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Car free and Newbie bike commuter in Boston... advice?

Old 04-20-15, 02:42 PM
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Car free and Newbie bike commuter in Boston... advice?

Just relocated to Boston and I am car free and plan to bike commute starting tomorrow.

I am going between the South End (via Mass Ave?) to the Allston area just south of Cambridge (via Comm Ave?) and I've explored a lot of routes via maps.google etc..

I was wondering if anyone local to the area could advise on my route and any Boston-centric tips for bike commuters here.

I've biked around the last few days and honestly, I've yet to see any cyclist make a left at a light from a left hand lane. Is that just not advised/done here?

I did a test run the other day, Mass ave is a little crazy. Making a left onto Comm ave seemed out of the question. Missed my left onto Beacon because I didn't know where I was. Ended up in Cambridge!

I took the Dudley path back to South End from Allston, longer and full of runners and very narrow. Made me pine for the Chicago Lake Front path.

Just some very early impressions. I'd love anyone's input about this.

best,

b to the k
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Old 04-20-15, 05:14 PM
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Originally Posted by btothek
Just relocated to Boston and I am car free and plan to bike commute starting tomorrow.

I am going between the South End (via Mass Ave?) to the Allston area just south of Cambridge (via Comm Ave?) and I've explored a lot of routes via maps.google etc..

I was wondering if anyone local to the area could advise on my route and any Boston-centric tips for bike commuters here.

I've biked around the last few days and honestly, I've yet to see any cyclist make a left at a light from a left hand lane. Is that just not advised/done here?

I did a test run the other day, Mass ave is a little crazy. Making a left onto Comm ave seemed out of the question. Missed my left onto Beacon because I didn't know where I was. Ended up in Cambridge!

I took the Dudley path back to South End from Allston, longer and full of runners and very narrow. Made me pine for the Chicago Lake Front path.

Just some very early impressions. I'd love anyone's input about this.
As a generic greeting to Boston, see this thread, including my post:

Originally Posted by Jim from Boston
…In 1977 we moved to Boston on our bikes, as a bicycling honeymoon from Los Angeles to Washington, DC and then took the train up to Boston…I have pretty much been a year–round commuter only, but in the past few years I have done a century or two a year and I follow a ten week training program for centuries published long ago in Bicycling Magazine….

I have a really great commute that belies, IMO, the image of Boston as a city unfriendly to bicycling. I live in Downtown and ride to a suburb 14 miles distant in the reverse traffic commuting pattern…

Originally Posted by Jim from Boston
…I have also posted my own compendium of road cycling in Metro Boston, since I live centrally and ride in all directions. See also this very active Northeast Regional Discussion thread, ”Metro Boston: Good ride today?” to discover many interesting areas, with a lot of great photos; the de facto Boston subforum.

That should get you started, and consider me a resource. Welcome to “the Hub.”

Originally Posted by Stun
…The best advice often comes from cyclists that live the closest to you...The exception here would also be Jim from Boston--anyone that can successfully commute around Boston has my full respect and probably knows how to deal with about every intersection imaginable!
My main survival strategies for Boston are to ride early (and fortunately outbound) from downtown, and to wear at least one rearview mirror; I wear two, left and right, particularly useful for making left turns from the left turn lane.

After almost 40 years riding around here, I'm proud to know almost every part of the Metro area. Regarding your specific commute, I started to look at Mapquest, and other than the Paul Dudley White Bike path, or going way out of your way, you're just going to have to adapt to urban riding, unless you can map out an intricate maze on residential streets through Brookline, but still requiring some commercial roads.

BTW, while searching Mapquest, I was distracted because I was on hold calling in to the Howie Carr Talk Show on WRKO. The topic was Howie’s column in response to the video linked to this thread on the Advocacy & Safety subforum, ” Is there widespread hatred of cyclists?”.

(I'm a talk show fan, and my screen name is the opening line when I (rarely) call in..."and now here's Jim from Boston...What's up, Jim?."
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Old 04-20-15, 05:54 PM
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Jim,

Thanks for your reply. I was hoping you would weigh in having recently spotted your screen name in another post. I'm not able to PM yet.

Wish me luck as I embark out tomorrow, attempting the left turns and all.

Just sort of trying to gauge the general feeling among Boston motorists about cyclists outside the bike lanes, but it's probably more complicated than a forum post can convey.

The Howie Carr column is a little disheartening, but that is the role of talk radio IMHO... to be divisive and provocative, unless your NPR in which it's their job to lull you to sleep.
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Old 04-20-15, 06:02 PM
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My commute in the 80's used to be from Allston (intersection of Harvard/Cambridge streets) to Chinatown (next to the South End). I tried to different routes but found the Charles River bike paths to be more enjoyable, safe and quickest (skipping street intersections and lights) once you get on path from the local streets. If you are commuting normal hours, you'll find less pedestrian and biker traffic than on the weekend. Getting on the bike path from the South End, I think you have foot bridges on Dartmouth, Fairfield and Mass Ave. You stay on the path until your get to either Cambridge St or Western Ave and take a left to get to Allston.

Welcome to Boston. Believe it or not, maybe not to Chi-town's level, but biking infrastructure and acceptance have come a long way in the past decade or so in Beantown.

sing
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Old 04-20-15, 07:00 PM
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Originally Posted by btothek
Jim,

Thanks for your reply. I was hoping you would weigh in having recently spotted your screen name in another post. I'm not able to PM yet.

Wish me luck as I embark out tomorrow, attempting the left turns and all.

Just sort of trying to gauge the general feeling among Boston motorists about cyclists outside the bike lanes, but it's probably more complicated than a forum post can convey.

The Howie Carr column is a little disheartening, but that is the role of talk radio IMHO... to be divisive and provocative, unless your NPR in which it's their job to lull you to sleep.
Thanks for the nice comments, good luck.

Originally Posted by btothek
…I took the Dudley path back to South End from Allston, longer and full of runners and very narrow. Made me pine for the Chicago Lake Front path…

Originally Posted by sing
...Welcome to Boston. Believe it or not, maybe not to Chi-town's level, but biking infrastructure and acceptance have come a long way in the past decade or so in Beantown.
I have ridden the Chicago lakefront bikepath. When I got back to Boston, on the Paul Dudley White, I recall thinking it is "so…Bostonian…so quaint." But IMO, this region is fabulous for commuting, road cycling, and touring.

PS: When you get a chance, check out the Minuteman Bikepath in Arlington, oft-celebrated on the Metro Boston thread, or other urban paths. In particular the Southwest Corridor Path (“Pierre Lallement”) starts in the South End. PL was the putative inventor of the modern bicycle and he died in obscurity in Boston in the late 1800’s.

Last edited by Jim from Boston; 04-20-15 at 07:12 PM. Reason: Added PS
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Old 04-20-15, 07:03 PM
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I miss a lot of things about Boston but not the traffic! It is something else.
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Old 04-20-15, 07:25 PM
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I'm also in the Boston area, and am happy to answer specific questions via PM or whatever.

For your left turn question, yes, you can make left turns from the left lane. It is done (I do it, so do other people), and it is advisable unless you want to ride to the corner and cross at the crosswalk. Signal your lane change, change lanes, and make your left.

One piece of advice is, try out a variety of routes and try them all in both directions. Sometimes what works best in one direction isn't the same as the best route in the other direction, even if there aren't one-way streets involved (although you've probably noticed that we have a few of those!). Commuting at off-peak times, either before rush hour or after, also makes a big difference, although you may or may not have the flexibility to do that.

But keep at it, and don't get discouraged. The Boston area actually is very convenient to get around by bike; it just takes a bit of getting used to. But there are lots of great advocacy efforts going on and more bike infrastructure going in all the time. And they do a good enough job with plowing in general that you really can do it year-round if you figure out your clothing needs.

Good luck, and welcome!
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Old 04-20-15, 09:18 PM
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I also do not miss the traffic from my time in Boston, but it only bothered me when driving...I bike commuted from north of Harvard square to beacon hill and also Copley square durring rush hour, and loved every minute of it...did some on mass ave, and rode out to Waltham a few times through alAlston and Watertown. I did do left turns in the lane, but rode pretty defensively...I envy you! Also did some nighttime riding on mass ave in caimbridge with lights and never had any problems...mostly short trips from Harvard to. MIT...


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Old 04-21-15, 08:14 PM
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It would be easier for us to help you if you were less vague than "South End to Allston." Not asking for your home & work address, but how about a couple of nearby intersections?
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Old 04-22-15, 09:50 AM
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I have turned left from the left lane at the intersection of Mass Ave and Comm Ave many times. It requires some assertiveness to get into the left lane, but it can be done. It's not my favorite place to ride, though - that intersection is pretty dangerous, I must admit. One trick you can use if you're nervous about the left turn there is to turn RIGHT onto Comm Ave, then merge left and make a U-turn at Hereford St. one block down. You've only got one lane to contend with there, so it's a bit easier to do. You can then simply take the underpass beneath Mass Ave and avoid crossing it.

As for the rest of your route into Allston, Comm Ave is one of the simplest ways to go, but it is also one of the more dangerous roads in the city because of the combination of lots of traffic and over-privileged BU students parking in bike lanes. And if you need to keep following Comm Ave when you get to Packard's Corner, you need to merge left. Again, doable, but it requires some bravery. I do this stuff pretty regularly and don't feel unsafe, but I don't know what your level of experience is. The route you are taking now covers some of the most intimidating roads in the city. Heading down to the Charles River bike path might be a little out of the way but might make for an easier, safer alternative. There's no shame in that - I'll take a bike path whenever I reasonably can. The relief from auto traffic is nice.
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Old 04-22-15, 10:27 AM
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Originally Posted by grolby
...You can then simply take the underpass beneath Mass Ave and avoid crossing it.
I live on Comm Ave in Kenmore Square just beyond that underpass.

Originally Posted by grolby
...As for the rest of your route into Allston, Comm Ave is one of the simplest ways to go, but it is also one of the more dangerous roads in the city because of the combination of lots of traffic and over-privileged BU students parking in bike lanes. And if you need to keep following Comm Ave when you get to Packard's Corner, you need to merge left. Again, doable, but it requires some bravery. I do this stuff pretty regularly and don't feel unsafe, but I don't know what your level of experience is. The route you are taking now covers some of the most intimidating roads in the city. Heading down to the Charles River bike path might be a little out of the way but might make for an easier, safer alternative. There's no shame in that - I'll take a bike path whenever I reasonably can. The relief from auto traffic is nice.
Nicely said, and my thoughts exactly when I was looking at a map trying to figure out a route. It's hard to suggest routes if one does not know the level of expertise of the rider; I'm pretty comfortable riding in Boston, but I still seek to ride as early in the morning as possible. Another alternative I suggested was:

Originally Posted by Jim from Boston
... Regarding your specific commute, I started to look at Mapquest, and other than the Paul Dudley White Bike path, or going way out of your way, you're just going to have to adapt to urban riding, unless you can map out an intricate maze on residential streets through Brookline, but still requiring some commercial roads...
For two years I have had some BF subscribers come to Boston for the Annual Mass Bike ride starting out in North Acton. As far as showing them around in Boston on bike, I much prefer to walk.

Originally Posted by Jim from Boston
…I had promised myself as I did last year, that I would not take the participants out onto the streets of Boston, since I live downtown. A well-used urban bike path with nice city views follows the Charles River and would IMO be a fine, safe, and pleasant introduction to Boston...
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Old 04-22-15, 12:33 PM
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I rarely get flak from drivers when I take the full lane, which is often along Comm Ave (Packard's Corner to Kenmore is the stretch on which I commute).

Maybe because it is a two lane plus bike lane road, they don't mind as much.

I have had the aggro driver swerve at me and offer ignorant words, but that is the rare exception.

I also take that left from Mass onto Comm or Beacon pretty regularly. Left onto Beacon is the best route but the worst left turn for me to skirt around Kenmore. Turn is all pitted out, need to be real assertive to get over, etc.

I've found that assertiveness and predictability are my best tools for interfacing with drivers.

As others have said- the biggest variable could very well be your confidence/ability to assert yourself on the road.

That said, always assume every driver/pedestrian/cyclist/skateboarder will pull the worst possible move at the worst possible time- leave yourself a way out.

The Esplanade is nice- ride it- smile. Unless you're a serious speed freak who can't stand MUPs.

Last edited by Hugh Morris; 04-22-15 at 01:04 PM.
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Old 04-22-15, 12:58 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig
I miss a lot of things about Boston but not the traffic! It is something else.
Ain't that the truth! I grew up in NYC and lived in Boston for three years. NYC is a place where there is a lot of bad driving, but it is unquestionably worse in Boston. Something else is a good term for it.

@btothek, you can get tons of good advice here, and it will be truly good, but only time and your own experimentation will bring the best answers. I asked Google how to cycle from the South End to Allston. It gave three routes. The direct one is along Commonwealth and Brighton Avenues. I know them well, and they kinda suck. The other routes are nicer but longer. I might take them if I were you. When I lived in Boston, I tended to take direct routes, but I'm older now, and I know how to enjoy life a little better.

You live in a good place to be car free. Congratulations on choosing well.
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Old 04-23-15, 08:37 PM
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Worth mentioning - I don't think it's happening until summer 2016, but a section of Comm Ave is gonna be rebuilt with a separated cycletrack.
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Old 04-24-15, 09:06 AM
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Originally Posted by agmetal
Worth mentioning - I don't think it's happening until summer 2016, but a section of Comm Ave is gonna be rebuilt with a separated cycletrack.
Yep, that's not for a while yet. Worth noting, as well, that the protected bike lane will be on the section of Comm Ave between Packard's Corner and the BU Bridge. The rest of the way to Kenmore Square is going to remain as it is now, as far as I know. But the worst part is the part that's being reconstructed.
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