Biking is a great way to get around Newton, and nearby towns. I’ve been biking here the entire time I’ve lived in the area: to visit friends as a kid, to get to Cambridge or Boston as a teen-ager, and to get anywhere, including commuting downtown, ever since. Sometimes you can see me towing a kid or two now.
Biking here has never been simpler or safer: there are more bike lanes marked on the streets, more bike racks to lock up to, and even some separated cycle tracks – not all cycling advocates favor them, but I enjoy them. We also have Bike Newton, a non-profit advocating for biking and safety for cyclists in Newton, and which runs the Tour de Newton, which is a blast. Most importantly, people driving cars in Newton and in the Boston area now have much more awareness of and respect for people riding bikes (or people driving bikes, as some cycling advocates say). If you haven’t been on your bike in a while, take it to a local shop, or tune it up yourself, and go try it. I think you’ll find that riding around here has gotten much better.
There’s always room for improvement
But we should always be looking for ways to improve. Here are a few of my thoughts on improving bike safety and making Newton more inviting for cyclists of all levels.
- Sweep the streets. Run street sweepers more often throughout the year, especially on major biking routes. Leaves, sand, road debris are no obstacle to any car. They are deadly to people on bikes, and this is relatively inexpensive.
- Fix potholes and level storm drains. Bicyclists tend to ride near the curb, especially on busy streets. Potholes there may not get many complaints from people driving cars, and the same goes for storm drains that aren’t flush with the road surface. To a car, those are an annoying bump. To a cyclist, they’re deadly.
- Mark wider bike lanes, and on more streets. Making narrower travel lanes gets car drivers to slow down, increasing safety for all car drivers, for pedestrians, and for cyclists. And having a space marked off for cyclists makes car drivers aware that bikes are on the road. And note that bikes aren’t required to stay in bike lanes, but cars aren’t supposed to be in them.
- Have the Newton Police ticket car drivers, and double-parkers. Hang out at a few intersections with a squad car, and people will drive more carefully, with improved safety for everyone. And the City will bring in some revenue. Maybe we can put some towards sweeping the streets and fixing potholes…
- Prioritize bicycle traffic along major biking thoroughfares by installing bike-specific traffic lights at intersections. Giving bicyclists a head start of even a few seconds while cars are stopped at a red light saves lives. Cambridge has installed some, such as on Western Avenue (Boston Globe article). With all the focus on reducing car trips, shouldn’t we do this to make biking more attractive?
- Make roadway changes to major bike routes. The Commonwealth Avenue carriage lane is a premier bike – and jogging – route running east-west through Newton. The cobblestone “rumble strips” in the carriage lane
arewere a deadly hazard to bikes. Bike Newton’s recent blog post details that some have been removed, along with other improvements to the carriage road (which is great, as years ago I was told by the transportation coordinator that they couldn’t remove them). If we need to slow traffic, consider large raised crossings that are easy for bikers, walkers, runners, and people with strollers to navigate, and more effective than speed bumps at slowing cars down. And at the intersection of Comm. Ave. and Beaumont Ave., we can do better than making bikes swerve into traffic.
- Finally, my dream: let’s build a protected cycle-track on Washington Street, from Newton Corner to Wellesley. It’s a perfect road for it: currently four wide lanes, with parking on each side, there’s plenty of right-of-way to work with. It’s a nearly flat route. And it would connect half of Newton to Wellesley, Watertown, and the bike routes along the Charles River. And what a nice way to get to and from a Ted Kennedy Greenway!
A few resources
I couldn’t write this without suggesting a few resources. First, if you haven’t been on your bike in a while, consider speaking with an experienced cyclist about how to ride safely in traffic, or reading a book (such as John Allen’s Bicycling Street Smarts) or taking a class. Pick up a bike map or two, and read them before you ride to decide on your route. Bike Newton makes a Newton bike map, which you should get – and you should also look at Rubel BikeMaps for Boston and all of Massachusetts, and other resources. And check out some local bike shops, such as Harris Cyclery, Farina’s, Landry’s Bicycles, Centre Ski & Bike, and Eastern Mountain Sports.
I’d be glad to hear your thoughts on biking in Newton. Favorite or least favorite routes? What changes would you like to see? Happy trails!