and then it didn't measure overnight parking at all. And even if the parking was just 40 percent occupied, it apparently didn't occur to anyone conducting the study that if parking is eliminated on half the street, parking will be eliminated on the other half, too, one day a week from April-December for street sweeping. That would mean zero parking on Beacon Street one day every week for most of the year. Where are we residents supposed to park? Side streets? We have Cambridge on one side and a railroad track on the other!
BrianM December 21, 2012 at 04:36 AM
That the community has come out so strongly against it is a little instructive as to whether it's actually in the interests of the community. It's in the interests of the passers-by, certainly, but not the community.
AHM December 21, 2012 at 11:28 AM
A couple of notes here. The door problem applies to motorists as well as bikers. When I am doing either I have this habit of watching for heads in cars. Granted you can't always see the shorter people but you just have to drive the right speed and watch out. In taking and old street and trying to convert it I can't help but notice Assembly square wit all the housing being added and this being built new why these things would not be a part of the new layout and construction. That would be the time to do it. Then maybe they will lose the revenue from the housing they are bulding from that space that they would lose. And contrary to the neighborhodd and how much it will hurt it and how much the people do not want this it will most likely be built due to the fact that Somervile does cater to small intrest groups and not so much as to what the residents want. More so in this administration than in all the others. I have been here that long, I know.
MattyCiii February 02, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Being obese and lazy is not a disability. Look it up.
MattyCiii February 02, 2013 at 11:20 PM
Car dependent people should just face reality and move out to the 'burbs. Let people who walk, bike, and take transit live in Somerville. Car owners, stop asking your non-driving neighbors to pay higher property, sales and income taxes so you can use a minor arterial street as your personal free parking space. This is America, not the USSR. Want socialized parking... move to China.
MattyCiii February 02, 2013 at 11:22 PM
@BrianM: So... you like it when us taxpayers provide you free parking, yes?
Nikolai Slavov February 27, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Great comment Rob, As with most changes, there are upsides and downsides. I think that in this case the upsides of safer bike lines exceed by far the downsides.

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