In support of parking-protected lanes on Concord Avenue, Belmont

April 24, 2022

To the Belmont Select Board,

I am writing to support the proposed parking-protected bicycle lanes on Concord Avenue. I believe these will make it safer and more comfortable for most people to bike on Concord Avenue and attract more people, especially students, to use a bike instead of arriving at the schools by car. I have biked on Concord every working day, year-round for the last seven years, so I know the road well and especially its risks from a biking point-of-view.

Parking protected lanes would increase safety in at least two different ways: removing risks from swerves (either bike into car or car into bike), and dooring risk. Some dooring risk remains, but the left (driver’s side) door is the one most frequently opened from a parked car, so riding on the right side of a parked car is safer. Riding on the right side also means that in the event of an abrupt door opening, all the other obstacles are stationary and will never be a large truck with exposed deadly rear wheels.

Obviously, having surer separation from traffic makes the ride more comfortable. With luck, more middle and high school kids will use these lanes to bike to/from the middle and high schools instead of driving or bothering their parents for a drop-off by car, thus reducing traffic jams during the school rush.

These new lanes will inconvenience some people. Turning onto Concord from a side street will be more difficult because it will be somewhat harder to see oncoming traffic. Cyclists whose primary goal is speed may find themselves less able to pass other, slower, cyclists (in Cambridge and Somerville, this is just how things are at rush hour, so I have ample experience as both delay-er and delay-ee). These problems, however, are of a different and lesser category than personal physical safety.

We should also recognize that some of these abutter convenience compromises are themselves the result of other compromises; if we did not care so much about minimizing the number of lost parking spaces, we might instead construct a bidirectional protected lane (using Jersey barriers, perhaps) on the north side of Concord Ave along Clay Pit pond and the high school. This would not only leave the south-side abutter experience unchanged, it would also provide easier passing for higher-speed cyclists, remove turning risks from the south-side streets (either right-hooks from Concord onto the side street, or T-bones from the side street onto Concord), eliminate the right-side door-zone risk, and provide a guaranteed-available route for emergency vehicles (wide bidirectional bike lanes are used for this purpose around the world, including even in Cambridge, I have video). To be blunt, a whole lot of advantages, including safety advantages, were traded away for the purpose of preserving parking. We like parking a whole darn lot here in Belmont, otherwise we’d make different choices.

One place where the current plan is particularly lacking, and may want future improvement, is on the stretch of Concord approaching the Post Office and underpass. There, a bidirectional north-side lane would be a lovely safety improvement, but I don’t know how to reconcile that with the obvious need for short-term parking, especially handicapped access parking. It is, however, the most dangerous and least comfortable stretch of Concord (the very same short-term parking that is so necessary, also creates a dooring hazard, and the underpass is an abomination from the point-of-view of comfortable, safe biking). I have some hope that the Alexander Avenue tunnel under the railroad tracks, when completed, will provide a suitable alternative for safe, low-stress bicycle access to the Winn Brook neighborhood and Belmont Center from the high and middle schools.

Assuming we create these protected lanes, one detail that would help is to check the pavement for flaws and irregulaties, and correct those. I’ve recently looked at the road where the protected lane will be, and what I could see looked generally okay, but there’s a few spots that could be improved. Potholes are a surprisingly common cause of bicycle crashes, especially for less-experienced riders.

David Chase

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