After the pandemic compelled some people to stop taking public transportation and spend more time working at home, state officials noticed a significant increase in cycling. Some communities saw a jump of more than 50 percent, said Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler, as people began riding their bicycles more than ever, both as commuting vehicles and for recreation.

Officials noted that uptick in cycling, and are working to encourage it. So far, the state has granted more than $26 million to 161 cities and towns for projects that include bike lanes. But those lanes have proven to be contentious in some communities.

Cambridge is one city that’s leading the charge to install more bike lanes. But it’s a community with many competing interests for its street space. Once dominated by the needs of car owners, streets must now accommodate the growing number of cyclists who want and demand a safer place to ride.

Cambridge began installing new bike lanes along Mass. Ave. between Dudley Street and Alewife last week, despite protests from some residents. The lanes are marked with paint, flex posts and cones to provide some protection for cyclists, though not to the extent cycling advocates have demanded.

Opponents of the new bike lanes say the biggest issue is they will take away some parking spaces. For the project on Mass. Ave. from Dudley Street to Alewife Brook Parkway, 41 parking meters and approximately 30 unrestricted parking spaces are being removed. Seventeen parking meters will be added on side streets, along with two loading zones.

Business owners like Cynthia Hughes said they need those parking spaces to survive.

“I have to commute and have no place to park now,” Hughes said during a recent meeting of the city's transportation committeee. “So, we can’t run a business, obviously, if we can’t park ourselves. But this is drastically going to kill our business. I’m sure we have 75 percent of our customers drive to our shop.”

At the same city meeting, local cyclist Abigail Starr said the bike lanes will encourage her to use the area more and shop along Mass Ave.

“I have avoided visiting and shopping in Porter, Harvard, Central and Kendall for years because there's too much traffic to go there by car, and nowhere to park that car,” Starr said. “And I just didn't feel safe going there by bike. Now that the infrastructure is actually being built along Mass. Ave., I'm looking forward to many more trips by bike into Cambridge.”

One year ago, the Cambridge City Council approved an ordinance to build 25 miles of protected bike lanes along both sides of busy Mass. Ave. The city is moving ahead with those plans. But Transportation Director Joseph Barr said the initial lane construction is temporary.

“If we need to change something, we can learn what is maybe not working, and we could adjust elements within the overall goals of the project itself,” Barr said.

Despite the controversy and the pushback Cambridge is experiencing, state and community leaders are moving ahead with even more bike lanes. The challenge is to balance the mobility and parking needs of automobile drivers with the safety needs of cyclists.