Cambridge Residents Support Bike Safety Initiatives, Encourage Better Planning

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  • Youssouf Camara explains his experiences biking around Harvard University on Oct. 20, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass. Camara has been pleased with the community’s transition away from driving, and hoped that fewer drivers will make the roads safer for bikers. Photo: Remi Duhé / BU News Service
  • Robert Skenderian, owner of Skenderian Apothecary, shares a photograph of the new bike lanes added in front of his business on Cambridge Street on Oct. 19, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass. Skenderian complained that taking parking spots away from the storefront has affected business. Photo: Remi Duhé / BU News Service
  • A man enters a handicap accessible vehicle parked in a bike lane in front of Skenderian Apothecary on Cambridge Street on Oct. 5. Some city residents have complained the newly installed bike lanes are creating safety concerns for people who use wheelchairs.  (Photo courtesy of Robert Skenderian)
A man enters a handicap accessible vehicle parked in a bike lane in front of Skenderian Apothecary on Cambridge Street on Oct. 5. Some city residents have complained the newly installed bike lanes are creating safety concerns for people who use wheelchairs.  (Photo courtesy of Robert Skenderian)

By Remi Duhé and Eve Zuckoff
BU News Service

CAMBRIDGE–An ongoing controversy over bike lanes in Cambridge has made some residents celebrate the new infrastructure, but question the accessibility and safety.

After two Cambridge cyclists died in separate road accidents in 2016, the city has rushed to install protected bike paths. In the summer of 2017, the city added 0.8 miles of protected bike lanes. Out of 200 miles of city streets, there are only four miles of bike lanes in total. But 16 more miles of bike paths will be added within fifteen years if the city follows The Cambridge Bicycle Plan, published in October 2015.
Three goals of the plan are to shift towards making biking a sustainable way to travel, create a system that is safe for all ages and abilities and adopt innovative bicycle infrastructure.

Since the city’s most recent bike path additions in July, residents have expressed support and opposition, respectively, in letters to the Cambridge Chronicle. While one side praised the city for prioritizing the safety of bikers, the other expressed dismay over the dangers the bike lanes pose to drivers, pedestrians and emergency vehicles.

Anne Lusk, a researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been working on bicycle facilities for 36 years and strongly supports the city’s efforts to install protected bike lanes.

In a recent study, Lusk found that cyclists in Montreal, Canada who traveled in bicycle-exclusive paths had a 28 percent lower injury rate than those who biked in the road.

“The bicyclists now who are having to share the road with the cars can’t predict what a car will do,” she said. “It’s better if we can separate the bicyclists from the car drivers and give them their own separate lane.”

However, Robert Skenderian, owner of Skenderian Apothecary on Cambridge Street, where some of the new lanes have been installd, said the city needs to consider the needs of people who rely on wheelchairs and crutches.

One of his most loyal customers has been particularly affected by the new bike lanes.

“[He’s] paralyzed from the waist down. He has a car…. He’s proud to be able to run errands for himself. He can’t come here anymore,” Skenderian said.

For three decades the man has parked on Cambridge Street near the shop, exited on the passenger side, put his wheelchair out by the curb and pulled himself onto it.

“Now if he does that, he’s putting his chair into the bike lane. Because he’s a spinal injured person he can’t do that in a matter of seconds. If cyclists are going by, and they aren’t courteous, it creates conflicts,” Skenderian said.

In recent months the man has relied on others to run errands for him.

“These bike lanes have robbed him of his independence,” Skenderian concluded.

Husk empathized with Skenderian and his customers.

“We understand the issues of… the individuals in wheelchairs… and we only ask for patience,” she said. “We’ve really only had the cycle tracks since 2010, and therefore it’s taking us a while to improve the facilities.”

Other city residents have been weighing the pros and cons of the newly installed bike lanes, as well.

Mae Tal, a Harvard University student studying city- planning, said she hopes the city will address accessibility issues moving forward.

“I think wheelchair and other handicap accessibility is really important in a city,” she said,  “and I think those issues definitely need to be addressed by authorities.”

Pat Singleton is a biker and teacher at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, located on Cambridge Street. He said he has mixed feelings.

“I feel safer with the new bike lanes, but I’ve seen a lot of cars impinging on them,” he said. “Someone blocking a bike lane or opening a car door into it is worse than having no bike lane at all.”

Harvard University student Youssouf Camara expressed a similar dilemma.

“I’ve seen a couple places where turns have been kind of treacherous, and operating between lanes and cars can be kind of tight, but I think generally it’s positive,” he said.

Despite some of the complaints, the city plans to follow The Cambridge Bicycle Plan.

Lusk fully supports the endeavor.

“If the bicyclists have to go in unsafe areas then you’ve immediately lowered the number of bicyclists willing to take the risk to get to the cycle track section,” she said.

If the bicyclists have to share the road with vehicles, Lusk said, there is little incentive to travel by bike.

Ultimately, some residents said, the city just needs to start somewhere.