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News :: Environment : Politics : Social Welfare : Technology
Fixing Broken Promises; City calls hearing on Bike Safety
23 Nov 2004
The flowery, warm prose of the Bicycle Friendly Communities 2003 awards report would make a Boston bike commuter’s heart skip a beat.

“The [bike path] network grew to over 240 miles… More than one-quarter of the city’s arterial streets have striped bike lanes or shoulders… bicycle access is fully integrated into the city’s light rail and bus system... Bicycle parking is provided [everywhere]… Motorists and bicyclists are educated to share the road…” What kind of utopian village is this? Well it’s not in Scandinavia, but it is in Boston’s U.S. polar opposite attitude-wise, Portland Oregon, land of the smiley happy people.

It may be hard to view the streets of Boston through the golden lenses of Portland’s bicycle La-La land, but there are still a few folks who can catch a wink of it if they squint and throw off their eye focus on a bright sunny day. These are Boston’s bike visionaries. They see Boston in terms of how it could be. Some have 10, 20, 30 years of advocacy under their belts, and precious little city-built biking infrastructure to show for it. “Getting a few ribbon racks takes ten years.” Says Carl Kurz, Organizer of Bikes-not-Bombs, “In the twenty years that I’ve been here there’s been a little over two or three blocks of bike lanes put in on the actual streets.”

Back in 1999, Boston was rated the least bike friendly city in the country by Bicycling magazine. The city council reacted. Mayor Menino jumped. The mayor vowed to fix the problems by instating a “Bike Czar” to address pedaler’s grievances. But the title wasn’t official. And other responsibilities were folded into the job description. Paul Shimeck, the man with the job, felt like his hands were tied. Then he was laid-off. Now Maura Hennigan, Boston City Councilor at-large and Menino-critic number one, wants the mayor to fulfill his original promises.

Tonight, [Monday Nov. 22nd 5:30pm-see below] Councilor Hennigan and the rest of the Council will hear the communities problems, misgivings and suggestions on the topic of Bike safety and whether t reinstate the Bike Czar.
Much of the council will be listening with receptive ears. Councilors Ross and Scapicchio were the original authors of the resolution asking for a Bike Czar, councilor McDermott from Allston helped call for this hearing and a prior hearing concerning crosswalks, and Councilors Turner and Arroyo will doubtless appreciate the benefits of biking in the city.

Those open ears will be well utilized when the public says that a “Bike Czar” will not be enough. MassBike Director Dorie Clark says they’re organization’s representatives will be presenting a three prong strategy. They propose immediately addressing a list of ten easy low-cost solutions to common problems, reinstating a Bike Czar position within the city, and creating a commission made up of biking community members, advocates, and Boston city planners that would have real influence over city planning and services.

Mr. Kurz even has problems with the name of the position, “Calling it a Bike Czar sounds like starting off on the wrong foot to tell you the truth. I don’t want to relate to a ‘Czar.’” A number of activists are as skeptical as he and many question whether the city will ever improve its record.

With perseverance, however, organizations like MassBike and other Boston bike activists are making slow steady progress. Their most recent success was getting the MBTA to increase the hours of access for bicyclists on the T, the fruits of an almost 20 year battle. Now, the only times bikers are not allowed on the T are from 7am to 10am and 4pm to 7pm. And, as the new flat bottom green line trains are phased in, the city may actually allow bikes on that part of the system too. Thanks to MassBike, this one part of the bike-friendly puzzle is falling into place.

According to the same awards report mentioned above, the cheery crowd in Portland won their safe and inviting streets through “political leadership, dedicated city staff, a comprehensive bicycle plan, an active bicycle advisory committee and an highly effective advocacy organization.”

Maura Hennigan has already hinted that she will run against Menino in the next election. She is accusing the mayor of structuring the former Bike Czar position so that it was “made to fail from the beginning,” and also saying things like “There are so many reasons why we should be embracing having a more bike-friendly city.” To her, this issue may have the double appeal of being a way to criticize the mayor while doing something that can only be interpreted as positive.

If activists can take advantage of this auspicious moment by acquiring a bike czar and a biking advisory commission, and if they can also build on their success with a strong Boston-based advocacy group or branch of an existing group, we may finally have a combination that could affect an entirely new vision of Boston. If you really strain your brain’s optimism center, this vision might include bicyclists smiling and waving at motorists, instead of making other gestures with their hands.

The hearing will be held from 5:30pm to 7:30pm in Boston city hall’s 5th floor Ianella chamber. City hall is located next to the Government Center stop on the Green line.
The docket officially reads:

Docket 1314 Order for a hearing regarding the reinstatement of the bike czar

Docket 1332 Order for a hearing to determine what steps can be taken to increase, the safety of Bicyclist in the City.

If you are a bicyclist in Boston it is in your interest to show up with as many of your friends as is possible. The more people we have in the hearing the more influence bicyclists will have over the results.
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