Boston’s Transit, Bicycle Riders Likely to Get More Space On Back Bay : CEG

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Rendering courtesy of the City of Boston

Boston transportation planners hosted a meeting May 2 to discuss their plans to add more bike lanes and bus lanes to various streets in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood, which is currently a significant bottleneck for frequent-service bus routes and a major gap in the Massachusetts capital’s growing network of protected bike lanes.

The city will reconfigure three Back Bay streets this year — Boylston, Berkeley and Clarendon — to add new bus and bike lanes, StreetsblogMASS reported May 6.

At the same time, officials are finalizing proposed designs aimed at calming traffic and improving connectivity in the bike network on Beacon, Dartmouth and Stuart streets.

Collectively, these projects will fill major gaps in Boston’s bicycle network by connecting protected bikeways that already exist in the downtown to popular routes like Tremont Street in the South End, the Massachusetts Avenue bridge and the Charles River Esplanade.

Boylston Street

The first project the city will tackle during the 2024 construction season is a redesign of Boylston Street that will add an expanded and separated bike lane along the northern curb of Boylston from Massachusetts Avenue to Arlington Street.

Currently, Boylston generally features three lanes for moving vehicles, with on-street parking along both curbs. However, double-parked vehicles frequently block one or more of those lanes, and, at times, there is only one lane available for moving traffic.

But under the city’s proposed design, Boylston Street would have two lanes for general traffic, a dedicated eastbound bike lane along the northern curb and on-street parking in between.

The project also will make permanent a dedicated bus lane along the southern curb of the street — something that Boston engineers initially tested during the Orange Line shutdown of 2022.

This segment of Boylston gets heavy bus traffic from two frequent-service Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA): bus routes 9 and 39.

Near Copley Square, where double-parked food delivery drivers frequently block two or more lanes, Boston is adding more curbside parking regulations, and also will install a dedicated parking area for scooters in front of the Chick-Fil-A.

The city aims to start work on these changes at some point in May.

Berkeley Street

Next up on the city’s agenda will be a repaving project on Berkeley Street, which would be followed by the installation of a new curbside parking-protected bike lane along the eastern curb from Columbus Avenue to the Commonwealth Avenue mall.

StreetsblogMASS noted that much like Boylston Street, the current Berkeley Street features three lanes for motor vehicles and two lanes of curbside parking. The city’s contemporary design will replace one moving motor vehicle lane with a new curbside bike lane, separated from traffic by a row of on-street parking.

This effort would extend a protected bike lane that Boston installed last fall between Tremont Street and Columbus. The city had initially planned to lengthen the lane all the way to Beacon Street to provide a connection to the Esplanade, via the Fielder Footbridge.

However, Boston Transportation Planner Nathaniel Fink said that municipal officials decided to change the plan in response to neighborhood feedback that was “centered around concern for safety at the intersection of Berkeley and Beacon in particular.”

“This is an intersection where two heavy streams of traffic are coming in, both from Berkeley Street and from Beacon Street, and trying to turn onto Storrow Drive,” he explained. “And because of those heavy traffic flows, we sometimes get long queues [as well as] frustrated drivers who are behaving in ways that we do not want them to behave.”

Instead of directing more bike traffic into the Storrow Drive bottleneck, the city, instead, is planning additional bikeway projects — on Dartmouth, Beacon and Arlington streets — as alternative routes.

The Berkeley Street project will be implemented this summer, after the Boylston work is complete.

Clarendon Street

The last Back Bay street project slated for work mid-year is a relatively short bus lane for Clarendon Street to mitigate a chronic bottleneck for thousands of bus riders at the end of the MBTA’s 39 bus route. The new lane would extend from the Boylston Street bus lane south to the Back Bay bus station, one of the busiest stops on the route.

Beacon Street Repaving

Finally, the city also plans to repave numerous other Back Bay streets in 2024.

One of the roadways slated to get a fresh coat of asphalt is Beacon Street, which is home to one of the neighborhood’s oldest parking-protected bike lanes.

As such, the existing bike lane is riddled with potholes and bumps, meaning that Boston’s paving project should make it a considerably smoother ride.

Beacon Street Bikeway Gap in Design Phase

StreetsblogMASS noted that city engineers are continuing to refine their designs for the block-long bikeway gap on Beacon Street between Arlington and Berkeley streets.

Under Boston’s current plans, which could be implemented before the end of the year, the city would install a curbside parking-protected bike lane on the south side of Beacon Street from Arlington to Berkeley. Then, bikes continuing west would use the traffic signal to cross to the existing protected bike lane on the north side of Beacon, away from the Storrow Drive on-ramp traffic.

The revised design also would reduce the number of lanes on this block of Beacon from three to two — a move that officials hope will help curb aggressive driving.

“There is a center lane that is supposed to be a through lane, but folks use it to cut off and get ahead of the right-turning traffic that is waiting in the right-turn lane,” explained Fink. “With a [two-lane configuration], we think that this is going to make it harder for drivers to turn when they’re not supposed to.”

Additionally, in an effort to reconfigure five intersections around the periphery of the Public Garden, the intersection of Arlington and Beacon also will be changed to add a new crosswalk across Beacon, and the existing Arlington Street bike lane would be repainted as a two-way bikeway to accommodate northbound bike traffic to the Fielder Footbridge.

Planners Call for Dartmouth Street Bikeway

In lieu of the proposed connection to the Esplanade on Berkeley Street, the city is now proposing an additional two-way protected bikeway on Dartmouth Street between the new Boylston Street bike lane at Copley Square and the Dartmouth Street footbridge to the Esplanade over Storrow Drive.

This section of the street already has an unprotected paint-only bike lane, but Boston officials want to replace a lane of metered on-street parking to create a two-way bikeway along the eastern curb of the avenue. The project would not affect the two existing motor vehicle lanes on this segment of Dartmouth.

According to the city’s presentation, this bikeway would be implemented with quick-build materials near the end of 2024 or in early 2025.

Crosswalk Upgrades Coming to Stuart and Dartmouth

Finally, the city also is working on a modest “quick build” effort to improve safety at the intersection of Stuart and Dartmouth streets next to the Back Bay Station.

This intersection mixes heavy foot traffic heading to and from the station with fast-moving vehicles from the Massachusetts Turnpike, and is a hot spot for accidents, according to Boston’s Vision Zero crash database.

“There are uncomfortable pedestrian crossings and high turning speeds for vehicles,” said Fink. “They are made possible by very wide turning lanes that were built in the 1950s and 1960s to accommodate fast-moving traffic and are not reflective of the dense urban environment that we have today.”

Boston also is planning to re-stripe the turning lanes from Stuart Street so that cars have a narrower lane, and pedestrians will be less exposed in the crosswalks between the intersection’s islands.

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