How long before I get hit by a cab or have my bike stolen?
November 24, 2007 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Boston Biking 101: Does biking in Boston for daily commute/activities make sense?

I'm moving to Boston and have been surprised by how long it would take to get anywhere on the T (at least according to the MBTA trip planner).

It seems to make much more sense to just get a bike and use that for daily commuting/errands/etc... How bike friendly is Boston (i.e. - availability of bike paths, easy routes from downtown to surrounding areas like Cambridge, bike allowed on public transit, etc...)? What hints/tips/advice do you have for basic urban commuting? What bike shops are good?

Oh, and I have to learn how to ride a bike first so any tips for bikes that are solid to learn on AND good for commuting gets you bonus points.
posted by doppleradar to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: No bike paths in Boston proper, but if you come in from Cambridge along Main Street and Mass Ave. near MIT there are a few bike lanes. Mayor Menino is all about bikes now, but the new surface road that was built over the Big Dig has no bike lanes.
posted by Gungho at 11:44 AM on November 24, 2007

In Boston, a LOT of my friends used their bikes to get around. I am under the impression that Boston is one of the most biking-friendly cities out there, in the sense that it's small, you actually can get around in many cases better than if you were driving.

One thing to be aware of though, is that Boston drivers are MANIACS. It can get very crazy. Nobody drives particularly fast, but they are aggressive and just crazy in general. This could be very daunting if you don't even yet know how to ride a bike in traffic. Something to be aware of.

That said, Boston is also a very pedestrian friendly city, and by pedestrian friendly, I mean pedestrians win, every time. Everybody jaywalks, everybody walks everywhere, and Boston drivers are very used to negotiating pedestrians and bike riders.
posted by pazazygeek at 12:04 PM on November 24, 2007

Best answer: I would be very wary of starting biking in Boston if you have never learned to ride a bike anywhere else before; it's pretty necessary to have the mechanics of riding down pat before you get out on a road so that you can devote most of your attention to looking for potholes, avoiding doors, and responding to crazy things cars are doing. If you're just learning and all your focus is on keeping in a straight line and not falling over, you're not going to be able to react to all the variable factors in the environment that require immediate attention.

The Boston BikeMap will give you details on whether there are bike lanes in areas you're interested in.

The MBTA has been putting more bike racks on buses, and bikes are allowed on most subway lines (not the Green) during non-rush hours. The bike policy is usually interpreted or applied at the discretion of the driver or conductor, despite what the official guidelines say.
posted by nonane at 12:13 PM on November 24, 2007

It's important that you understand pazasygeek's use of the word "maniac" here. It's not the Bill Murray, cheerfully-over-the-top kind of maniac. Boston drivers are actual, clinical psychopaths. I used to commute down through malden and everett to Boston via bike. This was in the 90s, and things can change, but I used to get an unbelievable amount of abuse and hostility from drivers. In other cities they may be careless, or indifferent, but in Boston I found that many drivers actively wished me harm -- doing things like getting right next to you and then blasting the horn to startle you for laughs, aggressively pushing you to the side when you're on a road with no bike lane, yelling epithets out the window. You're right about the efficiency of biking vs. the T in many cases, but don't expect it to be very relaxing.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:34 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

My friend, an experienced rider, commuted on his bike in Boston and only got hit by two cars and one bus. YMMV.
posted by found missing at 12:35 PM on November 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

There are lots of bikes in Boston, and especially Cambridge, but you do need to be very comfortable with the bike and alert at all times. You can start on some of the bike trails, then graduate to streets with bike lanes and quieter residential streets before you start regular commuting.
posted by Krrrlson at 12:35 PM on November 24, 2007

Boston's a great town for biking. The traffic is so crazy that everyone goes slow and is on the lookout all the time; I always felt much safer on my bike in Boston than sparser western towns. The city is a good size for biking and is mostly flat.

But I'd definitely want to spend a month getting comfortable riding a bike without traffic before hitting Mass Ave. Also get yourself a good bike with sturdy wheels, you're going to be hitting a lot of rough road and the occasional curb.
posted by Nelson at 1:30 PM on November 24, 2007

Best answer: Do it! I lived in Cambridge for 3 years without a bike and now that I have one, I don't know how I ever lived without it. I hadn't ridden a bike for maybe 8 years and while it was a little hairy at first, it didn't take very long to get acclimated.

Some previous AskMe threads on the subject here (Boston specific, even!) and here.

As far as specific riding tips go, riding defensively is the best way I've found to keep out of trouble. There are myriad schools of thought about the best way to ride in traffic. The more research that you do on the subject, the more diametrically opposed advice you will find. I will say these things: Take to heart the warnings about being "doored", be exceedingly careful around cabs, and don't ride in people's blind spots. If you're riding during rush hour, you will be passing cars most of the time, anyway. Try not to be too smug about it.

I have had almost entirely positive experiences with Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge.

I can't think of a reason to have anything more than a 3-speed in Boston.
posted by clockwork at 2:21 PM on November 24, 2007

Best answer: There are a bunch of bike recommendation threads here too. Learning to ride, commuting with a laptop and tips on bike commuting. Which bike for me, factors to consider when buying a bike? Dozens of others are there too, including those on how to fix saddle angle, handlebars, wet-weather commuting, how to make your bike less attractive to thieves, etc.
posted by barnone at 3:13 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's fantastic that you're considering learning how to ride a bicycle! I agree with the above statements that you'll need some time to adjust to cycling before challenging traffic. Please wear a quality, well-fitting helmet. Trust me on that. I found out the hard way.

Tip: When wanting to avoid an obstacle (storm drain, pedestrian, loose gravel, etc.) look at where you want to go. One tends to steer in the direction one's head is pointed. I've been riding all my life. I read that tip a few years ago and didn't think much about it. I can steer a bike! It sunk in the first time I rode a mountain bike trail and the sun began to set. It wasn't long before the only light was from a flashlight I had zip-tied to my helmet. I continually caught myself spot-lighting logs, ruts, and rocks and almost riding into them.

A few links:
Bike Forums
How to Not Get Hit by Cars
Sheldon Brown
posted by bonobo at 4:30 PM on November 24, 2007

Best answer: Cambridge has always seemed more bike-friendly than Brighton, where I currently live. Cambridge has bike lanes; Brighton has potholes. However, like others have said, traffic is bad enough that you will be passing cars on your bike.

If you want recreational rides, there's a nice path that follows the Charles on both sides of the river. There's also a trail that goes from Alewife station way out to Burlington - it's a wonderful trip, but it can get crowded during rush hour. Another nice thing is that Cambridge closes down Memorial Drive to cars on Sundays - it follows the river from Mt. Auburn hospital all the way past MIT to the Longfellow Bridge, which is a very nice ride if you want something leisurely on the weekend.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:29 PM on November 24, 2007

Boston drivers are insane, but biking is an incredibly rewarding method of commuting. And, once you've acquired the essentials (like lights, a helmet, a bike, a lock, a pump, etc.), it's completely free! (and fairly easy and low-maintenance, also)
posted by lunit at 9:43 PM on November 24, 2007

Best answer: I rode/commuted by bike in Boston for a decade... and yes, Bostonians are psychopathic when sitting in cars and tend to take their agressions out on bikers. I lived by a theory of biking that it was best to avoid conflict by not provoking car drivers whenever possible. Chose routes that utilize Boston's extensive park systems.

The bike paths along the Charles River parks are your best bets for getting into and out of downtown, and eventually you will have a mental map of the routes that offer the least danger and least chance for confrontation with crazed drivers.

I always ride beat up, ugly bikes slapped together from used parts. The uglier the better. They don't get stolen.
posted by zaelic at 5:51 AM on November 25, 2007

I rode at different times over 10 years in Boston. Early on it seemed cool but later on when I was commuting to work, it was pretty awful. I found it quite frightening, and had numerous close calls. I'm a pretty studied bike rider and had read a lot on how to commute safely but there are way too many dangers in Boston. Yes, the traffic is bad, and everyone sort of drives slow, but as soon as a slot opens up everyone slams on the gas. You don't want to be in front of that.

I found taking the T to be quite enjoyable though. I read the New Yorker cover to cover every week. Plus I got a chance to walk a lot.

Also bike paths, imoh, totally suck. They put you in awkward locations, either with other, dangerous, bike riders (often going the wrong way), or stuck in a position you don't want to be in.

You might want to read the book Effective Cycling, or something like that. Whatever the current bike commuting method is.
posted by sully75 at 3:27 PM on November 25, 2007

One thing about the trip planner - it always assumes the train is fastest because it comes most often. It gives you the route that picks you up first, not the one that takes the least time over all. You should try to check out the bus schedules manually because there's a good chance you'll find a bus that will take 10 minutes, while the trip planner is sending you into downtown to transfer lines.
posted by fermezporte at 8:13 PM on November 25, 2007

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