If you were out during the Memorial Day parade or Porchfest, you may have noticed a traffic jam here or there as people made their way around the city checking out the events. You may have also noticed some people unaffected by the congestion because they had chosen to cycle or walk to their destination rather than take a car.
In addition to keeping cars off the road, walking and cycling improve health, protect the environment, and promote economic vitality, since bikers and pedestrians are more likely to drop in on local businesses. They also build a stronger community by enabling people to interact face-to-face, rather than from behind a car window.
Every fall since 2010, we’ve collected data on the number of cyclists and pedestrians in the city. This allows us to measure progress toward our goals for multi-modality. It also helps our planners understand where traffic is highest, keep track of shifts and trends, and identify areas with the biggest opportunities for improvement. Volunteers record this data across 36 locations, counting for an hour in the morning or evening on a weekday within a certain counting period of two weeks.
We’re proud to report that our numbers for last fall across all three categories - cycling, walking, and jogging - are the highest we’ve ever recorded. We’ll use this post to share details from the report about cycling, but stay tuned for a future post on walking and jogging.
We saw another massive jump in cycling in last fall’s count. The number of cyclists was 16% higher than in the previous year and more than 80% higher than in 2010, when we first started tracking this data.
Once again, we counted the highest number of cyclists along the Beacon Street corridor, a popular commuting route that connects Somerville with Cambridge and Boston. Volunteers along this route recorded counts exceeding 450 cyclists per hour.
While numbers were up dramatically overall, we did notice decreases in a couple places, most notably around Tufts and Union Square in the morning and on Broadway and Powder House Boulevard in the evening. More data is needed to explain these drops, but theories include different daily schedules for Tufts students and people picking alternate routes as the city’s cycling infrastructure evolves (we saw increases in many other parts of the city).
For the second year in a row, we saw a lower number of cyclists along the Community Path, which seems to indicate that people prefer faster routes that aren’t shared with pedestrians.
Cycling network and future improvements
Guided by the Somervision Comprehensive Plan, the City is working hard to make Somerville as bike and pedestrian friendly as possible. Last month, the MBTA announced that it will fund the extension of the Community Path from Lechmere to the future Green Line station at Lowell Street, completing a continuous two-mile bike and pedestrian way through Somerville.
In addition, street improvement projects for Central Broadway and Davis and Union Squares, now in their planning stages, will calm traffic and improve safety for cyclists, and construction is already underway to do the same along the Beacon Street corridor, which will soon have its own brand new cycle track.
We expect these improvements, as well as the extension of the Green Line through Somerville, to lead to further increases in the number of cyclists.
Safety for everyone on the road
As more people travel by bike, it’s important that we all share the road safely. The improvements mentioned above will help with this. For example, the new cycle track on Beacon Street will provide a dedicated path for cyclists that is separated from the roadway.
Infrastructure improvements aren’t the only solution, though. We also need people to be aware when walking, biking, or driving and to always obey the rules of the road. The Somerville Police Department has been stepping up enforcement on cyclists, and the City has been carrying out a public awareness campaign to educate people on safe practices.
You can give yourself a refresher by reading up on key rules or by consulting MassBike’s “Same Roads, Same Rules” website.
Tell us what you think
We’ll continue to track this data to help inform the decisions we make. As always, though, we’d like to hear from you. If you’re a cyclist, how do you choose your route? Is it shortest, most pleasant, or something else? Have you changed your route after improvements in the city’s cycling infrastructure? Where do you see the best behaved cyclists? The most infractions? How do you think the city could better reach out to everyone about bike safety?