Cambridge Has the Best New Bike Lane in America

The city is leading the way in making safer streets for cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians.

The New Western Avenue bike lane in Cambridge. Courtesy of City of Cambridge

The New Western Avenue bike lane in Cambridge. / Photo Courtesy of City of Cambridge

The seemingly never-ending construction on Western Avenue made that vital Cambridge thoroughfare nightmarish, but today the work is complete, leaving Cantabrigians with a vastly improved corridor from Central Square to Allston.

The reconstruction of Western Ave., as it is commonly known, was not a mere resurfacing project: utilities were reworked underground and the entire street was redesigned over the course of roughly two years. A completely new path for bikes with a buffer between cars and bikes was installed, creating a safer situation for all involved, including pedestrians. The project has been considered such a success that PeopleForBikes, a national non-profit advocacy group for bicyclists, declared it the best new bike lane in all of America:

American bike lanes hit a new standard of excellence in August in one of the country’s most underrated biking capitals.

This beautiful half-mile project out of the heart of Boston’s next-door neighbor has it all: clear separation from both sidewalk and auto traffic; a direct route from a major commercial node and transit hub to a regional network of bike paths; bike signals at the intersections with leading intervals that give people biking and walking a head start to cross.

A design like Western’s requires a street to be completely rebuilt, and most streets (including River, the other one-way street in this couplet) will wait a long time for something like this. But if every rebuilt street in the United States looked like Western, we’d be on our way to making biking so good that almost every American would choose to do it regularly. Kudos to Cambridge for facing down skepticism and showing the rest of us the way to do something totally right when we get the chance.

The design for the Western Ave. bike lane is similar to what we’ve seen in other parts of the country, where new thinking about street design is being implemented to create roads that include cyclists, pedestrians, and cars equally. It’s possible that this multi-modal street design will become more and more common as pieces of urban infrastructure at the street level reach the end of their natural lifespans.

  • dr2chase

    It’s crucial that they get the intersections right, because there is a potential increase in the risk there. It’s important that drivers easily be able to see a bicycle traveling through, whether they are turning off the straight street, or approaching from the side. Too often we allow sight lines to be obstructed by untrimmed bushes, or we add even more distractions in the form of a forest of allegedly informational signs.

  • cyclingtoday

    it’s new and looks very nice, but that’s about it. calling it BEST in America is a gross overstatement though. as a conscientious cyclist, this kind of lane is one of the most annoying and terrifying to ride on if you’re a commuter. you’re offset from traffic, making precise maneuvers when turning difficult because drivers just don’t see you anymore when you cross streets or make a turn. we become part of the sidewalk, and drivers treat us like pedestrians. speaking of which, pedestrians walk on the lane, so what’s the point when you can’t maintain speed and now have to worry about going around people? and the up-and-down contours of the lane make it so not fun to keep your speed or to consistently RIDE your bike while on the lane. you just keep having to accelerate and slow down over and over again, while having to endure soft shots to the crotch whenever you descend from and rise back onto a sidewalk in order to cross a road running perpendicular to the lane. also, this lane only runs the length of Western Ave, and the Vassar St path is even worse. so let’s please not echo the adulation and not make this bike lane the face of a revolution because this lane is truly not cycling-friendly. give us a bike lane that runs in between the road and the sidewalk and is actually level and keeps up within direct sightline of drivers.