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News :: Education : Environment : Organizing : Politics : Social Welfare : Technology
City plays catch-up with Boston's bicycle activists
24 Nov 2004
Back in September city councilors appeared surprised by the number of attendees at a hearing for crosswalk safety and the amount of anger they brought to the meeting. After last nights hearing, called to consider both bike safety in general and the appointment of a “bike czar” for the city, they should now realize that they have awoken a sleeping monster. Activists and citizens packed the Ianella chamber and instead of a line of individuals sounding off the hearing began with a well-organized power point presentation to the councilors by an informal organization of bicyclists and pedestrians. A comprehensive bike safety plan was requested and drawn out in detail for the councilors.
As is the custom in these events members of the council and representatives of the city’s relevant departments preceded the public hearing. Tom Timlin and Vineet Gupta, both of the Boston Transportation Department, emphasized budget troubles and all the projects that currently include bicycle access in planning (some of these sounded questionable). Timlin seemed to say that even if a bike czar position was created in the BTD, that person’s responsibilities could not be limited to bike safety and the department needs to “balance the needs of constituents.” Councilors Maura Hennigan and Rob Cansalvo quickly, and very politely, tried to clarify Timlin’s statements.

“I’ve never heard you give a deaf to one of our requests and I’m sure your not going to start now.” Said Cansalvo.

Hennigan told Timlin directly, “that was the original problem with the position.”

After these opening salvos the council opened the floor to the public, whereupon a new “informally organized” group calling themselves the “Boston Bicycle Planning Initiative,” gave a thirty minute slide presentation that included a great deal of data supporting the idea that increased biking will bring social, health, and economic benefits for the city along with traffic relief and less pedestrian accidents.

The group represented a wide array of interests and included

Jeff Rosenblum- biking advocate and organizer
Jeffrey Ferris- Bike shop owner and activist
Ann Hershfang of WalkBoston, a pedestrian advocacy group
Doug Mink of MassBike
And Larry Slotnick from Zipcar

The presentation was very comprehensive, analyzing Boston’s failure and it’s potential success. Along with the litany of benefits and good examples to follow (including London, Chicago, and New York City), the group made four requests to the council.

- An official policy that would express the council’s dedication to making Boston a bike-friendly city.

- A volunteer commission for bike safety and planning issues that would include members of the community and officials from various city departments including health and transportation.

- A paid “Executive Director” that would coordinate with multiple departments, the commission and constituents.

- A budget.

“There is plenty of federal and state money out there for this kind of initiative,” said Rosenblum after the hearing, “the city just needs to add a little to get it going.”

At various points during this dissertation the councilors seemed distracted or tired, but their necks nearly snapped off when Larry Slotnick introduced the big business aspect of bicycle safety. All three councilors were held rapt by the fact that Boston’s major “Transportation Management Associations” support bicycle commuting, representing well over 122,000 employees and such firms as Fidelity Investments, John Hancock, State Street Bank, and Mass General Hospital.

Over 50 people were then scheduled to testify in two-minute slots. Among the highlights were:

Lamentations over the broken promises of the Huntington Avenue project wherein the idea of a bike lane or wide lane was scrapped mid-project,

A poster depicting a three hour bike trip and 61 double parked cars that, if ticketed, could have raised the city well over $2,000,

Exhortations to “get on the ball” with bike tourism and connect existing trails and new “rails to trails” to downtown Boston,

Complaints about congestion in the Longwood area,

And testimony about police ignorance of the bikers right to the road and discrimination against bikers in traffic disputes.

The hearing was called before all could be heard but a show of hands indicated complete and unanimous support for the reinstatement of the bike czar position.

What happens now will determine the future of biking in Boston. Much of what the city does depends on the Mayor and how the Mayor responds will definitely be relative to the amount of pressure activists can apply from below. The informal Boston Bicycle Planning Initiative is discussing becoming a more permanent and influential Boston-based advocacy group. The new fledgling will need enthusiastic support from Boston’s biking community in order to be effective in pulling the city, kicking and screaming, into a new two-wheeled era.

Folks can help the process along by calling their City Councilors and the mayor to voice their concern with bicycle safety or by contacting the new Boston group through Jeff Rosenblum at 617-939-3824 or email him at BBPI (at) .
See also:

This work is in the public domain.
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Re: City plays catch-up with Boston's bicycle activists
24 Nov 2004
First order of business is to prioritize what the bicycling community needs. Having been involved in bicycle activism for a while now, I know that there isn't a lot of agreement on what makes a good bicycling city. There needs to be a consensus (not a compromise!) of what we want and what we need.

Prioritizing, and consensus (not compromise!) is important whether there is an official Boston Bike Coordinator or not, if we want to make any real progress (as opposed to the few token booby prizes we've been getting for decades).

The results of a study I did with MassBike, and a similar one for Somerville, showed that the number one issue for bicyclists was safety. Convenience was another top priority, as was environmentally sustainable planning. I would add that education for both officials (police! judges, planners, teachers, etc.) and for the general public is probably the most useful way to affect changes. Bicyclists are discriminated against on nearly every level, even by the cyclists themselves (gotta get out of the way of cars!). Ending that discrimination with a well planned educational/public relations campaign that gives people the facts is probably the most important program the city could enact. Once everyone has the facts, then we can get on with making the streets and public spaces more accomodating for HPVs (human powered vehicles).

I would also caution folks not to accept more token offers, such as a substandard bike lane, or somesuch. Portland, Oregon, may sound like a dream come trtue, with all of it's miles of bike lanes, but the fact of the matter is that the bike lanes are pretty poorly designed (in door zones, only a couple feet wide, on the right of right turning traffic, etc.). The real reason that Portland is so great for cyclists is because most of the road users (cars, SUV's, bikes, and pedestrians) are respectful and law abiding.
Re: City plays catch-up with Boston's bicycle activists
25 Nov 2004
Bike lanes are an interesting dilemma. And by the way, there are some out there with enough room to avoid dooring. Some bicyclists prefer wider car lanes but then, narrow lanes for cars are proven to inhibit speed because drivers feel closed in. So if we make the original lanes wider then drivers feel like they can go faster. So what's more dangerous?

One thing about bike lanes is that they constantly remind drivers of the presence of bicycles and narrow their lane. So maybe something in the design of the actual lines can be done to show that bikes are not neccesarily restricted to the bikelane. Maybe a dotted line? Then bikes could hangout out just out of doors reach but cars would still be narrowed in by the painted bike lane.

Just an idea, not perfect. But Boston does have alot of narrow streets.
Re: City plays catch-up with Boston's bicycle activists
26 Nov 2004
right on boston! take a tip from nyc and hang in there! our revolution will not be motorized!
Re: City plays catch-up with Boston's bicycle activists
01 Dec 2004
I think there won't ever be a consensus on bike lanes (there are far too many pros and cons), so I would seriously suggest leaving it out of the discussion altogether. Why waste our precious time debating special facilities, when there are so many other really useful programs and practical solutions that aren't controversial at all? Lets stick with what we know works (widespread public education, good bike parking facilities, knowledgable cops and judges, etc.), and come to a consensus on what we need to do, keeping in mind the priorities that we have (safety, convenience, environmental sustainability, etc.).

If some poeple are just addicted to the idea of "special bike facilities" on the roads (for whatever reason), why not promote the shared lane concept? See for more information. The idea is to have as many of the plusses of seperate bike faciliies - such as promoting proper bicycle positioning in the roadway, and motorist awareness - without the minuses - poorly designed lanes, encouraging people to pass on the right of other traffic, "second class citizenry", etc. Cambridge and Somerville have been considering them, on a local level, but have been exceedingly slow to impliment them, for the usual political reasons.
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06 Jun 2006
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