Boston’s Western Avenue Cycle Track — correcting the public record

According to official and published sources, Boston’s Western Avenue cycle track:

In reality,

  • The cycle track mileage in this segment during the 2009-2012 study period averaged only 6% of the total mileage;
  • There was one crash reported during the study period — a low number which says nothing aobut the 6% cycle track contribution, but a lot about the low bicycle traffic volume;
  • Connectivity was impaired.

In more detail:

An 0.1 mile segment, only on the south side, was installed in November, 2010, but parking adjacent to it was only allowed later, perhaps as late as October, 2011. This segment was removed sometime before June 7, 2012.

This segment was reinstalled and another 0.1 mile segment near North Harvard Street was installed sometime between July and October of 2012.

So: all in all, over the time period of the Boston Cyclist Safety Report,

  • 0.1 miles of cycle track without adjacent parking existed for approximately 0.9 year, for a total of about 0.09 miles * years of cycle track without parking, on one side.
  • 0.1 mile of cycle track with parking existed for at most 0.8 year, and 0.2 miles of cycle track with parking existed for at most 0.5 year, for a total of approximately 0.26 miles * years — but in only one direction.
  • Total miles * years for the segment, counting both directions, is 4.6. The cycle track segments, then, account for only about 6% of the miles * years of the segment, and the claim of safety applies overwhelmingly to segments and times without cycle tracks.

Because the cycle track segments are behind parked cars, it is only possible to travel to or from several driveways on the far side of the street by avoiding the cycle track and riding in the narrowed travel lane, or by threading between parked cars.

The cycle track is unusable for weeks at a time in winter due to snow and ice, while the travel lanes of the street are clear.

A well-known proponent of cycle tracks has stated in a public forum that no bicycle crashes occurred along this segment during the Boston Cyclist Safety Report study period, 2009-2012. There are none in police department data but there is a report of a crash in a separate part of the report based on EMT data.

Bicycle traffic on Western Avenue is rather light; also, most bicycle crashes do not result in a police or EMT call. The Cyclist Safety Report’s reporting method for Western Avenue is probably consistent with that for other road segments: one possible exception would be if Harvard University Police rather than Boston Police responded. It is accurate to say that there were few crashes in this segment. It is not accurate to say that this is because cycle tracks were installed, or that there were no crashes.

Sources of reliable information about the locations and time periods for the cycle track:

The following links are to a supporting document, which in turn links to the sources:



Google Street Views

Newspaper articles and blog posts

Sources of inaccurate information about the cycle track:

The links below are to supporting pages on this site, which in turn link to the sources.

Boston Cyclist Safety Report: the study period was 2009-2012. Maps show a cycle track over the full 0.58 mile length of the segment, and the report does not indicate that the cycle track existed for only part of the research time period and on only one side of the street.

Testimony at a public meeting by Anne Lusk, Visiting Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of several research papers on cycle tracks.

A national online database on a bicycle industry Web site, citing an announcement from the Mayor’s Office, an article in the Boston Globe’s Web site, and a report from the Boston Cyclists’ Union. Neither the article nor the BCU report state a length for the cycle track, though the database does.

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