Bike czar Nicole Freedman gave her sixth annual report on the state of cycling in Boston in the Great Room at Faneuil Hall this Monday evening. Hundreds of bicyclists and bicycling advocates listened to her describe what Boston has accomplished and what the city proposes to accomplish in the coming years.
Mayor Marty Walsh was billed as attending, but he cancelled for reasons that were not disclosed. City Councillor Ayanna Pressley arrived late. She was the only elected official present.
Mayor Walsh did send a representative, chief of policy Joyce Linehan. Linehan noted that bicyclists made themselves known during the mayoral campaign and the candidates noticed. Advocacy organizations such as Livable Streets Alliance and the Boston Cyclists Union have made a difference in this town.
Freedman ran through a litany of accomplishments. Boston has doubled its bicycling mode share since 2007, from 1% to 2%. Twenty miles of bike lanes were added last year alone. One of them, on D Street in South Boston, is Boston’s first contraflow bike lane, allowing bicycles to legally ride in the opposite direction of motor vehicle traffic. Hubway, Boston’s bicycle share system, now has 140 stations with about 1200 bicycles, which have been used to take 1.6 million trips.
Boston Medical Center has begun to “prescribe” bike rides to patients, allowing those with low incomes to get a Hubway membership for five dollars a year.
Freedman said that the city has set three goals for 2020: attain a 10% modeshare, achieve a 50% reduction in injuries from crashes, and become an equity leader. Equity, or how those of all backgrounds and incomes in all of Boston’s neighborhoods can take advantage of the bike infrastructure, was repeatedly brought up. A survey by Boston Bikes revealed it to be the lowest priority among current bicyclists, at least among those who were surveyed. Freedman believes equity is critical, though, reasoning that a bicycle network built only for some is not only unjust, but also politically unsustainable.
Bicyclists can look forward to bike facilities around the Public Garden and Boston Common. A cycletrack will be built downtown as part of the Connect Historic Boston project. Also, for the first time, the city budget allows for the maintenance of current bike lanes.
Boston has completed its first Bike Network Plan, an ambitious effort to create primary, protected routes for bicyclists to traverse the city and marked secondary routes to get to popular destinations. The network will cover 356 miles in 2043, 167 of them off-road lanes or cycletracks. The focus on cycletracks is intended to spur the majority of Boston’s residents, who would like to bike but are too afraid to do so, to get on the road. Freedman asked vehicular cyclists not to worry because “we will still have streets with traffic for you.”
Freedman invited a couple of guest speakers who have recently become advocates for bicycling in the city. Jennifer, a Hubway member, said she was so taken by the experience of riding that she seldom takes the T any more – just three times last year. She believes that getting more people to ride will help reduce pollution where she lives, allowing her to keep her windows open more often.
Kituana, a student at Mass Art, received a bicycle through the Roll It Forward program. She raved about the ability to move through the city with all her senses, to feel connected, to experience the life around her. Bicycling has helped her relieve stress and become stronger.
While Freedman, with her judicious use of wit and self-effacement, once again excelled at her presentation, I found some of her answers to the public’s questions disappointing. She responded to a question on why three city bike path projects have been stalled by briefly addressing only one and ignoring the other two. She bypassed a number of questions on paper because she didn’t like them.
One of them was mine. I asked what a cyclist should do when confronted with a dangerous driver. When I have complained to the police of such behavior, they have told me that, unless I get hit by a car, there is nothing they can do. I believe a reporting system would benefit everyone in the city.
Eric Herot of Jamaica Plain pointed out that much of the proposed infrastructure does not require drivers to make many sacrifices. Freedman acknowledged that the city has at first gone after “low-hanging fruit,” but that it also has asked for some sacrifices such as on Mass Ave and Brookline Ave. She then said, “The more we ask to remove something from drivers, the better that we need to be at making sure that we are following the rules of the road and making sure that we are respected by the entire community.” While Freedman said she doesn’t agree with this pushback from drivers, it makes it more difficult for her projects to get through public meetings.
I agree that bicyclists need to treat pedestrians and transit users with respect. But, especially after dire reports of imminent climate change, drivers should look to earn the respect of bicyclists and pedestrians, not the other way around.