By Maddie Hanna, Globe Correspondent
In a city renowned for hair-raising traffic and teeming streams of pedestrians, Boston officials say they're ready to take the first steps toward making streets friendlier to bikes.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, at a press conference outside Kenmore Square yesterday, said the first bike lanes on city streets - a mile stretch on Commonwealth Avenue near Boston University and a 2.2-mile section of the American Legion Highway by Franklin Park - are about ready for use.
The city has also begun installing about 250 bike racks around Boston, in what officials hope is a first phase of improvements to encourage bicycling.
"We put more people on bikes, we'll have less congestion," Menino said.
The bike lanes on Commonwealth Avenue, from Kenmore Square to the BU Bridge, and along the American Legion Highway, from Blue Hill Avenue to Cummins Highway, are expected to be completed this month, city officials said.
For years, Boston cyclists have battled traffic while navigating narrow streets.
In 1999, Bicycling magazine labeled Boston the least bicycle-friendly city in the country. Since then, the magazine has continued to rank Boston among its worst.
The state has installed several bike lanes on state roads in Boston, but the two announced yesterday are the first on city streets. The lanes along American Legion Highway cost $67,000, said Jennifer Mehigan, a spokeswoman in the mayor's office. She did not know the cost of the Commonwealth Avenue lanes.
Yesterday's announcement comes about 11 months after Menino said that he wanted to create a network of bike lanes throughout Boston and to add 250 bike racks across the city. To head the project, he appointed Nicole Freedman as the city's director of bicycle programs.
Yesterday, Freedman said the goal is "to make Boston a healthy, vibrant, livable city."
The city plans to install several miles of bike lanes a year but doesn't have a specific plan outlined for how extensive the network would become, Freedman said.
Officials intend to first install lanes where they would have the most impact, such as on Commonwealth Avenue, she said.
Freedman estimated the street, where Boston University is based, has the highest volume of bike traffic in the city.
The width of the lanes varies depending on the location: four feet along curbs, and five feet where there is parallel parking, Freedman said.
So far, the city has added about 40 bike racks and will finish distributing the rest by November, Freedman said.
She also plans to examine the feasibility of a bike-share program, which would allow people to pick up a bike at one location and drop it off at another. The city on Monday issued a Request for Information on the project, which Freedman said could be launched in spring 2010.
Menino said Boston must find ways to reduce car traffic to relieve congestion and reduce carbon emissions.
"With the environment being a number one issue, we have to be a part of that," the mayor said.
Cyclists and members of bike advocate groups who attended yesterday's press conference said they were pleased with the city's efforts. But they said they hope more lanes will follow.
"I think it's a great start," said Seth Davis, 28, who lives in Cambridge. "But having bike lanes just from the BU Bridge to Kenmore is a short stretch."
Davis, who is organizing next week's Bicycle Film Festival with showings at the Somerville Theatre and the Institute of Contemporary Art, said bike traffic has increased in Cambridge. He often sees five or six cyclists parked at a stoplight.
As biking becomes more popular, adding bike lanes and improving bike accessibility is increasingly important, said Chris Ditunno, who in May started Allston-Brighton Bikes, a community bike group.
Ditunno, who is 42 and lives in Brighton, described biking in Boston as "scary, but getting better very quickly."
Maddie Hanna can be reached at email@example.com.
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