Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Finding the way

The city of Boston has been on a big push to install bike wayfinding signs all over.  Although I have downtown pretty well figured out, they rightfully are expecting a lot of bicyclists (summer tourists on Hubways) to be wandering around trying to figure out how to get where they're going.

I like that they're simple and destination focused, but I haven't yet tried to follow them to see if there are follow ups that actually keep you on track.

I think this is really a step forward for Boston, because instead of just assuming bicyclists are the hardcore regulars who've been doing it forever, these signs allow for the casual rider, the out of towner, the newbie making their first trip into the city.

These signs can also be important for guiding riders to the safest, lowest stress routes.  Since they're just being rolled out, I'm not in a position to judge them, but since I keep seeing them on the routes I've found to be my favorites through years of trial and error, I'm optimistic that they're in the right places.

Two stories that resonate:  Bike Portland just had a story about an out of town visitor who was guided (by a bike map no less) onto a really scary bridge (the local equivalent of the River Street bridge, or maybe even the Tobin).   He felt like Portland was so generally bike friendly, and finding himself on this route really was a smack in the face.  Boston can really shape visitors experiences of the city by helping people get around safely.

This morning, I stopped on the way to work to grab a bagel and as I was locking up a meter reader came up to me.  From her purposeful stride, I was worried that there was some obscure regulation that forbade me locking to that sign, but no, she wanted to talk about biking to work.  She asked how far I rode (5 miles)  and how long it took me, and had lots of questions about how I dealt with sweat and clothes.  I have to admit, I was not feeling my cleanest, having misjudged the weather and slightly overdressed.   I told her, fairly, that this was about as sweaty as I ever got, and that I just brushed my hair, wiped my face, and sometimes wiped down with Purell.    I asked where she would be riding in from, and I think she said Malden,  a northern suburb.  I honestly had no idea how I would get downtown from there- I know some people who ride down 99, but I think it's pretty hairy.  I recommended that she go over to Mass Bike ( a block from where we were standing) and that they would be glad to help her plan a route.  I hope she did drop by and that they could help her.   She seemed pretty plugged into bike culture- asked me if I'd heard about the bikers in Berkeley who caught a hit and run driver through their bike cam.

 I was really pleased that she wasn't focused on safety or how scary it must be to ride in the city.  I honestly don't think it's that dangerous, or else I wouldn't do it- I pay attention, and I ride safely, and I haven't had a wreck in years.  I don't think of myself as a particularly brave person- I'm particularly timid about shocks and startles- my definition of a scary movie is Ghostbusters!  Safety dominates so many conversations that I have with women who don't ride, that it was a relief to talk about sweat, and purell, and the mechanics of looking professional after riding to work.


  1. So, would those signs work for the hard core out of towner? Not that I know any such.

  2. The largest of these signs has been installed at the intersection of Winter and Tremont Streets at least as of this morning. It has multiple 'tourist' destinations listed. Unfortunately didn't think enough to take a photo. I wonder if the current wayfinding signage is geared toward tourist usage of Hubway as a pilot?

  3. Hmm yeah getting to Boston from Malden is kind of tricky. You basically have to go along part of Route 28 either all the way in to Boston, or cut over to Sullivan Square via Assembly Square Drive and then take Main St in Charlestown to the N Washington St Bridge. Both routes definitely take some skill, but they are certainly doable.

  4. I find bicycle direction signs extremely helpful, and when they include distances, all the better. I think this one might stop me in my tracks, though, trying to figure out how, really, to pronounce "Faneuil".

    1. It rhymes with Spaniel if that helps :)

    2. I live in Winthrop and commute to the Back Bay. 99 isn't too terrible, especially after making it through the produce market. It's wide and there are a lot of bikers, as there's no other way to get into Boston proper from the north, unless you want to go out through Revere, Everett and Medford.

    3. I've ridden out and back on the Rt 99, and the road isn't bad, if you're used to riding in traffic. The only thing that gave me pause were the expansion joints on the Alford St bridge over the Mystic. They're a saw-tooth pattern, and look like they could eat a narrow bicycle tire if you hit them at the wrong angle. I have pretty wide tires, and hit them perpendicularly, and didn't have any problems.

    More signs on Summer Street in the vicinity of Devonshire/Bedford/High Street.