Cycling through the city yesterday, I almost felt as if I was being shown one of those videos of "How Boston Could Be 5 Years from Now"... except it was real.

Passing through a stretch of the Charles River trail, it seemed that almost everyone sitting by the water had arrived there by bicycle. And the majority of the bikes looked to be personalised and well-ridden - rather than the sort of bicycle that is either a rental, or ridden once in a while on a sunny weekend. The velo-atmosphere is distinctly different from last summer.

Having crossed the BU Bridge, which is now under construction, I then looked at it from the trail and thought about the Charles River Bridge Campaign that I had mentioned in a previous post. This campaign aims to ensure that along with the scheduled repairs to the bridges, practical improvements will also be made that will make the bridges more walkable, more cyclable, and generally more enjoyable. The possibility of benches and shady promenades was mentioned.

Can the huge, dangerous bridges over the Charles really be made to resembles these lovely smaller ones? That would be utter Utopia.

And Utopia is not necessarily impossible.

At least the bicycles of Boston are hopeful.


  1. It's lovely to watch the velo-atmosphere change over time... I've seen the same thing in London, it's so encouraging and exciting. I love it! I am feeling quite inspired to visit Boston and cycle there one day, it sounds so much fun.

  2. That's wonderful. Boston is a wonderful city; I love your photos!

  3. "Personalized and well-ridden"...

    My Platonic ideal - the perfect description of a happy bicycle!

    The big bridge in Toronto is this one:
    and I cross it twice daily. About a decade ago anti-suicide walls were installed, and in my humble opinion it spoiled the feel of the whole thing.

    I used to cross this:
    when I attempted to study English for a year, but as there was no bicycle access I tired of it, and gave it up to wash dishes.

  4. Mike - Thanks for the appreciation of my phraseology : )

    It's just that it really struck me today, that there is a visible and nstinctively-recognisable difference between bicycles that are used on a regular basis and bicycles that are used once in a blue moon. And it's not just a matter of old vs new. The seldom-used bicycle tends to have an impersonal, generic, "empty" appearance. The regularly used bicycle will have accumulated "personality" that seems to go beyond merely evidence of use.

  5. You crossed the BU bridge? Now, that requires some bravery. How did you do it? Did you take the lane?

  6. BTW, have I mentioned that obsessively hate the BU bridge? It must be the most dangerous place for cyclists in Boston.

  7. Herzog - I've been influenced a great deal by the presentation at the MIT Panel about the Charles River Bridge campaign. I want the benches and promenades, they really got me with that stuff!

    In any case, one of the things the presenter said was something like "How many of you don't cross the river as much as you'd like because you are scared of the bridges?" And there was nervous chuckling.

    So I decided to make it a point to cross as many of the bridges as I can, rather than avoiding them, thereby familiarising myself with the state of things. The BU bridge is under construction, which has caused them to put up huge signs saying "Bikes may use full lane". I crossed the bridge twice: Once using the full lane, under the protection of the sign (I thought) and once on the sidewalk/MUP area. Cycling in the lane was horrifying, but it went okay. No one honked, but traffic did build up uncomfortably. Plus it was hot and there was construction dust in the air, causing a general sensory confusion. Cycling on the sidewalk was near-impossible. This was a Saturday and there were just too many pedestrians and confused cyclists tying to squeeze past each other. Bleh.

    So for what it's worth, that was my experience. I do not plan to cross over the BU bridge again in its current state, and thankfully my routes really do not require it. The Longfellow Bridge and the Mass Ave bridge are sufficient, and not as horrifying.

  8. What I find so horrifying about the BU bridge are the fast and sharp turns at the ends. So even if you take the lane, there are cars that are taking a sharp turn right at 30mph, with no visibility, looking in the other direction.

    Even the sidewalks are dangerous. One time when I was waiting at the crosswalk on the Cambridge side I took several steps back when I saw a tractor trailer coming off the bridges. It's massive wheels proceeded to roll over the stop I had been standing over at a terrifying speed.

    I'm comfortable with VC almost everywhere, but the BU bridge is the one place in Boston that scares the heck out of me. There is just no way to navigate it safely. :(

  9. I love those days when cycling through the city just feels euphoric and perfect.

    I've gone over most of the bridges in Portland over the Willamette River, and most of them are pretty nice for cyclists and pedestrians. There are a couple though (one of which is technically a highway) that have 4 lanes of fast-moving motor traffic and about a 4-foot-wide sidewalk on only one side of the bridge that, while not necessarily dangerous, is very uncomfortable, noisy, and if you do have to pass someone on the sidewalk, it gets a bit hairy. One problem with the bike/ped paths on the Hawthorne Bridge here is that they are often so crowded (even though they are 10' wide on each side of the bridge), we've had a couple of instances of people getting bumped off the sidewalks into the car traffic lanes, which is a bit scary.

    Going along with the comment from the conference you attended though about how many people avoid crossing the river because the bridges aren't safe - in Portland, as we've seen the bridges get more bicycle-friendly infrastructure (and I think getting on and off the bridge is a big part of this equation), the number of trips into downtown by bike has gone way up (our downtown is just on the west bank of the river), and it is estimated that on the Hawthorne Bridge (mentioned above), 20% of all traffic is bicycles.

    Anyway, if Boston is serious about updating their bridge infrastructure, they don't have to look very far to find that a lot of people will use the the bridges if they feel safe on them.

  10. In reference to bicycles that are used and have a "personality," you might want to check out the latest Riv Reader where they write about "beausage" (p.18). This refers to beauty through use, and sounds like what you are observing as well.

  11. Herzog - Good thing I didn't know quite how bad it was before going over the bridge; it would have seemed even more scary! I just hope the Co-Habitant doesn't worry too much if he reads your comments : )

    portlandize - That happens here on the sidewalk portions of the bridges as well, especially on weekends. Furthermore, the cornering on the sidewalk after crossing the bridge is very tight, and on several occasion I have nearly collided with other cyclists this way - as well as have seen others crash.

    Anon - Yes, I am familiar with Rivendell and this term : )

  12. Beautiful! One day I'll ride around Boston with you :)


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