9/10th of a Loaf

August 18th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Dinner two nights ago with some charming friends in their South End garden condo brought the expected — satisfying food and drink — and a little cycling surprise. The advent of cycling lanes there brought carping from the riders.

She attended the August 4th public meeting to discuss the pending re-striping from Melnea Cass to Dartmouth on Columbus by September. I could not, as we were in the agony of packing for the suddenly accelerated move from JP to HP.

I thought it was in great hands and mouth and mind, regardless. City Bicycle Coordinator Nicole Freedman was up front. She’s a real bike advocate and power behind our local cycling advances. However, six inches out of five feet seemed to have caused serious contention.

My chum works in transportation and shall remain nameless. I pass along her comments. Normally that would be hearsay. However, the South End News covered the indoor struggle over the outdoor improvement in a piece in the current issue.

My friend expected a love fest. After all, only recently the state and city had spit on us cyclists over Mass Ave. While the laws and regulations require adding accommodations for bikes and pedestrians whenever a road is rebuilt or even resurfaced. The governments weaseled out of bike lanes on the thoroughfare, claiming the plans had been grandfathered before the new regs.

Yet, you squeeze your bike down Mass to the Harvard Bridge to find bike lanes across and then stretching ahead in Cambridge. Clearly, this ploy goes against needs, safety and the current rules. In that way lawyers and engineers can claim literalness over reason, the state and city told cyclists not only where to go, but to get there at their own risk.

So, I too figured the South End wheelers would be pleased if not delighted at the new lanes. Not so.

Many objected to the moderately dumb decision to give parked cars 7.5 feet and cyclists 4.5 feet. To non-cyclists be aware that cars need from 5 to 6 feet and that standard bike lanes are 5 feet wide. The cyclists had an excellent point that we should set the standard with the normal lane and not nibble bikes into traffic. Drivers should simply have to park in the lines as the present law already requires.

Also for non-cyclists, being doored is more what this is about than cars passing in the same direction. A few cyclists around here die annually and many are injured by gormless parkers throwing wide their street-side door without looking. While that is against the law in general and with stronger new cycling statutes, police are notorious about not bothering to enforce such reckless behavior. They are wont to call it “an accident” and save the paperwork and court appearances.

With all the stomping and yelling by drivers whenever cycling arises in the press or orally, a main point of the anti-2-wheelers is that police should catch and punish every moving violation. That’ll show those arrogant Spandex bums.

What’s missing there is the two-pronged reality of cars. Not only are they inherently vastly more dangerous, but at least around here, their drivers’ violations are non-stop — red lights, crosswalks, tailgating, speeding, threatening drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike with the vehicles.

It may be true that if Boston cops began enforcing state traffic laws we’d have a safer and much more pleasant city. It is also certain as cops claim that they’d have time for nothing else. At least until the paper flood slowed and the courts eventually unclogged, getting to safe would be the kind of cultural upheaval that we have not seen since the American Revolution.

Drivers are hell set against giving up anything. That would include parking spaces (many major European cities just take whole streets of parking and convert them to pedestrian and bike paths). They would love for all those other drivers to disappear, without having to give up anything themselves.

So it was with the cyclists two weeks ago at the discussion. They railed against the 4.5-foot bike lanes instead of 5-foot ones.

One more secret to share with non-cyclists is that there is considerable debate about how safe such bike lanes are. A substantial number of bike advocates contend that shared roads make more sense if the cities won’t clearly separate bike lanes from doors and traffic.

Regardless, Freedman said and I believe that a real value of bike lanes is visibility. The obvious reality of more cyclists along with marked, dedicated lanes makes it plain to drivers that they must share the road.

Even in Cambridge, there is informal accommodation, certainly by cyclists and police. For one, the Mass Ave bike lanes in many places should be called UPS/Fedex parking lots. Package trucks often force cyclists into motor vehicle lanes, slowing everyone as well as increasing risks to riders. Yet, business must continue and we cyclists use our mirrors and hand signals while bypassing the big, old trucks. Cops likewise give the guys in brown and blue reasonable time to drop off their boxes.

Yes, the riders at the discussion are literally right and the city should positively give a full 5-foot lane there. Yet, I’m with Freedman’s larger view here. If 9/10 of that sets the tone in the South End, it is net positive for everyone.

The ideal should be truly separate bike lanes, isolated from walkers and drivers. Short of that, the standard 5-foot lane is in order. The 4.5-foot version is okay…for now.

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3 Responses

  1. Uncle says:

    Just sayin’, and I know this has come up many times before. If you don’t have bicycle lanes everywhere, don’t we run the risk of bicycles being permitted *only* in bicycle lanes and nailed anytime they are not? After all, in the minds of both law enforcement and the kill-all-cyclists lot, this isn’t a vehicle, isn’t a mode of transportation, but just a toy. I’d be less skeptical of bike lanes if I thought they’d lead to attitude changes amongst the majority, and not exist just to lead from one sanctioned destination to another.

  2. Harrumpher says:

    All good points…plus, in Boston during this beginning phase of putting in lanes, many disappear. Down in my new neighborhood, the risible bike lane on Enneking Parkway varies from an inadequate three feet to nothing and some stretches are full of gravel or glass. The drivers do not adjust to what the cyclists have to do to stay safe. Likewise, in numerous places in town like next to Ruggles and by Wentworth, a bike lane runs under 100 yards and suddenly stops, leaving the cyclist road naked. Again, drivers come by speeding and do not accommodate the biker forced into the lane. Exciting is the kindest way I can describe. Nicole claims she’ll have those fixed as soon as she can.

  3. Uncle says:

    I can buy transitional, but I was bitten by Richard Ballantine et al at a formative stage, and so skeptical of segregation. Long ago I took as my mantra “Ride fast; hog the road; act like traffic.” This is what annoys MA drivers the most, but it also has kept me alive. Riding in MA reminds one of Ralegh’s comment on the imminent prospect of beheading: “It concentrates the mind wonderfully.”

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