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


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

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

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

Thanks to David, Thanks to Ride Studio Cafe!

The Ride Studio Cafe hosted a thank-you party for outgoing MassBike Executive Director David Watson, right, on Jan. 25. Patria Lanfranchi, left, and Rob Vandermark, presented David with a huge donation of more than $1,300. The funds were raised by their customers who participated in Rapha's Festive 500 during the Holidays. Special thanks to  Harpoon and Chipotle for helping out with the food and beverage!

Boston Strong: Why Beantown Can Soon Be America's Best Bike Town


[caption id="attachment_23813" align="alignleft" width="225"] Tracks from the local wildlife - the Boston cyclist[/caption]

Folks in Portland, Boulder, and San Francisco would be well-served to keep an eye in the rear view mirror. For I predict one city, with help from People for Bikes and MassBike, will soon be spoken of as THE shining example of a great cycling city.

As my hometown, there is undoubtedly some bias. But Boston also possesses unique attributes that will distinguish it from those other municipalities that boast relatively high bike mode share.

One key element of my rationale is that the godly line used in the film Field of Dreams of "Build it and they will come" is pretty much bad advice for marketing and public works. With just 1 percent of all trips in America taken by bike, any massive spending - justified or not - for such projects will spark a bonfire of an anti-tax, anti-government furor. We cyclists can ill afford to squander any hard-fought political capital on white elephants that go unused.

I firmly believe that demand must precede supply.

And for that primary reason, Boston rocks as a bike town.

Here are my 10 distinct reasons Boston is about to become America's best bike city:

  • "IT'S NOT MUCH OF A COLLEGE TOWN." I often cite one of the funniest lines of the film Spinal Tap when I describe why Boston has such a vibrant bike scenes. When mapping out their tour, the bumbling members of this hair band decide to focus on college towns and choose not to include Boston on their tour. "Boston's not much of a college town," is the reason stated. Arguably the world's largest college town, Boston's Suffolk County alone has 24 colleges and universities, almost all of which officially discourage students from using automobiles. Across the Charles River sits Cambridge with Harvard University, Tufts University, Lesley College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and countless other schools. With low incomes and strong bodies, college kids ride bikes and often develop a lasting cycling lifestyle.

  • COMPACT DESIGN. Settled in 1630, Boston was not developed for the automobile but for the pedestrian. The streets are narrow and buildings are clustered closely together. Driving is difficult enough; parking is an entirely different challenge. Traveling a single mile by car can be a 20-minute hassle but a joyful four-minute spin by bike with door-to-door parking.

  • Boston registers in the top 10 of American cycling cities. And Boston registers in the top three of American walking cities. But when one combines both walking and cycling, Boston climbs to number one according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Places that are more walkable tend to be more bike-able.

  • SUPERIOR TRANSIT. Having installed the first subway system of any American city, Boston's network of subways, commuter trains, and buses enables residents an affordable and efficient means of getting to and fro. Transit is also important in fostering a bike culture as it creates a back-up plan for bike commuters who may have a mechanical issue, stay out too late with friends, or shy away from some harsh weather.

  • THE NORTHEAST CORRIDOR. All four of the prior reasons are woven together in all the major metro areas of the Northeast Corridor, running from Washington DC to Boston. Only three U.S. cities report more than 50 percent of their population regularly commuting via transit: Washington, New York, and Boston. And Philadelphia is not far behind. What this fosters is a physical, mental, and spiritual car-free transit paradigm that becomes a contagion throughout the entire region. Mayors, cops, and public works administrators develop a shared sense of best practices that normalizes the use of bikes. Should Amtrak ever embrace roll-on access throughout its Northeast trains as it has in California, transportation inter-modality throughout the Northeast could approach that of European cities.

  • NICOLE FREEDMAN. Like other American metro areas, the Boston area has fostered some fantastic bike advocacy through three organizations: the statewide group MassBike, the Boston Cyclists Union, and the Livable Streets Alliance. But Mayor Thomas Menino's installation of former Olympic cyclist Nicole Freedman as the city's "bike czarina" has proven particularly effective. Her personal experience as a cyclist combined with her education in urban planning gives her a unique perspective rarely found in such professionals. But her deft political skill, knowing when to be patient and when to be pushy, has proven most effective. Her continued support (at least verbally) from newly elected Mayor Marty Walsh bodes well for continued improvements.

  • REGIONAL INDUSTRY PRESENCE. Col. Albert Pope, the Bill Gates of the 19th Century bike boom, of Boston spawned the first American bicycle craze. And New England served as an engine of the American bike renaissance, which hit in two successive waves: the early 1970s bike boom in which the tinderbox of an environmental movement and counter-culture was touched off by a match that was the Arab Oil Embargo; and the mountain bike craze of the 1980s. While folks in Colorado and California may have been riding, the folks in New England were tinkering: Richard Sachs, Chris Chance, Rob Vandermark and their contemporaries spawned countless innovative products and companies. Cannondale, Seven Cycles, Fat City, Independent Fabrication, Kryptonite, Firefly, Circle A, Pedro's, and others all came from, and remained in, New England. And with proximity to European time zones, such major brands as Mavic, Thule, Craft, Vittoria, and Selle Italia run their U.S. operations out of this region.

  • Several U.S. cities have launched bike share programs with a variable degrees of integration and adoption. Boston's Hubway system, however, has been rapidly embraced and expanded like none other in America. And don't forget that the successful car sharing company, Zipcar, was founded right here in Cambridge, Mass.

  • GREEN LANE PROJECT. Boston's selection by People For Bikes as one of six cities selected in the second round of support for the Green Lane Project bodes well. All of the above factors will play a key role in ensuring that where and when dedicated and separated bike lanes, cutting edge urban engineering, and supportive programs are created, this could prove to be America's most fertile environments for a revolution in transportation.

  • BOSTON STRONG. OK, this is totally subjective and anecdotal. But nearly anybody from this region will concur that Bostonians have a unique communal character like no other American city. The world witnessed this during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and ensuing manhunt. Locals understand this. To be in this town during a snowstorm gives one true hope for humanity. Whereas most Eastern cities are stalled for days by such storms, Bostonians harden up. Everyone respects a brief but comprehensive parking and driving ban and the entire place is plowed curb-to-curb within hours of the storm ending. Your walk gets shoveled. Then your neighbor's walk gets shoveled. And through that the heartiest of cyclists keep rolling. (This writer missed just one day of commuting last winter due to snowfall.) And Boston, like so many great cities, is a font of progress. What happens in Boston - be it in medicine, bio-tech, high-tech, engineering or even rock 'n' roll - does not stay in Boston, but spreads to the world. Get ready Portland....Game on.


Richard Fries is the newly appointed executive director of MassBike. A passionate cyclist for more than 35 years, he has raced professionally in Europe, toured throughout the world, commuted year round for most of his adult life, and worked as a bicycle advocate. Trained as a journalist, he co-founded The Ride Magazine, which he helped run for 14 years. As an advocate he served for several years as a development adviser for People for Bikes. He also co-founded the Providence Cyclo-cross Festival. But Fries is best known as a race announcer, having provided English commentary for the UCI World Championships in both cyclo-cross and road. He lives in Lexington, Mass., alongside - you guessed it - a bike path with his wife and three children.

MassBike Is Hiring a Communications Coordinator

MassBike is hiring a part-time Communications Coordinator. Are you enthusiastic about promoting bicycling as a mode of transportation around Massachusetts? Do you have excellent communications skills, especially with social media and blogging? Would you like a flexible working schedule? If so, this opportunity might be right for you!

We want to continue generating excitement and interest in the great work we do to encourage more people to ride bikes in Massachusetts, with the goal of increasing our membership, donors, volunteers, and event participants.

The responsibilities of the Communications Coordinator will include taking primary responsibility for MassBike’s day-to-day social media presence, producing blog posts about our programs and events in consultation with other staff members, producing our email newsletter Quick Release, and promoting MassBike events widely to increase participation.

Please read the full job description and how to apply here.

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