Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bike Week Blows In

Snark first...

The cycling convert, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, needs to dump the UMASS Boston jock suit. It's a preschooler's color that gives him the look of Grumpy Bear. That's doubly unfortunate in that he was doing something vaguely athletic and he was quite jolly at the time.

Yesterday, Da Mare led the gentle pedal down Tremont to Sudbury to Congress on the way from City Hall Plaza to Post Office Square. His posse included bout 50 cyclists — not a single other one dressed like one of the Care Bears™. The occasion was the opening day of Bay State Bike Week announcements.

That gives you a full six days to get your well-intentioned rear onto a cycle saddle and into the street. To further dash excuses, the skies want you out. Yesterday was the big wind and with the possible exception of a few passing showers on Thursday, the weather will be dandy all week.

Yesterday was indeed windy, blow-over-bike windy. I'll include an image of Cara Seideman (without the helmet) to show what the folk at the podium who had removed their gear faced. The helmeted woman below is Boston's cycle czarina, Nicole Freedman.

The celebration is a variation on a theme that has run well over a decade, from single Boston Bike Day events in the 1990s into a combined Boston/Cambridge one expanding into a week into the second year of the optimistically named current incarnation. This has not always been linear, as Menino used to be hostile to inconveniencing motorists (voters) in any way, even to share the road, obey state laws and city regulations, and cut down on noise, congestion and pollution.

Celebrations shrank. The marvelous Tour de Graves rides halted. By bad timing or personality or whatever, the previous bike czar ended up with little to show for his tenure, as the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee suddenly disappeared from the budget. The city continued to have terrible ratings as a place for bike commuters and recreational cyclists. Yet, the advocates in City Hall, the dogged cyclists, and the successes in such outliers as Cambridge seem to have slowly worked resurrection magic on the events. (I have quite a few Tour de Graves shirts and would love for that to return. I've led one ride in that series and would do another gladly.)

The mayor decidedly gets it now. Apparently, that includes enabling Freedman's programs.

Some of those are cheap, quick and simple. Bike lanes are among those. It's a few thousand dollars per mile to paint these. In two months, we'll get some of those on Commonwealth between the BU bridge and Kenmore. While some cycling groups insist these can be more dangerous to cyclists that riding with traffic, everyone acknowledges that they subtly but insistently raise motorist awareness that they are sharing the road.

I have mixed feelings about these lanes. We have a few in Boston, largely cruel jokes. I think of the one at Ruggles Street, headed west past the T station. A bike lane suddenly appears for less than a block. It abruptly ends as the road narrows slightly, so cyclists have to steer into the tiny traffic lane with buses, trucks and cars. It's chicken on wheels. The cars would win.

Likewise, in Cambridge, police seem to have stopped enforcing bike lane restrictions on Mass Ave. Those lanes are more like UPS and FedEx parking lots, forcing cyclists to veer back into the most crowded lanes in the town.

Back in gusty Post Office Square, we jammed wheels and all onto the vest pocket park to hear promises I believe will be delivered. Menino said he intends for Boston to become a great place to bike. Freedman is seeing that the city gets several hundred more bike racks (the MBTA is already adding rack to hundreds of buses to accommodate bikes on long routes).

I've attended the commonwealth's Moving Together car/bike/pedestrian conferences for years. I've heard about the improvements in various towns and cities. As the east/west and north/south bike paths continue to expand, pockets of bike-friendly projects are slowly doing the good work.

It appears as though Freedman is the right person on this side of the Charles. While I'm impatient, she is incessantly nibbling away at the tasks. Moreover, she has the screwdriver-in-the-socket alertness and energy level this requires.

The big piece, acceptance by motorists, will be the last in place. That's my judgment, not Freedman or Seideman's. Our infamous drivers fill newspaper letters pages or blog comments about how much they hate cyclists and how all of us are reckless scofflaws. They hate being inconvenienced by sharing the road. However, we have to keep the perspective that they think every other driver is an idiot whose sole role is to do stupid things that anger them.

In countries and cities where cycling is common, drivers become accustomed to, to return to that phrase, moving together. Yet, it does take familiarity, seeing cyclists, being reminded (maybe by a cop) that commonwealth law gives bikers the same privileges and demands the same adherence to traffic law as motorists.

I came back yesterday with a bit of windburn, a water bottle and a tasteless KICK GAS shirt. I also returned with a reinforced sense that we can make this work. It's a bit like gay rights, except it's not out of the closet, but bring the bike out of the garage.

Da Mare noted that most (maybe 90%) trips in this area are under two miles. That's perfect for a bike and may take less time than driving. He swears he's up for it and he wants the city to be also.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post, giving more of 'the big picture' on bike week and city cycling, past, present and FUTURE! Thanks!

Uncle said...

Ok good oh, but, err, a complaint about the tastelessness of a "Kick Gas" t-shirt? Did your U of South Carolina t-shirt wear out or something? (chortle)

massmarrier said...

Sometimes I wash it...plus the cheer down there was the oh so clever, "Rip 'em up. Tear 'em up. Cocks give 'em hell."