Cambridge enshrines protected bike lanes into law

By Robbie Webber

Cambridge has become the first city in the U.S. to require protected bike lanes on reconstructed streets, if those streets are part of the city’s 20-mile bicycle network plan. This is not just an internal policy, but is included in municipal ordinance. And being legally required—instead of just part of transportation planning documents—makes future bike lanes “bikelash-proof.”

Many jurisdictions have plans and policies that envision a network of bike lanes, either physically protected or just painted. But when the lanes require removing parking, reducing motor vehicle traffic flow, or larger project budgets, these safety improvements can end up disappearing from the final project. Planned lanes have even been eliminated because of neighborhood objections.

Physically protected bike lanes can go a long way to attracting more timid riders as cities across the country have discovered. New York has seen bicycling increase by 70 percent since 2011 when the city began an ambitious program of protected bike lanes. One street in downtown Toronto saw an amazing 300 percent increase after protected bike lanes were installed. And 2nd Ave in Seattle has seen nearly the same surge in bike traffic after painted bike lanes were extended and changed to physically protected, two-way cycletracks.

Requiring protected bike lanes to be included by law on all reconstructed streets is a big step, but one that will not recede because of neighbor fears of losing parking or more peak hour congestion. Regardless of who is elected or hired in Cambridge, the bike lanes will go through. This isn’t the first time that Cambridge has taken the lead, as a Boston Globe story points out. The city has a history of firsts when it comes to street and traffic innovation.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.