Thursday, June 5, 2014

Fall 2013 Cycling and Pedestrian Count: A Look at Cycling

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.

The numbers

A graph showing a steady increase in cycling in Somerville.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

A map showing the most used bicycling routes in Somerville, including Beacon Street.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.
A map showing where around Somerville cycling infrastructure improvements have been made.

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?


  1. When biking on Beacon St. going northwest between Washington and Park, the pavement is in abhorrent condition.

    Now obviously beacon is a giant mess. But this particular stretch is much worse because there is a strip of clear pavement RIGHT next to the parked cars on the side of the road.

    So cyclists ride 100% in the door zone along this stretch in order to avoid the craters in the road.

    It's the most dangerous stretch of road in Cambridge or Somerville that sees lots of cyclists. It's only a matter of time until someone dies.

    1. We are very excited that the state plans to go out to bid on Beacon Street reconstruction this fall! In the meantime, please keep reporting potholes or other road issues through 311.

  2. Often I am the only biker to stop at a red light. Between that, block crosswalks, riding through crowded crosswalks, side walks, wrong way down a road or one way, I can see why drivers and pedestrians might not respect bikers. Its only a matter of time before one is killed at the staggered lights in Kendall.

    At the same time its common for drivers to cut through the bile lane without looking to get into whole foods or to park.

    Perhaps we can start enforcing traffic laws more vigorously, maybe focus less on non-deadly crimes like parking and garbage cans.

    1. Thanks for following the rules of the road. Police are out there to cite both drivers and cyclists who don't follow the rules of the road, but they can't catch everyone. If there are specific areas that are really problematic, please let us know.

  3. Ditto the complaints about Beacon St. I took a fall over a metal plate while trying to avoid potholes just last week. As such a busy and important street it is a nightmare to bike on.

  4. I'm glad to hear cyclists and pedestrians are up! The more people out, the more people invested in making the roads safer for everyone. -Phoebe

  5. I assume many cyclists register their bikes with Somerville Police or other entities... why kind of information is provided to them to remind them of the rules of the road for cyclists? I'm in my 30s, and while I now know that cyclists must obey many of the same rules as motorists, even I have questions about what all of the rules are or the consequences of failure to comply. Every time I see a cyclist blowing through a red traffic light or not wearing a helmet, I'm reminded that that's pretty much how lots of us grew up "just riding bikes" without really learning the rules the same way you do when you learn to drive. Probably would be useful to do some education among the community.


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