Longwood cyclists urged to prioritize safety: New bike lanes in use, safety campaign launched

By Deborah Brancic

Things are looking up for cyclists in the Longwood Medical Area (LMA): the city just introduced new bike paths on Brookline Ave. and the nonprofit Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization (MASCO) has several incentive programs for them. In conjunction with previous efforts, such as the Hubway bike share program launched in July 2011, these new offerings are meant to make cycling in the LMA safe, secure, and trouble-free.

New bike lanes added on Brookline Ave in Longwood. Photo: Deborah Brancic

New bike lanes added on Brookline Ave in Longwood.
Photo: Deborah Brancic

New bike lanes are now in use on Brookline Ave., a project which was jointly funded by MASCO and Boston Bikes, the city’s bicycle promotional program. The Brookline bike lane project included the addition of two new bike lanes, a shared lane, a 2-foot buffer to protect the cyclists, and a bike box on Brookline Ave at Longwood, which better enables cyclists to take a left turn after a red light.

On average, a bike lane costs between $25K–$50K for design and installation, according to Nicole Freedman, Director of Boston Bikes. She said the lanes would do much to increase safety in the LMA. “Bike lanes are known to enhance safety by carving out a separated area for the cyclists. This area sees a high volume of cyclists and will be impactful,” she said.

One cyclist said he liked the color of the bike box, which made it stick out. “I think drivers are more aware of the bike lane if it is colored green,” said Sky Brubaker, a graduate student working on his PhD in molecular biology at Children’s Hospital.

Brubaker said biking was his main method of travel to and from work. “Biking is more convenient in the city just because you don’t have to look for parking and, to be honest, I can commute faster on a bike than I can in a car.” Many workers in the LMA share this same philosophy.

“We know that 12% of our employee population, of about 46,000 folks, either walk or bicycle to work already,” said Sarah Hamilton, Vice President of Area Planning and Development for MASCO. “We have a big percentage of cycling versus other communities or neighborhoods in Boston, so we know we have a lot of cyclists out there now.”

Due to the high number of cyclers in the LMA, many of whom belong to one of MASCO’s 24 member and associate member institutions, as well as visitors commuting to the area, Hamilton said her group saw a need to introduce Karma Commuting, MASCO’s new safety campaign.

At the core of the campaign is the intention of creating a “culture of mutual respect for every mode of travel,” said Hamilton. Karma Commuting was meant to educate and inspire members of the LMA community to act more responsibly in traffic.

“We’ve made available posters that [member institutions] can co-brand and put their names on, and then we’re asking people to put those posters up wherever they can,” said Hamilton. “We’ve also put bus posters on the many shuttle-buses that we run through the area, because we feel like we’ve got a captive audience… so they can look at a Karma Commuting poster and they can bring it up on their smartphone, read all about it and take the quiz, take the pledge at the same time.” If a commuter takes the pledge, they are entered into a raffle to win two plane tickets to any U.S. destination or a $100 AmEx gift card.

MASCO also promotes safety and better practices by providing several incentives for its employees. CommuteWorks, a division of MASCO, runs several programs: CommuteFit offers employees who walk or cycle to work a chance at a gift card; CommuteSwap pays for an employee’s transit costs if they give up their parking space; and Emergency Ride Home gives employees a free taxi ride home in the case of a personal emergency, if they are a commuter who either carpools, bikes, or walks to work.

Cyclists in the area had their own opinions on how to create a safer commute. A fairly recent immigrant to Boston from the Netherlands said there were several things citizens from her home country did that commuters in the LMA should consider doing themselves. “[In the Netherlands,] people are just more used to bikes, so people leave a bit of space on the right side of their cars,” said Anna Alders. Further, because they were more aware of riders, “They don’t open the doors without watching who’s there, because they know it’s a lot safer,” she said.

Alders, a graduate student working on her PhD in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said she habitually crossed streets with the pedestrian signal in heavier traffic. “It gets quite busy [at Brookline and Longwood] so I didn’t feel very comfortable with all the cars whooshing by,” she said. “Sometimes I think it’s safer when the pedestrians go.”

One option for commuters who wish to bike but do not want to commit to buying a bicycle is Hubway, the city’s bike share program, now in its second year. “When the city started the Hubway program… they went looking for sponsors and honestly, our institutions just jumped at the opportunity,” said Hamilton. “We have the highest concentration of Hubway stations in any place in the city of Boston.” The bike share program now includes over 100 stations and more than 1,000 bicycles, spread throughout Boston, Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville.

“The LMA area was critical in launching the [Hubway] system,” said Freedman. “The hospitals embraced the system early on, becoming the first sponsors. They paved the way to helping get more sponsors which allowed us to fundraise the needed amounts to launch.”

Now that LMA commuters have greater access to bikes, they may need help figuring out which routes to take. Brubaker said he mostly finds his paths through trial and error, but now and then he uses a well-known online resource guide. “[I use] Google Maps sometimes, cause they have a bike app. You can click walk, or public transportation, drive, and they just started one that’s for biking,” he said.

Alders said she also uses Google Maps, which is helpful since she has only been in Boston for about six months. “Sometimes they show which are the best ways to choose if you are biking,” she said.

There are other online resources that can be helpful to cyclists in the LMA, and also the greater Boston area. Bikely.com is a “free and easy to use bicycle route sharing and mapping website created by cyclists for cyclists,” as stated on the Web site, and it currently offers thousands of public bicycle routes across the globe. MassBike.org educates cyclists about the rules of the road, including where bicycles can be ridden, when to use turn signs and signals, when to yield pedestrians the right of way, how many reflectors are required, whether and how to carry a passenger, and other essentials of which a cyclist needs to be aware. The site also posts notices about bicycle news, such as the 2013 National Bike Challenge, which runs from May 1 to September 30, and links to purchase tickets to events like Bike Night, which was held on June 7 at the Boston Westin Waterfront.

All of these programs, incentives, and resources serve to further Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s mission to promote cycling as a safe means of transportation in Boston. Bicycle ridership in the city has increased about 82% from 2007–2012, said Freedman. These numbers make it even more important for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to be aware of one another.

Hamilton said MASCO plans to hold a series of events through the summer and fall to raise awareness of bicycling and commuter safety. “We haven’t quite figured out necessarily what and where, but we’re likely to have a transportation day event to which we invite the Longwood community and then we’ll do something flashy,” she said.

By Watching the Watchers Posted in News

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