Archive for the ‘Mass Transit’ Category

Train to Gorillas

November 29th, 2013

femalelook

 

The quasi-suburban parts of Boston can have their own simple pleasures. Mine today came from an excursion, train time, zoo time!

Here in Hyde Park, as in Roslindale and West Roxbury, we all seem proud of being part of the city, yet very aware we can’t reasonably walk across the central fist of it as you can from Beason Hill or the South or West Ends. Standout successes like the recent new stations and skeds of the Indigo (Fairmount) Line are big deals down here.

For 10 years, we lived right downtown and then for 21, we were in JP, right below Forest Hills. Now in lower Hyde Park, it’s a trek and rigmarole to get places. I and one of my sons bike frequently (it’s quicker to get to Porter Square on two wheels than by T or God forfend by four). We have to plan. Until recently too the infrequent commuter rail just down the hill from us was also $5.50 a trip and only went as far as South Station.

I’ve been taking the zap, pow, wow improved Fairmount line regularly and grokking it. They dropped the fare to subway prices ($2 a trip) and roughly doubled the frequency. There is also a subtext. This is Thomas Michael Menino’s turf also and part of the idea was to pay attention to the Mayor and District Councilor Rob Consalvo in fostering development in Logan Square, a few hundred yards from the Fairmount stop. Moreover, personally, I got my geezer card from the MBTA, so one way is half price — a buck.

Freebie Road Trip

Today was a trial run for many who had not caught the T fever and fervor. Touted in the local weekly, in flyers at the Y and such, the notice was that today at 11:45 AM, we could gather at the Fairmount Grille and head for the 12:03 PM train. We’d get free round-trip fare.

Every station had its attraction. In particular, New Market was the big honking blue-collar South Bay shopping center with anything your little heart desires. Honestly, as much as I bike and sometimes drive around there, I reeled at the mentions of Four Corners and a short walk to the Franklin Park Zoo. I had never gotten off the Fairmount line at that stop and in my rigid mind thought it must not practical…too far.

Wrong-o.

thallcosgrove

I decided to do the zoo stop, assured a lackey would appear to lead me. Turns out, I was the only fool headed to the animals in the cold. When we gathered at the Fairmount Grille before heading to the stop, people were talking about shopping, either at South Bay or downtown. Joe Cosgrove (right), the MBTA’s director of planning and development, and Mat Thall, the interim executive director of the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation, spoke, but did not pitch Franklin Park. We heard that the $2 fare was an experiment, for both Fairmount and as a test for other Boston neighborhood commuter lines shackled to absurdly high fares despite being in Boston city limits. We heard that the Fairmount traffic had spiked 47% since the fare change, and mostly we heard that we had to talk it up.

Clearly, I”m self-interested, but I think it’s worth it. Sure to the rail geeks, Boston has a reputation far beyond our boundaries for how hard the CDCs pushed for the Indigo Line work that has produced the improvements after almost two decades. Honestly, I can attest that we are a model for the hemisphere for the accomplishments. More personally, I want to see weekend service and trains that leave downtown for my neighborhood after the current latest, 9:40 PM. I want to be able to go to the Haymarket on Saturday, thank you very much. Let’s be a real city.

Gorillas, No Giraffes

My hick mindset had the zoo out of range. Despite my frequent bike rides down Columbia, up Blue Hill, through Franklin Park, past Forest Hills, the length of Mass Ave and all of the convoluted Washington Street in various neighborhoods, I fell into the Geneva Ave/Four Corners is distant gang turf. I was ignorant.

Sure enough, I ended up being the only bozo getting off the train at Four Corners. At Fairmount, the conductor was amused and amusing. He was the veritable gang of us, highly unusual for 12:03 PM on a weekday and did a great double take as he greeted us. I was literally the only Four Corners stop requester and the only one who exited for the zoo instead of consumer/Black Friday choices.

fairmounttoot

As promised, a pleasant young man, Hanad, was there to shepherd me. Turns out, as I was the only one, he didn’t even bother putting me through the half-priced-day gate. I got in for free. So there, shoppers.

Sure, a cold November day is not primo. Many animals are not the slightest bit interested in playing the game below 65F. Even my favorite beasts of all, giraffes, were bunked or huddling inside. No tigers, a single lion, no roos, maybe a third of the areas and cages said exhibit not open. Harrumph, as the expression goes.

Yet there was plenty to see. The parents with kids in strollers and racing ahead of them squealing about dark jungles, warthogs, gorillas and such had a great time. So did I.

(I’ll post some pix on Flickr and update with a link here.)

For the logistics minded, the walk from the Four Corners stop to the zoo entrance is eight minutes. It’s exit the station to the South onto Washington, go four short blocks, then seven short blocks up Columbia to the zoo. It’s a devil of a lot easier and closer than by Orange line or some wacky bus combo.If you want to start from South Station or Hyde Park, this is it. It’s in my mental maps.

We can be as provincial as Manhattanites and a question I heard in the Fairmoumt Grille and on the platform was what can you see in late November at a zoo? Lots, sports fans. The Tropical Forest was fully stocked; the great apes, warthogs, pygmy hippo, wacky carrion birds and more are crowd pleasers.  Nearby in Bird’s World, ibises and lurid finches and parakeets play, while the huge green keas wail and shriek.

A male lion showed off endlessly and on and on and on.

I earned bragging rights for going to the cold-weather zoo, doubled by taking the commuter rail.

Fair Fairmount Fare

July 19th, 2013

fairfairmount tstubI adore trains. How many times and ways have I said and written that?

Today was a splendid return from the big southern swing back into metro Boston. Foremost, I trotted down the hill to the Fairmount stop on the MBTA and took it into town.

That turns out to be a big deal in numerous ways:

  • They have increased the weekday sked (still not Sat/Sun trains…double boo)
  • They responded to grumbles, growls and snarls by reducing the fee to zone 1A (subway fare of $2) instead of zone 1 ($6), after all, we are in the city of Boston, dagnabbit
  • The walk is about 12 minutes and the ride to South Station in the intestines of downtown is 23 minutes
  • My new geezer card reduces the fare by half, so a round-trip was 2 (count ‘em, the same number as feet I have) dollars.

Now I truly, truly want everyone I know who has avoided the purple line to take the train, enough to ensure it thrives and enough to inspire the overlords at the MBTA to add night return trains and for crying out loud weekend trains. I”ll spread the word, here and elsewhere.

The experience was fine, albeit with the nervousness of seeing only a half dozen passengers on the 12:03 into town and maybe 20 on the 3:45 south.

This is pretty much the way the MBTA should be operating and charging for this in-town line.

Oddly enough, from what I heard and read at the national rail conference, Rail-volution, this Indigo Line is a model for everyone. We in Boston were largely unaware of two decades of Strum und Drang by by the neighborhoods from lower Hyde Park north into town. Fundamentally, the poorer, darker folk saw the wealthier, lighter folks’ trains speed by without any stops (as in zero) in their neighborhoods. They raised hell at city, commonwealth and federal level to get stops in their areas, transit-oriented development as the urban-planning cliché goes. They won and it was from the most local level up. They won, I write again.

So, it’s sweet on many levels to ride a quick, cool, clean efficient train into town at a fair fare from Fairmount.

 

Let the Feeble Wait!

June 20th, 2013

I visited the Charlie Card Store in  downtown Boston for the first time yesterday. The well-lit, clean room is at once a marvel of efficiency and a bureaucratic torture chamber.

The MBTA has consolidated its special services — things you can’t get or do online or by phone. Those include transferring stored value among cards, replacing damaged cards, and reduced fare cards for seniors and the disabled including blind riders. There is a little joke there. To get your T services, including reduced fare, you really need to take the T to get to the location, paying full fare on the way. Nearly no one lives near downtown crossing.

The room is rather like an attractive, sit-down-while-you-wait deli counter. The receptionist and clerks at each of six stations are pleasant and efficient…within T policy. When you arrive, you explain what you are there to do. The receptionist performs triage and produces a deli-style ticket with your number, like E917.

As it turns out, your fate was determined at that moment.

fairmountstopThe office hours are 8 AM to 5:30 PM, Monday through Friday. Right away that means that both white-collar and blue-collar workers take off work time. As with most bureaucracy, the citizens serve at the pleasure of the overlords. That’s typical and not really unusual or punitive.

However, as I watched, waited and then listened, the nefarious aspect revealed itself. Many of the elderly and disabled squirmed and some complained as they saw others get their numbered chits, get served and leave. They sat and heard and saw the number-being served at which station announced and shown.

An unctuous worker eventually walked through the room past the seats of gumblers. He explained in a monotone. This clearly was not his first time giving the little speech. It seems some services take longer than others. Those troublesome ones would include the likes of senior and disable cards. Those require taking a photo.

That process is highly automated. a wee camera at each station captures an image of the rider and a fancy printer behind the clerks spits out the ID in well under a minute. The only time-consuming part seemed to be typing the name and address off the license or other ID.

At first I didn’t quite believe I heard right. Yet, there is no FIFO here. First-come means squat. If you can’t see well, can’t walk agiilely, or are just old, you are at the back of the line. The fitter take precedence. You wait.

I guess for the old or disabled, the attitude is this is good practice for the larger world. You wait as the younger and able-bodied pass you by.

I hadn’t expected philosophy to be built into the system.

Greenway within Grasp

August 31st, 2011

Hail to the many who have worked for the better part of two decades for a Neponset River Greenway! Within two years, the biggest missing piece will be complete. Citizens, engineering sorts and bureaucrats alike have ‘er done.

I joined what looked like a little over a hundred in the Foley Senior Center on River St. in Mattapan last evening for another quenching trip to the well. You can grab the straight coverage and a link to the presentation at the Dorchester Reporter. You can also search at that site for excellent past coverage on this trail.

The short of it is that after many meetings and laborious compiling of complaints, suggestions and comments of Milton, Mattapan and Dorchester abutters (and numerous whiners, loudmouths and cheerleaders), the final plan looks like a winner. A large majority apparently love it. It moves from conceptual drawings to engineer docs that can aid in getting the federal money for the project as well as giving the nitpickers and Myers-Briggs S types something to hold and come to terms with happening. They are now figuring that completion of a link from Central Avenue into Mattapan Square for a ped/bike path will happen by the fall of 2013.greenplan

Click the pic for a closer view or go to the presentation for it and the earlier schemes. Key aspects are that it starts at the existing path at Central Avenue, runs between the trolley path and river, crossing from Milton to Mattapan on a new bridge by the Ryan Playground, then curves on the north of the river to a new ped/bike bridge over and around the trolley terminus and into Mattapan Square.

This came after five previous plans. After the public meetings and private comments, which the presentation recaps in concepts and numbers, the latest plan seemed to placate nearly everyone.

I came for the details, but left with a felt sense of the democratic skills involved, particularly the the DCR folk in managing a prickly, often nasty process. While he was quick and frequent to spread credit and praise, the diplomat in chief seems to be Jack Murray.

The DCR Deputy Commissioner for Park Operations is unfazed by the hostile, NIMBY and unfair-to-me types. Even at this largely jovial celebration, several dissatisfied folk spoke out and up, without rattling Murray. He’s been though a couple years of rough democracy on this and kept his cool and his smile.

In fact, several of the pols who attended and chimed in their praises (Sen. Brian Joyce and Reps. Linda Dorcena Forry and Russell Holmes) called the process out for its amazing transparency, flexibility, and outreach. There was passing mention of the contention involved from the beginning, and nothing but kudos for a thoroughly open process — perhaps an inspiration for the larger government, ask I?

Murray was also charmingly coy about the MBTA. It refused to allow an at-grade crossing for the trail, leading to among other expensive problems, a ped/bike bridge at Mattpan station. Murray just smiled and said “We love our sister agencies.”

So it’s worth nothing the residual complaints that bring up what the DCR and the many others involved overcame. Last evening lacked the whiffs of racism and classism noted in articles about earlier public meetings. A few of those seemed to mirror the fears that kept Weston from allowing an extension of the Minuteman path. There was only one of those last night, and of course Murray handled that well.

Despite the round praise for the proposal, one resident still wanted her say, there and in some private meeting. It was a wonder to hear. She said the trolley runs behind her house and the bike path will. Her concern was that cyclists would jump the fence and do something nefarious on her property – to her possessions or daughter. Hearing that it doesn’t happen, not in Boston or Lexington, and that bike paths add light and witnesses, making areas safer was not enough. She didn’t seem to notice that she undercut her argument by saying she feared the same of the nearby trolley. The fact that this has never been a problem did not deter her. She wanted some kind of meeting with state officials and not a public one. Meh.

Toward the end of the question-and-comment period another resident tried the it’s-only-a-start ploy. He’s surely sadly mistaken if he supposes something with this much pubic input and accommodation awaits his brilliant revisions and a restart.

Otherwise, the niggles were indeed niggling. People were pleased at the result and particularly at having been listened to. They could see their suggestions, complaints and fine-tuning before them. The Neponset River Tail Phase II is rolling right along.

Twice Favored by the MBTA

March 25th, 2011

Harrumphing aside, and despite what my sons might say, I am capable of praise as well. On this week’s zoom in and out of NYC, the Boston T met its skeds and delivered me on time to and from the farthest reaches of this city.

Cynicism would note that I have been reduced to cheering this lumbering, sputtering, bureaucratic service for doing its job. Indeed, there are many reasons why I prefer going by bicycle in the great wheel and on its spokes from Winchester to Wellesley to Stoughton. It takes less time for me to bike from the bottom of Hyde Park to Davis Square for example than to drive or depend on bus/trolley/subway combos. Of course, as a skinflint, I delight in it being far cheaper.

Ah, though on pre-dawn Wednesday, the scant and silly Fairmount commuter rail options worked perfectly and on Thursday night, the equally spare and precise hourly buses from Ashmont to home dovetailed exactly with the Red Line from South Station. Perfecto.

The grousing on Universal Hub of late for delayed, cancelled, vomit-splattered trains, and those with surly staff is understandable. We have a fair mass transit permeation here. So many of us are carless or choose not to pay for commuting, shopping and hitting shows and shops in parking, time and space seeking that we are virtually captive to the T.

Regular readers here and at Marry in Massachusetts know I eagerly await the Purple Line. We can skip or slide the half mile from the top of Fairmount Hill in the bottom left of Boston to the often dilator commuter rail. Its sked is plain silly, with only a few morning runs into town, no weekend service, and a mere two evening returns from South Station — 7:30 and 9:40 — totally in the wrong times to see a show or have a decent meal.

The new sked supposedly within a year will give some choices to the tens of thousands of largely middle class and poor, many of color, who are far from the Orange and Red Lines and who have heard and seen the rare commuter trains roll over and through their neighborhoods with no stations and no service. Also, there’s a fair chance the fare will finally drop from $4.25 to a subway $1.70/$2. That’s fair fare for areas in Boston when many farther stops North and West have long been the subway cost.

Enough carping. Let me note that the T did me right:

  • The 5:51 a.m. arrived at 5:51 at Fairmount and hummed me into South Station in plenty of time to bolt on Bolt for Manhattan.
  • As a bonus, three of us guys got driver Dan who looked and sounded like an off-season Santa, who named our ride the Ship of Good Cheer, who took pictures of us, and who was highly skilled even in the narrow chute of the Midtown tunnel.
  • On the return, traffic in the Bronx into Connecticut had us running behind. Many fretting teens with texting thumb tics whined into their iPhones as did the inane middle-aged guys, constantly updating their families at length about nothing of action — their exit or whether they had the right cell number to call in four hours when they arrived in Boston. Blah, blah, drone. These folk must also need nightlights.
  • We arrived at South Station at 8:33 p.m. and the hourly bus from Ashmont left for my house in 27 minutes. Miss it and the half-hour ride to within 100 feet of my front door would turn into three times that, either with a Red to Orange Line, then a 32 bus to Cleary Square and a 15 minute, mile-plus walk, or waiting for the Mattapan trolley and likely walking the two plus miles in the dark up the wet road. Worse can happen, but those are not what I would seek. The option would be the kill an hour in or near South Station and take the last Fairmount train.
  • Instead, I hustled like squirrel in front of a feral cat. I galumphed the many station stairs, skirted the Atlantic Avenue side, and careered three floors down to the outbound Red Line. Within three minutes, the Ashmont train arrived and made good time to its terminus.
  • Both the South Station platform and the bus shelter on the other end were full of passengers. My trip was fully orchestrated as though all awaited me.
  • The 24/27 bus was nearly full. It is an hourly show after all. I arrived at figurative curtain time, took a seat and enjoyed the brief play. Even the passengers getting on covered with huge snowflakes seemed cast in a musical about Boston in winter.

Praise to the T…and to fortuitous timing. I appreciated jolly Dan on the ride down as well. Mass transit and cheap buses worked wonderfully. May all of my and all of your commutes and special trips be so blessed.

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On the Roads Again

February 16th, 2011

happybike

I didn’t see my shadow on the road. Maybe like Punxsutawney Phil I can be Bike Mike and predict a pending Spring. Back in the saddle after hiding from the road ice was like coming home again. Yes, I believe you can go home.

At the Y, Barry and I have been sheepishly admitting to each other that we were off two wheels during and after our relentless bounty of winter. He said he was buying T passes for the first time in many years. I can pretend that my thin-wheel bike gave me more excuse than his fat-tire one, but we were pretty much the same. With harrowing, narrowing streets and roads, and drivers inattentive as their washer fluid worked, we were wary of riding onto a patch of ice and going down into or under a bus, truck or other motorized thingummy.

I don’t mind the cold either. I can layer for that. The ice though…

Today the relatively warmth and brightness seemed to have many in Spring spirits as well. A couple of toddlers in different neighborhoods called out to their indifferent moms, “Bike…bike!” Hey, it’s an image and word they know and likely an aspiration.

Bookend idiots on River Street at and just beyond Webster reminded me to still be careful, that frozen patches were not the only dangers. A self-entitled bozo in an F-250 floored it and cut right in front of me in a left turn onto Webster, but I was paying attention and braked and turned so he didn’t get me. Then almost immediately beyond the intersection, and old fool suddenly left her parking place, swinging her sedan sideways in front of me. Here, only my quick reactions and pretty new brake pads kept me from hitting the side of the car, stopping maybe two inches from the driver door, as she blocked the full lane and half the other one. My face under two feet from her closed window, but I kept my temper and just said loudly, “That was so illegal.” Rather than apologize or even acknowledge her recklessness, she looked solidly into her steering wheel and after 10 or so seconds finished her U turn. She looked really old and I bet doesn’t have much peripheral vision. If that’s the case, one would think she’d compensate a bit by looking where she intends to go. Meh.

The rest was pretty nice, headed over to the heart of South Boston to meet a friend for lunch. On Blue Hill Avenue, I got a shout out from a man on a bike. “This is the only way to travel!,” he proclaimed, grinning widely. Down on Columbia, a limo cut across three lanes of traffic to turn onto a side street. I had the right of way, but more out of self-preservation than graciousness, stopped short to let his pass. In contrast to the River Street demons, he gave me a big smile and thank-you wave. We can share the road.

Maybe the pending melting will help biking a bit soon. Many of the alleged bike lanes on American Legion, Columbia and elsewhere are blocked by SUVs and cars. The curbs are still squalid-ice covered and parkers would have to rub right against the mounds to leave the lanes open. They don’t even try, so cyclists (I didn’t see others beyond the nice elderly man on Blue Hill) were into the  travel lane.

Way back when I learned to drive on the mountain roads of West Virginia, motoring could bring some real pleasure. Sliding a stick-shift car around curves where 25MPH means just that was a oneness-with-the-machine feeling. I can’t really say that about chugging along from Hyde Park to Davis Square in a car.

Biking though is often pleasurable. Physically that makes sense, but emotionally too, there’s a feeling of being in charge instead of at the mercy of everyone else on my road; what are all these cars doing on my road?

I didn’t even mind the final push up Fairmount Hill at the end. Let the season begin.

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Curiously Pleasant Subway Trip

February 14th, 2011

Something New Yorkers and Bostonians share is a dread of dirty-smellies, particularly on the subways. I got a chuckle a few days ago from a variation on that theme.

I slid over undulating sheets of iced waves that should have been sidewalks to Mattapan Square. It seems Milton has three very strict snow-emergency rules — Chapter 6, Section 10 forbids sliding or coasting on a public way without a permit from Selectmen or the Chief of Police, Section 13 bans throwing snowballs, again on any public way, and Section 3 reads you can’t move any snow from your property into a public way. The bylaws don’t bother with the silliness of clearing your sidewalks of ice and snow. Harrumph, surely anyone foolish enough to walk in winter deserves the worst.

From there, the Mattapan high-speed rail, a.k.a. the trolley, is frequent and quick to Ashmont. Ah, there where the subway begins, the vicissitudes of urban transit are in charge of your body and timing. The trains arrive when they arrive and leave when they leave. Moreover, many passengers are in for the long haul. They are likely to be headed to Downtown Crossing and many to Harvard, Davis and Alewife.

mints

This inspires you to look carefully as you enter a car. You likely know which end of the train you’ll want to be on for the right exit strategy. You’ll almost certainly have your choice of seats at Ashmont. You’ll really want to be careful about your proximity to cellphone yammerers and screamers, those dirty-smellies, and the obviously demented. You might be elbow to elbow for 20 to 40 minutes.

On my last right north, I smelled him from 12 or more feet away. To my amusement, it was not the scent I might have feared.

I checked him out. He was deep into his tin and not noticing me or anyone. He had on old clothes, but they were clearly clean and well taken care of. I could surmise that he was not homeless, but not quite all the way in the present. Perhaps he lived in a group home.

What he was noticing and into, and what permeated half the car, was the curiously strong Altoids scent. It was the red-trimmed peppermint variety. The oils filled the air between us, aggressively and agreeably. He carefully and with apparent pleasure plucked three or four at a time to place into his mouth. There was a man who enjoyed his mints. He rolled back when they were in his mouth and grinned his satisfaction.

If there was a wee lesson there, it would be to go with what is before you and be aware of it. I might well have seen a not-quite-together fellow and ignored him or worse thought ill of him. Instead even my low level of awareness let in the pungency of his mints and a glimmer of his pleasure in them.

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Hidden Paradise II

August 7th, 2010

The return trip for the other half of the hidden Neponset marsh trails was easier. I biked to the location rather than walked.

Also, unlike the first trip to the part with the seriously hidden entrance to the DCR land, anyone can find this nature path. Oddly enough, on my first trip, two teams were playing on the ball field. No one there seemed to have any idea when I asked about a trail into the marsh. Just as well…

nepmarshesPic Click Trick: Click on the map for a larger view. Use your browser back button or keys to return.

To duplicate my trip today, head to the ball field on Ventura Street in Dorchester. It’s a short walk from the Butler stop on the Mattapan trolley or off the Neponset bike trail. Just head south (up the hill) from the stop and down a block.

Then in the southwest corner of the field, go through the two missing sections of fence onto the path. At first, it looks impassable and too overgrown. There be no dragons.

As flat as the other side is, this one has trails over rolling hills and through woods beside the marsh grasses. There are several side trails with overlooks of the Neponset and marshes. As straight as you can go on a meandering, hilly path, that is to write, heading southwest, you end up across from the Milton Yacht Club.

woodtrailA geologist would have a good tale or two here. This is differs dramatically from the next marsh over. This one has numerous puddingstone outcroppings and rich, non-saline enough soil to support brush and trees in profusion.

I understand now why the canoeing guides told us this was prime, but hidden, picnic and nature peeping territory. Both marshes are commonwealth owned, DCR managed property. As such, they are in effect public parks. That public in this case seems almost entirely limited to birders.

If my friendly abutter who led me to the secret entryway is accurate, there’s 100 acres give or take on each side. Let’s think of each as the 100 Acre Marsh, like Milne’s 100 Aker Wood, without sentient stuffed animals.

I did not wade into the vague trails directly into the marsh, southeast of the gravelly path. My previous guide said the birders show at high tide when the wading birds and raptors are in their glory. He said they wear hip boots.

However, there’s plenty to enjoy for us non-twitches as well. It’s a beautiful, if short walk, quiet woods, numerous places to sit and read poetry to each other, and nice scenery, including birds in the wet or not as wet periods.

Moreover, this set of trails does not seem to attract indolent youth. I didn’t see a single Bud LITE can or condom on the trails. It’s just you, me, the picnic basket and the egrets.

Still Rolling Toward Bike Parity

August 6th, 2010

bikepieces

Predictably, the bickering and self-righteousness from numerous angles follows Bella English’s cycling column in today’s Globe. I say it will be decades, lots more cyclists on the streets, some legislative tweaking and considerable law enforcement until that discussion isn’t contentious.

The fact is that drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and cops each and all need to know more and act right. The bicycle czarinas of Cambridge and Boston (Cara Seiderman and Nicole Freedman) have longer, wider views than we cyclists who ride regularly and volunteer with bike groups. They say with great confidence that more cyclists will:

  • Make drivers aware that bikes are on the road and need accommodation
  • Force police to enforce low-glamor infractions like drivers cutting off cyclists or driving too close, cyclists running red lights, and jaywalking pedestrians
  • Decrease motor traffic, thus encouraging even more cycling
  • Lead to more and safer bike lanes keeping everyone healthier and happier on the street

English has an unfortunate lead graph. She undercuts her dramatic illustration of the risks to cyclists from irresponsible drivers by bringing in some judgment that a pickup driver was fat.

Tempting as it is, we should avoid the cheap-shot stereotypes. Some traits and appearances are still socially safe for ridicule. We can gratuitously insult, for a few examples:

  • Fat people
  • Bald men (but never women with alopecia or even thinning hair)
  • Southerners (lumped as hillbillies and rednecks to a one)
  • Cyclists and runners wearing snug athletic shorts (Spandex® stigma)

If you’re holding forth on something important, orally or in writing, remember how those silly asides can trivialize you.

Yet in the main, this is a welcome column. She has the obligatory share-the-blame citations of reckless drivers, wheelers and walkers. Yet, she points out laws and facts that too many drivers don’t seem to know or ignore.

With the championing by Mayor Tom Menino, Boston is slowly imitating Cambridge’s more share-the-road reality. Yet, there’s tons of education to be done at the same time.

Drivers for the key group need to know that our laws make cycles vehicles, with access to most streets and roads (with exceptions like limited access highways, with those no horse, no pedestrian, no cycles cartoons). They need to drop the pretense that they are too important to pass safely (also legally required) or wait a few seconds or even a minute for a cyclist to turn safely. In that, they have to admit to themselves that they feel and exhibit the same impatience and sense of entitlement if a motor vehicle delays them. The issue there is not specifically a biker, rather than we share the roads with others.

Drivers also need to avoid trying to justify reckless endangerment claiming it’s always a cyclist fault, that they all run every red light and disobey every other traffic law. Legally, they are required to claim a lane if they need it for safety, as any slower motor vehicle driver must.

There’s the enforcement rub. Given our natures with strong self-interest, much of the behavior by all three road using types won’t change until people know the rules and cops enforce them. When we, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers, get tickets and pay fines for our cluelessness or recklessness, we’ll start acting better.

We should all be able to understand why the police don’t want to commit to real street safety. There’s little glory or excitement in writing a $1 jaywalking citation or grabbing a light-running cyclist knowing the maximum penalty is $20 (both of those fines should get big hikes). For drivers in many municipalities, the no-blood/no-ticket rule guides. Anyone opening a door into traffic without looking or j-hooking a pedestrian or cycle should get the fine and insurance bump. Those are meaningful.

Yes, more citations mean more paperwork and court appearances. Itty boo. Safety is police work too.

I’m very sure that if cops crack down on all of us for three our four months, the word of mouth alone will have terrific positive effect. Then police can go back to pretending they are all detectives ready to pursue murderers and other evil doers.

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Cycle Sensationalism

April 9th, 2010

Finally, thought I, good discussion and perhaps action had to come out of death of one Boston cyclist and near death of a second a few days apart. The 15 minutes of media coverage for the injury dropped into more like 15 seconds.

Instead of fundamental transit improvements as a possible result of these two horrific wrecks, we are left with unanswered questions and crazy bluster. Consider:

  • We don’t know whether dead biker Eric Michael Hunt slipped under a 39 bus’ wheel or the driver followed him around the corner and ran him down.
  • The T wants us to believe it was another clumsy cyclist and witnesses say Hunt was obvious as he pulled his bike from the track and was plowed into.
  • The ever-absurd Boston Herald comment crew left mostly the predictable I-drive-I’m-important-get-those-damned-cyclists-off-my-road slurs on the subject.
  • Coverage of the second wreck quickly disappeared off paper and broadcast stations, pages and sites and surely won’t return unless this one dies as well.

Instead of something meaningful to come from this death and crushing injury pair, we are left with the slow and good-intentioned efforts of the usual suspects. Those would be the city’s cycling effort under the leadership of Nicole Freedman and the support of Mayor Tom Menino, with cheers and some aid from MassBike and so forth.

They are churning right along. Their pace seems to terrify atavistic car and truck drivers and annoys those of us who cycle as well as walk, ride the T and drive with inching progress. Begrudgingly and impatiently, I admit and agree that Freedman’s efforts are obvious and steady, including painted bike lanes, street and bus racks and more.

Yet the huge discordance between cycling supporters and detractors defies the education effort so far. Hate and contempt are not too strong to describe many motorists’ attitudes toward Boston cyclists. Those are so ingrained in many that I have seen and heard them describe all cyclists as crazed scofflaws who deserve, well, injury and death.

We also-cyclists tend to idealize ourselves in contrast. We are one-fewer-car each trip. We are non-polluting and quiet. We take up far less road and make traveling quicker and easier for drivers as a result. The two to five seconds a driver may wait to pass us in town is negligible, required in overtaking any slower vehicle, and possible in contrast to a car that takes a full lane. We much more rarely hit or come close to pedestrians and other vehicles. We don’t take up parking spaces that shoppers and tourists want. Oh, and we’re staying healthier. To us, we’re so wonderful and wise.

That’s quite a disconnect and it needs education. This dreadful pair of wrecks was a clear, but blown, opportunity for the media to talk it up.

Freedman’s folk do what they can on their page, in public meetings and at places like schools…within their resources. That’s clearly not enough.

Part of this has to come through the municipal and state police. Enforcement all around would be great to begin. Drivers who pay a minimum of attention would see, for example, a huge percentage of their fellows running red lights, as well as stop and yield signs, not giving way to pedestrians in crosswalk, speeding and other infractions — often many offenses per trip. Fantasies of the stereotypical terrorizing cyclist aside, imagine the calming effect if Boston drivers were ticketed for even a tenth of their crimes. Cops might be doing little else if they enforced the laws and regulations, but wow, would that make a change for the better.

They should follow Cambridge’s lead and enforce against cyclists who blow lights and such as well, but let’s get real about where the offenses, dangers and damage are. If 100% of cyclists got tickets for 100% of their transgressions, we wouldn’t begin to see the change to a major extent.

I have the advantage of serious size and muscle. I don’t hesitate to tell a reckless driver when he or she has disobeyed laws as well as norms of common sense and civility. Many honestly are amazed to hear that they have violated one or more state laws. Far too many don’t know, for example:

  • Of primary importance, law here gives cyclists the same rights and responsibilities as drivers.
  • Cyclists must ride in the road and for forbidden from sidewalks in business districts.
  • With few exceptions such as limited-access highways, cycles belong on the road, as drivers have such exclusions as ped/cycle paths.
  • Specific law requires drivers to pass a cyclist slowly and at a safe distance, as well as make sure the way is clear before opening a door into traffic when stopped.

Search our general laws for bicycle for even more.  Most drivers would be surprised, as they would be shocked if a cop wrote them a surchargeable ticket, with its fine, points and insurance penalties.

Instead, drivers would be far smarter and better off if they understood these laws before picking up their keys.

I call shame on the Boston Channel, WBZ, the Globe, the Herald and the rest of them. These distressing wrecks give them a great chance to do their jobs and help us all.

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