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New Somerville Bike Plan Envisions Bike Routes On 1/4 of the City’s Streets

New bike lanes on the Fellsway bridge across the Mystic River, between Somerville and Medford.

Bike lanes installed in the summer of 2021 on the Fellsway between Medford and the Assembly Row district in Somerville link waterfront paths on both sides of the Mystic River.

The City of Somerville is on the cusp of adopting a new bike network plan that aims to give people of all ages safe bicycling routes to every corner of the city.

"We are committed to rapidly de-carbonizing our transportation system," wrote Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne in the preamble of the new Somerville Bicycle Network Plan. "We are committed to saving lives by installing protected bike lanes and physical traffic calming at the citywide scale. We are committed to connecting our residents and workers to economic opportunity. This Bicycle Network Plan will help us achieve these community priorities."

The centerpiece of the document, which is the subject of a public hearing with the Somerville City Council on Wednesday evening, is a map that shows a dense, interconnected network of physically-separated bike lanes, off-street pathways, and traffic-calmed neighborhood streets throughout the city:

An animated GIF showing two maps of Somerville. The first frame illustrates the city's current bike route network, which includes a handful of streets with painted bike lanes (mostly in the southern and western parts of the city, between Davis and Union Squares) and a few protected bike lanes on parts of Broadway and Somerville Avenue. The second frame shows a much denser network of bike routes covering the entire city, including the new Somerville Community Path and proposed physically-protected bike lanes on streets like Highland Avenue and McGrath Highway.
An animated GIF illustrating Somerville's current bike network and the much denser network of protected bike lanes and traffic-calmed neighborhood streets envisioned in the city's new Bike Network Plan. Take a closer look at the proposed network map here. Courtesy of the City of Somerville.

The plan recommends "protected" bike lanes – lanes that are physically separated from motor vehicle traffic – on busier streets like Highland Avenue, Broadway, Summer Street, and Powder House Boulevard (those streets today generally only have painted bike lanes, or none at all).

In between, smaller streets that provide good connections between neighborhoods would get traffic-calming design treatments, like speed humps and narrowed intersections, to discourage cut-through motor vehicle traffic.

If the city follows through with the plan, approximately a quarter of the city's public streets would be part of the city's bike network, whether with protected bike lanes or with traffic-calming features.

Local bike advocates say that it's an exciting plan, but warn that the city has a lot of work to do to actually implement all the proposed new bike routes.

"I'm overall pretty happy with (the plan), but it all comes down to execution," wrote Somerville resident Joan Liu in an email to StreetsblogMASS. "Somerville has a lot of plans but falls short on execution, including the Vision Zero Action Plan, SomerVision2040, the Climate Forward plan, the Open Space Task Force Strategy, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan, and Complete Streets. In some of these cases, lacking in-house construction capabilities is limiting our ability to execute, so I and other Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets members hope to see the desire to move faster on implementation reflected in the upcoming budget."

The City of Somerville’s Climate Forward Plan targets 50 percent of the city's trips to be made by public transit, and an additional 15 percent of trips by bicycle by 2050.

According to a city spokesperson, a handful of quick-build projects recommended in the plan are already in the works for 2023, including new protected bike lanes on Grand Union Boulevard in the Assembly Row neighborhood, a short extension of shared bus and bike lanes on Broadway near Foss Park,  and a new 1/3-mile-long parking-protected bike lane on Powder House Boulevard next to the Tufts University campus.

Transportation staff in Somerville's City Hall are also focusing on drafting and publishing new design guides for new bicycle facilities, including guidelines for bike parking and new wayfinding signage.

Another major project currently underway – the Spring Hill Sewer Separation Project – will build physically-protected bike lanes on Summer Street (in the westbound direction only from Vinal Avenue to Spring Street) and Central Street (in both directions, between Summer and Highland Ave.) in 2024, after the city finishes rebuilding sewer and stormwater pipes under those streets.

As we've reported previously, that sewer project could also lay the groundwork for one of the bigger bikeway projects envisioned in the new bike network plan, on Highland Avenue. Earlier this year, Mayor Ballantyne's office requested $12.8 million in the city's 5-year capital budget to build physically-protected bike lanes on that street by 2027.

The Somerville City Council's Traffic and Parking Committee is holding an online public hearing on the bike network plan on Wednesday, May 31st, at 6 p.m.

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