Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cycling Hordes Heading to Sudbury

The pseudo-aristocracy here can have issues with bicycles. Some take pride in owning $2,000 to $7,000 road bikes. Others think of the bike-like objects used in spinning classes. Still others it would seem see them as nefarious and insidious class equalizers.

As absurd as the last is to those not tainted by classism, it was huge in Weston a decade ago and moderate in Sudbury as I write this.

Converting a few miles of abandoned train tracks into a public (oo, public) bike path raises irrational fears to some.

Their Henny Penny cluckings of imminent urban terror seem a lot like the anti-same-sex marriage crowd predicting unimaginable horror, a veritable societal breakdown if men can marry men and women women. Instead, in Weston, there were predictions of large numbers of gang members and criminals pedalling into their idyllic neighborhoods, stealing and even murdering.

To most of us, it's laughable. I for one try to envision a young black kid on a mountain bike riding two hours from Roxbury to Weston, breaking into a mansion and trying to manage a 42-inch plasma TV on the bike. Or maybe it would be the almost 200 kids from Boston English who have bikes riding out beyond 128 to shoot up drugs and vomit on the pristine lawns.

Translating their claims into actions is absurd. However, to the Angels and Insects sorts, reason does not trump privilege. My town, my house, my solitude, mine, mine, mine...

Among the western Boston suburbs, in 1998, conversion of the old train lines lost in Belchertown and Weston, despite passing in six neighboring towns. In the former, where it lost narrowly, it seems locals didn't understand where the trail would go and feared interference with fishing locales.

The margin in Weston was much wider — 698 to 410. "It got rather silly," said landscape designer Kate Detwiler. She said residents fantasized of rampant crime and extreme use, and wanted to "close the gates." Over in Belmont, then Rep. Anne Paulsen said it sounded like Lexington residents before they approved their section of the Minuteman bike/pedestrian path. "They were afraid there would be vandalism on the path, especially those whose backyards bordered on the path, but of course it didn't happen at all."

Westonians would have none of it. Like towns in Idaho demanding Homeland Security funds to protect their patch of heaven from the inevitable onslaught of envious terrorists, the very rich can often lose perspective. Everyone wants what they have and they can't let down for a moment, not a moment.

Last week, a similarly inane and sensational piece appears in the Boston Globe. Reporter Susan Schweitzer would have us believe that Sudbury will be the next NIMBY bunch of would-be aristocrats in a hyper-rich town. She managed to get some inflammatory comments from Carole Wolfe "Looking out at a lushly wooded area beyond a stone wall on her 100-acre estate..."

Try to share Wolfe's horror at her vision — "Instead of solitude, you'd be having people." Those pesky humans have always caused problems for the nobility, haven't they?

As it is, the cyclists will have to get off the safe path at Weston and onto public roads for that short distance. The anti-path Westonians may think this will teach them what happens if you mess with important folk. I suspect rather it teaches them the level of civility in Weston.

As it turns out, this portion of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail (click map to enlarge it) doesn't have the opposition the article pretends. The Sudbury board of selectmen includes the decision on the trail in its 2009 goals.

Some opponents are pretty silly in their arguments. Some want to keep the matter from coming to a vote and likely approval for the study. Another, Marianne Maurer, has a commercial tree farm she fears would be disrupted by the trail. She has her solution — "Go to the gym that you got the membership for and that you know you're not using."

In my own extremely unscientific survey, I asked a single resident I know what she thought of the issue. She said:
I am totally for that bike trail. I took my girls on a ride on the Minuteman Bike Trail Bedford/Lexington. There weren't many riders there at all. But, it was such a great ride. I'm sure those people don't have strangers bothering their property. If you build your house near train tracks, you will get either loud trains or people. They should move!!!
There are some in Sudbury who would disagree strongly. Yet, my sense is that Sudbury residents are not so shallow as the majority of Weston ones. Some in Sudbury have made the likely hollow threat to do as my friend says, move if they get the 10-foot-wide trail. They claim that developers will buy the land and fill the town with small houses (oh, the horror). Of course, far more likely is that rich folk, rich folk who ride bicycles, will snap up any such houses that become available.

Biking Podcast Pending: Over at Left Ahead! next week, we'll host two experts from one of the few East Coast bike havens, Cara Seiderman and Ken Field represent Cambridge, Mass., government and citizens' views. We cover alternate transit, cycling safety, ped/bike/motor co-existence and how their town makes it work. We stream live Wednesday, July 16th at 3 p.m. or go to Left Ahead! later to listen or download the podcast.
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speeddemon0117 said...

It really looks ike class warfare going on there. Here in Michigan, we seem to he a hard time getting car drivers to recognize bicycles as vehicles.

Blog of a dscontented conforing non-conformist

Uncle said...

In my dear old town, "The Path" is OK as long as it isn't paved and safe as long as we periodically smack down some abutters who keep encroaching on it. (Town also has to fight public way encroachment on the Neck every year.) Also, our town never asked the abutters: It just took. If smart lawyers were to look over the terms by which the railroads acquired this land from the towns, they would likely find out that the towns have no obligation to ask anyone for permission to do as they please with public property.

Nimbyism is a creeping disease of the insecure. I've noted the older sort of money doesn't give as much of a damn as the nouveau sort who must always prove their special nature to themselves.

Speeddemon, take heed to the old advice: ride fast, hog the road, act like traffic. At the least, they won't want you bleeding on their urban assault vehicle.