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Southwest Corridor Park



Southwest Corridor Park - Parkland Management Advisory Committee (PMAC)

Southwest Corridor Park Path Survey
Winter/Spring 2015

In February 2015, PMAC’s bicycle-pedestrian path ad hoc committee launched a survey about the Southwest Corridor Park path.  We publicized the survey via various neighborhood and bicycle or pedestrian-related email lists and social media pages.  We encouraged people to share the survey with their own networks, striving, not necessarily for a random sample, but for a broad selection of path users with a variety of viewpoints.

We received 595 survey responses. Many different organizations and people were very supportive of the survey, and sent it out to their email lists and/or posted it on organizational Facebook pages or Twitter feeds.  It is great to see that, based on the large number of survey results and the extensive comments, many people clearly care a lot about the SWC and think deeply about how to improve the SWC.

Summary/Analysis of Results

What do people say about the Southwest Corridor Park?

  • It's a place where you meet people.
  • I bike, jog or walk my dog in the park every day
  • It's the best part of my commute to work
  • I love the gardens

Q1: How do you usually use the Southwest Corridor Park paths? (Check all that apply)

When asked how they generally use the Southwest Corridor path, about 75% of survey respondents said bicycle, an overlapping 73% said walking, and another overlapping 30% said jogging/running. Smaller numbers chose walking with stroller, skateboarding, rollerblading, working along the corridor or other responses.  Among those who said “other,” most mentioned walking with dogs.

Q2: About how often do you travel on the Southwest Corridor Park paths?

Most survey respondents are regular users of the corridor – four in ten reported that they use the corridor 5-7 days per week; another three in ten said they use the corridor 1-4 days per week.

Q3: Do you live and/or work near the Southwest Corridor Park?  (Check all that apply)

57% of survey respondents live or work in Jamaica Plain, 23% in the Back Bay or South End, 16% in Roxbury, 5% in the Fenway neighborhood and 14% in other neighborhoods or cities. Among the other neighborhoods and cities, Roslindale was the most frequently mentioned.

Q4: In the past 12 months, have you encountered issues regarding communication, courtesy and civility among bicyclists, pedestrians and others on the path that affect your use and enjoyment of the SWC pathways? If yes, describe.

Over half of respondents say that they "rarely or never" encounter issues about civility or courtesy on the path.... and another four out ten say "yes, sometimes," and only about one out of ten say "yes, frequently."

Q4: In the past 12 months, have you encountered issues regarding communication, courtesy and civility among bicyclists, pedestrians and others on the path that affect your use and enjoyment of the SWC pathways? If yes, describe.

Answer Options

Response Percent

Response Count

Yes, frequently

9.8%

57

Yes, sometimes

33.4%

194

Rarely or never

54.0%

314

Unsure

2.8%

16

These responses are somewhat correlated with location and mode of travel.  Respondents who live or work near the Back Bay/South End (where the park has only is a single path) are most likely to say they "rarely or never" encounter issues and Roxbury area respondents (who often mentioned issues related to walking on the bike path vs. on the sidewalk along the street near Roxbury Crossing and Jackson Square) slightly more likely to say "sometimes" or "frequently."   Joggers, walkers and people who both walk and bike are most likely to report that they rarely or never encounter issues. 

Q4: In the past 12 months, have you encountered issues regarding communication, courtesy and civility among bicyclists, pedestrians and others on the path that affect your use and enjoyment of the SWC pathways? If yes, describe.

By Mode of Travel

Rarely or never

Jog

63%

Walk-Jog

61%

Walk-Bike

60%

Walk

59%

Bike-Jog

52%

Walk-Bike-Jog

50%

Bike

44%

By Neighborhood

Rarely or never

Back Bay/South End

67%

Fenway

55%

JP

51%

Roxbury

50%

 

Q5: The Southwest Corridor Park bike path was created as a dual path system from Forest Hills to Mass. Ave. But while the path was designed as a dual path, people often walk on the bike path, especially where the walking path is a concrete sidewalk near the street and less desirable than the bike path.  Which of the following three options do you support?

One of the core questions in the survey presented three options about sharing the path, asking whether the dual path should be generally acknowledged as shared, or whether the bicycle path should be kept for bicycles only, or to vary the treatment depending on the layout of the path.

Q5: The Southwest Corridor Park bike path was created as a dual path system from Forest Hills to Mass. Ave. But while the path was designed as a dual path, people often walk on the bike path, especially where the walking path is a concrete sidewalk near the street and less desirable than the bike path.  Which of the following three options do you support?

Answer Options

Response Percent

Response Count

Option 1: Acknowledge that this is a shared path (bike/pedestrian).

26.8%

152

Option 2: Keep the bike path for bicycles only.  Pedestrians should consistently be directed to the walking paths.

29.6%

168

Option 3: Vary the treatment:  When the pedestrian path is a sidewalk near the street, treat the bike path as a shared use path.  Where the pedestrian path is in the park, direct pedestrians there.

43.7%

248

Overall, about seven in ten respondents favor some level of sharing (Option 1 plus Option 3) and three in ten prefer that the bicycle path be kept for bicycles only (Option 2).

What did people say is most important in creating a positive bike-pedestrian culture?

  1. Signaling when you pass using voice or bell.
  2. Yielding to let others pass by.
  3. Traveling on the right-hand side of the path and moving toward the right to let others go by.
  4. Traveling at a comfortable, safe speed.
  5. When walking with dogs, choosing a leash that keeps your dog safe and out of the flow of bicyclists and others.
  6. Being mindful of time of day - such as expecting lots of bicycle commuters during commuting hours.
  7. Being aware of the "mixing areas" where different paths/modes come together at intersections, T stations, playgrounds, etc.

Artwork by a Wake-up-the-Earth festival attendee.

In comments, many of those who chose Option 2 pointed out that the SWC is the only dedicated bike route from the south side of the city into downtown.... a rare and valued piece of bicycle infrastructure. Some mentioned the environmental benefits of bicycle commuting. And many mentioned that they feel it is dangerous to have pedestrians, children and dogs in the path of high-speed cyclists. They also mentioned that pedestrians often blocked the path, either unaware of their surroundings or deliberately refusing to move for bicyclists.

But other commenters -- from both bicyclists and pedestrians (and, most typically, people who both walk and bike) -- said that a minority of bicyclists travel too fast and are aggressive. And many said that it's natural that people will want to walk, jog, bike with children, walk with strollers, skateboard, etc., on the path that is inside the park and not on a sidewalk that is next to the street. Many said that problems among park users are rare, and that common sense and courtesy were most important.  

Many commenters also mentioned the challenge of jogging on the sidewalk, noting that it is much safer to jog on the bicycle path in those areas where the alternative is a sidewalk along the street.

Bicycle speed was a central issue.  Some respondents cited the desire for high-speed bicycle travel, while other respondents said that high-speed bicyclists created a danger.  Some bicyclists described accidents or near-accidents that happened when they or a friend stopped suddenly or veered off the path because a pedestrian didn’t move out of the way or because a child walked into their path.  These incidents raise the issue of speed (as well as path usage).  As one commenter noted,  

“It seems to me that option 2 [keeping the bicycle path for bicycles only] is not a viable alternative.  It doesn’t seem enforceable in terms of keeping pedestrians off the more desirable route. Additionally, bicyclists need to have a reasonable expectation for acceptable travel speeds. We cannot create an "expressway for bikes" as there will inevitably be serious accidents / injury for pedestrians unfamiliar with the area.”

Responses on this question were correlated with responses to Question 4 about issues of civility and communication.  Respondents who said they “rarely or never” encountered issues were more likely to advocate some level of sharing along the path.  Responses were also correlated with mode of travel and neighborhood as shown below.

Respondents

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

Some level of sharing (Option 1 + Option 3)

All

27%

30%

44%

70%

 

 

 

 

 

Mode of Travel

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

(Option 1 + Option 3)

All Joggers

36%

18%

47%

82%

All Walkers

30%

24%

46%

76%

All Bicyclists

24%

34%

42%

66%

 

 

 

 

 

Mode of Travel

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

(Option 1 + Option 3)

Jog

86%

0%

14%

100%

Walk-Jog

42%

6%

53%

94%

Walk-Bike-Jog

33%

19%

48%

81%

Walk

31%

19%

50%

81%

Walk-Bike

26%

32%

42%

68%

Bike-Jog

26%

32%

42%

68%

Bike

12%

51%

37%

49%

 

 

 

 

 

Neighborhood

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

(Option 1 + Option 3)

Roxbury

31%

19%

49%

81%

Back Bay / South End

32%

21%

47%

79%

Jamaica Plain

27%

31%

43%

69%

Q6: When you walk or bike along the Southwest Corridor Park (in the sections between Mass Ave and Forest Hills), which path do you generally choose?

When asked about whether, as a pedestrian, they currently use the path designated for pedestrians, or, as a bicyclist, the path designated for bicyclists, responses confirmed that pedestrians (and joggers) often choose to use the bicycle-designated path where it is the preferable option, while bicyclists typically keep to the bicycle-designated path.

In the section from Mass. Ave. to Forest Hills….

Yes

No

Varies

Q6a.) [For pedestrians] As a pedestrian, I generally walk on the path designated for pedestrians.

201

28

217

 

Percent

45%

6%

49%

Q6b.) [For bicyclists] As a bicyclist, I generally bike on the path designated for bicyclists.

425

1

19

 

Percent

96%

0%

4%


Q6a: As a pedestrian, I generally walk on the path designated for pedestrians.

By Mode of Travel

Yes

Varies

No

Walk-Bike-Jog

32%

62%

5%

Walk-Bike

46%

46%

6%

Bike-Jog

41%

45%

14%

Walk-Jog

37%

60%

3%

Bike

71%

24%

2%

Walk

42%

44%

6%

Jog

29%

43%

29%

 

 

 

 

By Neighborhood

Yes

Varies

No

Jamaica Plain

39%

52%

8%

Roxbury

43%

51%

5%

Back Bay/South End

51%

40%

2%

Q7: Please rate each of the following statements:

The next question asked about current signage and messaging.  These responses, along with some related comments, indicated that there is some confusion (or lack of clarity) about path designations, about guidelines for civility, courtesy and communication, and about how to proceed around intersections and playgrounds.

Answer Options

Yes

Somewhat

No

Unsure

a.) Current signs and path markings make it clear which paths are designated for bicyclists and which are designated for pedestrians.

146

312

95

20

 

Percent

25%

54%

17%

3%

b.) Current signs and path markings are clear around intersections, playgrounds or other park features.

118

253

157

40

 

Percent

21%

45%

28%

7%

c.) Current signs and path markings communicate clear expectations about how to share the path among bicyclists, pedestrians and others.

51

183

290

43

 

Percent

9%

32%

51%

8%

d.) There is a "culture" in the Southwest Corridor Park that promotes good communication, civility and courtesy among all modes of transportation.

87

288

123

73

 

Percent

15%

50%

22%

13%

 

Open-Ended Comments

Throughout the survey results, there were numerous comments about specific improvements that would be helpful in the park, including improvements to signal timings, ramps and crosswalks at intersections; surface improvements; trimming shrubbery to improve sight lines near intersections, and other improvements.  There were many suggestions about widening the path or re-designing the pedestrian path in order to have equally desirable routes for pedestrians and bicyclists.  There was praise for snow removal over the winter, commonly mentioned since the survey was launched in February after the many Winter 2015 blizzards. 

Respondents offered a variety of suggestions about signage.  Many comments focused on how to improve signs and markings to provide clarity around which path is which and to provide signage around playgrounds. Comments mentioned the importance of minimizing the potential "clutter" of too many signs, and many commenters said they prefered path markings, when possible, rather than signs.   Some ideas included:

  • Some signage about history along the route would be nice (an addition to the park). There are lots of great old brewery buildings to highlight and the story of the creation of the park is a good one.
  • Maybe signage encouraging cyclists to signal that they are passing? A bell or just saying "on your left" might be useful. I think it could be cool to have a "bike facts" sign at the intersections with long lights (Tremont and Ruggles). It’s so boring to sit there, but it could be cool to read something like "x people bike along this path every day" and it might pique the interest of some walk or train commuters.
  • There should be a "suggested" use of the SWC that reads something like, "Runners: if running on the bike path please stay right and in single file. Cyclists: this path is multi-use, alert pedestrians and pass on the left"
  • I remember seeing my first "share the road" sign on the Mass. Ave. bridge on the Charles River. I love those! There should be more. If they are already on the bike path, I don’t remember them. I think both bikers and walkers need to learn the rules and both can improve their manners to respect the other. Some bikers do crazy rude stuff. So do some pedestrians –I’ve been yelled at by kids who say the bike path was built for pedestrians and try not to let me pass.
  • What if there was a solar powered air pump for bike tires somewhere along the path?
  • I would like to see signs on the roadways that say something like "bicycle & pedestrian crossing.”It seems like most local drivers know there is a bike path, but I often have to navigate around cars that are in the middle of the crosswalk while waiting for a traffic light. I think it would be a significant safety improvement to give drivers a warning (beyond just the presence of a crosswalk), that they are crossing the southwest corridor. Thanks for doing this survey. I’ll pass it on to some neighbors.

One of the themes throughout the comments was person-to-person civility and communication, often seen as important as signage.  Negative communication is mentioned – but also the overall climate of friendliness.

  • I try to always stay far to the left and defer to cyclists when I am running on the path. In one or two cases over the last few years I’ve had bicyclists yell something rude, and one time a biker seemed to try to buzz by close to "claim" the path.
  • A few times a group of kids thought it was funny to walk abreast so bikes couldn’t get by, but then they laughed and let me ride past. Usually folks are very friendly! One time my skirt got caught in my bikes gears and two people ran up to help me, and their dogs too of course.:-)
  • Not all behavior can be regulated. Sooner or later one has use common sense and respect. When I’m on a bicycle I yield to pedestrians, when a pedestrian, I expect that a cyclist will yield for me. Simple.

Social media was mentioned, especially with respect to reports about path conditions, but also as a means of promoting the park, publicizing park events and sharing best practices.

  • Path markings with arrows.  Social media to communicate events on, near or that could impact the park in addition, any improvements, projects or cleanings as well as ways for the community to get involved including picking up trash, graffiti or planting trees..
  • Painted markings periodically on the paths might be helpful, and signs or online posts about standard path use etiquette (i.e., what "on your left" means and why bikes use it, suggestions for signaling your next move, etc.) More importantly though, the physical spaces need to be adapted to be more conducive to their intended traffic type: what about adding a barrier on directly-abutting sections along Columbus ped paths to make people walking / running more comfortable there, or a painted center line that subconsciously indicates the bike path is for faster traffic and encourages folks to stay right?

Comments from a wide variety of park users expressed a call for civility in bike-pedestrian culture. 

  • I have lived along 4 different segments of the SWCP since my move to Boston in 1991 from the South End to Forest Hills. I know the corridor intimately and use if for both walking and cycle commuting regularly. I have been biking on the corridor regularly since 1997. I am pleased with the growth of cycling in Boston overall….. However, tension between cyclists and pedestrians on the corridor last year was the greatest I’ve ever seen, also. It’s inevitable. Whenever there is traffic and congestion, especially absent clear rules of use designed into the infrastructure where possible, tension increases. I am very happy so see this survey and be able to comment. I have confidence that PMAC will rise to the occasion and improve the corridor for all modes. It will take quality / thoughtful design changes, money and commitments from both the city and the state. The vision of the corridor as conceived in 1987 is finally coming to fruition. Now the work begins to enhance and improve it. Overall, the changes needed are not huge or insurmountable, but would offer enormous benefits for the city. Thank you.
  • Walkers are going to use the bike lane. It’s just the way it is. . . We should acknowledge that. Bikers get all outraged when people say "streets were made for cars only," but then expect the bike paths to exclude walkers and joggers. Some cyclists are such sanctimonious brats (and I’m a cyclist. . . A singlespeed hipster cyclist, no less).

 

About the Open-Ended Comments

Because there were such extensive comments, all very thoughtful, but with so many opposing points of view, it was important to find a way to analyze the comments to look for areas of agreement. Committee members and DCR staff reviewed the comments, using text analytics to analyze frequently-mentioned words and ideas.

Throughout the survey analysis, the committee studied results looking at areas of agreement among respondents. We noted that most bicyclists and pedestrians recognize common ground, sharing an appreciation for healthy, environmentally-friendly modes of travel. Some survey respondents connected the current bicycle-pedestrian issues to the park’s history, noting that in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a growing awareness of the way that highways and high-speed traffic through urban areas isolated people from the communities they passed through and created safety and health issues. There was then, and is now, an interest in slowing down and encouraging bicycling, walking and other means of active transportation.

Areas of agreement and shared values across responses and points of view included:

  • The importance of the SWC to the city.
  • That many people (adults and youth) use the SWC to travel to/from work and school (biking, walking, jogging and/or walking to the T.)
  • That the park is used extensively year-round, at all times of day and in all weather, including snowy and rainy weather, with heaviest use in good weather and during commuting hours.
  • That many families with children use the park (walking with children, walking with strollers, playing on playgrounds, families riding bicycles with children).
  • That the SWC has an active maintenance program – snow removal was especially mentioned. 
  • That many people are aware of and appreciative of the history of the SWC.
  • The value of continual investment in improvements to the SWC.
  • The value of "greenspace" and "green" environmentally-friendly lifestyles.
  • The value of personal safety.
  • The value of a peaceful commute or walk (away from traffic).
  • The value of communication -- using voice, bell, etc. -- to communicate when passing.
  • The value of being aware of other users and yielding to let others pass by.
  • The need for long-term improvements -- especially the idea of a better option for pedestrian – a path for pedestrians inside the park rather than the sidewalk or a wider shared path.  
  • The need for safety improvements and signal timing, wider ramps, etc., at intersections
  • Concerns about speed and safety (cars, bicycles)
  • General consensus (among all who mentioned center striping) about wanting a center stripe on the bike path.