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.