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In 1999, double stripes appeared at the sides of North Beacon Street in Watertown between Watertown Square and Charles River Road. An acquaintance of mine who is active in Watertown politics has told me that these are in fact not bike lanes: rather, residents had objected to a Massachusetts Highway Department plan to convert North Beacon Street from two wide lanes to four narrow ones, and the stripes are only intended to designate the  two travel lanes, instead of four. However, the double lines have the appearance of bike lane stripes, and some bicyclists have referred to them as bike lanes. The striping is nonstandard, and confusing.

In a posting on the massbike e-mail list (March 27, 2001), Caren Eliezer, a member of the Watertown Bicycle committee, described the political process that led to the striping:

The Town of Watertown had direct experience with the whims of Mass Highway a couple of years ago when they up and decided to convert North Beacon St. [Route 20] into a four lane highway. Appeals to them went unheard. They even had redesigned the bus route plans and put bus stop signs where there were no buses running. It took the uproar of the Town Council, signatures of hundreds of citizens and lots of work by the bike committee and neighborhood to get them to back down. Mass Highway is both their name and their attitude. Not Mass Neighborhood.

The problem that led to the nonstandard striping therefore appears to be one of inadequate, hasty redesign.

At the west end, in Watertown Square,  the treatment begins with a dashed stripe at its left. If the dashes are intended to indicate where motorists entering from the right should turn, they do not extend far enough to accommodate normal turning movements. The bicyclist in the photo, riding against traffic, has taken advantage of the "safe" space provided by the striping, in the absence of traffic law enforcement or directional signage.

9905N11R25West end,N. Beacon.jpg (28532 bytes)

The photo below (at Pequossette Road, looking east) shows the typical striping at unsignalized intersections. The white stripes nearer the centerline extend not only to the intersections, but partway across them.

9905N11R29 N. Beacon at Pequossette.jpg (32036 bytes)

Here, at the signalized intersection with Beechwood Rd., the striping is different but also nonstandard. The lines at the bottom of the picture mark the end of a parallel parking lane.

9905N11R28 N. Beacon at Beechwood.jpg (27563 bytes)

What should have been done on North Beacon Street?

I concur with  the idea of reducing the number of travel lanes, and this reduction is advantageous to bicyclists. A road with two wide lanes is certainly better for bicycling than a road with four narrow lanes.

A single guide stripe to the right of the travel lane would leave room for a a parking lane wide enough for bicyclists to share safely. Parking stalls in the parking lane would discourage motorists from driving there, except to merge before parking or turning right. Neckdowns or median refuges would also be a possibility, to decrease pedestrian crossing times. The street has ample width for these without right-turning vehicles' impeding through traffic.

An alternative I would find much less satisfactory would be bike lanes designed according to AASHTO guidelines, with dashed sections before each intersection and signage directing motorists to merge across the bike lane before making a right turn.. The problem is that Beacon Street has many intersections and driveways, and so the entire length of the bike lane would have to be dashed. Whether it is dashed or not, motorists tend to think of a bike lane as a "sidewalk in the street", so they are more likely to turn right from the left of bicyclists than if no bike lane is designated.