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NEWTON

A vision for city as cyclist’s paradise

Report urges large jump in bike lanes

Newton has one of the highest populations of bicycle commuters in Eastern Mass., according to Bike Newton. Newton has one of the highest populations of bicycle commuters in Eastern Mass., according to Bike Newton. (Bill Polo/Globe Staff/File 2004)
By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / December 1, 2011
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Newton could increase its miles of bike lanes on major roads by more than fivefold over the next few years, a move that cheers many bike enthusiasts but might also annoy a few drivers.

The city has 3.6 miles of bicycle lanes now, and is seeking to add 20 miles over the next five years, according to a Transportation Advisory Committee report delivered to the mayor last month.

But that’s a minimum, according to the city’s chief operating officer. And the head of Bike Newton is pushing for 30 miles in three years.

Lois Levin, the president and founder of Bike Newton, worked on the recommendation as a member of the Transportation Advisory Committee, and she said the higher number was meant to be in the report, which was released Nov. 17.

But whether or not the recommendation is officially changed, Newton officials agree that more is better, according to Robert Rooney, the city’s chief operating officer.

“If we can achieve 40 in four years we’ll do that too,’’ said Rooney. “We’re not going to trip over the numbers.’’

So where will the lanes be added? Nothing has been decided yet. But Rooney said good candidates include College Road and Hammond Street, both of which connect Beacon Street with Commonwealth Avenue; Nahanton Street; part of Walnut Street; and large segments of Centre, Washington, and Beacon streets.

The idea is to identify roads that will help get people where they want to go, whether it’s shopping or to work, he said, keeping in mind recreational cyclists as well. A bicycle master plan, to be completed by April 30, Rooney said, would help choose good roadways for bike lanes.

The goal for the width of bike lanes is five feet for ones rolling alongside street parking or a curb, and four feet if there is no curb, according to Jim Danila, a transportation engineer for the city.

The city doesn’t want to eat into sidewalks or the grassy berms next to them, so most bike lanes will be created from shoulders or the slight narrowing of traffic lanes, from 12 feet to 11 feet in some cases, for example, said Rooney.

Not everyone agrees. Anatol Zukerman, who was cochairman of a subcommittee set up by the Transportation Advisory Committee, said he is unhappy with the final report.

“The whole report was dominated by bike enthusiasts,’’ he said. “And they propose to reduce the width of travel lanes in order to accommodate bike lanes, and that is simply unrealistic because the traffic is on the rise.’’

Zukerman said he wants to see streets widened wherever possible to accommodate more cars, and he added that if there were extra width, he would rather see sidewalks widened instead of adding bike lanes.

There are some noncommercial areas in the city where bike lanes might make sense, said Zukerman, but he is also concerned that businesses not lose curb parking where needed.

Parking can be a huge battleground when it comes to making room for bicyclists.

Sean Roche, a member of the Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force who cochaired another subcommittee of the Transportation Advisory Committee, said it used to be difficult to tackle parking at all. But more recently, when Beacon Street got new bike lanes, some onstreet parking was removed, he said.

Roche said he is “cautiously optimistic’’ about how the report turned out.

“The question isn’t what do you want to have, it’s how do you progress so we keep getting better,’’ he said. “It’s a virtuous cycle. You add more bike facilities, more people bike.’’

And more cyclists means it is safer for everybody, Roche said, because drivers will become more accustomed to sharing the road.

According to Levin, with Bike Newton, the city has one of the highest populations of bicycle commuters in Eastern Massachusetts. Levin wants bicycling to be more accessible to everyone - commuters, parents, children - like it is in northern Europe, she said.

“We’re so behind the eight-ball,’’ said Levin. “This is the kind of community that lends itself so beautifully to people getting to school or running errands on bikes.’’

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com.

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