Somerville to construct nearly 30 miles of bike lanes by 2030; efforts divide other cities

An ordinance requiring 29 miles of protected bike lanes be built in Somerville by 2030 —  at least three miles per year —  has received full support from the City Council, as similar efforts in other communities divide officials and residents.

“Balancing the needs of all road users was at the heart of this ordinance,” Councilor Willie Burnley Jr., said in an X post Thursday, ahead of the council’s unanimous approval. “The bill ensures that, when overall parking is reduced to install bike lanes, accessible parking would be maintained as much as possible and increased when feasible and safe to do so.”

Burnley spearheaded the “Safe Streets Ordinance” with city officials and community advocacy groups following the death of Stephen Conley in August 2022.

The 70-year-old city resident died when he was traveling westbound in a painted bike lane on the busy thoroughfare of Broadway when a driver in an adjacent parking lane opened the door of his Land Rover into Conley’s path, according to StreetsBlog Mass.

“We knew then as we know now, thoughts and prayers aren’t enough,” Burnley said. “We need legislative and policy action.”

The councilor pointed out how the ordinance “goes beyond what Cambridge has enshrined in law, that it requires us to move faster than Cambridge moved.”

Officials in the city over are working to construct 25 miles of separated bike lanes by November 2027, a deadline 18 months longer than initially approved.

The Cambridge City Council in April extended the deadline, with some councilors saying it will provide flexibility to city officials installing the bike lane network and help small businesses mitigate any potential adverse effects.

Cambridge resident Susan Sheng, a member of a bicycle safety advocacy group in the city, said she hopes Somerville’s ordinance “serves as inspiration” for other cities and towns across the region to follow suit with their own safety laws.

“Given how interconnected our cities are,” Sheng told Somerville city councilors, “a comprehensive bike lane network that spans Somerville and Cambridge will make cycling a more attractive and viable transportation option for residents and visitors alike,”

The 29 miles of protected bike lanes by 2030 look to help Somerville achieve a goal set in its bicycle network plan of a 40-mile priority network by that year. The plan also aims to have cycling be the main mode of transportation for 15% of residents by 2050.

“The ordinance also acknowledges the deep desire for transparency as we transform our streetscape,” Burnley outlined on X. “Starting on March 1st, 2025, the ordinance will require that a website be built to publicly track where bike lanes have been built and their continuous mileage.”

In Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu’s efforts to roll out bike and bus lanes in some of the busiest parts of the city have caught backlash, especially in Back Bay and West Roxbury.

Work started last week in Back Bay, with a full-time dedicated bus lane being added on Boylston Street between Dartmouth and Arlington streets. A separated bike lane is also being added on Boylston from Massachusetts Avenue to Arlington Street, which the city says will create an essential link in the bike network from the west to the downtown core.

In West Roxbury, drivers, pedestrians and cyclists on Centre Street in West Roxbury are getting the hang of a controversial redesign, while business owners say their operations are being challenged, for the good and bad.

That redesign features one travel lane in each direction instead of two, a center turning/emergency lane, a bike lane along the curb, and a parking lane between the bike and travel lanes.

Some business owners reported to the Herald they suffered a 20% to 25% decrease in sales initially following the implementation last December.

Somerville City Council President Ben Ewen-Campen said he believes the new ordinance will “make an enormous difference in how safe it is to get around” his city.

“Unfortunately, there is a weird amount of acrimony around bike lanes,” Ewen-Campen said. “I think it’s completely misguided. I often hear stereotypes that all cyclists are rich, tech bros.”

“First of all, those people deserve to live, too, don’t get me wrong,” he added. “But just step outside. There are kids, there are elderly people … This is just about keeping people safe.”

A bike lane seen in Boston last month. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)

Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald

A bike lane seen in Boston last month. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)

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