Somerville improves cyclist and pedestrian safety with new infrastructure

A newly created bike lane near Powder House Circle in Somerville is pictured on October 15, 2021. Michelle Li / The Tufts Daily

The City of Somerville is redesigning and implementing protected bike lanes and floating bus stops in various locations in order to create a safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as a more walkable and environmentally sound city. 

The city is implementing major infrastructure improvements at Somerville Avenue, Washington Street and Powderhouse Circle. 

Tom Lamar, chair of the Somerville Bicycle Advisory Committee, which advises the city on improving cycling conditions in Somerville and promotes bike safety, explained that bike lanes are being raised up to the sidewalk level on Somerville Ave to create distance from cars.

“Probably the most important [thing] is being physically separated from cars,” Lamar said. “In this case by being raised up to sidewalk or closest sidewalk level [and] having a curb … as well as a small buffer that’s about two feet wide.”

There are also now signalized crosswalks that alert cars to slow down for cyclists and pedestrians.

Lamar noted that floating bus stops create an island in the street with a sidewalk and a bike lane behind it, providing a safe place for cyclists to travel and for passengers to wait for the bus. 

Arah Schuur, co-founder of the Somerville Bicycle Safety group, which aims to organize people in support of bike safety, discussed the improvements made to Powderhouse Circle. The city implemented flex posts and protected bike lanes, and delineated the previously unmarked lanes. It also repainted crosswalks and put in pedestrian-initiated buttons at crosswalks.

Various other locations are making similar changes, including at Broadway and Wellington Bridge. Many of these locations also add improvements to bus mobility and driving safety.

These changes have greatly improved the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. Noah Mills, a senior at Tufts, lives in Alewife and commutes about fifteen minutes a day on a bike. He often rides through Powderhouse Circle

“I was doing research over the summer … I would enter that intersection and sort of be competing with the cars,” Mills said in an interview with the Daily. “Now… you’re protected by sort of barriers from the cars … you’re not head to head with other cars, which is a lot nicer.” 

Schuur explained that the goal of these improvements is also to promote a more walkable and environmentally friendly community. 

“A large part of Somerville’s emissions are transportation, and a primary source of that are vehicles. So, there’s absolutely no way to meet our climate goals with our current mode share, which means how many people use what mode of transportation,” Schuur said. “Our guiding policy documents say that we need to shift people out of their private vehicles and into buses, onto bicycles and onto their feet … It also has quality of life benefits.”

Boston-area voters generally support these infrastructure changes. The MassINC polling group reported that 75% of residents were in support of creating bike lanes separated from cars.

While Mills partly chose to bike due to financial reasons, he also recognized the environmental and health benefits.

“The environmental impact was definitely also a part of the decision,” Mills said. “It makes me feel really good to be able to bike places, and it is also for my body. It’s so much better to exercise and get moving.”

Lamar explained that many of these improvements were implemented alongside utility work that had to be done.

“[For] Somerville Ave, the main motivation was the underground utilities … they needed to massively upgrade … rebuild it all from scratch with much bigger pipes and complete separation,” Lamar said. “And if you’re going to rebuild the streets from scratch, you really want to take the opportunity to put it back better than it was before.”

George Schneeloch, co-founder of Somerville Bicycle Safety, said that the group continues to organize behind initiatives to improve safety, including the creation of a bicycle network plan, now underway.

“It’s a visual of what changes would be made to streets to produce a network where people of all ages and abilities can get from A to B, anywhere in Somerville to major destinations like schools, or grocery stores and so on,” Schneeloch said in an interview with the Daily. “We lobbied hard for a bicycle network plan to be produced, and the city has started.”