Month One Down

Executive Director

When I saw to my right the wheel-chaired quadriplegic making his way towards the ramp and the crosswalk on Cambridge Street I knew mayhem was not far behind. When I saw to my left the young lady wearing a snorkel hood, talking on her phone, and striding into the crosswalk from Government Center I realized chaos would undoubtedly ensue.

I had unclipped at this light, less than a mile from my office at MassBike, where I would finish my first week as the non-profit’s new executive director. I had met with the Department of Transportation, helped my predecessor file bike legislation, discussed cycling with the Office of Travel and Tourism, worked with staff, met with assorted executives, communicated with our Board of Directors, strategized on marketing, membership and sponsorship all towards making Massachusetts THE best bicycling state in America.

I have huge footsteps to follow. The outgoing leader, David Watson, took over this disheveled non-profit eight years ago and built - brick by heavy brick - a solid foundation. Pardon the car metaphor but spending the last two months “under the hood” of MassBike revealed to me how powerful this organization has become. The first week on the job, however, was an alphabet soup of agencies and consultants and accountants and planners and professional organizations all of which had been carefully navigated by David on behalf of MassBike.

We spent much of that first week with David on the front and me sitting on in the draft. He has positioned MassBike to do things that are truly nation-leading. Colorado and California are not close to pulling off some of these programs we’re about to finalize. He has galvanized police departments statewide to comprehend and embrace both the letter and spirit of laws pertaining to bicycles on the roadways. And his catalog knowledge of lawmakers and legislation on Beacon Hill is profound. The winds of change at the state and federal level are about to turn to our favor.

David did much of this prep work. He had taken a mighty pull. Now I had to pull through, into the wind, with a small staff and a small membership.

But all I could do for bicycle advocacy at that moment at that crosswalk was put out my gloved right hand in a downward, patting manner, hoping in vain to avert disaster.

Fortunately my new job allows me to continue my Lexington-to-Boston commute along most of the same corridor I had used for the prior eight years while I worked for Best Buddies. My commuting style could be described as politely assertive. I always yield down to pedestrians, I stop for red lights, I stack up in line behind other cyclists until it is considerate to pass, and I restrict my comments to errant motorists, jaywalking pedestrians, and scofflaw cyclists to a single word: “Careful!”

That January morning had proven a delightful experience down the Minuteman, along Mass Ave, through Porter and even the choppy Beacon Street experience into Inman Square had been pleasant. The sheer number of winter commuters, some of us chirping like happy birds in the morning sun of Kendall Square, gave me great confidence for my work at hand.

But having raced at a fairly high level I confess to commuting at a high rate of speed. Rarely am I caught, let alone passed, by another cyclist. So when a single-speeder on a salvaged mid-1970s Raleigh blew past me in Kendall, I lit the fuse and reeled him in as we approached the Longfellow Bridge. I sat on a bit and then pressed pass him, kindly complimenting him as I did so. He cheerfully obliged and sat on as we passed a string of other cyclists and descended into the Mass General circle, where we both stopped for the red light along with a half dozen other cyclists.

Mayhem arrived. He wore no helmet but ear buds strung down his thick beard. He rode a single speed, hand painted purple, salvaged from some hellish dumpster of parts akin to the dolls cobbled together by Sid in the movie Toy Story. He flew full speed through the red light into rotary traffic.

“Careful” I said.

As the light turned green I quickly retrieved him and took a fast line through traffic and rolled up hill to the red light at Bowdoin Street, a chaotic intersection with four lanes of traffic crossing. Mayhem flew through this light too, flopping the machine back and forth to get through the chopping patterns. Again the light switched green and again I caught him within 10 seconds and passed him with ease.

“Careful” I said.

And then I approached the crosswalk, where several cyclists commonly blow through the red light and crosswalk. I view it less as being legal and more about being courteous. But then I saw the wheelchair to my right working to beat the flashing countdown on the pedestrian signal.

He came full speed by my outstretched hand only to see the wheelchair emerge squarely into his path. He screamed an epithet at the quadriplegic – a quadriplegic, no less! - and dove to the left to avoid the collision. But that correction put him squarely into the path of the woman, who shrieked in fear.

In that instant he had put all of the hard work David had poured into improving cycling at risk. In that blink of an eye he had turned every motorist and every pedestrian witness and every voter in that intersection against every bicyclist, noble or otherwise. Regardless of the environment, the public health, the energy savings, the economics and all the important reasons we have to promote cycling, in that moment we had become simply “them.”

And they hated us. Because of him, they hated me.

Thanks only to the woman’s adroit pirouette and certainly not to this man's skills as a cyclist aboard this junk pile of a bike nobody was struck or injured.

Then the light turned. And I went. I came up to him as his head began to swivel in anticipation of my next and third passing of him with an admonition. We were then dead center in the three lanes of Cambridge Street.

“WHAT THE F….. IS YOUR PROBLEM?!?!” he screamed. The flush of color in his cheeks revealed the adrenaline and endorphins of the near-miss remained in full bloom within his bloodstream. “I MEAN WHAT THE F…..IS YOUR PROBLEM?!?!?”

I had purposefully advanced in such a fashion to come off his wheel with just the right proximity.

“Unfortunately,” I replied, “Guys like you ARE now my problem.”

I turned left on School Street and quietly went to work.

When we are out there riding, let's all try to be the good guys, OK?

Thanks for reading.

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