We represent over 3000 cyclists across the state who see bicycling as a solution for the traffic, health and environmental challenges we face in our community. But - we can’t do it alone. MassBike depends on bicyclists like you to continue our work making bicycling a healthy and more sustainable means of transportation and recreation.
We've come a long way, but still have more work to do on our mission to become the #1 state for biking.
By LAUREN LeCLAIRE, MassBike Communications Coordinator
BOSTON (May 11, 2015) - The League of American Bicyclists released its 2015 Bicycle Friendly State ranking with Massachusetts on its way to the top of the charts. Now in the top five in the country, Massachusetts jumped from number 10 to number four this year, largely due to a new transportation bond, committing over $400 million in the next five years for biking and walking initiatives.
“This is a tremendous recognition of our collective efforts and the many initiatives in place throughout the Commonwealth which have contributed to our current status as the fourth friendliest bicycle state," said Stephanie Pollack, Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary and CEO. "This has been a great team effort and I want to commend all of our partners in regional and municipal government, and in the bicycling advocacy community for their efforts. And of course, thank you to our many bicyclists across the state who continue to choose bicycling as both a means of transportation and recreation."
With increased financial commitments and major improvements in bike friendly legislation and infrastructure, Massachusetts is on track to be the number one bicycling state in America. Take a look at the full report and you will see, we’re already well on our way. The DCR has made a commitment to overhauling its parkways to meet Federal standards. We have pending legislation on the hill with the Vulnerable Road Users Bill and the Bike Lane Protection Bill. “When we studied the criteria by which the League ranks the states, we expect to check off several more boxes in 2015. With our membership growing, strong leadership from the state Department of Transportation, and visionary partners statewide, we see a powerful opportunity to move into the top spot by 2016,” stated MassBike Executive Director, Richard Fries.
"We're encouraged to see measurable progress and improvement in many states, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Utah," said League President Andy Clarke. "We hope to see continued improvement as more statewide leaders recognize and invest in the many benefits bicycling has to offer."
The Bay State has made tremendous strides in implementing Complete Streets projects and MassDOT’s GreenDOT Initiative, thanks in great part to the hard work of local advocacy groups. “So much of this credit goes to the steady leadership of David Watson, who recently stepped down from the helm at MassBike. And we got a lot of support from government and non-government organizations, including our friends at The Livable Streets Alliance, Boston Bikes, and the Boston Cyclists Union,” said Fries.
This is amazing news for Massachusetts, and there are big, exciting changes to come. But to keep moving forward, MassBike needs your support. Help us get to that top slot by becoming a member today.
By RICHARD FRIES, Executive Director
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the state's largest landowner, will soon conduct a “comprehensive conditional assessment” of most of its parkways in the Boston metro area.
The DCR is dedicating $500,000 to analyze the changes needed to bring area parkways up to current standards to “provide multimodal accommodations for all users of the parkway” including cyclists. The analysis would include many of the marquee parkways in 17 DCR reservations, ranging from Lynn to Quincy, Boston to Newton. For too long these “park”-ways have been used – and engineered – as freeways for motorists, thus diminishing the safety of those users for whom the parks were created.
“DCR desires a detailed report that clearly outlines the feasible, optimal cross-section, multimodal connectivity through crossing streets and configuration of its parkways that provides multimodal accommodations,” is in the statement of the scope of services.
This is bike advocacy – at the local, state, and federal level – working at its best. Several organizations simultaneously pulling on several ropes managed to pull this ship to the dock of reason. For starters, such national groups as People for Bikes, the Alliance for Biking and Walking, and the League of American Bicyclists have successfully pushed at the federal level to re-define the standards for roadway design.
But the DCR, learning first hand about the robust nature of local advocacy through such issues as snow removal on the Southwest Corridor or the Arborway design, recently created the Urban Path and Parkway Committee (UPPC) that granted seats to such groups as WalkBoston, the Boston Cyclists Union, Livable Streets Alliance, MassBike and other regional bike advocacy groups. Most impressive is that the DCR leadership is actually riding many of the areas to be studied.
The UPPC reviewed this proposal on April 22.
The DCR Reservations to be studied include:
- Blue Hills
- Charles River
- Chestnut Hill
- Furnace Brook
- Hammond Pond
- Lynn Shore
- Middlesex Fells
- Muddy River
- Mystic River
- Nahant Beach
- Nantasket Beach
- Neponset River
- Old Harbor
- Quincy Shore
- Revere Beach
- Stony Brook
A number of parkways – including Alewife Brook and Storrow Drive – will not be included in the study. But in many of those circumstances, parallel cycling facilities either exist presently or in development.
The formal request for proposal will be completed pending input from the UPPC.
The range of facilities considered with be both short term and long term projects that may require considerable re-engineering. In short, the DCR will consider everything from bike lanes to cycle-tracks.
The impact of this project, when completed, could nearly double the mileage of cycling facilities in the Bay State.
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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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.