Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Beantown Bad Biking

Off Topic Warning: City cycling follows.

The parade of provincial, moronic xenophobes forms to the left, if they know left from right. Their letters to the Boston Globe blasting today's op-ed politely, gently ripping Boston for its hostility to cyclists will be hyperbolic and vitriolic. The topics are likely how dare a West Coast snot tell us about OUR CITY, and keep those damned kids on bikes off my road!

For a pre-taste, check Bicyclists: Scourge of the roads.

Yet Stephen Madden grew up in Dot and was a bike messenger here before moving out there and becoming the head editor at Bicycling Magazine. We here who love vetting should instead recognize him as an expert and give an eye and an ear.

Earlier this year, his staff and readers ranked Boston low as cycling city, yet again.

Our compact central fist and spreading arm of a city should be ideal for biking. We have broad avenues radiating from the center too.

Instead, as Madden notes, we have virtually no bike lanes and a pathetic, tiny set of bike paths. As we, not he, note, those are poorly constructed and maintained. They actually are used almost entirely by pedestrians, leaving cyclists to take the narrow streets beside them or slowly navigate around insensate strollers who are too dumb to see the cycle v. walker path cartoons, or choose to ignore them. The state owns and is supposed to police these paths.

While there is a nominal $50 for cyclists riding sidewalks in business districts, there is no corresponding penalty for blocking a bike path. The DCR's attitude has been that cyclists are totally responsible for the welfare of the most inane bike path pedestrian. In effect, it has turned the idea of a bike path to encourage safe biking on its head. The state instead forces cyclists onto arteries without either bike lanes or bike paths, further frustrating motorists and prompting cyclists to get back in their cars.

Madden instead concentrates on contrasting bike friendly cities with Boston. Even Cambridge has bike lanes on major roads, which are cheap, easy to maintain and encourage cycling instead of driving.

A mini-rant must include that bike lane enforcement is increasingly slack. Cabs and UPS trucks use them routinely as parking lots. This pushes cyclists into traffic, panicking drama queen drivers, who would rather swerve out into oncoming traffic than slow as required by law, safety, courtesy and common sense.

After a two-day, 75-mile personal survey, Madden suggests:
  • An "aggressive program of road resurfacing...You shouldn't need a shock absorber-equipped mountain bike to ride in the city."
  • Doing something about pedestrians, whom he found much more aggressive and dangerous than drivers. "Common sense dictates you don't talk in front of a moving vehicle, regardless of how many wheels it has."
  • Complement bike paths with bike lanes. The "more miles of bike lanes a city has, the more often people ride their bikes." Lanes cost under $6,000 per mile.
He didn't wave the flags of government either. We have a mayor who is overtly hostile to cycling. He killed the commission to advance it and canned the part-time employee. Da Mare is a real donkey on this subject.

We whine and scream about crowded streets, pollution and delays. One solution is here, it's cheap, it's well documented. Encouraging cycling requires a little vision, a little leadership and a little courage.

Having a mayor who biked to work would be great. It's not going to happen here with this one. Short of that, having one who puts aside his anti-bike sentiments for the good for the citizens seems reasonable. It looks like a job for the City Council.

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