Engi­neering pro­fessor, stu­dents plan city­wide bike paths

An earthy mobile of cyclists hangs above Peter Furth’s office com­puter. A gift from his chil­dren, the dan­gling arti­fact orig­i­nates from an African country where bikes are a pri­mary mode of trans­porta­tion, and is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the civil and envi­ron­mental engi­neering professor’s pas­sion: bicy­cles as transport.

I love public trans­porta­tion and bicy­cling because I love active living,” Furth says. “So many people enjoy the con­ve­nience of slip­ping into a car and com­muting that way, but I think these people are losing their lives — they’re never outdoors.”

By con­trast, there is nothing better than arriving to work red-​​faced from the wind, lungs and heart pumping, and blood flowing with vitality, he says. Furth and like-​​minded civil engi­neering stu­dents recently returned from a fac­ulty led study abroad trip to the Nether­lands, where they learned about a cul­ture and infra­struc­ture built for bicycle riders. “They have a system that is built to pro­mote walking and cycling,” Furth said.

He noted that 75 per­cent of school chil­dren in the Nether­lands ride bikes or walk to school. By con­trast, the number of U.S. school chil­dren who walk or bike to school are in the single per­cent­ages, he said.

Praising the city of Davis, Calif., for its adap­ta­tion of bike paths into the infra­struc­ture, Furth hopes Boston will pick up on the idea. He and a team of North­eastern civil engi­neering stu­dents who studied in the Nether­lands are working on 11 city­wide projects aimed at building better bike paths for those wishing to commute.

Stu­dents have been studying the former bridle paths of the Emerald Neck­lace, a seven-​​mile stretch winding from the Public Gar­dens in Boston through Jamaica Plain and winding up in Franklin Park, to look for ways to link the old path­ways together. In many por­tions, road­ways overlap the paths and would require recon­fig­u­ra­tion or redesign, sig­nals, or even bridges, for safe passage.

Our goal is to find ways to allow people to be able to bike around, either to and from work, or on errands,” Furth said. “We have a net­work problem. You can’t have people ride more bikes unless they can get from point to point in a safe, pleasant way.”

Stu­dents are seeing the green light in at least one inter­change. The rotary that con­nects Park Drive, the Riverway and Brook­line Avenue, is des­tined to become more pass­able for cyclists as part of a new redesign.

Furth’s stu­dents are in part respon­sible. The Army Corps of Engi­neers recently heard stu­dent tes­ti­mony at a public hearing on the Muddy River Project sup­porting the addi­tion of bike paths to the inter­change. Furth said their tes­ti­mony and research helped sup­port a design change that will allow for bike paths once the new inter­change is built in two years.

The Army Corps com­pletely changed their design to make it safer for bikes after they heard the tes­ti­mony of our stu­dents,” Furth said. “We’ve got 11 projects in the city, and I hope, in time, they will result in safer bike routes throughout Boston.”

By Susan Salk