Other bike transit improvements dot the horizon
FOREST HILLS STATION AREA—Jamaica Plain’s Orange Line subway terminus received the distinction Sept. 29 of becoming the first MBTA station in Boston to boast a commuter bike cage.
“Now all we need is a safe way to get from our houses,” JP resident Sarah Freeman told the Gazette at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the cage, noting that Forest Hills station is surrounded by notoriously congested and nerve-wracking roadways.
At least three different initiatives, two by the city and one by the state, have considered different pieces of the complex Forest Hills area bike infrastructure puzzle.
And one piece was apparently being addressed as the Gazette reported this story. Nicole Freeman (no relation), director of the city’s Boston Bikes program, told the Gazette the city plans to paint bike lanes on Washington Street between Forest Hills station and South Street outside of Roslindale Village this fall. At a Sept. 30 community meeting addressing a potential redesign of Centre and South streets in JP, Boston Transportation Department head planner Vineet Gupta said work had started on those lanes that week.
That was just about simultaneous with the finishing touches being put on new bike lanes on Circuit Drive in Franklin Park. [See related article.]
The cage—located at the southwest corner of the station near the cabstand on Washington Street—has room to lock 100 bicycles. The bike parking facility is enclosed in a chain-link fence and canopy roof. It is accessible via a secured gate that can be opened with a “Bike Charlie Card”—a new version of the MBTA’s stored-value electronic fare payment card. The cage will also be lit at night and is equipped with security cameras.
The new cards are available at the customer service desk at Forest Hills station. Sarah Freeman told the Gazette she was the first to receive the new card.
Speaking at the ribbon-cutting, David Watson, director of the non-profit bike advocacy group Massbike, praised state transportation secretary James Aloisi and acting MBTA General Manager William Mitchell—both of whom attended the ceremony—for recognizing bicycle accommodations as an “integral part of the transit system.”
“The T gets bikes,” he said, noting that the transit authority’s first bike cage—installed at the Red Line Alewife T Station in Cambridge—is regularly filled to capacity with 500 bikes. “It’s filled up every day. I am sure we are going to see [that] here,” he said.
In 2007, Forest Hills Station stood out as the only station in the transit system where reported larcenies increased, rising from 12 in 2006 to 33 in 2007. At the time, MBTA police Lieutenant Commander Michael Shea told the Gazette the increase was due in part to bicycle thefts. That year, there were 8 bicycle thefts, MBTA spokesperson Lydia Rivera told the Gazette. There were three in 2008 and there have been three so far in 2009.
At the ribbon-cutting, Roslindale resident Laura Smeaton told the Gazette she expects she will feel safer biking to and from Forest Hills in the evenings because of the well-lit cage.
“It will extend my riding season,” she said.
The future for other infrastructure improvements is less certain. Sarah Freeman, who lives on the Arborway—a fast-paced parkway that feeds into the Forest Hills area—was active last year in a community planning process led by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to improve that road for pedestrians and bicyclists. The proposed improvements—which can only be enacted if future funding emerges—would include a 12-foot-wide path for pedestrians and bicyclists between the T station area and Murray Circle.
Another city-sponsored community planning process, the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative (FHII), includes other unspecified plans to improve bike transit infrastructure in the area around the station. But specific plans are dependent on future development in the area, and MBTA plans to sell off about 8 acres of land it owns around the station have largely stalled.
One idea being batted around during that process, which ran from 2006 to 2008, was to turn the roadways around the station into a one-way loop.
Local developers WCI Corp. are planning a small-scale development on some of the MBTA-owned land straddling Washington Street on the Roslindale side of the station. Recommendations from the FHII process include leaving land between the T station and Ukraine Way undeveloped and transferring it to DCR control to extend the Southwest Corridor bike path, the developers have said they will follow that recommendation.
The station is already served by the Southwest Corridor bike path, which runs through JP and ends across New Washington Street from the station.
Meanwhile, according to press materials, the MBTA plans to invest $4.8 million in bike accommodations throughout the transit system in the coming year. Federal funding for that effort is coming from the American Relief and Recovery Act.
“For too long we have underinvested in transit and bicycle facilities. In order to encourage customers to take advantage of a wide range of transportation options, we must first provide them with the appropriate facilities and services,” Aloisi said in a press statement. He plans to step down as state transportation secretary Nov. 1.
The MBTA also used the occasion of the ribbon cutting to announce that October is the second annual Bicycle Theft Awareness month. More information about that is available at www.mbta.com.
Aloisi, Mitchell, Watson, Nicole Freeman and Steve Miller of the Livable Streets Alliance participated in the ribbon-cutting.