Brookline wants it all ways and often gets it.
Locals there want to pretend they are urban and simultaneously suburban. They are likewise irrational about transportation — pretending to be great for drivers, parkers, cyclists, pedestrians. They feign being all things to
all only the best, wealthiest, most privileged, a.k.a. Brooklinites.
There’s no hiding from all this after the town selectmen’s meeting last week. They voted unanimously to boot the sole bicycle-oriented member of the transportation board. They will not renew Peter Furth’s two-year appointment.
Among the blackballers, Betsy DeWitt said, “It appeared that his participation was somewhat disruptive to teamwork.” Blunter was Kenneth Goldstein, remarking that Furth is “too focused on bicycles” and “not balanced enough in his approach to transportation.”
I would note that if a board does not have members speaking up for different components of their charge, there’s no need for the board. A single person would do just fine. How does FoxNews say it, fair and balanced?
You would suppose that Furth is one of those flame-helmeted crazed cyclists racing headlong at tweedy professors and inattentive toddlers. Instead, you’d see a transit geek, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University. His credentials look like he’d be an extraordinary resource for the transportation board and the town transportation division. He seems as wild as adding a cinnamon stick to the warm cider.
That allegedly balanced guy they want to bring back on the board, Bill Schwart, has some expertise too. He is a transportation consultant. However, he focuses on bringing in new business for his consultancy. He bills himself as a multi-modal expert.
He does seem keenly attune to Brookline residents’ desire to park right next to where they want to visit. Consider his testimony at town meeting last year about parking. He’s with the program doubling parking fines to $30. He said, “There’s gold in those streets. Brookline can do much better in managing its curb space. Let’s not give it away, but also not make it unaffordable.”
Parking is to local conversation what weather is in much of Maine.
Brookline it must first be said is one of those outsider-hostile towns in parking. There’s a two-hour limit throughout, not just in business districts. Even those who live on a street need to rent an annual permit for $25 if they want to park in front of their own houses.
Of course, this is one of the few towns with absolutely no overnight street parking, apparently for fear that the unwashed or at least unworthy, those without driveway space for all their vehicles, might dare spend the evening. Or as the town puts it:
Why does Brookline have a Resident Permit Parking Program?
The Transportation Board wants to preserve the livability of our residential neighborhoods by discouraging non-residents (e.g., commuters and commercial area shoppers) from parking on residential streets for long periods. The Brookline RPP Program does not prohibit non-residents from parking on local streets for less than 2 hours, nor does it guarantee neighborhood residents an on-street parking space whenever they want one. Participants in the RPP Program also are not allowed to park overnight or to violate any other parking regulations that may be in effect on your street. However, residents who live in areas that experience high levels of on-street parking by non-resident vehicles will benefit from not having to move their vehicles to another street every two hours during daytime hours.
This is a similar attitude that has led to so few publicly accessible restrooms in Boston, Brookline and other towns, even in their parks. Whether it’s a driveway or a toilet, you should have your own or you really don’t belong here, now do you?
Back to the board, Furth seems a plain talker. He told the Brookline Tab that “If you speak up about bicycling things, you’re not considered to represent the town.” He noted that he sometimes has advocated keeping parking over bike lanes and at others pushed for more bike accommodation.
He figures the real catalyst for his ouster was the Carlton Street project. The Tab reports that “Though Furth admitted he was a strong supporter of a controversial bike lane option, which would have required the removal of several heavily used parking spaces, he said he’s also been blamed for some miscommunications and procedural problems unrelated to his support.”
An oddment here is that parts of the town, particularly the police department, are very bike friendly. Having attended several Moving Together conference sessions with the Brookline cops, I have been very impressed by their enlightened multi-mode mindset. Cyclists get run down by inattentive motorists there every year and the police do their damnedest through enforcement, education and participation in planning to keep pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in motion safely. Boston cops, many of whom seem to find bikes annoying anomalies, could learn.
Another is former Gov. Mike Dukakis. We’ll try to have him on Left Ahead! to discuss transportation. He may be the biggest advocate for mass transit in the state. Yet, I have never heard him say a single phrase in support of cycling. At 76, he may stick with his shoes and Charlie Card.
To its contradictory nature, Brookline also has a bicycle advisory committee. Their literature says the right stuff. It does seem to make inflated claims about a large number of residents biking for shopping and short trips. The eye and regular counts by the town don’t seem to support that. When I bike through, I rarely see a single other cyclist also.
The selectmen seem to be in little hurry to change that. The advisory group may talk up the car-reducing potential of biking, but that board seems fixed on preserving as many parking meters as it can. That Furth fellow must have seemed very inconvenient, asking them to consider bikers and walkers at every stage of planning.
Brookline has long been a thumb in the eye or other orifice of Boston and in fact looks like one on maps. In early Colonial days when it was known as the hamlet of Muddy River, it was part of Boston, but in 1705 it incorporated and then avoided the fate of Brighton, Roxbury and Dorchester, which became part of the capital city. Now it is a Norfolk County island surrounded by Suffolk County.
It has its little ways, ways of which it is extraordinarily, and some would say irrationally, proud. Wanting to have it several ways on non-motorized transportation really is nothing that deserves pride. Fantasy aside, Brookline is not yet bike safe or accommodating.
Many there want to pretend they are fairly European in being cyclists and cycle friendly. The town government other than the constabulary clearly conflicts with that. The of-one-mind transportation board won’t be leading to a multi-modal future.
Tags: harrumph, harrumpher, Brookline, bicycles, town meeting