Advocates say that cars and bicycles can coexist in Boston traffic. And
they have a plan.
by Laura A. Siegel
As traffic snarls throughout downtown Boston, as we sit in gridlock breathing
smog, as our taxes pour into a massive project to bury a clogged highway, it's
clear that more of us have to get out of our cars and find some other way to
get around. And that means we have to improve conditions for alternative means
of transportation, such as rail, buses, ferries -- and bicycles.
Bicycling is clean, healthy, fun, and cheap, but Boston is notoriously
unfriendly to cyclists. Boston streets are even harder on bikes than they are
on cars, and Boston drivers are infamous for their aggressiveness. In early
1999, Bicycling magazine ranked Boston the worst city for bikers in the
US and Canada. One local bike-store owner put it bluntly: "Boston is a bad
place to bike."
Here are some of the bike paths that will soon be built in Boston -- and a few
that are just being dreamed about.
* The Neponset River Greenway. Now largely abandoned rail yards, this trail
will run along the Neponset River, eventually connecting the Blue Hills
Reservation with Castle Island. Construction may begin as early as this fall.
* The East Boston Greenway. This strip of land, which includes more rail yards,
is being transformed by the Boston Natural Areas Fund into a bike path through
East Boston. It will connect neighborhoods to beaches, Logan airport, and T
* The Boston Harbortrail. This trail would extend from Melnea Cass Boulevard
along the Fort Point Channel to the Fan Pier, connecting many Boston
neighborhoods with the waterfront. Right now a feasibility study is under way.
"It's a trail that makes a lot of sense -- parts of it are already in place or
moving forward or planned," says the Bicycle Advisory Committee's Erin Gorden.
The Metropolitan District Commission is already working on a path from Castle
Island to Dorchester that would connect to the Boston Redevelopment Authority's
Boston Harbor Walk.
* The Emerald Necklace Greenway. Once, you could walk the length of the Emerald
Necklace parks through Boston. But now busy traffic arteries cut through. "The
goal is to restore thinking about the Emerald Necklace as a five-mile connected
park," says Jeffrey Ferris, owner of the Ferris Wheel Bicycle Shop in Jamaica
Plain. He's part of a group advocating to reconnect the Necklace's bike paths,
but so far no agencies have plans to do so.
* Connecting the Corridors. The Boston Parks Department recently received a
federal grant to create a bike path in the Back Bay Fens that would connect to
the Southwest Corridor bike path, eventually to meet up with the Boston
Harbortrail. But the Mass Highway Department, which handles the funding, hasn't
released the money to the parks department yet.
* Fenway Park. "There's an abandoned rail corridor that could be used to
connect the northern end of the Riverway, where the Landmark Center is, to
Kenmore Square," says Aldo Ghirin, who is responsible for bicycle planning for
the Boston Parks Department. "It looks like that would be part of the Red Sox'
effort to reduce vehicular traffic."
* East Coast Greenway. This proposed bike path would run from Florida to Maine,
and the Esplanade would become a part of it. "It would connect urban areas, as
opposed to a more rural Appalachian Trail," explains Bill Reyelt, a Bicycle
Advisory Committee member who works for the state Department of Housing and
Still, urban biking is up in Greater Boston. Between 1976 and 1997, the number
of cyclists at four area locations at rush hour rose 96 percent, according
to the state's Central Transportation Planning Staff. More recently, bike
stores have been reporting rising sales of on-road bikes, and regular bike
commuters say they've been seeing more bikers on the streets in the past five
Anything Boston does to make conditions better for bikers would be good for the
rest of us, and improvements might even encourage more of us to travel on two
wheels. There are plenty of good reasons to do so. Bicycling is fast -- often
faster than the T or driving at rush hour. It saves money -- not only does it
use no gas, but some bikers can give up their cars and all the related costs.
It's healthy -- bike commuters can stay in shape without having to go to the
gym. And it's fun.
"Cycling just gets under your skin," says Maria Saiz, a technical professional
who bikes between Watertown and downtown almost every day. "As you're riding
along the river and you're watching the sun come up, you've got a nice wind at
your back -- it just fills your days with possibilities."
Boston's Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC), which Mayor Tom Menino
re-established last winter after a two-year gap, will release a Boston
Bicycle Plan this fall. That plan will eventually become part of the city's
Access Boston 2000-2010 transportation plan. "We have pretty good support
pretty high up," says Doug Mink, a long-time bicycle activist and former
president of the bike-advocacy group MassBike. Now advocates hope their plans
will actually be put into action.
The worst part of biking in Boston, cyclists agree, isn't the pothole-ridden
roads or the narrow lanes or the double-parked cars -- though those are bad.
It's the people.
"People have a tendency not to obey the laws, or not to know what the laws
are," says Mink. Drivers' ed doesn't usually explain how to pass bikers safely
or when to yield to them.
And some drivers can be nasty. Many bikers have stories about drivers who
forced them off the road, or deliberately cut in front of them and stopped
short. Chris Erdman, a PR consultant who has biked for 10 years in both Boston
and New York City, thinks drivers are far worse in Boston. "Here, people are
really aggressive, and they take out bikers," he says.
Boston's tangled, narrow roads are partly to blame. "It is already so
frustrating to ride around downtown Boston that people's tolerance levels are
low," says John Kenda, a former Boston bike messenger. "Everybody's competing
Bikers pay the price. "In 20 years," Mink says, "I've been hit by a car door
once, ran into somebody who opened his car door and got out without looking
once, been turned into at corners two or three times, been broadsided once.
There's the time I ran into the back of a van that stopped suddenly, and fell
and broke my wrist."
Many drivers don't realize that bikes have the same legal right to the road as
cars do. "Roads are the transportation network for bicycles as much as they are
for cars," says MassBike president-elect Paul Schimeck, who's a member of the
Bicycle Advisory Committee and a researcher for the US Department of
Transportation, as well as a bike commuter. "Every road is a bicycle road, and
every lane is a bicycle lane as much as it's a car lane or a truck lane."
But in the turf war between bikers and drivers, bikers are far from innocent.
According to 1998 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
half of all car-bike crashes nationwide are caused by bikers' failure to follow
driving rules. Drivers who disobey the rules cause just 28 percent of the
Laura A. Siegel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.