A Beginner's Guide to Commuting By Bike in Boston

Whether you’re waiting in lines to get onto the bus or waiting in traffic to get into town, let me introduce you to something that has changed my life— my bike!

Instead of walking multiple blocks to stand in a single file line to get on the 7 bus, I start my day with some physical exercise and arrive to work alert and on time.  

For a long time I was nervous to ride my bike in the city and with good reason—the streets are busy and can be intimidating. Boston has been slow to roll out safe bike infrastructure citywide but with all of the new initiatives to make cycling safer, the streets are becoming friendlier and safer to new and old cyclists alike. We still have much work to do but Boston’s network of bike lanes continue to become more connected each year, which is great for both cyclists and drivers. 

My daily commute for work begins on K Street in South Boston and ends in the Leather District. By bus, my commute can take anywhere from 18 to 30 minutes depending on the traffic and weather. By bike, my commute has been reduced to 8 to 10 minutes. While it’s completely understandable that cycling is not the right solution for all people or all trips, it’s a great option to consider if you want to take control of your commute while getting a good cardio workout in the process.

If you’re considering biking, new to it or been riding around the block for some time, I wanted to share 8 helpful points to keep in mind before you hit the streets of Boston:

1.    Know your route and where to be cautious
Not all streets have bike lanes so you need to use your best judgment for your journey and plan ahead. GoogleMaps has fantastic route suggestions that will help guide you to bike-friendly areas. Summer Street & D Street have decent bike lanes so if you work in the Seaport or the Financial District, it’s a pretty straightforward ride. I’d also recommend taking your route for a test ride with a friend, neighbor, or co-worker.  We all know someone who loves to bike, and that person will likely be eager to ride with you until you get the hang of it! You may even try a test ride on your bike on a weekend prior to riding the route on a busy weekday.

2.    Ride where you feel most comfortable.
For me, I generally avoid East & West Broadway when I can and stick to parallel side streets like First St, Third St or Fourth Streets as well as bike paths where I know there’s less vehicular traffic. D Street, Summer Street, William Day Blvd and the South Boston Waterfront have connected bike lanes and there’s more lanes planned for a safer connection into the South End over the West 4th Street & Broadway Bridge.

3.    Ride with traffic, not against it 
Decades ago, riding against the flow of traffic was taught in schools as the safest way to ride a bike. Back then there were only a small fraction of the number of cars as there are today, and over the years countless studies have proven that it is much safer to ride in the same direction as vehicular traffic. In Southie, there are two streets that legally allow what is called "contra-flow" bicycling. Both ends of D Street allow bicycles to go the wrong way for one block. Other than those areas, ride with the flow of traffic. This goes for bike paths as well so be mindful of the signage.

4.    Ride with a sense of community
Traffic in an urban setting is a complicated set of moving pieces especially at busy intersections. It’s best to follow the rules of the road just as you would in a car to keep everyone moving safely and systematically.

5.    Be visible and be connected
Don’t assume drivers can always see you so use your best judgement and make sure you’re visible by wearing brighter clothing with a working front & rear light. When I ride, I like to be aware of my surroundings so I recommend keeping headphones off so you can better hear what’s going on around you. A bike bell is also a good idea, especially if you ride on paths that are shared with bicycles & pedestrians—always yield to pedestrians. If you need to pass another cyclist, pull up behind them and say “on your left” to give them a polite heads up. 

6.    Watch for parked cars and opening doors
In the world of Uber & Lyft, cyclists have to be extra careful around cars pulled over on the side of the road. At any moment a car door can swing wide open and you'll be the winner of the "door prize". Getting doored is actually one of the most common types of bike crashes. So when riding along a row of parked cars, it’s best to give yourself roughly a 3-foot buffer from the cars, otherwise known as the "door zone".

7.    Protect yourself for your ride
Though helmets are not required by law over the age of 16,  I certainly wear mine for the added assurance as well as a pair of sunglasses to protect my eyes from the sun, dust and insects. Lastly, keep an eye on the forecast before your ride so you’re prepared if you need to bike home in less than ideal weather conditions.

8.    Maintain your bike
Keep your bike in good working condition by having it regularly serviced to prevent mechanical failures. It's easy to do an "ABC Quick Check" on your bike before each ride: 1. Keep your tires full of air 2. Make sure your brakes are functioning 3. Have a clean and well-lubed bike chain.

When waiting for the bus or stuck in traffic, you have given up your control of your commute. If you want to take that control, then give biking a shot. Hope to see you out there—and remember to be smart and ride safe Southie!

Check out additional cycling resources from the City of Boston https://www.boston.gov/departments/boston-bikes

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