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MassBike’s Barbara Jacobson to Speak at The New England Bike Walk Summit

By Dana Henry, Traffic Safety Store

A large mural facing the road. A full scale Bochi ball court beneath an overpass. A public park inside a triangular intersection.

Complete Streets advocate Barbara Jacobson has seen countless examples of asphalt transformed into lively public spaces. She will share these during her presentation, “Bicycling: Going Beyond the Paint,” at the New England Bike Walk Summit hosted by the East Coast Greenway Alliance on Thursday, September 24th, in Worcester Massachusetts.

Jacobson recalls projects that go beyond infrastructure and embrace the unexpected. Barron Plaza in Cambridge’s Central Square, once a four lane thruway, is now it’s one of Boston’s liveliest destinations, supporting a bevy of nearby restaurants and venues. In Mexico City, a parking area has been revamped into a public meeting space furnished with sculptures, bike racks, and shrubbery. In San Francisco, a full scale park decked out with ball courts and swings sits beneath an underpass.

Some projects incorporate technology. “The Faces of Dudley,” a civil rights mural project proposal that Jacobson worked on for FEAST MASS, incorporates an iPhone accessible audio track that tells the story of the leaders pictured.

Effective transformations, however, aren’t limited to large public works projects. Simply reinventing a parking space as a “parklet” can excite local business owners and jumpstart collaborations. Small efforts – a movie screening beneath a bridge in Baltimore or a string of lights hung on dark overpasses in Austin – are evidence of complete streets ideals spreading across the U.S.

“Cities are living, they’re changing, they’re adapting,” says Jacobson. “It’s about viewing the streets as a place for people to be in rather than drive through.”

 

Boston City Council Hearing Testimony

From MassBike's Programs Director Barbara Jacobson, a letter to Councilor Ayanna Pressley

The Honorable Ayanna Pressley
1 City Hall Square
Boston, MA 02201

Dear Councilor Pressley:

I am writing on behalf of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition in regards to the City of Boston’s efforts to improve the safety of the roadways for vulnerable road users. As bike ridership continues to increase, better infrastructure is needed to meet the demands of safety and usability of bicyclists on the streets of Boston. The City of Boston signed onto Vision Zero in March of 2015, but from the public’s perspective, there has not been much action taken on the proclamation of the goal of zero fatalities on the roadways. Since Vision Zero was adopted, three bicyclists have been killed: Fritz Philogene, 18; Yadielys Delcan Camacho, 8 and Dr. Anita Kurman, 36.

Better protected infrastructure is possible and is necessary in order to prevent crashes and fatalities from happening within the City. Innovative infrastructure redesigns and enhancements such as separated bike lanes and protected intersections must be considered and implemented throughout the city in order to ensure that biking is safe for all on all of Boston’s streets.

High speed arterials such as Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan, Washington Street in Roxbury, Massachusetts Avenue, and Tremont Street in downtown Boston should be top priorities for building out the spine of the bike network plan.

With the implementation of better and safer infrastructure comes the issue of maintenance: both for pre-existing projects as well as for year-round bicycling, such as snow removal. The City needs to have a larger maintenance budget for existing projects and additional funds for short-term pilot programming for testing protected intersections with additional funds for implementing more permanent curbing.

By allocating more funds for separated bike facilities, protected intersections and pilot programming, and having an active timeline for project implementation and maintenance, it will demonstrate the City of Boston’s commitment to Vision Zero and clearly convey to operators of large trucks and motor vehicles that bicyclists belong on Boston’s roadways and all precautions are being taken to account for their safety.

As a personal note, every day when I commute from my apartment in Jamaica Plain to my office in the Financial District, I tell myself the same thing, “Not today.” I await the day when I no longer have to tell myself this mantra and can bike safely without thinking that I will get into a crash or die while biking on the streets of Boston.

Sincerely,

Barbara Jacobson
Programs Director, Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition

Ride on Fenway

All right, get this. Tomorrow, we celebrate heading to Fenway Park by bike with RIdeOnFenway.

But this isn't just any old ride to the ball park.

Conceived by legendary cyclist Tim Johnson with the support of Red Bull , this ride is an informal ride to engage the community of Rhode Island and connect them via bicycle to the major league Red Sox in Boston, starting at minor league team's home. We'll showcase the creative ways that bicycles can be woven into every day recreation and regional travel in Massachusetts (and New England), some of which is the result of MassBike's work.

Riders will depart Boston via the commuter rail in the morning, meeting up at at Providence City Hall starting at 11:30. The ride departs at 12 noon. We will ride to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, arriving at 12:30. After picking up a baseball there, we will then head north at speed, departing at 12:50 p.m. to deliver it to Fenway Park for tomorrow evening's game.

We expect to arrive at the Blue Hills Road overflow lot at 4 p.m. (using the proposed Park and Pedal location on Route 138 in the Blue Hills Reservation), just north of Royall Avenue in Milton.

From there we will roll north to Fenway Park arriving at 5:30 p.m. at D Gate, at the MassBike valet service.

The long ride is free and open to participants capable of holding the pace of 20 mph. The beginning and finishing stretches of about six miles on each end are open to the general public regardless of their cycling ability.

We'll be talking about many things along the way...including roll on MBTA access, improving conditions from RI to the South Shore and on up to Boston, the new Park and Pedal program, urban cycling and commuters, and more. Be sure to tune in.

#RIdeOnFenway 9.9.15

 

Three Ribbons and a Bow

By RICHARD FRIESExecutive Director

[caption id="attachment_24239" align="alignleft" width="300"] Zagster at the YMCA. Left to right, Aaron Donahue, Councillor Josh Zakim, Tim Ericson, Nyesha Motley, David Tavares[/caption]

As I labored up a massive climb during the Vermont Overland Grand Prix I fixed my gaze on the little pink ribbon tied to my stem.

The month of August had three ribbons for me. The one tied to my stem came at the service for Anita Kurmann, the young Swiss medical researcher killed by an errant truck driver in Boston. I learned of her death while laboring up another climb during the Cycle Massachusetts ride near Greenfield, where a Channel 5 reporter reached me.

The impact of her death has proven both profound and curious. She was the seventh bicyclist hit and killed in Massachusetts by a motor vehicle this year. But the date, the time, the location, her occupation, and her innocence garnered massive attention. The intersection where it occurred had been cited repeatedly as dangerous by all transportation groups, private and non-profit. Poor enforcement added to the issue.

The massive media attention, most of which proved well-written, did light a fire under Boston officials. I personally did five media interviews, all of which were sparked by that incident.

The intersection of two iconic Boston streets, Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street, serve as a transportation ground zero. The danger is that the intersection is overloaded bikes, pedestrians, automobiles and trucksBut the design remains mostly just for cars.

Do you think were going to have a lot of bikes there? Lets see, its at the end of one of the few Charles River bridges. Harvard, MIT and other universities are on the Cambridge side; BU, Northeastern, Suffolk, Emerson and other universities are on the Boston side, along with several famous hospitals. Confused tourists bound for museums and Fenway Park mix with trucks seeking access to the Mass Pike and other wider boulevards for deliveries. And with a major subway station two blocks away, pedestrians flood every crossing.

I learned a lot from other advocates on ways we must respond to both journalists and those folk on-the-street, at-the-barbecue, and in-the-office when they ask, why do you think there is such an uptick in fatal bike accidents?

Talk about a loaded question.

First, we have to straighten out data.

  • In 2014 Massachusetts had 16 bicycle deaths; this year we are at 7 as the summer season winds down.



  • The number of bicycle crashes might be up somewhat, but given that the number of bicyclists and hours spent bicycling are way up, the rateof crashes is coming downdramatically.



  • Of note is that we have had 149 motorists deaths this year. But where is that story?



  • When measured in the only fair way of doing so, by hours spent with each activity, bicycling is safer than well .even living. When measured per million hours of activity, bicycling in American sees a fatality rate of .26, compared with driving automobiles which harvests .47 deaths. Motorcycles blows them all away at 8.80. (But notice there is no media frenzy about the crazy increase in motorcyclist deaths, eh?)


Second, we have to straighten out language.  


  • And this womans death was NOT the result of a bicycle crash but a truck crash. Bicycle crashes rarely prove fatal unless they involve motor vehicles. We have not had a fatal bicycle crash this year; only collisions with cars prove fatal.


With each successive interview I gave and each successive report I heard, saw or read, I realized that the media had started to chant a bikes are dangerousmantra. This mantra, I feared, could undo decades of improvements made in both policy and engineering for bicyclists.    

But the month of August also brought me two other happier ribbons …and a bow.

The second of the ribbons would be the ribbon cutting at the Somerville Community Path extension, which opened from Cedar Street to Lowell Street. This is essentially stretching the Minuteman Bikeway, which in 20 years has spawned networks of spurs and trails positively impacting the health and prosperity of more than seven communities.   

This extension is one to behold. The engineering includes several play areas, fitness equipment, and a spongy running trail alongside the paved trail. The ribbon cutting drew Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, and U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano.  

But honestly the prior ribbon cutting that week made a larger impression on me.

They cut a ribbon on the Northern Strand Trail, often known as Bike to the Sea, to open its section through Revere. From an engineering perspective, this hard-packed path is not something to behold. This path is located about four miles east of the Somerville path. But the Mystic River and the elevated I-93 serve as more than physical barriers. For the Revere opening had no hipsters present. There were no bike hippies, no tie-dye, no pony tails, no college kids, no tattoos, no piercings.

Stephen Winslow has steadily worked for two decades to auger this bike path from Everett, into Malden and later Saugus. But Revere, with its surprisingly beautiful corridor through the Rumney Marsh, had been the missing link between two ends.   

These communities hardly resonate as bike-friendly places. Study a Strava heat map and these communities are largely void of much activity. And while the Minuteman has more than a dozen bike shops near its path, the current Northern Strand communities have not a single bike shop. Bike lanes and sharrowsremain an oddity. And bike racks are not found at supermarkets.

And yet Winslow has somehow built a steadfast group of community leaders, not cyclists per se, who have augured through enormous political and cultural resistance to build this path.  

Revere has come a long way since our first Bike to the Sea Day in 1993,said Winslow. The No Bike Signs have been taken down on Revere Beach Boulevard and new sidewalks laid end to end. Bicycle lanes and sharrows have started popping up the last few years. All this means that drivers no longer shout out for bikes to get on the sidewalk. With the completion of the Northern Strand in North Revere, theres even revival of talk to look at options to bring a trail directly to Revere Beach along the Rumney Marsh as we had originally envisioned.

After the ribbon cutting we rolled about 100 meters to Anthonys Cabana, where a fenced property abutted the path. The wooden picket fence did not set this modest home apart from the others along this Revere Street, dotted with quaint sugar cube properties. Only the surf board on this fence serves notice of the spirit of its owner.  

For once inside this fence, one finds a densely packed outdoor pavilion with an in-ground pool, jacuzzi, full bar, game pavilions, sound systems, flat screen televisions.Welcome to the home of Anthony Chianca. With disarming smile, this bald, middle-age man in a Hawaiian shirt loves to entertain.

But this man - about as far from Howie Carrs stereotype of a bike hippy one could find - has worked tirelessly to improve his neighborhood and his city to build this path that runs behind his home.  

This path is close to connecting into a powerful bike-friendly corridor into Boston. And that path is crawling tantalizingly westward as the Somerville Community Path is crawling tantalizingly eastward.

Sadly it has taken Winslow 22 years to get this far. And his dream of a Bike to the Sea path can only now claim to get one to a salt marsh. But with this Revere connection, the path runs unfettered to the Lynn line. Lynn, a city that needs bike facilities far more than any other community along this pathway, sadly has a decidedly anti-bike mayor.  

But the placid and persistent Winslow has outlasted every element of opposition to date.  

The same day that I attended the ribbon cutting in Somerville I also got a bow. This came from Zagster, the Cambridge-based bike share company has been steadily working in smaller cities, corporate centers, and college campuses nationwide. With high-quality Breezer Villager bicycles, this company has developed such surprising clients as General Motors, where accountants realized they were pissing away a full time salary a day as employees waited for shuttle buses to move them to and from their 28 buildings. This car company put in bike share.  

So what to do with those bikes when they come offline, in need of some minor repair and upkeep?  

Zagster opted to present 30 of those bikes to the Boston YMCA on Huntington Avenue, the nations first Y. The bikes were presented to less privileged kids from Roxbury and Dorchester who participated in an essay contest. The essays revealed just how important something as simple as a bicycle could be in their lives, expanding a world from a few blocks to a few miles.   

One young family, with three little kids, received a bike. I could see and sense just how hard dad was working to be just that, a dad. And this sturdy and swift machine could expand his economic horizons by about five miles. Within that radius would be opportunities in education, healthcare, social services, recreation and something suburban folks take for granted: a supermarket.

The bow on that gift, coming off the tragedy in Boston and ensuing media coverage, showed me how in four different locations serving four entirely different communities that bicycles continue to present a solution to so many problems. We hold that truth to be self-evident.

I had spanned an entire socio-economic spectrum during that week of ribbons and bows. Of all the ribbons and bows I saw, however, one particular application made me recognize that our gains would not recede.

For as we gathered for a rush hour ghost bike presentation to commemorate the loss of Anita Kurmann I expected to see a cop or two sent to keep the peace. What I saw, however, caused my throat to thicken with emotion. For there, wrapping around the entire corner, stood a dozen green-clad Boston Police Department bicycle patrol officers. As we cyclists - of all stripes and styles - clustered on to the corner, we had this day-glow shield to the smoldering conveyor belt of evening traffic. One dump truck driver sounded a horn briefly … only to register the glare of these officers.  

This thin green line confirmed that we indeed belonged there. This thin green line, for which we have worked to establish for 35 years, confirmed that we indeed mattered. They understood the loss. They understood the experience of bicycling in Boston. They understood the senseless impatience and rage of these motorists all rushing to the next red light.  

And each of those hardened cops wore a tiny pink ribbon too.

MassBike Revamps Educational Programs for Fall 2015: Skratch Labs, Pro Legend Tim Johnson Push Classes “Beyond the Pamphlet”

As the kids head back to school this fall cyclists can too with the launch of MassBikeU. A total redesign of the MassBike educational program, classes will now be offered on a wide variety of topics of interest to riders ranging from beginner basics to advanced skills taught by MassBike staff, local professional athletes, Tour de France mechanics, and other experts on their chosen subject matters. Class will officially be in session this fall leading off with Tim Johnson’s Cyclocross 101 course September 22 and Skratch Labs Women’s “Bike and Brunch” cooking class at Trade October 18.



“For years we've had success offering a lot of basic bicycle skills classes. But we had some requests - from both members and retailers - for a broader spectrum of course offerings,” said Richard Fries, MassBike executive director. “While tennis is just, well, tennis, a bicyclist can embrace so many elements that include travel, commuting, mechanical expertise, fitness, on-road, off-road, urban planning, diet, and much, much more. We want to show people this entire world.” This broader range will enhance the traditional class offerings of bicycling basics that MassBike has taught for years and will continue to offer.

[caption id="attachment_23963" align="alignright" width="200"] MassBikeU Dean Brian Murphy[/caption]

Heading up the program is newly appointed MassBikeU Dean Brian Murphy. “I am delighted to be working with Richard Fries and the staff of MassBike on our exciting educational initiative. The launch of our Fall semester courses represents the beginning of what we expect to be a broad curriculum of innovative courses offered to a diverse audience of cyclists.  Our mission is to position MBU as a leader in cycling education, while actively engaging our current individual, business, bike shop and bike club members as well as recruiting new MassBike members.”

Unique and innovative courses will be offered alongside the existing curriculum of bicycling basics to round out a calendar suited for a wide range of interests, both on and off the bike. Tim Johnson’s cyclocross class will be a seasonally well timed, on the bike course for those who are looking to learn some new skills. According to Fries, Johnson “is one of the most articulate teachers for cyclocross in the English language. Any cyclist - from a commuter to a tourist to a charity rider - will vastly improve their cycling abilities with this class.”

The Skratch Labs class at Trade is expected to fill quickly. The October 18 class will feature a cooking class taught by Biju Thomas and Lentine Zahler, a two hour ride coached by local professionals, and a delicious brunch. The opportunity is unique as Skratch Labs founder Allen Lim has truly changed the athlete and food relationship. Lim stated “I like real food or food made from scratch better than prepackaged alternatives, because in my professional experience, when athletes are on the rivet, real food is less likely to come back as vomit. While real food is not as easy or convenient than opening a packaged laced with excess ingredients and food additives, neither is living an active and healthy lifestyle.”

On MBU guest professors Thomas and Zahler, Fries commented “With their amazing cookbook for athletes The Feedzone Allen Lim and Biju Thomas changed how nearly every professional cyclist views food and nutrition. To have these guys with Tour de France pedigree offering classes on cooking is a unique opportunity.” MBU will bring in guest instructors for special events supplement their regular roster of local instructors.
For more information on MassBikeU and classes being offered please visit massbike.org/education

Art Auction to Benefit MassBike with Michael Valenti

World Famous Poster Artist Offers Rare Opportunity to Purchase Signed Art

Boston, MA - (Aug. 25, 2015) - On Monday, Oct., 5, in Lexington, Mass., MassBike will host a benefit art auction featuring the work of Michael Valenti.  New England native, Valenti will be in town for the KMC Cyclo-cross Festival presented by Maxxis in Providence, RI as the festival’s featured artist.

Bicycle poster art has a long history as a fun, accessible art form. “There is something almost mythical about bicycle poster art, dating back to the late 19th Century,” stated Richard Fries, executive director of MassBike. “But capturing the zeal of those Gladiator or Michelin posters is rare in today's digital world. We believe that great poster art still holds power. And finding that large format poster is nearly impossible today.”

“Sharing my cycling art with supporters of MassBike at the fundraising auction this year is ‘wicked pissa’. I grew up in Massachusetts so I’m allowed to say that,” quipped Valenti, who today lives in Chicago where he rides and races bicycles. “And having a small part in helping make streets safer for cycling is a wonderful opportunity for which I’m very grateful.”

A mix of 20 large format and smaller hand screened prints will be up for auction at Vine Brook Tavern in Lexington, MA. Doors open at 6:30pm and bidding will begin at 7:30pm. The event is free for MassBike members, $10 for non-members.
For more information on Michael Valenti please visit michaelvalenti.com. For details on the auction, please visit massbike.org.

Finding Marie Antoinette in Plainville

A Route 1 Bike Lane Puts 20th Century Policy in a 21st Century Lens

By Richard Fries, Executive Director

Like many cyclists, I'm also a motorist. Our family of five gets by fine with just a 2006 Subaru which comes in handy for hauling things about the suburbs. Whenever I find myself idling in traffic alongside one of those lifeless commercial strips I try to find those other signs of life. For there, amid the wrappers and bags and cups strewn from us engorged citizens in our cars, we see the dirt path.

These traffic patterns are always there. They are not laid down not by civil engineers, funded by the state, or given the approval of Boards of Selectmen. The foot traffic there pounds the earth into cement density that could never yield grass. The route may go over a guard rail designed only for the safety of the motorist. The line may continue through a peeled-back corner of fence, down an embankment, and behind a loading dock.

The user of this path is one of the suburban shadow people. This person is neither a conservationist nor a bird watcher nor an "avid" walker. This is a poor person trying to get to a job filling and emptying a Fryolator for the person that strews trash on that same path from the window of their Escalade. This is the shadow economy of the suburbs that receives no accommodation from the engineers, town officials and architects who devote all sorts of thought and resources to getting customers into the front door but give almost no consideration to getting their staff to the back door.

This path gets no ribbon cutting, no free buffet for reporters, no grand opening.

This shadow person is paid $9 per hour to do dishes for folks like me who don't want to pay more than $6.99 for a lunch. This person may also have a job earning tips at the Cheesecake Factory. For that the hourly pay may be as low as $3 per hour.

This shadow person also does not live in a vacuum. Like me, she needs to live near family, schools, medical care, super markets, and drug stores.

So working full time at this wage this person may make less than $19,000 per year. Given suburban design and policy, this shadow person is compelled to get a car. But the $10,000 in annual expenses to legally operate a car - fuel, car payments, insurances, registration, maintenance, etc. -  would cut that income in half. Read your local police log. A great number of arrests are folks driving without a license, suspended licenses, without insurance, and without registration.

Should they use the bus? You try the bus. In suburban areas they run infrequently, deposit passengers alongside unsafe retail strips without sidewalks, and they don't run very late for folks working in food service.

Circumstantial logic drives this shadow person to one solution: the bicycle.

Mind you, this shadow person is NOT an avid cyclist who wants to ride a bike; this shadow person is somebody who needs to ride a bike....with the intent of doing so only until they can get a car.

When I took this job in January I had grandiose notions of merging hipster urban bike advocacy with the powerful market of the suburban club riders. Sure I took in the importance of Safe Routes to School and childhood obesity. I understood the significance of rail trails and intermodality. And I could snuff out any delightful back-yard conversation to a stultifying halt with talk about peak oil, the diabetes epidemic, carbon footprints, diesel particulate counts, etc.

But in my work to date I have come to the sober reality that cycling's most important constituency does not even want to be on a bicycle. They don't give a crap about l'Alpe d'Huez or filet brazed frames or their lactic threshold. They just need to get a few miles down the road to work or a community college or a supermarket and back. So they ride bikes. Often the tires are under-inflated. The brakes barely work. And the chain is loud.

It ain't all that sexy. I don't have a whole lot in common with these folks. And if I found myself at a barbecue with such folks they likely would not care to hang out with me.

This situation came to light for me recently when The Attleboro Sun Chronicle called for a reaction to the Board of Selectmen in Plainville, Mass., howling about their town being forced to include a bike lane on Route 1 where the new Plainridge Park Casino had just opened. The MassDOT required certain traffic improvements along U.S. Route 1 when the casino went in. These included bike lanes.

Sounding a lot like a panel of Fox News commentators with all the typical logical fallacies, the board mocked the inclusion of the bike lanes noting that people should never ride a bike along Route 1 and such markings would somehow lead to somebody being killed. They ridiculed this as being "politically correct."

I spoke to the reporter for about 10 minutes and about one-hundredth of what I said got in the the article, which is here.

But the reporter noted my comments on how such accommodations are going to be increasingly part of the 21st Century streetscape. He left out my comments regarding how the hired help - even if is just one person - often uses bicycles to get to their job at the casino or the Wendy's or the Best Buy.

One selectman, himself an "avid" bicyclist sent me a private e-mail incredulous that I would infer that cycling along Route 1 is safe. Whether it is safe or not is not germane to the discussion; folks are doing it any how. And giving them a bike lane - at no cost to the local taxpayers, thank you - makes it a tiny bit safer.

I welcome the interest - and opinions - of the local selectmen. The discussion is long overdue. They are right; the road they have is unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians and motorists, too. Pointing out problems is easy. We know, according the Brookings Institution, that less than 30 percent of American 18-year-olds even have a drivers license, let alone a car. This is the labor market behind that drive-thru window giving those selectmen their Big Macs.

The Sun Chronicle, in a follow-up editorial, cited the bike lane as "bureaucracy run amok" a week later. You can read it here.

My question to the reporter, which is how do you want young people and poor people to get to those jobs, never got a response. When I asked it of Selectman Robert Rose I also got no response.

Is this a problem? Yes. But the response of the locals is a parody of Marie Antoinette. "What? They have no car? Well let them drive trucks!"

To suggest that maybe people do not have access to a car is like suggesting the sun rises in the west. They are dumbfounded.

Here is Plainville, with a per capita annual income of just over $35,000, hosting a retail strip offering low-wage jobs to local residents. Nearby towns such as Attleboro and Woonsocket, R.I., have an even lower average income. But without a car, those residents are pretty much whistled out of the labor pool (and the customer base). The local bus service run by the Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority  - whose snappy slogan is "We'll Get You There" - offers one bus per hour to Plainville from Attleboro and it drops folks off a long, long way from the Casino. Not that there would be a sidewalk for that humiliating schlep to the job. And the last bus is gone after 6:30 p.m. so good luck with that job in the hospitality sector.

Political leadership is not supposed to whine about problems but to develop solutions. This MassDOT policy will continue to apply to all those strip malls where our youth and our college students and our poor citizens may need to use alternative means of transit. And whenever a big developer or a casino can foot the bill instead of the taxpayer they will require such places to include bike (and hopefully pedestrian) facilities.

The New York Times recently cited two independent studies that confirmed that the number one barrier to escaping  poverty is neither crime nor education nor addiction. The tallest barrier is the lack of transportation.

The article is here.

But my revelation on the need for bike advocacy to impact the lives of such poor folks did not come about entirely by the Plainville Board of Selectmen. Nor is it a story of "those people."

This is the story of an 18-year-old kid from a coal mining town who got into college in Tampa, Fla., arguably the worst example of strip mall hell long before anybody had seen a bike lane, a rail-trail or a "sharrow." And that kid lived by bike amid that high speed traffic chaos working first as a dishwasher and later as a cook while he got through college. That bicycle, which he rode through darkness and rain, helped him graduate debt free. And while his classmates gained weight and gathered up debt, he continued to live mostly by bicycle through a wide variety of jobs in a wide variety of locations for decades.

The money he saved living by bike enabled him to purchase a home in Lexington, Mass., and raise three college bound kids. And that crazy bicycle lifestyle kept his body in such good health that 35 years later he still wears the same size jeans he wore in high school, gets by with no medications, and out dances all of his nephews and nieces at weddings.

This is the ultimate example of how to abide by Republican fiscal values.

That kid is me.

Here we are in Massachusetts, the world's largest college town, where 17 percent of those young job creators we cherish live by bicycle. They are working in your restaurants, your stores, your cafes, your taverns, and your casinos. Perhaps making their commutes to and from those jobs a touch safer, even just a touch safer, is worth the pittance of an investment.

This endeavor, however nominal, is certainly not deserving of ridicule. We all deserve better leadership.

A Tale of Two Cities

Are We Getting Bikes to Everybody? 

By Richard Fries, Executive Director

I'm going to make a hideous assumption here that many of you readers actually drive through the Boston metro area on occasion. So the next time you are stuck in traffic on the Zakim Bridge, itself an architectural accent to the Boston skyline, look down towards the Science Bridge. There you may notice an equally attractive, albeit more modest, bridge.

Behold the North Bank Pedestrian Bridge which connects Paul Revere Park in Charlestown to Cambridge.

I first noticed this bridge only recently after attending a meeting at the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The entire East Cambridge landscape has unfolded for me as of late. The streetscape and infrastructure is a honeycomb of bike paths, lanes, cycle tracks and signals for bikes and pedestrians.

Victory has a thousand mothers. Boston and Cambridge have been blessed with a great network of government and non-government organizations all working to improve access and intermodality.

This shock to my senses came not from the plethora of innovative infrastructure. The shock came from my re-entry to Cambridge after a day spent in Brockton on a bicycle.

In Brockton there is not a single inch of bike infrastructure. My inspection of the MBTA Commuter Rail station, where I had hoped to find some semblance of accommodation for bikes proved deflating. One lonely bike stood locked to the fence. And on the way out of the lot a misaligned, tire-eating storm drain grate awaited that ride.

Physically everything about Brockton is currently designed to make a cyclist feel un-welcome.

Since taking this job I have discovered similar environments in Pittsfield, North Adams, Worcester, Fall River and Springfield.

My company in Brockton also struck me. While our tour was led by Paul Chenard of the Old Colony Planning Commission, we were joined by some local cyclists. Aboard a fixed-gear rode Ryan.

With a sinewy body, Ryan had been riding for about four years. A native of Brockton, he got into cycling while living in Jamaica Plain, one of Boston's most progressive neighborhoods. When he lost his job in Boston, however, he moved back to Brockton.  Whereas in J.P. he felt aboard his bike as if he belonged. But in Brockton one feels as if they simply do not matter.

All the bike-ped stuff happening in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge and Newton is working to improve the streetscape and the quality of life there. And more and more people wish to live closer to this fountain of convenience and health. Neighborhoods once avoided by the well-to-do - from the South End to the Seaport, East Cambridge to Savin Hill are being transformed. Some call this gentrification; others call it displacement.

But what is tragic is that folks like Ryan, who can least afford the expense of a car, are being shoveled into communities that have engineered them into an automotive corner. Here is a city with inexpensive housing where the largest employer is the city itself. Folks in the city are there often to take advantage of the affordable housing. But to get around they then have to annually carry a $9,000 bag of financial cement in the form of a car.

There are buses and the commuter rail but those are extremely restrictive to one's schedule. Simple access to supermarkets, drug stores and schools via such transit requires a rather complicated logistical process. And heaven forbid one misses that last bus at 9 p.m.

There is hope. MassBike is targeting these communities with the support of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Health to identify simple low-cost solutions to make cycling a safer and healthier option in places such as Brockton. And folks like Paul Chenard, who showcased to me the wide plains of Brockton's geography which could easily accommodate bike lanes and cycle tracks with minimal impact on motorists, see nothing but hope.

Communities such as these have been orphaned by bike advocacy. Perhaps the time has come to create a cycling lifestyle for folks who most need the benefits.

Call to Action - Complete streets and Amtrak roll-on service - Votes on Wednesday!

From the League of American Bicyclists:

This Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee is voting on a number of amendments to the transportation bill, including amendments to support complete streets, and standardized roll-on service for bicycles and wheelchairs on Amtrak.

Please join us in asking your Senator to Support both of these key Amendments.

AMTRAK roll on service- Please ask your Senator to support the Manchin Amendment 

Demand for multi-modal transportation options, including the increasingly popular combination of bikes with buses and trains, is growing across the country. Currently, only a handful of Amtrak stations and train services allow convenient roll-on access, and where they do, the service is popular and well-used. The Manchin Amendment would require Amtrak to report to Congress on what standardized roll-on service should look like and what it would take to get there.

 You helped us win in the House, now we need your help in the SenateThis spring we asked for your help to pass this amendment in the House. If we can win it in the Senate then its a done deal.  (If its not in the Senate version - then the two sides will have to work it out in a conference between the House and Senate).  Winning in one chamber puts us in a strong position- but winning in both is a sure thing!

Safe Streets policy- Please ask your Senator to support the Heller, Schatz, Markey Amendment 

We've called it complete streets, safe streets and uniform accomodation- now help us call it the law. This amendment would ensure that the design of Federal surface transportation projects provides for the safe and adequate accommodation of both motorized and non-motorized users in the planning, development and operation of transportation projects!

Click here to send your message.


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