Boston Bikes, Love and Hate ’em

June 2nd, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

bikegeek.jpg$10 gas would do it. Meanwhile, we who are fonder of bicycles than cars must content ourselves with moderated increased pedalers in Boston.

Not long ago, an adult on a cycle meant either a fitness junkie or a struggling college student or someone paying the consequences of DUI convictions. Now even the trend-trailing Boston Globe has noticed more bikers. (Even the left coast is seeing such.)

We’re not ready.

Our new believer and new enabler (bike convert Mayor Tom Menino and bike czarina Nicole Freedman) are chugging along trying to get out of granny gears. There are bike lanes to be painted, public education to design and promote, racks for parking and bus transport, and even cops to be dope slapped.

If we were suddenly to quadruple our street cycling load, everyone from motorists to pedestrians to police would be making motorboat noises with their lips. We know from the billion or more in China and India, and the 100 million or so in Europe and the U.K. that streets full of cycles can work. We also know that if we don’t have systems and education in place, they can be nearly as unpleasant as motor vehicle traffic.

Actually the latter isn’t accurate. For all the commentary about every cyclist being a homicidal madman, few are an dangerous as the average motorist. Also, a 30 pound plus cyclist bike is a relative powder puff contrasted with 3,000 pounds of speeding metal, glass and plastic.

It is worth reading some of the newspaper, magazine and blog chatter about cyclists. Such commentary illustrates what people face in trying to get more bikes and fewer cars and trucks in urban areas. We can all agree on the pollution, noise, safety and other benefits, but the emotional issues are another matter.

Spend an hour or so with the Boulder, Colorado, Daily Camera for a compilation of offense and defense on this. The laws there are pretty much the same as here too. Bikers have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers, but are also supposed to ride single file and stay to the right as far as safety allows.

The Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden is fairly anti-bicycle, in a keep-the-kids-off-my-lawn kind of way. He started a furious dialog recently with his column on this. He likes to cite the laws implying that cyclists need to get the hell out of the way of motorists. However, he neglects to cite the same types of statutes we have here in that any driver overtaking any other vehicle, including bicycles, must slow or stop and yield to traffic ahead. That’s common sense. That’s courtesy. That’s the law.

The many pages of pro-cycle, bike hating, calls to reason and more follow the article in the Daily Camera. Some of anti-bike ones are astonishing. Some motorists seem to claim the right to mow down anyone who slows their headlong race to wherever.

This is where cops need to get involved. Here in Beantown, cyclists are generally amused to hear outraged motorists talking about the lawless biking community. As a cyclist, T rider and driver, I too have a strong experiential knowledge of who’s breaking the laws and putting people at risk. For example, decades ago, I learned to watch after a change of light before I followed proceeded on green — on foot, in car or on bike. Two to five cars running the red light are normal. If cyclists were anywhere near as reckless, the number of pedestrian/bike collisions would be in the thousands instead of singles or tens.

Until his recent enlightenment, Menino too spoke of the fear of inconveniencing motorists by adding cycles to the street mix. Despite existing laws that accommodate both in town and on most highways, it is a little different. For the betterment of all of us, motorists might have to obey the laws and even keep to the speed limits in town.

For the police, many get it and a few don’t. I am sure not all understand the laws and city, state and park cops often tend to favor the bigger vehicle over the one with the right of way. It shouldn’t be hard for BPD Commissioner Edward F. Davis III to tell the cops to put cyclists in the mix. Those who run lights should get tickets, as they do sometimes in Cambridge. Likewise, any motorist who menaces or endangers a cyclist needs to face the ticket, charges, fines, points and whatever else comes with it. You can be sure the public would catch on pretty quickly and brag about how wonderful their cops are.

Anyone who would like bicycles to disappear is due for continued culture shock. There are and will be more bikes on Boston streets.

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