Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A little Vehicular Cycling

Took one of my least favorite routes home last night- through Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway and over the BU bridge- it’s a tough route and I had to do a lot of ballsy riding, taking lanes in moderate traffic and holding my ground when people get impatient to pass.

The first part is easy- I bike up Franklin street through downtown crossing and then across the Boston Common.  Got a lot more smiles and comments on the bike Christmas lights which are up and running again after TAGS graciously replaced them. 

At the end of the common, I cut over on Charles to Beacon.  This is one of the worst parts- I have to get across 3 lanes of a 4 lane wide road- people want to go too fast through the park.  Then I have to merge right across three lanes on Beacon.  You also have to be careful not to get too far in the right because that’s a big right turn lane to get on Storrow Drive.

Once I get a little bit further past the entrances on Storrow,  Beacon is surprisingly calm and the lights are well timed for bikes.  Because there are three big lanes and traffic was light I felt comfortable taking the whole lane,  and only once had a problem, when I was passing a double parked UPS  truck and someone decided they had to get through right at that moment and buzzed me a bit.  Not too bad through. 
I’ve learned to cross over to the left and take THAT lane as I pass under the overpass at the Storrow off ramp so that I’m positioned to get towards the fens.  I’ve also learned that there’s a funny little extension of Newbury street right along the pike that is a great way to avoid Kenmore square and its crazy traffic dynamic.

That got me basically to my destination (REI).
From there I had to get back to Cambridge, and that meant the BU bridge (shudder).
This  is not the most bike friendly route in the best of times with chaotic traffic areas on both ends, and a choice between too narrow lanes and the sidewalk.  But it’s been under construction for what seems like forever, and the sidewalk is closed.    I was too chicken to brave the multi-directional intersection at Comm ave, and decided to cross that ugly intersection in two legs as a pedestrian.  I feel nervous negotiating this intersection in  a car,and decided discretion was the better part of valor.    But then I decided that traffic was light enough to take the lane and go over the bridge.  I counted the seconds to see how long it would take me and it only took me 30 seconds to get over it- but in that time one person passed me, and another person thought about it, but then decided to hold off-  A little annoying that they couldn’t wait less than 30 seconds….

Finally rode back via the path along the city side of Memorial drive, which they’ve been repaving which was really nice- it was awful before.   They also trimmed up the low growing branches which made it a lot more pleasant not to have to duck branches in the dark.  It’s a real change to ride on the sidewalk- have to really remember to watch and be super cautious at the intersections to make sure no one is turning in or out.

And that was it.  It’s tough and it would have been really hard for someone who was just starting biking- it was hard for me and I’m a pretty experienced and confident biker.  I really hope that as part of the BU bridge renovation they’ll build in a better bike route between Brookline and Cambridge- it’s a real weak spot in the area’s bicycle infrastructure.


  1. I also like Beacon. So many lanes and relatively stress-free yet convenient to go from Charles/Park to the Mass Ave/Harvard Bridge.

    Regarding the bridges, you are by far not the only city cyclist annoyed by the BU bridge. I hope something is being done--I've read so many complaints about that area. I've so far managed to avoid it entirely while on bike. Perhaps I don't really have a reason to regularly go to Alston & Brookline and when I ride to Boston I usually cross before Trader Joe's (and take the scenic route to the half-shell). If I was in a hurry, I'd just take Mass Ave.

  2. Oh God, just reading this made me anxious! I have ridden through some of the areas you describe and they are tough; not something I'd want to repeat voluntarily.

    BTW: we saw someone with Christmas lights all over their bike riding on Beacon St (in Cambridge) earlier this evening and wondered whether that was you, but they were too quick for us to get a good look.

  3. Filigree-
    I don't think it was me- my Xmas lights are only on my basket, and I rode my normal route home last night- longfellow bridge, down broadway to Harvard Sq.
    MDI- I would have far preferred to ride over another bridge- it just would have been so out of my way- and although the Mass Ave bridge is OK, the Western Ave bridge, and more importantly the nasty mix of pike traffic, the pike overpass ( an incredibly unfriendly area) makes me prefer to take my chances with BU.
    I understand that there was a lot of pressure on DCR to redesign to incorporate bikes, which might be part of why the whole thing is taking so long...