Mass. Ave. bike lane future is looking up

Bike lane advocates took a hit last week when a lawsuit meant to force the city to paint lanes on Mass Avenue was dismissed by Justice of the Superior Court Geraldine Hines. In the process, however, the bicyclists may have won a larger battle.

Responding to both the lawsuit and a new policy to add bike lanes wherever possible, the city of Boston has submitted a new plan for Mass Ave. to Mass Highway. If accepted by state and federal agencies, the new street plan will retain a median the neighborhood has been clamoring for, and add bike lanes.

“If we had to change the position of the street and the median [in the plan], we might have forfeited the money,” said Boston Transportation Department commissioner Tom Tinlin. “We looked at the width of the street and we feel we have a plan that works and addresses all the needs along the corridor.”

Notably, the city is narrowing the inside car lane in each direction to 10 feet to squeeze in the bike lane, a precedent setting move as BTD has long held on to an 11-foot-wide standard for car lanes. The outside car lanes on both sides of Mass Ave. will fit that 11-foot standard, to accommodate buses and trucks, and the bike lane will be five feet wide—wide enough for cyclist to effectively avoid the “door zone” presented by parked cars.

Another encouraging sign for advocates is the participation of the Toole Design Group in both the new plan for Mass Ave. and a much wider effort to assess the possibility of bike lanes on around 80 streets throughout the city that are eligible for repaving and striping via $21 million in federal stimulus funds.

Senior planner Nick Jackson of TDG grew up in Boston, but spent a good part of his career in Chicago working with mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration on that city’s bicycle accommodations. TDG helped create the Bike 2015 Plan, which has garnered Chicago national attention among bike advocates.

As for the lawsuit, attorney for the advocates Andrew Fischer has held open the possibility for an appeal to the judge’s decision. His argument rests on a law that orders the commissioner to make “all reasonable provisions” for the accommodation of bicyclists in roadway designs. Justice Hines’s decision, however, states that individuals are not given a right to accommodation by the law, and thus they cannot sue the state for a breach of it.

“To establish standing, a plaintiff must show that there was a breach of a duty owed to him by the defendant and that he suffered an actual injury that was a ‘direct and ascertainable consequence’ of the defendant’s actions,” wrote Justice Hines. “The statute does not purport to establish any rights and does not specify any class of persons intended to benefit for the statute, thus there is no private right of action…”

The main plaintiff in the case, South End resident Ken Kruckemeyer, is out of country at the moment and couldn’t be reached for comment.