Local Leaders Question Bicycle Lanes
Charlestown Neighborhood Council wants to know why city officials didn't seek local input before installing paths for cyclists.
Those white lines that have appeared along Main Street are not a harbinger for a future construction project. They're markers for the city's first installation of bicycle lanes in Charlestown. And members of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council would like to know how they got there.
Three years ago Mayor Thomas C. Menino promised to install 20 miles of bicycle lanes around the city by 2010. The lanes in Charlestown mark the tail-end of that initiative. But when they arrived in the neighborhood's main business district in October, it was a surprise to local leaders.
At their monthly meeting on Thursday, members of the Neighborhood Council expressed disappointment that the city didn't consult with them— or even give any notice — before installing the lanes.
"I don't think anybody here hates bikes," said Thomas Cunha, who heads the council. "But anytime we don't get dialogue in the community about an issue, we're frustrated."
The bike lanes on Main Street will get a final coat of paint before they're completed, but the Neighborhood Council agreed to send the mayor's office a letter, insisting that the work gets put on hold until residents from Charlestown have a chance to weigh in.
Bike lanes have already been added to more than 15 miles of roads throughout the city. Streets were prioritized by demand for lanes (by cyclists), connections to existing trails, geography and feasibility, according to Nicole Freedman, director of bicycle programs for the city. Freedman appeared before the council on Thursday and got an earful about the lack of neighborhood involvement.
"We have beat up on folks in the city continuously about doing exactly this kind of thing," council member David Whelan said. "[The city] doesn't want people to give you input."
Freedman explained that the lanes were designed years ago, as part of the mayor's larger plan to make Boston a safer, more bicycle-friendly city. She said the city has already seen a 60 percent increase in ridership over the last two years as a result of this kind of work.
Charlestown's bike lanes will stretch the length of Main Street – in both directions – from Austin Street to the intersection with Bunker Hill Street. Freedman said lanes are a boon not just for cyclists, but for overall traffic safety too. "Cars go slower when you narrow the road," she told the council.
Members of the council questioned whether Main Street is the best spot in the neighborhood for bike lanes, as it's already limited on parking. Cunha suggested that Medford Street might be a more practical place for them. Diane Grant, who represents the Charlestown Business Association on the Neighborhood Council, added, "I don't hear from any businesses that they want bike paths, however they do want more parking."
The cost of creating bike lanes is covered entirely by the city. The Boston Transportation Department has a budget line item to install them. Freedman said the national average cost to plan and paint bike lanes is about $25,000-$50,000, depending on the complexity of the lane.