On Canada and “Common Sense”

By RICHARD FRIES

As I pedaled onto the two-lane highway the onus of my actions gathered like a thunder cloud. On that summer day in 1995 I had brought my wife along with me on a tour of Nova Scotia. We had ridden out of Halifax for a day of touring and lighthouses and sea food in this Maritime Province.

Then we realized we were due to ride 10 miles on a road with no shoulder and a precipitous drop off to the right.

I work and advocate for improved bike facilities but by practice I am a “vehicular cyclist.”  I firmly believe I deserve to be on the road as a vehicle and ride accordingly. I also have a semblance of courtesy for others; I ride to the right to allow motorists to pass with ease. I only use “lane blocking” when road conditions require such actions. This may be perceived as obnoxious to some motorists. Or it may perceived as illegal by some local constabulary who make up rules on the fly, often citing “common sense.”

In this circumstance, however, my cycling was not just MY cycling. For behind me was a Burley with my one-year-old son. With mid-summer tourism in full swing, this highway choked with Canadians in laden station wagons, campers, and towing all sorts of trailers. I braced, white knuckle, for the rage and fury and fear.

I gasped to think that my mission-based lifestyle had put this baby into harm's way. I braced for the honks of horns. I steeled myself for the insults and complaints. I readied for the certain confrontations. I even rode with a constant eye on the precipitous drop to the right to plot an exit should it be required.

And then....

 

...Nothing...

 

...Happened.

Not a word. Not a horn. Not a single close call.

Then it struck me...They were Canadians!

Aside from what they did with bacon, those friendly folks to the north have somehow managed to create a driving culture that is far calmer that ours.

Here is a country that is so similar to ours in so many ways. And while bike nuts pine for Dutch and Danish engineering, Canada has a highway and roadway system that is remarkably similar to ours. So how come they are so much more patient than us?

Transportation is so much more than simply engineering. Enforcement and education prove equally – if not more – significant in fostering a safer streetscape for all users. In short, we get what we tolerate.

Or sadly, in my beloved state of Massachusetts, we get what we celebrate.

Consider the term “Masshole.” Locally we kind of embrace the moniker with pride. We love our sports teams, our revolutionary heritage, our competitive educational system, and our HTFU attitude. But when I looked up the definition of Masshole, what I discovered shocked me.

Turns out, the rest of the world views the definition of Masshole in a singular definition: a dangerous and rude driver. And we're selling T-shirts and bumper stickers to celebrate this. One can only imagine the heads held in shame over at the Office of Travel and Tourism. “Come see the 'Spirit of America' and get honked at, insulted, cut off, and threatened.”

Recently I was on Congress Street, near the Tea Party bridge on Congress Street, stopped at the center lane for a red light, when a driver pulled up in the right-turn-only lane and stopped. Horns lit up behind her as she ignored the green-turn arrow.

With her window half down, I politely said “You know you are in the turn lane.”

She blithely looked up, shrugged, and said, “It's Boston.”

When I first arrived in Boston in 1983 folks felt the same way about such things as segregation and murder. Hooligans not only ruled the streets, some got jobs writing for newspapers. Driving habits are perhaps the last vestige of that attitude.

Perhaps you are chuckling. But there is high price paid, both here and nationwide.

In 2012 we had more than 36,000 people die in traffic fatalities nationwide. Our friends to the North? They had just 2,075 traffic fatalities in Canada. When measured as fatalities per 100,000 citizens we hosted 11 funerals while Canadians only had to attend six, about half as many.

In his book Hot Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – And How it Will Renew America, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times makes a lot of interesting arguments. His most compelling statement is that American consumer behavior is a force of global change. He is correct. After World War II, most of the world initially sought to emulate the U.S.A. in all things from Coca-Cola to Disney to Ford. And that included an attempt at high-speed automobile infrastructure.

By the end of the 1960s, however, the Danes, the Dutch, the Germans and the rest of Europe put on the brakes to this behavior.

Go to Europe today. Hold a cell phone in France and drive. They will not just stop you; they will draw automatic weapons. Pull over at the rest stop in Italy and see dozens of folks standing at cafe tables eating....There is no drive-through because eating while driving is not tolerated, let alone encouraged in advertising. And a group of cyclists in Spain rarely hears the honk of a horn.

And the results?  Here you go.

The Scandinavians have nearly eliminated traffic fatalities, with a traffic death per 100,000 of 3 or less.  In 2012 Norway had just 145, Sweden has 287, and Denmark just 165.

In Germany, the home of Porsche, Volkswagen and BMW, they had 3,520 traffic deaths and a rate of 4.3, for which they are embarrassed.

Canada, where I started this piece, had a death rate per 100,000 of just 6, with 2,050 total. One of the things that helps in Canada is a lot of messaging and education. Study this piece, for example, which the Canadian Automobile Association, working with that country's Share The Road Alliance, created this public service announcement.

Now back in my beloved U.S.A. we are ranked 67th in the world. We advertise cars showing them in four-wheel drifts and getting airborne. I suppose we should take some comfort knowing we are safer than the global average of 18 deaths per 100,000 citizen.

The data shows some true horror shows out there. With 1.24 million traffic fatalities worldwide in 2010 that comes down to a traffic death every 25 seconds.

China with a traffic death rate of 20.5 held nearly 276,000 funerals for victims of traffic violence. India had more than 238,000.

Ponder that. That is nearly half of all the world's traffic fatalities in two countries.

Over a third of road traffic deaths in low- and middle-income countries are among pedestrians and cyclists. And here is the rub: Less than 35 percent of those countries have ANY policies in place to protect those users.

So that logic, what some refer to as “common sense,” is get-the-hell-out-of-the-way. In short, the policies of too many countries is to “yield up.” If your idea of quality of life is in such places as Eritrea, Uganda, Nigeria, Venezuela and Brazil, those are the policies you wish adopt.

Our friends in Mississippi, Montana and North Dakota posted the same death rate as such socio-economic icons as El Salvador and Rwanda. In transportation terms, Afghanistan is safer than Mississippi!

We should take some pride that Massachusetts, with just 6.3, had the lowest death rate per 100,000 of all states with the exception of the District of Columbia. That's right, we did better than Oregon and Colorado and California.

What is curious is that DC is effectively a single city, where one using “common sense” would expect to see a more dangerous environment for pedestrians and cyclists that has a fatality rate on par with the Netherlands. Any recent visitor to DC will report a lot of engineering, but an equally impressive degree of enforcement. This writer has been popped for speeding via a camera. Run a red light, make a U-turn, or simply speed – all of the things we tolerate in Massachusetts – and you'll be stopped and ticketed. They adopted a “yield down” policy, which is proven effective in Europe.

This matter truly comes down to what we choose to tolerate.

This all came to mind when we received an e-mail here at MassBike from a Brookline resident. He asked us a question regarding a situation he encountered while riding with his Burley trailer containing his 2 year old son along Walnut Street, a secondary road in Brookline parallel to Boylston Street (Route 9) and a popular corridor for bicyclists. He was stopped by a local police officer for using a lane blocking technique, after being passed too close for comfort by a number of motorists. To him, it seemed the safer move, well within his legal rights on the road, but the officer cited that whatever the legalities are, that “common sense” dictated that he should right as close to the right as possible at all times.

Now we understand that this tactic may create a temporary inconvenience for motorists.. But when these same motorists are blocked by garbage trucks doing pick-ups, beer trucks making deliveries, a backhoe en route to a job site, or a bus with commuters, they idle in silent surrender. But heaven forbid a father with a two-year-old should get in their way.

That is what we call “common sense.” But common sense is malleable; advertising, lobbying, and law enforcement can warp what makes no sense into something that is common.

The true irony here is that the Town of Brookline focused on Walnut Street in 2003. That's when they hired engineers and implemented all sorts of traffic-calming designs on that road.

As the report states in its overview:
“The town of Brookline is committed to improving the livability and safety of its neighborhoods by mitigating the impacts of traffic and promoting safer conditions for residents, motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Unfortunately nobody in the Brookline Police Department got the memo. And this is the rub. We can pass the best laws. We can hire the best engineers. We can make the most lofty public declarations.

But it comes down to a poorly trained cop who mistakenly believes his mandate is to move people quickly instead of moving them safely.

Note: The Brookline Police Department did not respond to our repeated requests for comment.

Update 4/28/15: Via twitter The Brookline Police Department responded with the following to our post:
"Nice story, save this # 617-730-2603 or 2253 for comments next time. We work will with cyclist."

Join the Momentum


In response to the Longfellow Bridge Video

There seems to be some confusion out there today regarding the laws dealing with bike lanes, sparked by a video posted by a cyclist who had a brief conversation with a State Trooper after observing a patrol car parked in the bike lane on the Longfellow Bridge.

In the video, the trooper informs the cyclist that the road is state and that they “don’t really care” about the bike lanes.

Facts to consider:

  • The Longfellow Bridge is a state road. Bicycles are allowed to travel across and have painted lanes traveling in both directions on the bridge, despite current construction, which allows car traffic only heading inbound. Bicyclists and pedestrians still have access to an inbound and outbound travel lane.

  • Bike lanes are not currently protected by state law. City and towns are slowly adopting policies to make parking or standing in a bike lane a ticketable offense, the City of Boston included, where there is a $100 fine.

  • There is a law stating motorists must not DRIVE in the bike lane, but there is not currently a statewide law pertaining to parking or standing/waiting in the lane.

  • MassBike has submitted proposed legislation that would change this through the Bike Lane Protection Bill, to pass a state law protecting bicycle infrastructure.


So there are really a few problems here. First is a lack of a unified approach throughout the Commonwealth. Some cities and towns have banned parking in bike lanes, and some have not. This causes a great deal of confusion, deters enforcement efforts, and perpetuates general hostility towards cyclists.

Second is the education of our law enforcement as to why this is so dangerous. When a motorist parks in a bike lane, it endangers bicyclists by causing them to merge into traffic. In this particular situation, bridge construction causes the cyclist to head straight into oncoming traffic if the bike lane is impeded.

Third, and the biggest issue at hand is the attitude displayed towards the cyclist. We can get miles of bike lanes and sharrows installed but until the culture changes and the hostility is dealt with bicyclists will still feel as though they are second class citizens; That they don’t matter. We shouldn't be setting up certain road users for failure, as is the case here.

We ask the State Troopers, or any law enforcement officers: Would you send a car heading straight into oncoming traffic without an officer stopping the traffic for them to pass safely? A pedestrian? Why is it that bikes are somehow less important? We’re people, too.

The State Police can and should be our ally. They should be concerned with the safety and well being of all citizens on the roadways, regardless of their chosen method of transportation. Soon, they may be “required to care” by law, assuming the Bike Lane Protection Bill gets passed. While the state might not currently have an obligation to protect the bike lane, they do have an obligation to ensure safety. We need to work as a community to change this sort of behavior and environment on the roadways. No one deserves to feel as though their life is in danger while legally using the roads. We need to cultivate respect between all parties and work on changing the culture, in addition to the laws.

We will be keeping an eye on this conversation as it continues to develop. We have reached out to the State Police and look forward to opening up a dialogue regarding this situation.

 

Update:

Via CBS Boston - A Massachusetts State Police spokesman said in a statement the department is aware of the incident, and invited the cyclist to contact police to discuss the interaction.

After reviewing the videotaped interaction between a bicyclist and a state trooper that occurred Tuesday on the Longfellow Bridge, it is clear that the trooper’s statements regarding bike lanes and cyclists are wrong. Contrary to the tone and content of those statements, the State Police are concerned with, and have a responsibility to protect, the safety of bicyclists. As such, we have a duty to ensure safe conditions along any open bike lanes on roads under our jurisdiction. Earlier this year the Department issued a training bulletin reminding troopers of the rights and responsibilities of cyclists. That bulletin was re-issued this morning. Furthermore, the Department will reiterate to those troopers on the bridge Tuesday our responsibilities to bicyclists, and will counsel the trooper who spoke to the cyclist about the proper way to respond to concerns raised by members of the public.

April 13, 2015: Melnea Cass Boulevard Design Meeting Recap

The Melnea Cass Boulevard Design Project began in 2011. The initial concept widened the roadway and inserted a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) in the center median, a design philosophy that caused a great deal of concern for residents in an area where rapid traffic patterns were already a hazard to pedestrians and cyclists. Thanks to a grassroots neighborhood group, Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard, the wider design was forced out, and residents pushed for a more neighborhood friendly design which was more collaborative in nature.

You can find earlier info and critique of the original plans here.

Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard and the Department of Transportation have had a series of meetings and walkthroughs since the original plan was proposed to produce a redesign that meets the needs of the neighborhood residents without crippling traffic on this busy through-way. The grassroots group has been steadfast in their vision. “We envision Melnea Cass Boulevard as Complete Street. We believe that the design goal should be that the boulevard serves the neighborhood well by addressing all transportation modes – walking, bicycling, and motor vehicles – and knits together Lower Roxbury and Roxbury with safe crossings, enjoyable green space and landscaping, and calmed traffic.”

Monday night the revised design was officially released to the public. You can find more details about the plan here.

The updated plan incorporates the addition of a brand new cycle track on the southwest corridor as well as significant widening of the existing northbound cycle track. On street parking was added in effort to help reduce traffic speed and support access to neighborhood merchants. The new design promises an enhanced environment for all users of the boulevard with fresh landscaping and modern green space amenities, including preserving more existing trees than the original plan.

Ivana, a professional flamenco dance teacher and resident of the neighborhood for 29 years was invited to speak on behalf of Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard in response to the new design. She expressed that although the group does not endorse all the decision made in the new design, it is a great improvement from the original concept.

Throughout the meeting members of Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard and neighborhood residents responded to the new design with some of the following key issues:

  • Concern for children and elderly crossing the boulevard at widths measuring over 70 feet.

  • The turning radius was increased on a corner that contains a public school, and heavy youth and elderly pedestrian traffic

  • The addition of the southwest cycle track will result in the destruction of many trees

  • Will the new design support the traffic requirements for the recent developments surrounding the neighborhood?

  • The possibility of incorporating a footbridge to increase traffic flow and keeping pedestrians safe.

  • Urging the designers to consult the design team of the Commonwealth Avenue for ideas on traffic slowing infrastructure and pedestrian/cyclist safety.


The meeting left with the consensus that there needs to be another walkthrough of the boulevard with the new design in mind and a response meeting with the designers before plans are finalized.

The Sea Change: Going Beyond Point A to Point B

By RICHARD FRIES

For me the challenge seemed so simple. I sat at a meeting called by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to discuss the messaging required to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in the Bay State.

Messaging. Not enforcement. Not engineering. Not laws. But the messaging or mantra of safety.

Believe it or not, a lot of folks at MassDOT ride bikes. But the room was full of about 30 folks from transportation organizations ranging from state to federal officials, non-profits to transit agencies, and other assorted backgrounds.

Coming from a background of journalism, marketing, and sponsorship this conversation - despite some flash points - felt comfortable to me. But for many folks in attendance the exercise seemed confusing. Some wanted more data. Others wanted a more structured set of goals and objectives. Others simply needed more time. They seemed confused.

I loved the process, but realized we had a lot of work to do.

I wanted to talk about the moonwalking bear, a brilliant messaging campaign developed in the United Kingdom to promote safer and more aware motoring. You can check it out here.

We drifted into a discussion of Vision Zero, a principled, albeit Utopian concept, that government transportation policy should strive for zero fatalities. My initial reaction to this movement proved negative. I saw this as a politically untenable and ridiculous position to advance.  By that I meant it would draw ridicule to our cause.

Massachusetts has signed on to a Vision Zero approach towards transportation...And I could just hear, see and feel all the Archie Bunker commentators winding up their pitches.

But then I saw this video clip produced by the Rhode Island folks that framed it differently.

The banter went back and forth for more than an hour. I filtered through it all until a light switch flipped for me to explain why these folks were so confused and electrified at the same time. For here we were, at a historic crossroads of transportation policy. The Federal Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, coming off the lead-out of his Republican predecessor Ray LaHood, had already made bold changes in policy. The newly appointed Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack came from a board position on the Livable Streets Alliance. I had just sat through a symposium on the Boston Olympic bid and not once did the word "highway" get mentioned, as the organizers - and the detractors - agreed that hosting such an event would require an overhaul of transit, rapid bus, rail, pedestrian AND bike infrastructure.

Suddenly I recognized source of their confusion and I spoke: "For the last century, American transportation has been solely focused on getting people and freight from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. But you are all now agreeing that the focus must shift to getting people and freight from Point A to Point B as safely as possible," I said, half as a public statement and half as a personal and intellectual epiphany. "This is a massive cultural overhaul from the top policy makers to the engineers to the construction crews to the police officers...You are talking about turning an aircraft carrier around. This is huge."

Daunted ... encouraged ... and somewhat intimidated, nobody else spoke for a few seconds.

Since then I have come to reflect on this marvelous mission ahead of us. We need to start by viewing transportation policy not as Point A to Point B but as a far more complex and wonderful system. That first mile and that last mile - as we have discovered from Dallas to Denver, Miami to Milwaukee - have proven the most complicated. Points X, Y and Z are where our car-first policies have completely failed.

And in those points, transportation leadership from top to bottom now realize the bicycle provides us the greatest return on investment to enhance our public health, our public safety, and our prosperity.

Stay tuned. This could be an amazing century.

 

Month One Down

By RICHARD FRIES
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.

Gambling with the Wellbeing of Others

By Lauren LeClaire
Communications Coordinator

The roads were a sheet of ice. The morning sunshine - a welcome sight after this historic winter - made the entire road glisten. Caution was the word of the day. I rolled steadily, confident in my knobby tires and Geekhouse cyclo-cross bike. I rode with caution, but not unusual concern along this route, my normal commute from Somerville to downtown Boston. My boyfriend rode right behind me as we chatted about our upcoming week.

We pedaled down North Point Boulevard in Cambridge. Things appeared fine until the intersection with Leighton Street. There an 18-wheeler blew a stop sign to make a left hand turn onto North Point directly in front of us. I hit the brakes and of course, my wheels went right out from under me and I hit the ground. I heard my boyfriend slide out right behind me. For a seasoned racer the fall did not scare me. But the rapid slide across the ice, straight towards the wheels of the truck, terrified me. I scraped at the ice-covered ground trying frantically to slow the slide. As I approached the truck - almost in slow motion - I thought of the recent tragedies in Metro Boston involving trucks. I heard myself saying “Oh my God, I’m next!”

I stopped sliding about 50 feet later, closer to the truck than I would have liked. Then my boyfriend slid into me. Rattled, I quickly got to my feet.

The crash did not astonish me. But what happened next did.

The truck had rounded its turn, without stopping, without rolling down a window to see if we were both OK. The three cars behind us, who had witnessed the scene, stopped briefly, until we were out of the middle of the road. They just slowly drove past us. The half a dozen pedestrians on the sidewalk? They just stared. Not a word was spoken. No voice of concern. No “Are you ok?” Some didn’t even look, and just continued about their business, despite my shrill scream as I hit the ground.

We got back on our bikes, shaken up, but thankfully in one piece and I spent the remainder of my route to work contemplating the utter disregard shown for the wellbeing of other human beings. The truck driver, the motorists passing by, the pedestrians, maybe twelve people all together and none of them said a word.

There’s a lack of accountability. There’s a lack of responsibility. And there’s an enormous lack of compassion. With all of the truck-related incidents we have seen in recent years, there needs to be more education and more enforcement to make the roads safer for all users. We get what we tolerate when it comes to behavior on the road. If a vehicle, bike, or pedestrian breaks a law, when was the last time you saw them get pulled over? For every blown stoplight or ignored sign, how many of those receive citations? We are tolerating the misbehavior that causes Massachusetts to be in the top ten in the country for pedestrian and bicycling fatalities. We cannot continue to tolerate the disregard and disrespect of our neighbors.

How Two Oklahoma Republicans Restored My Faith in Bike Advocacy

By RICHARD FRIES
Executive Director, MassBike


I arrived at Thursday's National Bike Summit reception forlorn. For I had just experienced exhilarating success on Capitol Hill.

Seems ironic, eh?

In this 15th edition of the Summit, every Congressional leader of Massachusetts had pledged full support for everything the Massachusetts delegation had asked. Markey, Neal, Warren, Capuano, Moulton, Kennedy, Keating, Lynch, Tsongas, Clark, and McGovern had all opened each meeting positively: “Whatever you want we are behind you.”

But by day's end the elation I had felt from this overwhelming stance of support soon turned to dread as my predecessor David Watson reported the following:

“They would support everything we wanted but noted that not one thing would pass,” he said ruefully.

The Vision Zero bill in the House? Dead on Arrival.
TAPIAS in the Senate? No freakin' way.

Dead. Done. Morto.

I solemnly shuffled towards the buffet of surrender with about 700 colleagues, all wearing our colorful lapel pins, wishing to drown our sorrows in fried food and dips. With the reception doors bolted shut, I hovered patiently with a few friends and honestly questioned why we were here. All seemed, well....tired. This would be my eighth National Bike Summit. Each year this pep-rally – three of which I pedaled 500-plus miles to attend – proved sufficiently uplifting to keep my faith for 11 more months.

But this edition proved unequivocally down.

Mind you this was an internal response. The external reaction was powerful. The speakers, organization, exhibitors, and guests and attendees were as scintillating as ever. But knowing that the red state lawmakers, in their car-only approach to transportation, were determined to scuttle each and every initiative.

Watching all the younger attendees in the breakout sessions focused on such issues as “gender diversity” and “Vision Zero” I could only hang my head. They were innocent lambs to the legislative slaughter.

But amid this flotsam and jetsam of the summit I could swim to several pieces of wreckage on which I could cling for hope.

The first would be the comments of our Tuesday night keynote speaker Mick Cornett, Republican Mayor of Oklahoma City. (The thrust of his comments made us are pretty much mirrored in his TED Talk here.

So allow me to frame this picture for you. Here is a mayor of a conservative Midwest city in a conservative Midwest state focused mainly on their oil and natural gas heritage who is proudly reporting how his commitment to bike-ped infrastructure helped his community lose a collective 1 million pounds. His tale is poignant, side-splitting humor. But it is truth.

But the wind of that speech had faded by the time I reached the end of the summit.  All of the effort and preparation of our Massachusetts delegation seemed about as wasteful as military infantry training for World War I. Fast or slow, weak or strong, prepared or not, we were all simply getting mowed down by the Republican machine guns in control of the high ground.

My lamentations were not tolerated by my friend Jack Johnson, marketing director for Landry's Bicycles and a perennial attendee of the Summit. “You have to go back 30 years and look at it like smoking,” he said, noting that efforts to ban smoking in public buildings were scoffed at for 40 years before it became the norm. Nowadays one could not light up in a school, an office, or a restaurant without drawing the wrath of others. They shifted the paradigm.

I sniffled that he was right...but I did not truly feel any better. I felt like quitting.

Then I encountered Caron Whitaker, a native of Beverly, now serving as Vice President of Government Relations for the League of American Bicyclists, which hosts the Summit. I whined a bit. But she stopped me mid-sentence.

“Did you see Inhofe's quote in Politico?” she asked.  I said no. She pulled up her phone to reveal the quote from Senator James Inhofe.

She texted me the quote from the Oklahoma Republican who heads up the Environment and Public Works Committee and is widely considered to be the number one opponent to having any federal funds directed towards bicycling. Some of you may have seen Senator Inhofe when he pulled a snow ball out of a Ziploc bag last month to show his Senate colleagues proof that global warming was a hoax.

So one can imagine how hysterical his views may be against bikes. But word is out that he is personally quite friendly with California liberal Barbara Boxer, a Democrat who is strongly aligned with bike advocates, and Mayor Cornett is a dependable supporter for Inhofe during election years.

Perhaps those two political leaders are softening him up.

Here is the clip:

UPHILL BIKE BATTLE UNLIKELY: National Bike Summit attendees can breathe a sigh of relief. Kevin (Robillard) caught up with Senate EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe, who says while he would prefer not to have bike/pedestrian programs in the transportation bill, he also knows how to keep it real. “I would be one to fall into that category, but I'm also a realist,” Inhofe said when asked about calls from conservative groups to remove the programs. “And I know that in this environment we have right now, we won't be able to do what I would like.”

MORE FROM THE MAN: “The argument conservatives are using – and some of the conservatives are running for a higher office, so they're motivated a little differently than I might be – is that anything that doesn't directly relate to gasoline shouldn't be part of this. You can argue that about mass transit and a lot of other things.” But Inhofe said he didn't see “any danger” of the bike programs being removed from the bill as a result of the conservatives' talk.

Sometimes by simply not going away, we go forward.

I had to recall the mantra of the Delta force assembled to find, capture and/or kill Osama Bin Laden. While most people would lean towards a strategy of fire, they deployed a strategy of being like water: strong, fluid, and constant.

I realized we in bike advocacy need to adopt the same mentality. Many of us enter the world of bike advocacy with a strategy of fire; but after 15 years of the National Bike Summit, the polite pressure we have brought to bear on Congress – like water: strong, fluid and constant – is working.

I'll be back in 2016.

MassBike Responds to Cambridge Tragedy

The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition is saddened to learn of the tragic Cambridge accident that took the life of 65-year-old bicyclist Marcia Deihl. An accomplished musician, Deihl was struck and killed by a container truck about 1:40 p.m. Wednesday.

No charges have been filed against the driver as of this writing.

“Ironically our staff was working in Washington, DC at the National Bike Summit when we learned the news of this loss,” said Richard Fries, executive director. “We were working on Vision Zero and countless other initiatives with Congress to make our streets calmer, quieter and safer for every user when we learned within the same hour that both a cyclist and a pedestrian were struck and killed by trucks in the Boston metro area.”

MassBike, under the stewardship of its former executive director David Watson had worked with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to both educate and equip truck drivers to more safely operate in and around Bay State streets.

“Apparently we need to do a lot more work not just in changing rules but in changing the mindset of every operator of large vehicles that cyclists and pedestrians are a part of the streetscape,” added Fries.

MassBike will report on the findings of the Cambridge Police Department investigation.

MassBike Bills Receive Substantial Sponsors

[caption id="attachment_23845" align="alignright" width="300"] State House and Common, in the Snow Copyright Leslie Jones, provided by Boston Public Library under Creative Commons License[/caption]

The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (“MassBike”) is deeply appreciative of each of the state legislators that sponsored bills to make our roadways safer and more convenient for bicyclists. As the newly appointed executive director of MassBike I want to acknowledge and thank them for showing the political courage to support cycling and cyclists in Massachusetts. Please join me in thanking your senators and representatives for sponsoring these important bills. You can find out how here, or look for your districts below.

Apparently things are changing for the better for bicycling here in the world's largest college town, Massachusetts. Working with our former executive director and current government affairs advisor, David Watson, we filed two bills for the new legislative session on Beacon Hill. The first was a Bike Lane Protection Bill, which makes it illegal for motorists to block established bike lanes. Every cyclist has experienced frustration with those hard-won bike lanes being used for everything from deliveries to taxi lines to double-parking spaces.

The second piece of legislation is a Vulnerable Road Users Bill, which brings together pedestrians, cyclists, road workers, tow truck operators, police officers, and emergency personnel as vulnerable road users and defines what is a safe-passing distance. This is landmark legislation that makes our entire state safer.

We had 42 lawmakers sign on as sponsors or co-sponsors for each of these bills. This represents 25 percent of the State Senate and 21 percent of the State House. This support will not go unnoticed. For too long, bicyclists have been simply tolerated by the transportation system. This legislation, if passed, will show that  the Bay State – which has so much to gain by integrating pedestrians and cyclists into its streetscape – is not looking to just tolerate bicyclists but also to welcome and protect them as an important part of the transportation grid.

These lawmakers recognize that for the Bay State to be a leader in transportation, the bicycle is an important part of the streetscape, roadways, and transportation grid.

In the Senate

Sponsoring Both Bills
Michael Barrett, Third Middlesex
William Brownsberger, Second Suffolk and Middlesex
Sonia Chang-Diaz, Second Suffolk
Sal DiDomenico, Middlex and Suffolk
Kenneth Donnelly, Fourth Middlesex
James Eldridge, Middlesex and Worcester
Brian Joyce, Norfolk, Bristol, and Plymouth
Jason Lewis, Fifth Middlesex
Joan Lovely, Second Essex

Sponsoring Vulnerable Road Users Bill
Anne Gobi, Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, and Middlesex

In the House

Sponsoring Both Bills
Ruth Balser, 12th Middlesex
Gailanne Cariddi, 1st Berkshire
Marjorie Decker, 25th Middlesex
Daniel Donahue, 16th Worcester
Shawn Dooley, 9th Norfolk
Carolyn Dykema, 8th Middlesex
Sean Garballey, 23rd Middlesex
Kenneth Gordon, 21st Middlesex
Jonathan Hecht, 29th Middlesex
Kay Khan, 11th Middlesex
Peter Kocot, 1st Hampshire
Jay Livingstone, 8th Suffolk
Timothy Madden, Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket
Elizabeth Poirier, 14th Bristol
Denise Provost, 27th Middlesex
Angelo Puppolo, 12th Hampden
David Rogers, 24th Middlesex
Jeffrey Roy, 10th Norfolk
Paul Schmid, 8th Bristol
Frank Smizik, 15th Norfolk
Aaron Vega, 5th Hampden
John Velis, 4th Hampden
Chris Walsh, 6th Middlesex

Sponsoring Vulnerable Road Users Bill
Daniel Cullinane, 12th Suffolk
Josh Cutler, 6th Plymouth
Carole Fiola, 6th Bristol
Leonard Mirra, 2nd Essex

Sponsoring Bike Lane Bill
Christine Barber, 34th Middlesex
Danielle Gregoire, 4th Middlesex
Bradford Hill, 4th Essex
Michael Moran, 18th Suffolk
Paul Tucker, 7th Essex


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