Boston’s Bike-friendly Transformation

Over the past six years, Boston, MA, has transformed from one of the worst cities for biking to one of the best.

Over the past six years, Boston, MA, has transformed from one of the worst cities for biking to one of the best. Thanks to Mayor Thomas Menino’s Boston Bikes initiative, bike culture and infrastructure in Boston have blossomed. The scope of the change can’t be underestimated. In 2007, there were just 60 yards (55 meters) of bike lanes in Boston; today there are 60 miles (97 kilometers).

My typical bike commute takes me from Cambridge to Medford, but on the weekends I like to ride a wider loop and take advantage of Boston’s new infrastructure. My Sunday ride starts in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston at Flour, my favorite casual brunch spot, in an area dotted with stations for Hubway, Boston’s bike share system. I head down Congress Street, out of the art-gallery-heavy side of town into the financial district to get on to the Rose Kennedy Greenway. At the head of the Greenway, the food trucks at Dewey Square can make for a tasty pit stop.

Being shaded by flowering trees instead of towering buildings on the Greenway often makes me forget that I’m still riding in the city. A leisurely cruise down the Greenway brings me close to some of Boston’s must-see landmarks, including the Institute of Contemporary Art and Faneuil Hall. Making a left onto State Street brings me back to the urban canyons of downtown Boston and onto Tremont Street. I love this side of town for the way it crams old and new together – colonial-era churches are tucked in between modern skyscrapers, and you are as likely to  run into a costumed historical actor as you are a suited lawyer. I try not to get too distracted by the sights though, since there are no bike lanes yet on State and Tremont. Boston’s notoriously aggressive drivers have gotten much better at sharing the road in recent years, in part because of the Hubway riders and sharrows, but it still pays to be vigilant.

I ride down Tremont past the Boston Common and into Chinatown. I might meet friends for dim sum, or I might pop in to the Taiwan Café, where you can get hard-to-find specialties like gua bao and stinky tofu. Chinatown is home to many fast-riding bike messengers, so I make sure to keep an eye out for these sprinters as I wind through the area. I continue riding through the trendy South End, a great place for people watching. I like to see how many pocket-sized dogs I can spot on each block.

I take a right on Massachusetts Avenue, which gained a bike lane in 2011, to ride towards the Paul Dudley White bike path in Cambridge. On Sundays, it can feel like the entire city is on the path, as joggers, bikers, and in-line skaters frolic alongside the Charles River. The path never gets too crowded, however, since a large chunk of adjacent Memorial Drive is officially closed to traffic on Sundays from April through November. This small bit of city planning helps to create a tangible sense of community, and gives people a real incentive to ditch their cars and hop on a bike.

I hang a right on JFK Street to go through Harvard Square back to Massachusetts Avenue, which takes me down to Davis Square in Somerville, fast becoming the Brooklyn of Boston. I might stop in at Diesel Cafe, a popular hangout, or scope out the always-long line at M3, which specializes in Southern fare, before heading down Elm Street to loop back through Cambridge. A right on Park Street takes me to Beacon Street, known informally as the bicyclists’ highway. Residents are currently debating a proposed cycle track for Beacon, which would drastically improve the commutes of hundreds of Cambridge-based bikers.

My ride ends with stops at two of my favorite places: Hub Bicycle in Inman Square and Backbar in nearby Union Square. I can always find a crowd of friendly cyclists hanging out at Hub for bike repairs. I can usually recruit a few to ride down Willow Street to Backbar, one of the area’s few non-sports bars. Boston magazine didn’t name co-owner and manager Sam Treadway Boston’s best bartender for nothing – I’ve discovered a new favorite drink every time I’ve visited. Union Square offers ample bike parking, making it easy to spend an evening toasting Boston’s successful transformation into a bike-friendly city.

Erin Kappeler is a PhD student in English literature at Tufts University. When she’s not reading and writing about poetry, she enjoys riding her steel-framed, copper-fendered city bike all around the Boston metro area. She tweets about biking, Boston, and literary nerdery.  @ErinKappeler

1 Comment

  • Rex Redmon

    My girlfriend and I were visiting from Florida in 1990 and wanted to tour the Emerald Necklace. Asking to rent bikes was a little bit of a foreign language but we found some 3 speeds and headed out. We took the shortest route on the transit map toward the closest of the parks. As we progressed the neighborhoods seemed a little grimmer but we kept riding, we starting getting shouts of hey are you lost and people standing in the streets! Soon a police officer pulled us over and asked us what we were doing, we told him, he told us we were lucky we made it as far as we did in that neighborhood and he gave us a police escort to safer territory. Your Boston cycling sounds so much better!!

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