Boston Biking Slow and Steady

December 15th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Freedman and Menino

Our cycling champions — Director of Bicycle Programs Nicole Freedman and Mayor Tom Menino (in the pic) — released the annual report for this year. Get the PDF version of State of the Hub: Boston Bikes Year-End Update here.

I had the wrong date for the public presentation, so I rely on the document.

The net is that the plans remain perking along and on track. Even in these terrible economic times, the fiscal requirements to keep improving cycling here are very small. Many, such as adding bike lanes when a road is re-striped are free or a tiny incremental design cost on top of the necessary maintenance. Others, like the bike racks, are cheap and partially underwritten by agencies, and still others, like the bike days and weeks, receive some corporate money.

Freedman’s vision of a citywide cycling network of bike lanes and paths is crawling along at a fair clip. She expects this coming year that a complete network of these will be more obvious. The trend has been from zero miles in 2007 to five in 2008 and another 10 added this year.

To many, this will presently seem like less of a network than a hit-and-miss application (my words, not hers).  The fact is, as she told us in our Left Ahead! podcast a year ago, that’s part of her plan. She forges ahead with lanes when roads are reworked, adds lanes, and simultaneously goes with the other programs such as racks, bike sharing and education.

She’s headed for 100 miles of lanes/paths. By then, cyclists should feel safe getting from where they live to where they work and shop. That’s when the largest increase in cyclists occurs in cities who have gotten there.

The city is on pace to continue adding 250 racks a year. These are not willy-nilly. Rather people request a rack, which they can do online, or the city surveys where cyclists go and identifies places where it makes sense to put a rack.

The 2009 report notes an example on Newbury Street where the city replaced a metered space with an on-street rack.  I appreciate that, but what’s really needed though requires a large leap. Many European cities simply take on-street parking away, like on one or both sides of a street, replacing it with pedestrian and bike lanes. This helps encourage walking and cycling, discourages driving cars into town, and means quieter, cleaner, safer streets.

New York City is doing well with its similar program. That takes some serious political courage and is someways out for Boston.

Meanwhile, the racks are visible and becoming pervasive. The city will be requiring indoor, secure racks in new developments.

As a former cycling champion, Nicole is a bit prejudiced about races and related events. This report highlights the professional criterium here.

More powerful in raising visibility and increasing cycling participation are hoi polloi events. The Hub on Wheels, Bike Week and Bike Fridays continue and get thousands of participants.

Menino is also strongly behind recognizing companies that get his new love of cycling. His Bike Friendly Business Awards are big here. This also gives companies the right to say they are good places to work and green. As someone who cycled to work at several places, I can testify that racks, changing rooms and showers go a long way toward keeping employees cycling (healthier, not tied to T schedules, and happier).

The report also describes the expanding education programs for teens, the Youth Cycling Program and R.O.C. K. Roll and Ride. These teach safety and riding skills, as well as getting whole families on wheels.

Nicole’s folk researched and created a detailed Boston bike map, distributing 40,000 of them so far. They go beyond ID’ing best routs and shortcuts. They rated difficulty, traffic speed, bike paths and resources on route. You can request one or view it online.

She has also been working with police. One effort is the stolen bike registry. I signed a couple of bikes up; it’s free and makes sense.

Also, with the proliferating bike lanes, the city is asking cops and the Transportation Department to ticket and tow vehicles parked in lanes. I can testify that in places like the South End they haven’t been bothering, but the report swears the $100 ticket will be coming. Lazy and inconsiderate parkers need to learn that forcing bikes into narrow car lanes is dangerous for and annoys drivers and cyclists alike.

The report also touts its exhaustive surveys. There is an annual count like the birders’ version, except of cyclists. The latest complete figures show a 43% overall increase in ridership by bridge and neighborhood.

Only the Jamaicaway  saw a decrease. I suspect the perils and inconvenience of getting on and off at each end controls that. It strands cyclists at the speedway, a.k.a. Arborway ,and requires a perilous Route 9 crossing at the other. I am a claim-a-lane guy and do it, but many are intimidated by the “excitement.”

Finally, she addresses the bike-share program. It is supposed to start this coming summer. I predict ill for it. I can hope I am wrong and people can hoot and say, “Nah, nah, nah, nah.” I doubt  that Bostonians would deign to hop on these bikes for short trips. I suspect the exposed bikes will be vandalized. I’d welcome being proved wrong.

Otherwise, this has been a great start to a convert cyclist in the mayor and his bike czarina. Everything else is spot on and advancing faster than I thought.

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