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News :: Education : Environment : Organizing : Politics : Social Welfare : Technology
City plays catch-up with Boston's bicycle activists
by Pete Stidman
Email: pstidman (nospam) yahoo.com
24 Nov 2004
Modified: 08:22:09 AM
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 disguised in suits and formal wear. A comprehensive bike safety plan requested and drawn out 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. There is considerable feeling in the group that they should remain separate from MassBike and work along side them, but there is also a group of thought that the group should merely be a branch of the 25-year old group. The supporters of a separate group cite MassBike’s long history but low results. MassBike recently hit the 1000 member mark, but this is in a state of 6.4 million after a quarter of a century of work. Supporters of the branch group idea cite the possibilities of a new MassBike era under the leadership of the new Executive Director Dorie Clark. In either case 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 MassBike and Doug Mink at the link below.
This work is in the public domain