Massachusetts Is Home To The Top Biking Community In The Northeast

Parked Bicycles

Sometimes riding a bicycle in the Boston area can make one feel as if bicyclists are not welcome. It’s not just the drivers who create this environment, but the inconsistency in bicycle infrastructure.

In some areas, there are decent bike lanes or at least the roads are marked with symbols which remind all road users that cyclists have a right to use the road. Such areas are easier to navigate in that a bicycle’s place is established and fighting unsuspecting cars is less of an issue.

Riding just a few miles outside of Boston changes the landscape quite a bit. Often more bike lanes are present and they are better connected. This makes it easier to travel by bike, although not entirely stress free.

No place in the Boston area is ideal for bikes. Some towns have heavy traffic or poorly maintained roads. Certain areas have residents who are anti-bicycle and make their feelings known. And, some places have such narrow roads, a cyclist could hardly feel safe.

What a welcome surprise it is to many cyclists to wander into the city known as Somerville, Massachusetts. Somerville is not the kind of place a stranger would equate with cycling due to the density of the population.

With a total population of 75,754 people, it is the most densely populated municipality in New England. Usually densely populated areas are so packed with cars that little room is left for bicycles.

While there are a lot of cars in Somerville, the city has gone to great lengths, over a period of many years, to create bicycle infrastructure. This was a good idea, given the magnitude of congestion we would see otherwise.

Apparently, the League of American Bicyclists agreed with this. In their annual report, they named Somerville as the top bike commuting city in the Northeast. The study their report was based on ranked cities by calculating the percentage of commuters who ride bikes, using 2012 American Community Survey data from the US Census Bureau.

According to an article on The Boston Globe’s website, “In Somerville, 7.77 percent of commuters regularly ride bikes. Right behind them, in Cambridge about 6.49 percent of commuters travel regularly by bike.”

These are impressive numbers, given the relatively small number of American cyclists. And, Somerville is poised to improve upon such statistics with the  infrastructure additions they have planned.

“Adding to the city’s 14 miles of bike lanes, 6 miles of bike paths, and 25 miles of shared roads marked for bicycle travel, the city will soon break ground on its first cycle track — a protected bike lane.”

A protected bike lane might encourage those who feel uncomfortable riding close to cars. In some cases, it might even give them more confidence to ride on roads, resulting in increased confidence when sharing the lane.

Even though the Globe’s article is about Somerville, the author goes on to talk about bicycle infrastructure in Cambridge.

“Cambridge is also gearing up to further improve biking in the city. ‘Every time we redo a street, we try to make it better for walking and biking,’ said Cara Seiderman, the city’s transportation program manager.

The city constructed one of the nation’s first raised cycle tracks years ago, and officials plan to build another protected bike lane on Main Street. Cambridge is also developing a bike network, which uses signs and markings to help make it easier for bikers to navigate the city.”

Maybe this was mentioned because the author didn’t want Cambridge to feel left out or dejected due to coming in a close second to Somerville, with respect to bicycle commuters. Or, they thought this information would be of interest to anyone who cared that Somerville was ranked the top biking community in the Northeast.

It’s difficult to say exactly what their intent was because right after mentioning cycling in Cambridge, the article started discussing the T, Boston’s public transportation system. This transition was really odd.

Nothing more than a line of bold text separated the subjects. Even though both types of transportation are alternatives to driving, news about public transportation should have its own article.

Nonetheless, a few interesting facts came to light. “When voters last week repealed an automatic annual gas tax increase linked to inflation, the T’s general manager, Beverly A. Scott, said she didn’t know how it would affect major projects or whether any might be delayed or pushed off the table due to a projected loss of $1 billion in revenue over the next decade.”

The repeal of the automatic gas tax will not just affect the T. It may affect road projects, which might also affect cyclists and the creation of new bicycle infrastructure. In fact, one of the selling points for retaining the automatic gas tax was the funding it would provide for badly needed repairs to roads and bridges.

All of this is purely hypothetical, though. First of all, the legislature can still raise the gas tax each year, it just won’t go up automatically. Therefore, the amount of lost revenue is unknown.

Still, it’s interesting that the author of the article only saw this decrease in revenue as relevant to public transportation and didn’t mention how it would affect roads and bridges. Perhaps she thought that roads and bridges were the domain of cars, and this article was about alternative forms of transportation.

Well, you never know with The Boston Globe. A hidden reason might be the true cause of this unusual combination of information within a single article.

No matter what their intent, Boston area cyclists should see Somerville’s success as a sign of better things to come. Perhaps the recognition will coax more people onto bikes or maybe it will end up being another reason to be proud of living or working in Somerville.

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