Proposed Cycle Track to Bring Bike Lanes up to Sidewalk Level

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 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 a Federal Highway Administration 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. Instead, standard bike lanes were installed by removing one lane of traffic along Atlantic Avenue and Commercial Street.

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.

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.

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.

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.