Decisions about bikes should be a rational process

March 5, 2010
By

Regarding consideration of bike lanes on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain: I ride a bike a lot. I think the bike lanes on Harvard Street in Brookline and at Jamaica Pond are great. I am getting the drift (from the Feb. 5 Gazette article and the three subsequent letters in the Feb. 19 I ssue) that there’s a controversy about bike lanes, and some cyclists feel they need to support bike lanes as part of the City’s Jamaica Plain Centre/South Street Corridor Transportation and Streetscape Action Plan.

Decisions about how the street should be allocated to a variety of users should not be a popularity contest with proponents with the most signatures the winners. This is a planning study. Here are suggestions for a rational process to evaluate and determine how best to accommodate bikes:

First, what is the problem we’re trying to solve for bikes? Are bikes squeezed between parking and moving vehicles? Is it a visibility problem for bikes? An education problem? I have not heard the City or the Action Plan team say what the problem is.

Second, when the problem is agreed to, develop alternatives. The planning study team has presented few alternatives—shared lanes, bike lanes with and without parking and intermittent street widening. The Action Plan should develop more alternatives, such as a variety of shared-lane markings and signage that address the identified problem.

Three, just because there may be the minimum number of feet or inches “required” or desirable to squeeze in a bike lane, other factors are critical in the decision. Most published guidance on the development of bike facilities advises examining adjacent land use, congestion, amount of parking turnover and other conditions to help decide the treatment. The Centre Street corridor should be broken into three or four “analysis zones” that look at the specific context. The width of the corridor, the parking turnover and land uses differ greatly.

I have heard it stated that the City’s policy is to build bike lanes wherever possible. That’s not a policy; it’s more like an edict. Policies usually follow assessment of problems and different possible courses of action. I assume that if a bicycle master plan is prepared, the problems for all cyclists, goals, alternative bike treatments, etc. will be defined. Then we can have some clear and transparent policies that make sense for bikes. But until then, each neighborhood should spend the time deciding what it’s trying to “fix” before picking the solution.

Anne McKinnon
Jamaica Plain

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