Note: First of all, I’d like to welcome all the new BostonBiker.org bloggers. The site seems to have exploded with activity in the past few days. I started this blog 10 weeks ago with the goal of adding my voice to the bike community here in Boston, and today I would like to discuss some important changes coming to Boston this bicycling season.
I recently met with Boston Bikes director Nicole Freedman, and she told me about a few policies she’s been working on, and while they initially seem bizarre, I think they will pave the way for safer transit for all road users. I am very excited to share them with you today.
The sensible way to end bike lane backlash
The installation and subsequent removal of the bike lane on Main Street in Charlestown was an embarrassing affair for Boston Bikes, and the backlash the lanes initially received highlights the challenge of balancing bike infrastructure development with public support.
The fight over the Park Slope bike lane in Brooklyn is another example of bike lanes that have greatly angered the motoring public despite their effect on decreased vehicle speeds and accident rate in the area.
“People often expect that we can show up and paint lines on the street,” Nicole said to me at our recent meeting. “But, there’s a much more involved political process.”
Often, Nicole said, she wonders if putting in bike lanes is really worth the effort and taxpayers’ money.
“If you think about it,” the Bike Czar mused, stroking her chin, “money from all tax payers is going to fund something that benefits a select few. I’ve discussed this issue with the powers that be, and I believe we’ve found a way to eliminate that disparity.”
Nicole somberly explained to me that future plans for new bike lanes have been scrapped. Most existing bike lanes will be ground off the pavement by crews working under the cover of darkness.
“Cambridge has always had better bike lanes, anyway,” she shrugged.
Nicole saw my worried look as she clarified this new plan and quickly explained the political pressures at work.
“You see, the Big Dig really asserted the automobile as the main method of transit in the city. The fact that the MBTA has to pay the debt for an car-based project is an excellent example of the state’s priorities. Unfortunately, the new bike lanes have severely restricted traffic flow in key areas of the city – areas of resistance that must be cleared. Bicycles, only having been around since 1880 are increasingly seen as a fad that interferes with Bostonians’ main goal – getting from A to B as quickly as possible.”
Trust me, I was stunned.
In some areas of the city, however, such as Kenmore Square, the lanes will be kept as designated taxi lanes.
“Taxi drivers were previously discouraged from double parking in bicycle lanes due to the severe and frequently issued fines. They are very relieved to be able to double park in congested areas without reprimand,” explained Nicole.
Speaking of traffic fines, we also discussed a controversial change to traffic laws that would improve traffic flow in the Hub.
Traffic laws will now better reflect reality to reduce burden on BPD
As you know, Boston is known for its reckless drivers and scofflaw cyclists, and it sure takes a lot of effort to conduct the necessary traffic stops to keep the impetuous behavior manageable at the very least. Nicole informed me that Police Commissioner Ed Davis was very concerned about the degree to which traffic enforcement was distracting his officers from other duties such as attending parades, patrolling construction sites, and fighting crime.
So, in order to improve traffic flow and to “decriminalize the Boston mindset,” several new innovative traffic policies will be implemented starting this Spring:
- Taxis will finally be allowed left-turn-on-red privileges.
- General automotive traffic will still be required to stop at red lights. However, they will be allowed to inch forward until they are in the middle of the intersection. At the point at which they are completely blocking traffic flow, they will be allowed to proceed through the intersection.
- Any vehicle exiting a parallel parking space will have the right of way.
The policies pertaining to bicycles should bring the police much needed relief:
- Cyclists who are either riding a bicycle with multiple gears or are wearing protective gears such as a reflective vest or helmet will be required to obey all signs and signals.
- Helmetless fixed-gear riders must slow when approaching a stop sign, but may stand and sprint through the intersection when opposing traffic is approaching and their life is in imminent danger.
- Bicyclists wearing earbuds or headphones will no longer be required to obey any traffic law.
- Bicycle cops will be forbidden from riding their bicycles, except in extreme circumstances when they must ride against the flow of traffic.
- Cyclists will be encouraged to ride on the sidewalk when it is safe to do so. Motorists should remind cyclists of this whenever possible. MBTA bus drivers will be instructed to use their buses in such a way as to force bike riders into the curb, and thus up onto the sidewalk, whenever practical.
By this time next year, we will reflect on the nefarious, retrograde desires of the cycling minority to have experimental lines
installed painted throughout the city with the people’s money. We will wonder how we lived our lives without the momentous flow of automobile traffic to ferry us along.