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Charlestown residents rally for short-lived bike lanes

Posted by Sara Brown  January 14, 2011 12:17 PM

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More than a month after the city removed newly installed bike lanes on Charlestown’s Main Street, biking advocates turned out Thursday night to express anger at the lanes' swift removal and to call for their restoration.

Almost 50 residents and other biking advocates came to the Knights of Columbus for the Charlestown Neighborhood Council’s Basic Services meeting, with city representatives on hand to answer questions and hear comments on the move.

In November, the city started to install painted bike lanes on Main Street, part of a city-wide initiative. Because the lanes would not have an impact on parking, said Nicole Freedman, the city’s director of bicycle programs, the city followed its normal protocol by sending a note about the lanes about a month before their installation.

Yet Bill Galvin, the chair of the Neighborhood Council’s Basic Services committee, said the council heard complaints from residents about the sudden addition to Main Street, and objections from the business community, who argued that the lanes upset potential plans to add angular parking to Main Street.

While the neighborhood council supports bike paths, “the city didn’t consult” with the body before installing them, Galvin said. “We were upset.”

In response to these complaints, Freedman said, the city removed the lanes in early December, as "recognition that we didn’t follow the process that the Charlestown neighborhood really wanted.”

With so much community pushback, she told the audience, “If we didn’t remove [the lanes], it would derail future plans. It obviously wasn’t our intent,” she added, noting that removing the lanes “really hurt.”

About a quarter-mile of the bike path had been installed, Freedman said, with the cost running about $6,000.

But about 25 people -- mostly Charlestown residents -- spoke in support of the Main Street lanes, citing safety concerns, the importance of embracing bikers on Charlestown’s streets, and creating a vibrant downtown area.

Beyond Main Street, bikers spoke in favor of adding bike lanes in other parts of Charlestown, noting that Sullivan Square, Rutherford Avenue, and the Charlestown bridges would benefit from bike-friendly improvements.

Charlestown resident and regular bike commuter Nathan Blanchet said "he was delighted" upon finding the bike lanes. After their removal, he added, “I was furious.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said at the meeting.

Other bikers said the appearance of the bike lanes -- which they said create a safer environment for cars, bikers, and pedestrians -- made Charlestown welcoming to bikers. “The morning I saw [the bike lanes] I was very excited,” said J.J. Gilmartin. “I loved the bike lane. ... I felt welcomed.”

When he discovered the path had been removed, Gilmartin said, “I thought, 'They don’t want us on the street.' ”

There was also criticism for the lanes’ removal.

“I think you rushed to judgement,” Catherine Davidson told the council members, adding that the lanes could have been left in for the winter months, when they aren’t frequently used. “That’s our tax dollars.”

Kelly Pellagrini, a resident and the co-founder of Charlestown Nursery School, said she supports bike lanes on all of Charlestown’s major corridors.

“I feel failed by the neighborhood council and the business association and the government that didn’t reach out and build a consensus,” she said. “It saddens me greatly, as someone who’s building a not-for-profit in the neighborhood.”

Galvin said that the business community outlined its concerns at a sparsely attended December meeting. While business representatives did not attend Thursday’s meeting, Galvin said the Charlestown Business Association took a vote to oppose bike lanes on Main Street, citing concerns about parking for visitors.

Galvin noted that with tight parking spots, some parked cars crossed the line into the bike lane.

The business community has also discussed adding angular parking to Main Street, he said, which would not be possible with bike lanes.

Rumors and misinformation were abundant following the bike path’s removal, Galvin said, arguing that the Neighborhood Council did not call for the lanes' removal. “We did not say it, we did not do it,” he said. “We did not ask them to do it.”

Rather, he said, the council had concerns about the process through which the lanes were installed.

Galvin said the council would aim to hold a third meeting about the subject, then send suggestions back to the city. After Thursday night’s meeting, he said, it was clear that there was support for bike lanes on Charlestown’s streets.

Freedman said the city would likely reinstall the lanes once the weather gets warmer.

Jennifer Johnson, a biking enthusiast whom the council has appointed Charlestown’s “bike czar” to communicate with the city about the issue, said she thought it was important to add a bike lane to Main Street.

“It was beautiful to see the bike lane that day,” she said. “It appeared like a flower.”

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