An estimated 150 activists formed a “human bike lane” that spanned the entire stretch of Charles Street between Charles Circle and Beacon Street during morning rush hour on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
They occupied one of three travel lanes on the street and transformed it into a separated bike lane between 8:30 and around 9:15 a.m. The Boston Cyclists Union, which organized the demonstration, has proposed expanding the city’s bike-lane network via the elimination of one of Charles Street’s three traffic lanes to create two adjacent 4-foot wide, parking-protected, one-way bike lanes between Cambridge and Beacon streets.
“Even though we were there during rush hour and a time when businesses were getting deliveries, cars were not backed up in traffic, and we were happy to get a lot of supportive honks from drivers passing by,” wrote Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union. “The bike lane was used by people running, scooting and biking, and is a way to give more people access to the businesses, homes and destinations on and near Charles Street.”
Mount Vernon Street resident Joan Doucette was among those who turned out to the event in support of bike lanes on Charles Street, as well as on Cambridge Street.
“I’ve lived on Beacon Hill for 50 years and even though I’m 83, I still get around by bike,” said Doucette. “A lot of drivers go down Charles Street so fast, and we get all these trucks rumbling down as well. If people have double-parked, you have to switch lanes while biking, and that feels really dangerous. I once did get hit by a car in Charles Circle, and at this point, I feel like I’m either going to die biking here or die before the city gets around to putting in a bike lane. They used to say we were a world-class city. We’re not. We don’t have bike lanes. We need them on Charles Street, and we need them on Cambridge Street.”
Likewise, Ania Camargo of Temple Street said, “It was important to come out here today in support of protected bike lanes, and to see bikers and runners benefitting from the safe space. Charles Street is an important piece of the puzzle, as is Cambridge Street, which is in desperate need of protected bike lanes because it is so dangerous. I hope the city takes action before a tragedy takes place.”
(Of the 150 participants in the “human bike lane” on Charles Street, Wolfson said she recognized a couple of dozen as being Beacon Hill residents, including Doucette and Camargo.)
Michelle Adams, a nurse at Mass General Hospital for the past 15 years who commutes to work via bicycle or the T, was also on hand to advocate for bike lanes on Charles Street.
“I love biking because I connect with nature, I feel a sense of freedom and power, but there’s that nagging feeling that any day could be my last ride. I just want to make it back home at night to my family every day,” said Adams.
Current Malden and former Boston resident Zac deBethizy said, “It’s really important to have safety for the young and the old to get where they need to go, frequenting businesses and getting to and from work. There’s a lot of space devoted to one mode of transportation, and we should take a more-equitable, multi-modal approach. Safety is paramount.”
But despite the outpouring of support for bike lanes on Charles Street, some stakeholders are less than receptive to the proposal.
Rep. Jay Livingstone wrote, “I think this demonstration reflects the conflicts of Charles Street and how difficult it is to fit bike infrastructure particularly a two-way protected lane. It appears to confirm that it cannot be done with eliminating outdoor seating for restaurants on Charles Street. If it’s a lane that goes around the outdoor seating as the bike community demonstrated this morning, it would need to unprotected. That would mean that we would need a creative solution to ensure that delivery trucks don’t park in spaces intended for bikes because current drop off zones tend to be occupied by construction trucks throughout the day. Charles Street is tougher than it first appears, and the demonstration this morning only confirmed that again.”
The Beacon Hill Business Association board wrote in a statement: “The BHBA does not oppose improvements to Charles Street but a protected bike lane poses a threat to small, local, independent businesses. This is why the BHBA unanimously opposes a protected bike lane on Charles Street. We believe that there are alternative solutions that take the safety of all Charles Street visitors and passersby into account. We look forward to continuing our discussions with the City to put a thoughtful plan in place.”
City Councilor Kenzie Bok believes the solution to this problem is a redesigned Charles Street, which takes into account the needs of all of the street’s stakeholders, including bicyclists.
“Charles Street is a heavily pedestrian thoroughfare where both sides of independent shops load from the front of the street, with a number of flourishing outdoor restaurant patios,” wrote Councilor Bok. “What we need for street redesign is a collaborative approach that works for all our stakeholders — including our bicyclists. I’m committed to working out that solution in partnership, and grateful for the advocacy of all my constituents on this issue.”