Boston Plans Wider Sidewalks, Protected Bikeway for State Street Downtown

A rendering of the City of Boston's proposed improvements to State Street downtown. The project would widen sidewalks and create a physically protected bike lane from the Rose Kennedy Greenway to Congress Street next to the Old State House. Courtesy of the Boston Public Works Department.
A rendering of the City of Boston's proposed improvements to State Street downtown. The project would widen sidewalks and create a physically protected bike lane from the Rose Kennedy Greenway to Congress Street next to the Old State House. Courtesy of the Boston Public Works Department.

This summer, the City of Boston’s Public Works Department will start drawing up detailed blueprints for a project that will rebuild State Street in downtown Boston with wider sidewalks, a permanent, physically-protected bike lane, and traffic-calming elements between the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the Old State House.

In its current layout, the vast majority of State Street’s public space is set aside for cars and trucks, even though nearly twice as many people used the street’s narrow sidewalks in traffic counts conducted before the pandemic.

In 2020, the city employed paint and flexible post bollards to test a new layout for the street, including a new flexible bollard-protected bike lane. Although that lane is still frequently blocked by illegally parked vehicles, that bike lane has been successful in attracting more bike traffic to State Street: according to City of Boston traffic counts, there were 15 percent more people riding bikes on State in 2021 than in 2019, before the pandemic.

Making that bike lane permanent with materials that will deter illegal parking is one goal of the city’s reconstruction project.

The new design for State Street also ties into the city’s Vision Zero goals: during the 5 years before the pandemic, over 80 percent of injury-causing crashes on State Street inflicted injuries on pedestrians and bicycle riders, according to City of Boston officials.

On Wednesday evening, the Public Works Department shared its preferred conceptual design, which is generally the same as one that was shared in the project’s last public meeting in late 2020.

The City of Boston's conceptual plans for State Street would add raised crosswalks, a protected bike lane, and wider sidewalks. It would also install a new island on the JFK Surface Road to better protect bike riders and pedestrians from right-turning vehicles.
The City of Boston’s conceptual plans for State Street would add raised crosswalks, a protected bike lane, and wider sidewalks. It would also install a short section of physical protection for the southbound bike lane on the JFK Surface Road to better protect bike riders and pedestrians from right-turning vehicles.

In stakeholder surveys, the city reported overwhelming support for an early concept to ban motor vehicles from State Street altogether.

On Wednesday, the city said that it ultimately rejected that option based on objections from abutting office tower landlords, who own large parking garages near State Street.

The city also acknowledged one group, the Wharf District Council, a lobbying organization for hotels and condominium owners in the area, that has been advocating for turning State Street into a multi-lane street with no dedicated space for bicycle users to allow for higher-speed motor vehicle traffic.

The City of Boston's "Connect Historic Boston" greenway proposal of 2013. Despite winning a highly competitive federal grant, only a few segments of this plan were ultimately built.
The City of Boston’s “Connect Historic Boston” greenway proposal of 2013. Despite winning a highly competitive federal grant, only a few segments of this plan were ultimately built. Courtesy of the City of Boston.

The concept of a protected bike lane on State Street has been part of city plans for almost a decade. In 2013, Boston received a $15.5 million federal grant to build “a family-friendly, low-stress bicycle trail” on a network of streets throughout downtown and the North End, including State Street (the blue loop in the map at left). Only a few elements of that plan ever got built.

During the question-and-answer segment of Wednesday’s meeting, an anonymous participant asked “if State Street is going to be made into a safe bike route, but in only one direction (westbound), what would be the equivalently safe route in the opposite direction for people riding bikes?”

Stefanie Seskin, the Boston Transportation Department’s Active Transportation Director, revealed that the city is evaluating other streets in the area to accommodate a physically-protected bike route to complement the State Street facility.

“We have to do some more work to do internally and with key stakeholders, but we have identified a route that we are working on and exploring through different projects,” said Seskin. “(The route) will not be far away, it will be easy and obvious, and it will have a connection from Tremont Street through (to the waterfront).”

Seskin also acknowledged the three-block gap between the reconstruction project, which will only extend as far as Congress Street in front of the Old State House, and the city’s relatively new “connect downtown” protected bike lane on Tremont Street.

“From Washington Street to Court Square is tricky. We have another tight area and a lot of competing needs, including providing curbside access to people with disabilities who are staying at the shelter,” said Seskin. “So this is an active discussion internally about alternatives and what we can do to make sure that this bike connection, when it’s created with the State Street project, is able to continue up Court Street.”

The city plans to begin detailed engineering for the project in the next few weeks to get the project ready for construction by the fall of 2023.

 


Learn more about the project on the city’s project webpage: boston.gov/state-street

 

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