Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mayor Menino Unveils City's First, er... Fourth Bike Lanes

Mayor Thomas Menino held a press conference outside Boston University's College of Communication on Commonwealth Avenue to announce: the near-completion of Boston's first bike lanes; progress on the installation of 250 bicycle racks around the city; and that the city is now calling for a bike sharing program like the one in Paris, France.

"I'm proud to announce the first bike lane in Boston," said Mayor Menino. It is part of a "program to make Boston a world-class bicycling city," he continued.

Grumbling from city bike advocates said that the Comm Ave stripes are actually the city's third or fourth set of bike lanes, not their first. I'm not sure why they were grumbling, since the others, I believe, were also created during Menino's tenure as Mayor.

Grumbling from UniversalHub and the Boston Phoenix is that Councilor-At-Large John Connolly is being snubbed ("wifi-ed") on the bike sharing idea -- another example, according to David Bernstein, of Mayor Menino adopting other people's ideas as his own. Hats off to Bernstein who predicted on July 15th that Mayor Menino would do just that with the bike sharing concept.

New Bicycle Lanes

The new bike lanes are being rolled out ten months after Mayor Menino announced his new initiative to improve bicycling infrastructure in Boston. The Mayor had announced plans for these lanes in his State-of-the-City speech in February 2008. The lanes have been designed and laid out as part of the Comm Ave rebuild project, while painting of the lanes is incomplete but in progress.

At least a couple of bicyclists at the press conference took interest in the Mayor's wheels: he arrived on four, not two, in his black Chevy Tahoe hybrid suburban assault vehicle.

At right is a all-to-common image for those of us who use Cambridge's bike lanes: a car parked in them. (Look behind all the yellow bicycle police.) Only this time it's the Mayor's vehicle in the bike lane.

The other bike lanes in Boston are apparently (I haven't visited all of them):
  1. Ruggles Street near Northeastern University (see comments);
  2. Dorchester, near the South Bay Shopping Center (only around a half-block long!); and
  3. Perkins Street in Jamaica Plain [see Google Street View image at right].
According to one bike advocate, the Perkins Street lanes were installed on a state-owned street with city input into the design.

The latest lanes, however, are a significant and substantial addition to Commonwealth Avenue, a major thoroughfare, where it passes alongside Boston University.

Much credit was bestowed on the Livable Streets Alliance (nee Boston Bicycle Coalition) for their advocacy of this particular project. Phil Goff, a member of the Board of Directors, noted that this project came with a price. "The City of Boston did something unheard of: remove a lane of traffic" to make way for a bike lane. He looks forward to "one day seeing people of all kinds riding on the bike lanes" from Chestnut Hill to downtown.

More Lanes Coming Soon

Vineet Gupta, Director of Planning at the Boston Transportation Department, said that the city is currently working on several additional bike lane projects. Lanes on the American Legion Highway in Roslindale are likely to be rolled out next, and design work is underway for lanes on Boylston Street in the Fenway and Columbus Road in the South End. It sounds to me like a couple of miles per year might be the rate of bike lane rollout.

A reader comment at the "Boston Biker" blog said that a Northeastern University civil engineering student design has been created to extend bike lanes to continue from the public garden all the way to Allston. If those lanes would be installed, they would represent a major accomplishment.

Gupta further acknowledged that, in the past few years, there has been a "sea change in the way we think about roadway design" regarding bicycles, accompanied by a "cultural" shift in the way the public views the importance of such lanes. Mayor Menino told the assembled crowd that when he goes around the city, he hears about cycling issues more than most any other issue.

Bicycle Rack Installation In Progress

Mayor Menino also announced that the city was in the process of installing 250 new bicycle racks across the city. According the his office's press release: notes that the location of the racks were chosen "per resident recommendations" and by working with "several City departments and local business owners."

In Allston-Brighton there appears to be one that will be installed near the D-14 police station, two in Union Square in Allston, one in Allston Village, one near Boston University, one near the Weeks Memorial Footbridge, and two near the Brighton Mills shopping area. (I couldn't determine exact locations due to the limited resolution of the map.)

Overheard, Or Not

Last summer, the Mayor himself took up the sport of bicycling. He challenged today's crowd to see who was the first one to ride their bike this morning. Answer: he was, at 5:00 am, while everyone else was still trying to "get sand out of their ears."

Nicole Freedman, Director of Bicycle Programs for the City of Boston, took the oneupsmanship one step further, challenging the Boston Police Department bicycle cops assembled behind her to a bike race. Their stone faces told everyone they weren't about to accept the former Olympian's challenge.

No word on whether or not Brighton will get a bicycle lift installed on Parsons Street.

Media Circus On the Way to the Bike Lanes Press Conference...

On my way to Mayor Thomas Menino's press conference about the new Commonwealth Avenue bike lanes, I passed by Boston Police's Brighton station D-14... and saw lots of TV trucks stationed outside along with media types milling about.


There were lots of police vehicles around -- including many motorcycles -- and the parking lot alongside the station was partially blocked off. I could hear at least one helicopter overhead.

Since it was less than half an hour before the bike lane event, I assumed that Mayor Menino was visiting station D-14 first, particularly since today is the official day of the National Night Out celebration. I thought: No biggie. Don't stop to take a photo of the circus. Just pedal on.

I was wrong on pretty much all counts.

The D-14 media swarm was surrounding Clark Rockefeller (aka "???") who kidnapped his daughter a week-and-a-half ago and was caught Saturday in Baltimore, Maryland. After landing at Logan Airport, he was brought to D-14 station. The Boston Globe has the details:
After landing at Logan at 9:45 a.m., [Clark] Rockefeller was taken to the Boston Police station in Brighton. Television news helicopters hovered overhead as he arrived in a motorcade that included two cruisers and a motorcycle escort. Rockefeller sat in the back seat with a scruffy beard and stared straight ahead as motorcycle police pushed photographers away from the car.

Rockefeller's defense attorney, Stephen Hrones, met with his client for 30 minutes today and described him as calm and collected to reporters waiting for his arraignment later this afternoon in Boston Municipal Court. When asked about the kidnapping charge, the attorney said that his client had every right to be with his daughter.

Rockefeller was brought to Brighton for booking and processing because the D-4 station normally having jurisdiction over the location of the kidnapping -- Marlborough Street in the Back Bay -- is undergoing renovations, according to Jake Wark, Director of Public Affairs at the Suffolk County District Attorney's office. Brighton's D-14 station completed its own renovations earlier this year, and hence was ready for fingerprinting and all that. After his entourage visited beautiful Brighton, Rockefeller returned downtown to the Boston Municipal Court for his afternoon arraignment.

I have been mostly avoiding the Rockefeller kidnapping story in the past week-and-a-half, thinking of it as yet another story over-hyped by the media. It's easy to imagine why, since the seven-year-old daughter is so photogenic. Little did I know that the story would bring the media circus and helicopter spectacle out to Brighton Center.