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So you want to ride a bike around the Public Garden? Read on

Posted by Your Town  September 19, 2013 07:46 PM

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(Photo by Carl Setterlund)

Beacon Hill residents and other interested parties got a potential glimpse of the future Wednesday night as the City of Boston presented a plan to insert a two-way cycle track around its historic Public Garden.

Locals and cycling enthusiasts from across Greater Boston trekked to the firehouse at 127 Mt. Vernon St. as a standing-room audience heard an initial proposal made by Boston Bikes, an initiative introduced by Mayor Thomas Menino in 2007 to push the city toward becoming more bicycle-friendly.

Boston Bikes provided two options. The first would be less invasive and include pavement markings and signage on the perimeter of the Public Garden. The second option would involve construction, but would not modify the Public Garden’s brick sidewalk, which is considered an historic landmark.

Boston Bikes estimated that 33 of the 209 parking spaces currently surrounding the Public Garden would need to be removed in order to complete its goal.

Although the cycle track would remove one lane of traffic on all streets bordering the Public Garden, Boston Bikes said its projections showed that during rush hour the travel time for motor vehicles would increase between one to two minutes at worst.

Nicole Freedman, the executive director of Boston Bikes who is sometimes referred to as Boston’s “bike czar,” said she considers this “phase one.” In the best-case scenario, she said, she would add a cycle track around Boston Common in coming years.

Wednesday’s meeting started with a 30-minute slideshow at 6 p.m. Afterwards, those in attendance – more than 80 people signed in at the door – were able to ask questions and provide feedback in an open forum that ran until 8 p.m.

“We record every comment and we know we’re successful if we’ve listened and modified based on what people want,” Freedman said.

Feedback in a crowd littered with bicycle enthusiasts was largely in favor of the cycle track, which would create easier transitions to existing cycle lanes across the city.

Several audience members mentioned the intersection of Beacon and Arlington streets as one of the cities most treacherous biking spots. Cyclists said that several of the current downtown routes are dangerous.

Eve Waterfall, a resident of West Cedar Street, said she likes to bike with her two children, but often finds it dangerous to follow the current suggested paths. Waterfall said she has to cross four lanes of traffic twice to head toward Copley Square.

“Credit to the mayor,” she said. “He kind of has pushed the bikes before the infrastructure, which was necessary to show where the infrastructure needs to be. They’ve done the easy stuff, they’ve done [Commonwealth Avenue]. They’ve put in tons of stuff, but the transitions are really hard.”

There were several voices of dissent along with the project’s supporters.

James Bachez of Somerville is a co-owner of the bicycle messenger service Boston Collective Delivery and offered his perspective from a business side.

“I think trying to put people in those lanes that have different levels of skill [and] have different timetables to get to certain places can cause some types of bicycle-to-bicycle interactions that in our workplace we try to limit,” Bachez said.

Peter Thomson, who has lived on Beacon Hill for over 60 years, was dissatisfied at what he viewed as a lack of outreach to local residents.

“If they held it at City Hall, then okay, everybody goes and then we can say it’s a city meeting,” Thomson said. “I found that we couldn’t talk about the [community] issues because it was already stacked; the deck was stacked [in favor of the proposed track].”

Waterfall said a similar preliminary meeting regarding a cycle track was held roughly two years ago on Beacon Hill and that “the ‘antis’ came out in force.”

She said she subsequently called Boston Bikes to help increase representation.

“I think we need to make sure we’re speaking to the neighborhood directly, that we’re speaking to their elected officials directly about what these impacts will mean to them as well, but not at the sacrifice of a transparent process,” said Boston Transportation Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin, who joined Freedman front during the question-and-answer portion. “The city’s for everyone; our streets are for everyone and that’s what we need to keep in mind moving forward.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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