How Two Oklahoma Republicans Restored My Faith in Bike Advocacy

March 16, 2015
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.
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MassBike Responds to Cambridge Tragedy

March 13, 2015
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.
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MassBike Bills Receive Substantial Sponsors

February 13, 2015
[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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Thanks to David, Thanks to Ride Studio Cafe!

January 28, 2015

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

January 28, 2015

[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.
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MassBike Is Hiring a Communications Coordinator

January 26, 2015

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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Action Alert: Help MassBike Get Sponsors For New Bike Safety Bills!

January 23, 2015
[caption id="attachment_23798" align="alignright" width="300"] Massachusetts State House Photo by Coralie Mercier licensed under Creative Commons.[/caption]

This month marks the start of a new two-year session in the Massachusetts Legislature, and MassBike has filed two bills designed to protect bicyclists and other vulnerable road users.

MassBike’s bills are the “Act To Protect Vulnerable Road Users” and the “Act To Protect Bicyclists In Bicycle Lanes." Thanks to Senator Will Brownsberger and Representative Dave Rogers, the bills have been filed in both the House and the Senate to get maximum exposure on Beacon Hill.

The Vulnerable Road Users Bill (pdf) (SD273 in the Senate and HD2137 in the House) defines “vulnerable users” to include pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, motorcyclists, road workers, emergency responders, horseback riders, and others who are at greater risk on our roads. Beyond giving vulnerable users legal status, the bill sets minimum safe distances for passing vulnerable users, starting at three feet and increasing with speed. The bill also emphasizes that motorists can and should use other lanes to pass vulnerable users safely.

The Bike Lane Protection Bill (pdf) (SD284 in the Senate and HD2130 in the House) addresses a common problem: It makes it a ticketable violation statewide for a motorist to park or stand in a marked bicycle lane or other on-street bicycle facility. When a motorist parks or stands in a bike lane, it endangers bicyclists by causing them to merge into traffic or squeeze between the parked vehicle and the curb or other parked cars. In most communities in Massachusetts, it is not currently a violation to park in a bike lane, but others are adopting their own rules (notably Boston). We run the risk of a patchwork of inconsistent and confusing local laws if we do not act statewide.

See a fact sheet on these bills here (pdf).

We are actively seeking co-sponsors for these bills, and the deadline is rapidly approaching on January 30th! Having a lot of co-sponsors demonstrates strong support for a bill, and can help it move forward. That’s where all of you come in.

How You Can Help

  1. Get contact information for your state legislators here. Enter your home address, then click on the name of your State Senator and State Representative to get their email address or phone number.

  1. Email or call your State Senator, and ask her or him to support protecting pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable road users by co-sponsoring SD273 and SD284. Tell them to email to sign on.

  1. Email or call your State Representative, and ask her or him to support protecting pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable road users by co-sponsoring HD2130 and HD2137. Tell them to email to sign on.

  1. Email (or cc) to let us know who you contacted.

If you have any questions, email or call 617-542-2453. Thanks so much for your help. You are our political power – we cannot do it without you!
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MassBike in Springfield - Video

January 22, 2015
In late 2014 we completed our work in Springfield. We worked on many projects to encourage cycling, including helping the city get its first bike lane and creating a Pedestrian/Bike Plan with LiveWell Springfield. To wrap up our time there, we produced this video about biking in this wonderful city. Enjoy!


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Visit with Richard Fries at the Ride Studio Cafe

January 21, 2015
Our new director, Richard Fries, will be at this Tread Labs event at Ride Studio Cafe today. Come check it out. Click the image for a PDF version of the flyer.
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You Are Invited to a Party Celebrating David Watson

January 17, 2015
Come celebrate David Watson's eight-year tenure as executive director. As he moves on to other endeavors, we would like to express our thanks for all he has done to build up the organization and promote bicycling across the state.

When: January 24, 7:00 PM

Where: Ride Studio Cafe: 1720 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington, MA 02420


Hors d'oeuvres and drinks will be provided.


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