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Bikes Lanes for West Fourth Street Bridge

Top 5 Reasons that the 4th Street Bridge should have bike lanes
Written by Jon Ramos
1) Southie is an island
Southie is bound on all sides by ocean, the Channel, train tracks, & the expressway, which means that every single way in & out of Southie requires people to cross a bridge; none of which have a continuous or low-stress bike lane. The 4th Street Bridge is a direct connection to most other neighborhoods. Once you get over to the South End, you can get almost anywhere by bike easily.
 
2) There is enough space for everyone
On paper, the bridge is a 2 lane roadway, with one travel lane in each direction. But in reality, drivers often try to squeeze in two travel lanes when traffic starts to back up.  This squeeze is a haphazard mess because it doesn’t work when larger trucks are in the mix. The result is a stressful situation where some cars are side by side, then a truck in the middle, then some more side by side cars… and nobody is quite sure how many lanes the road is really supposed to be.  The bridge simply isn’t wide enough for 4 travel lanes, so the City & MassDOT left the layout as an exceedingly wide 2 lane road and we all just try to make the best of it. These lanes are over 17 feet wide, and to put that into perspective, the typical highway interstate lane is only 12 feet wide. And typical Boston arterial roads are 11 feet wide.
But there is a better option.  There is enough space for a THREE lane road. Basically, when you turn onto the bridge it will have one lane, and then when you get halfway over the bridge the center-line shifts to add a second travel lane. This eliminates the squeeze, and better organizes the flow of traffic.  And as an added bonus, there is just enough space left over for bike lanes on each side.  (See attached diagram)
3) Separation + Predictability = Safety
Most people on bikes don’t want to ride in the car lane.  Most people who drive cars don’t want bike riders in the car lane. So creating separation is a win-win.  This makes sense because bikes & cars travel at different speeds and have differing abilities to go around obstacles.  Generally speaking bike riders tend to go slower, but almost never get stuck in traffic, whereas car drivers have the ability to go faster, but often get stuck in gridlock. By separating these transportation types, it allows car drivers & bike riders to peacefully co-exist.  Bike lanes also help drivers better anticipate where bike riders are likely to be riding (just like crosswalks help drivers better spot pedestrians). Whether you are a bike rider, car driver, or both, predictable behavior is safe behavior.
4) Bikes belong
Bikes are allowed to bike on all roadways in Boston, except highways. In fact, the City of Boston adopted a “Complete Streets” policy that includes improved on-street provisions for bicycles, and many other alternative transportation improvements. Additionally Boston just adopted our new “Vision Zero” policy, which is aimed at bringing the number of traffic related fatalities down to zero.  Bikes are also important parts of MassDOT’s GreenDot program and a plethora of other healthy living, healthy communities, & pollution free policies that Massachusetts has adopted over the last decade.  Adding bike lanes on the 4th Street Bridge will be in line with all of these practices & policies.
5) Reduce dependence on cars
The roads of Southie are getting more and more congested and parking is getting harder & harder to find.  Not everyone can live “car-free” but a lot of us can.  We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood that is rich in transportation options. We have ZipCar, taxis, Uber, MBTA, private shuttle services, plenty of fantastic shops within walking distance, and a bicycle network that has been slowly growing. Bikes are just one piece of the “car free” lifestyle.  Nobody is saying that everyone in Southie needs to live car-free, but if we can encourage those who are willing & able to go car-free, then that certainly helps our more car-dependent neighbors.
4th Street - Order
Bio:
Jon lives in the Lower End of South Boston, works downtown as an architectural designer, and spends most of his free time planning bicycle related events. He does everything from helping with free bike repair clinics, hosting bike-in movie nights, and orchestrating large scale events such as Boston Bike Party & the Boston Midnight Marathon. Jon has participated in plenty of charity bike rides, such as the Rodman Ride which benefited the South Boston Neighborhood House, Cranksgiving, a bike powered food drive that raised over 1,000 pounds of food for Greater Boston Food Bank, and the Climate Ride Northeast, a 400 mile bike ride from Maine to Boston to raise money for environmental causes. Jon is an advocate for the use of bicycles for everyday local transportation. Most importantly: Jon never takes up any street parking in Southie.
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  1. Porleau says

    Reasonable idea, but requires additional thought. During rush hour, the west-bound lane is typically backed up to the Dot intersection – sometimes even gridlocking the intersection. Other times are fine. I would like to see more than just lines on the street; perhaps the city can take another look at the Dot corridor and make adjustments to the Broadway, West 4th Dot intersections, as well as the A & West 4th intersection. All are becoming difficult to traverse during the rush hours.

  2. Matt C says

    Your recommendation is a proven solution. The BU bridge has the same configuration.

    Now, nobody like s the BU Bridge – but that’s because during rush hour it’s constantly snarled with traffic. But traffic was the same – or by my measure even worse – before the bridge was re-painted to add the bike lane.

    So yeah – I like this. Make the best of a bad situation. A solution like this might just get my neighbor to ride to work, giving me more space to drive and to park

  3. Jen says

    Great suggestions, Jon! As a 4-season cyclist living in Southie, that bridge is always a cause of stress and anxiety. As an occasional car renter, it is extremely unintuitive for everyone involved. I’d love to see common sense win the day, It seems absurd that bike lanes weren’t included at the onset, considering the room available.

  4. Bill Gleason says

    We have just added 500 parking spots under the “The Undepass” so the very few along East Berkley Street need to be eliminated to alleviate traffic flow on the bridge as well.

  5. Leah says

    As a South Boston resident that works in Longwood, biking is the fastest, most convenient and healthiest way for me to commute to work. The 4th street bridge is by far the scariest part of my commute, and these proposed changes would go a long way to increasing driver awareness of cyclists. It would also make driving safer, since the delineation of the lanes is a bit haphazard as they are currently. Great job Jon, thank you for your hard work and advocacy!

  6. Logan says

    Biking in and out of Southie is almost completely impossible. This bridge and the Broadway bridge are terrifying. Southampton St is no easier. Summer St requires you to go by South Station. Only Congress St is even close to reasonable and that’ll change as the waterfront development goes along.

    My wife travels on 4th Street every day and I used to ride in that direction, too. Adding marked bike lanes is VITAL to the survival of cyclists on that bridge. Drivers who complain there are too many cars to add bike lanes need to realize that making cycling more attractive reduces the number of cars on the road.

  7. Arthur says

    Yes, more bike lanes so we can advertise South Boston as “Bike Friendly” so we can relax the parking requirement for new development. This is all set up to save money for the politically connected developers, so they can in turn, funnel a portion of that money back to the politicians who created this idea to save the developers money in the first place.

  8. mplo says

    The bike lanes for the West 4th Street Bridge sound like an excellent idea whose time has come and that’s workable.
    All the best!