In Lower Mills, installing new bike rack is all about location

This week, Mayor Thomas Menino proudly announced new bicycle lanes on Commonwealth Avenue in Allston and American Legion Highway in Roslindale, all part of a master plan to make Boston more bike-friendly. The first bit of that amiability to hit Dorchester will be a fresh batch of bike racks, thanks to all the noise DotBike, the neighborhood's new bike advocacy group, has been making.

One little blip on the radar screen did show up this week however, when complaints from a Lower Mills business owner stopped the installation of a rack that would have been positioned in front the Ice Creamsmith, a popular destination for cyclists riding by on the Neponset River Greenway or coming down Dot Ave.

"I see the need for a bike rack, but not immediately adjacent to a storefront where people are coming in and out," said Kasey Carney from Delaney Insurance, which is two doors down from the ice cream parlor. She also owns the building that both businesses are housed in.

But DotBike members who helped choose the sites say busy areas are the best place for racks, to prevent bike theft, to reduce congestion caused by bikes locked haphazardly to poles, trees and other objects, and to make convenient places to park for customers of local businesses.

"It's a shame they pulled it just because of one businessperson's complaint," said DotBike's Andrew Schroeder. "We chose it next to the places where people would most like to ride their bikes to."

"We get professional or amateur bike riders and then we get families with kids that ride over with their bikes," said Ice Creamsmith owner Dave Mabel. "I don't see what a bar on the edge of a sidewalk is going to do to hurt congestion or traffic or anything else. I don't have a problem with it being there."

Around the corner at Flat Black Coffee, bicyclists have been locking up to the benches out front due to a lack of options, said owner David House.

"We've always been on a bike path so I thought it would be a good idea," he said of the rack. Carney had nixed that idea too, he said.

Carney's recent complaint was sent to an e-mail list of business owners from the Lower Mills Merchants Association as well as representatives of the mayor and City Council President Maureen Feeney.

"After being interviewed months ago… I voiced my strong objection to a bike rack placed in front of our office and the stores. It is in my opinion too congested to support a bike rack immediately adjacent to the entrance of the stores," wrote Carney, suggesting instead an area across the street without any storefronts. That would be the Lower Mills Apartments, a Boston Housing Authority-run home for the elderly and disabled.

On the same day the e-mail was delivered, Lauren Smyth, Dorchester's liaison to the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, replied that the administration would find another location for it.

The bike rack that the city is trying to install, like some 25 to 40 others across the neighborhood, is nothing like the sprawling versions that might be seen on school or library grounds, or even the clunky upside down U-shaped ones installed by the city in various locales in the 1980s. The new rack is smaller than a parking meter in size and looks like a lollipop, yet its shape all but forces bicyclists to lock up parallel to it, out of the path of pedestrians, if installed correctly.

"When I have visited Lower Mills by bike I lock up to a tree or sign, which takes up exactly the same space on the sidewalk it does to use one of the new small racks," wrote Debbie Munson of DotBike in an e-mail. "The difference with the rack is that its easier to lock to, so my bike is safer, and I'm not damaging a tree, sign post, or interfering with use of a parking meter."

According to Nicole Freedman, the city's bicycle coordinator, there are exacting standards for placing street furniture that guarantee accessibility in accordance to the Americans with Disabilities Act. When not followed, the city can be and has been sued for installations that do not comply with ADA. Those specifications are followed in the design stage, and also double-checked by the installation contractor so that wheelchairs and other pedestrian traffic can be accommodated.

"The ideal rack is 50 or 100 feet from the place where people are going," said Nicole Freedman, the city's bicycle coordinator. "In general where there are people, where there's light and where there's activity is where the best place for a bicycle is [to prevent theft]."

Freedman said would go out and re-examine the location carefully.

"There are often multiple locations that will serve a location," she said.