Alternative Mobility Choices

Beacon Hill gives residents a head start when it comes to adopting greener lifestyles. It’s a neighborhood whose convenient location and MBTA accessibility spawns walkers and transit users alike; its limited parking spaces often make Zipcars and taxis seem preferable to vehicle ownership.

And yet there is much more residents can do to reduce the carbon dioxide now being emitted into the atmosphere, like switching to more fuel efficient vehicles and bicycling when possible – which is why the community encouraged even greener living in its Plan for the Neighborhood, published by the Beacon Hill Civic Association in 2011.

Boston’s Climate Action Plan gives communities like Beacon Hill a framework for building greener, healthier and more sustainable neighborhoods.  The BHCA Green Committee, chaired by West Cedar Street resident Eve Waterfall and Lime Street resident Diana Coldren, also supports and encourages sustainable living, with transportation as one of its primary focuses.

The city’s Complete Streets approach puts pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users on equal footing with motor vehicle drivers, as does Waterfall whose family members alternate between the three methods of transportation to get where they need to go.

The New Balance Hubway Bike Share System impact on Beacon Hill is “awesome,” said Boston Bikes director Nicole Freedman. Its stations at Charles Circle, the Charles and Beacon intersection, the Arthur Fiedler footbridge and Whole Foods are among the busiest of Boston’s 72 stations.

In September alone, 6163 trips taken by visitors and residents originated or ended at the Charles Circle station, making it the third most popular station in Boston. The Fiedler Bridge station ranked ninth with 4113 trips and the Whole Foods station had 3783 trips. Those trips translated to substantially fewer cars driving through or parking in the neighborhood.

It also could mean a lot more residents are now using bikes for their errands, recreation and commute to work. Currently, 335 residents in the 02114 and 135 residents in the 02108 zip codes belong to the Hubway.

Aware of the ongoing tension between bikers, drivers and pedestrians, Boston Bikes pedals slowly through the public process before making bike-related changes to the city’s infrastructure. Often prompted by the irritation caused by bicyclists riding against traffic, Beacon Hill residents and shopkeepers have tossed around favorable and unfavorable feelings towards the installation of a bike lane on Charles Street for several years.

“Top on my list of issues with bikes on Beacon Hill is figuring out a way for northbound traffic on Charles Street,” said Chestnut Street Gordon Burnes, an avid bike rider himself. “There’s hardly a time when I am biking southbound that I don’t see another biker heading upstream against the traffic. It’s quite dangerous.”

Freedman acknowledged the need to give bicyclists heading toward Mass General Hospital and the Longfellow Bridge a route that does not threaten the safety of pedestrians crossing Charles Street but said there are no discussions planned in the near future. Installing a two-way cycle track around the Public Garden to allow bicyclists easier transitions to existing cycle lanes across the city is a higher priority at this time, she said.

The importance of a transparent public process came to light at a packed public meeting held last fall to discuss the proposed track. Drivers complained about possible increases in travel and queue times resulting from the loss of one lane of traffic on all streets bordering the Public Garden as well as the loss of 33 parking spaces. Pedestrians were concerned about encouraging more cyclists, the need to look two ways before crossing and the aesthetics of a cycle track around the public garden.

“Can they work with pedestrians safely entering and leaving the park, can they be designed to be visually compatible with the Garden?” questioned Friends of the Public Garden Executive Director. “Those are some of the important issues that need to be addressed.”

Since the meeting, Boston Bikes is studying ways to lessen the impacts of a cycle track, said Freedman.

“Right now there’s a wild west mentality out there, a survival of the fittest,” said Waterfall. “Walkers, bikers and drivers need to work together to stress the benefits of each mode of transportation and then to build an infrastructure safe enough so people will consider which mode of transportation to use each time they head out the door,” urged Waterfall.

Freedman is now asking bicyclists how to make Boston a safer and more bike-friendly city. Included in her online survey are questions about the problems they encounter, such as cars or pedestrians cutting them off, and about bad behaviors they see in themselves and other cyclists, such as riding against traffic and running a red light.

South Russell Street resident Dave Uhrenholdt, who believes bikes are a good alternative for those residents not owning cars, identified a problem that vexes residents. “Some bikers, like me, have space to store the bikes.  Many others, especially the younger and less politically connected, don’t, and instead use whatever is available outside.  As you know the result of parking outside isn’t always pretty.”

Waterfall suggested using covered corals where riders could rent a space for their bikes in places such as under the Longfellow Bridge and the T, and in the Mass Eye and Ear parking lot and the Boston Common Garage. “They would have to be safe enough for both the bikers and the bikes,” she said.

Burnes said the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) who manages the Common Garage has talked about providing spaces for bikes, but is concerned that the Garage is not convenient enough and are unclear as to how bikers would use the spots.

The city of Boston’s strategy for reducing 25 percent of carbon emissions by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050 includes the widespread adoption of electric vehicles and other clean energy options like walking, public transit and bicycling. Increased use of electric vehicles, which have zero tailpipe emissions, is reported to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector by nearly 40 percent.

Burnes worked closely with the Environmental League of Massachusetts to help convince the MCCA to install charging stations for electric vehicles in the Common Garage. In September, the Garage partnered with Zipcar to introduce four new 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrids to Zipcar’s Boston fleet, as well as plug-in stations and priority parking for hybrid vehicles in a new ‘green zone’ on the middle level. Charging stations are also located at 66 Saniford Street, 6 Bowden Square and 3 City Hall Plaza.

Next, the Beacon Hill Times will delve into what the community has done and what it still needs to do to support the Plan’s vision that nearby urban development enhances downtown living.

Send your thoughts, comments and accomplishments you know about to [email protected]. They’ll be compiled with others’ thoughts in the next article.

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