For the past few years East Boston has suffered some of the worst gridlock in decades. Since the reconfiguration of the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza and a dramatic increase in North Shore motorists using Eastie streets during their morning commute, getting around the neighborhood has become a little less easy.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has kept the traffic at bay with many still working from home City Councilor Lydia Edwards is taking proactive steps to try and cut down on neighborhood traffic once things start returning to normal with a plan to promote more bike usage for commuters.
Edwards and her colleague, At-Large City Councilor Michelle Wu, filed a hearing order last week to explore increasing the transportation options for cyclists on the MBTA’s Blue Line. Edwards explained riders are not currently able to bring their bicycles on the Blue Line during peak hours, which prevents commuters from being able to ride the T into the city and bike to their final destination.
“This is going to be the start of a conversation,” said Edwards. “We need to have a conversation about access and equity across transportation modes for East Boston residents. We’re separated from the rest of the city by the harbor and there’s no way for cyclists to be able to safely ride into the city. I’m proposing a pilot program to allow them to bring their bikes onto one car on the train during peak hours. With the population of the neighborhood growing, it’s important that we give residents as many transportation options as possible.”
An added benefit to Edwards’s plan is that Blue Line riders may spend less time on trains thus exposing themselves less to potential COVID exposure while commuting.
Data shows that vehicular traffic in Eastie has increased dramatically over the last 10 years with North Shore commuters spilling onto city streets as they try to avoid traffic on Route 1A. The Suffolk Downs proposal includes miles of dedicated multi-modal infrastructure, but its effectiveness will be limited by the MBTA’s prohibition of bicycles during peak rush hour on the Blue Line.
“If people want to bike to work from the Aquarium station, they should be able to do so,” said Edwards. “The more options we give people to get from Point A to Point B the fewer cars there will be on our neighborhood roads.”
Her plan has received the support of transportation advocates like former Boston Transportation Secretary John Vitagliano who successfully lobbied for the Marty Coughlin By-Pass Road to Chelsea that significantly reduced Logan Airport-related traffic in Day Square.
“I strongly support Councilor Lydia Edward’s excellent recommendation that the MBTA provide sufficient capacity on the Blue Line-which serves East Boston, Winthrop, Revere and other north shore communities-to accommodate bicyclists during rush hour periods as well as during current non-rush hour periods,” he said. “There are a number of possible operational alternatives, including full and partial train car/ bike provisions, that are feasible but would need to be evaluated through a vigorous test program. The current pandemic downturn of Blue Line ridership provides the opportunity to perform such a test. East Boston and other north shore communities deserve equal bicycle access to Boston-now is the time to do it.”