Bridging Boston’s Bicycle Divide


Imagine you’re driving a car in Boston.  You want to get somewhere quick so you decide to take Storrow Drive, the limited access highway along the Charles River.  But as you approach Storrow Drive you see a sign informing you “PLEASE WALK CARS ON ACCESS AND EXIT RAMPS.” Now, you’ve been driving your car on city streets and will be driving your car on Storrow Drive, that’s what an automobile is designed to do, so you’d expect you’d also be able to drive between the two.  But the sign says you must put the car in neutral and get out and push the vehicle, no matter how inconvenient and possibly dangerous that is.

Imagine now that you are a pedestrian walking the sidewalks of Boston.  You decide to take a stroll along the Charles River along the scenic Esplanade.  But when you get to the bridge crossing Storrow Drive, you a sign sign instruction pedestrians to “PLEASE BRACHIATE ACROSS THE BRIDGE.” Again, you might expect as a pedestrian that your means of locomotion should remain as walking for your entire journey, but for this part of your journey you must get in touch with your inner primate and swing by your arms across the bridge.

Sounds absurd? Insulting? Inefficient?  Possibly injurious?

And yet, a bicyclist in the city of Boston hoping to connect to and from the Paul Dudley White Bike Path along the Charles River will see these signs on every bridge across Storrow Drive:

The Paul Dudley White Bike Path is in every the bicycle equivalent of Storrow Drive, a bicycle highway connecting Boston neighborhoods and the city to the suburbs. In a city where Mayor Marty “Car Guy” Walsh informs bicyclists that they are responsible for their own deaths “because cars are going to hit you,” the Paul Dudley White Bike Path is one of the few places in Boston where bicyclists of all ages and ability can feel confident and relaxed to bike without the risk of vehicular violence from automobiles.  And yet, to merely get on or off this bicycle oasis, one must face the inconvenience and indignity of not being able to use a bike for what it was built to do. Speaking for myself, walking my bike for extended distances – especially up inclines – causes a soreness in my hips that I never get from riding a bike.

As Bostonians we must ask why certain forms of transportation are given the space to allow large numbers of vehicles to move at high speeds unobstructed (cars) while other forms of transportation must share limited spaces (pedestrians and bicyclists)?  Why is the solution to conflicts of use to single out one form of transportation to be completely restricted from use on connecting routes?  These questions must be resolved by improving facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians, reducing motor vehicle capacity where necessary, throughout the city.  Until that time, riding one’s bike across the Storrow Drive bridges (yielding to pedestrians where necessary) remains and act of civil disobedience.

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2018 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon #BAT2018


On Sunday, June 10th, my daughter Kay (a.k.a. “The Toothless Wonder”) and I rode in the Bikes Not Bombs 31st Annual Bike-A-Thon.  The ride helps raise funds for Bikes Not Bombs’ social justice programs in Boston and abroad.

We met our goal for fundraising (including for my son Peter who was not able to participate), but Bikes Not Bombs is still accepting donations if you wish to contribute.

It was a beautiful day to ride, and except for the steep uphills right at the beginning, it was a terrific ride.

 

Read about our previous Bike-A-Thons in 2011, 201320152016, and 2017.

Sponsor Us for the 2018 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon #BAT2018


It’s once again time to get back in the saddle for one of my favorite events of the year, the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon.

Bikes Not Bombs is a social justice organization based in Jamaica Plain, MA not far from where I live. Their goal is to use the bicycle as a vehicle for social change.  The accomplish this mission by:

  • collecting and renovating bicycles to ship to developing communities in Central America, the Caribbean and Africa. These bicycles help people meet crucial transportation needs with an easily maintained and environmentally friendly vehicle.
  • help Boston youth develop confidence and leadership skills through programs focusing on urban bicycle riding and bicycle repair.

I routinely get my bike repaired and by bicycle supplies at the Bikes Not Bombs shop in Jamaica Plain, and I’m always impressed by the positive impact they have in the community.  Especially when I see young people out on their Boston By Foot group rides.

Here’s how you can help:

This is our sixth time participating.  Read about our previous Bike-A-Thons in 2011, 201320152016, and 2017.

Sponsor Us for the 2017 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon


On Sunday, June 4,  I will be riding with my kids Kay and Peter in the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon!   The Bike-A-Thon is always a fun event and it raise money for a terrific cause. This will be our fifth time participating.

Based in Boston not far from where we live, Bikes Not Bombs serves two great purposes. First they collect and renovate bicycles to ship to developing communities in Central America, the Carribean and Africa. These bicycles help people meet crucial transportation needs with an easily maintained and environmentally friendly vehicle. Secondly, they help youth right here in Boston learn skills such as urban bike riding and bicycle repair that contributes to building their confidence and leadership skills. Please help us in our efforts by making a generous donation!

Here’s how you can help:

Read about our previous Bike-A-Thons in 2011, 20132015, and 2016.

 

Photopost: Casey Overpass Demolition


The Casey Overpass is over and past. The elevated highway structure that darkened the skies over Forest Hills and divided a neighborhood (literally and figuratively) for more than 60 years is gone. I wrote several times about the multi-year process that went into the plan to remove the highway and replace it with an at-grade city street, improvements for walking, biking, and transit, and public space, but had doubts that it would ever really happen.  So when the big machinery arrived this spring and began dismantling the overpass, it was a delight to watch them in action.  Even more so was the dramatic change that occurred in the Forest Hills area as the sunlight was able to shine on the area and views of the Boston skyline and nearby wooded parkscapes opened up.

There’s a lot more work to be done to complete the Casey Arborway Project, and I expect the construction period won’t always be fun, but I look forward to the continuing transformation of Forest Hills from a place where cars just drive through, to a place where people live, work, shop, dine, and play.

Here are some photos I took over the course of the year showing the demolition.

2015 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon


On June 7th, I rode in the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon for the third time.  I seem to participate every other year, although it’s such a lovely event for a great cause that I need to commit to doing it annually.  I was joined by children Kay, who rode in to co-pilot’s seat, and Peter, who pedaled his own bike for the ten-mile ride.  The three of us were able to raise $615 which was part of the record $209,280 raised by a record 866 riders!  Our donation page is still open to receive more contributions should you be so inclined

When we first arrived at the starting point near Stony Brook station, we saw lots of bikes with brooms sticking off the back.  I thought maybe I’d missed out on a theme for the ride, but it turned out this was a fleet of bikes for a team called The Golden Sneetches.  After checking-in and eating breakfast, we got on line to start the ride and found ourselves behind our nextdoor neighbors who were also festively attired. Note to self: wear a costume next time.

The Bikes Not Bombs staff introduced our ride, warning us that there were steep uphills early on as we headed away from Jamaica Plain, but we’d be rewarded with a nice long downhill after the rest area.  The hills were tough for Peter who rides a single-gear Schwinn.  He complained about having to go up so much and asked repeatedly when we’d get to the rest area, but persevered and kept on pedaling.  Another wrench in the works was that near the halfway point of the ride, we ended up running into a charity 5K run!  A person from that other event insisted that we bike down a side street meaning that myself and a number of Golden Sneetches had to navigate a new route on the fly.

At last we made it to the rest area in Brookline and refreshed by orange slices and Gatorade, were able to carry on with the rest of the ride.  Not only was it mostly downhill, but Peter began to recognize the streets of Brookline as being close to home.  We pedaled past Allandale Farm and the Arboretum and back into central Jamaica Plain to finish the ride.  The kids received medals and we ate some lunch and played for a while before heading home for a much-needed.  Well, the kids were still full of energy, so they played with Mom while I napped.

A refreshing orange slice.
Finishers’ medals
Peter shows off his medal
Kay loves hula hooping (Thanks to Bikes Not Bombs for taking this photo and posting on Facebook)

Previously:

Write a Letter to Help Fix Cambridge Street


[cross-posted from my Boston Bike Commuter blog]

 

Wednesday is the deadline to help fix Cambridge Street by signing Fix Cambridge Street‘s community letter to MassDOT at http://tinyurl.com/CambridgeStreet.

 

Please also send an email to dot.feedback.highway@state.ma.us with your own comments (mention “Project File # 606376”).

 

Keep up with news on Facebook and Twitter.

My letter to MassDOT is below.

January 27, 2014

Richard Davey, Secretary and Chief Executive Officer
Frank DePaola, Administrator, Highway Division
Massachusetts Department of Transportation
10 Park Plaza,
Boston, MA 02114
RE: Project #606376 Cambridge Street bridge over I-90, Allston, Boston
Dear Secretary Davey and Administrator DePaolo:
I’m writing in regards to the Cambridge Street Overpass in Allston, Project #606376.  I appreciate that in recent public meetings and plans that community concerns have been incorporated onto the Cambridge Street renovations.  However, the street design is still geared toward high-speed / high-volume motor vehicle traffic, increasing the risks for bicyclists and pedestrians.
I work in Allston and live in Jamaica Plain, and whenever possible I prefer to commute by work.  Any route I take to work must cross the Massachusetts Turnpike, but crossings are few and far between with the majority of them designed almost exclusively for automotive traffic with wide lanes and high speeds (this includes Cambridge Street, as well as Carlton/Mounfort St, Beacon St, and Charlesgate).  These crossings are intimidating to bicyclists at best and downright dangerous at worst.  While the Cambridge Street crossing is the most direct route, I often go miles out-of-the-way to Massachusetts Avenue to avoid the stress and risks of biking on Cambridge Street.
With this in mind, and the concerns of Allston community members, bicyclists, and pedestrians, I would like to encourage the following modifications to encourage the goal of slowing automotive traffic speed and creating a safer street for pedestrians and bicyclists:
  • Do not install a median fence.
  • Reallocate excess space from roadway to bicyclists and pedestrians
  • The new pedestrian crossing should use a standard red/yellow/green traffic signal
  • Plant landscaping in the median between the Mansfield Crosswalk & Lincoln Street.
  • Use permanent coloring to distinguish the sidewalk and cycletrack
Thank you for your consideration and attention to my concerns and those of others who wish to transform Cambridge Street into a safe, accessible and attractive gateway to the Allston community.  Working together we can the project to remake Cambridge Street something we can all be proud of.

Open Streets on the Avenue of the Arts: Circle the City


Bostonians enjoyed easy access for walking, biking, skating, playing and more on the outbound lanes of Huntington Avenue on Sunday, July 14th thanks to the Circle the City Open Streets program.  Thanks to Walk Boston, I was able to participate in the event reviving my Boston By Foot Avenue of the Arts walking tour.  A small but curious group joined me on the 90 minute walk from the Christian Science Center to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

After the tour, I met up with my wife and kids to take in more of the activities.  My son Peter was drawn to the Super Soccer Stars activities at Northeastern University and happily played soccer with the coaches and rotating cast of children for about three hours.  I had little trouble convincing my daughter Kay to be my copilot on a bike ride up and down the Avenue of the Arts.  We enjoyed the Boston Cyclist Union’s demonstration cycle tracks, listened to a drum circle, watched dancers, heard a loud synthpop duo, rode alongside marching bands, and got high fives from passersby.

Despite scorching hot weather, it was a fun day out for all the family and something I’d love to see more often.  Before I get to the photos, I have two quick, mild criticisms.  First, the map and program didn’t seem to have enough helpful detail about the types of activities going on or even a good sense of where to find some things (for example, I think my tour may have had more people if they had a better sense of what it was and where to meet, but I also had this feeling looking for other activities).  Second, the stretch of Huntington from Ruggles to Brigham Circle felt like the activity tents were spaced far apart.  It’s also a less shady part of the road, unfortunately.  It didn’t seem too welcoming to pedestrian activity and I didn’t see many people walking here.  Maybe the activities should be grouped together more closely to lend it a better street festival vibe?

 

Cross-posted at my Boston Bike Commuter blog.

2013 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon


On June 2nd, I participated in the 26th annual Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon along with my 18-month old daughter who rode in the copilot’s seat. This is the second time I’ve participated in this event, having previously ridden the 2011 ride with my son (who is now too big for the bike seat, too little to ride on his own).  I hope to make it an annual tradition as it is really a spectacular event.  The rides are pretty laid back with lots of support for volunteers and other riders.  I’m particularly impressed by the number of children participating, riding alongside their parents.  Groups of teens also raised lots of money and participated in the ride, once again impressing me with all the wonderful things Boston youth can do.  The Bike-A-Thon ends with a festival where there are lots of delicious food, music, and fun things to do.

Altogether, this year’s Bike-A-Thon had record 559 registered riders and raised a whopping $162,567 to support the work of Bikes Not Bombs!  The ride may be over, but you may still support this worthy cause by visiting our rider page and sponsoring us.

This year, we participated in the 15-mile ride.  While the preceding days saw temperatures soaring into the 90s, the ride day temps were a more comfortable low 80s.  I sweat an awful lot but at least I didn’t have to worry about the ride being dangerous for my daughter.  She enjoyed the cool breezes of Daddy’s exertions, and I looked out for the shady coverage of benevolent trees whenever possible.

The day started at Fazenda coffee shop with my wife Susan & son Peter, and then we were off to Stony Brook station on the Southwest Corridor Park bike path to register for the ride.  There was a bit of salmon swimming upstream as we encountered the 25-mile ride heading out as we were riding in.  One of the stations at check-in was to have bike mechanics check up on the bikes.  I went over to have the saddle on my seat tightened because it was rocking back and forth, only to learn that I also had broken spokes on my bike wheel.  The mechanic took them off and told me to take the bike in for further repairs after the ride (which I did at the Bike Not Bombs retail shop the next day).

We set off on the ride, which is something of an adventure since it goes through parts of Boston I rarely visit, particularly West Roxbury and Hyde Park (most of my commutes take me in the opposite direction).  It’s nice to see different neighborhoods, and I particularly enjoy riding on the bike path through the Stony Book Reservation (mostly because it’s shaded and downhill).  One of the odder moments on the ride, we passed by a house with chickens in the yard and then a boy who must’ve been around four-year old hopped on a bike and started riding down the bike path with us.  I would’ve thought him just an enthusiastic biker joining in the ride, except that he was also weeping uncontrollably as he rode.  Several riders also heard an adult calling from the house.  I caught up with the boy and tried talking with him, but he ignored me.  Luckily, a woman on the ride was able to convince him to ride back with her to his house.

The rest break was in a shady picnic grove with lots of snacks and drinks.  Kay enjoyed chewing on orange slices.  Lots of other riders complimented Kay for being adorable and I enjoyed this so much that I probably spent too much time at the rest area.  I think there were only a half-dozen bikes left when we set off again for the second part of the ride.  As the riders were more spread out now, the rest of the ride felt more solitary for Kay & I although we sometimes passed or were passed by other riders, particularly families riding with young children on their own bikes.  Several fathers pointed out that they started out with the baby in the bike seat and continued riding each year.  One even told me about his son falling asleep on his back in the bike seat.  “He’s 35 now!”

Time flies, and so did the Bike-A-Thon.  Soon we found ourselves rolling back into Jamaica Plain on the “hidden” road between Forest Hills Cemetery and the juvenile detention center (I always forget that it’s back there).  Then we zipped through Franklin Park and soon were back on the Southwest Corridor bike path.  Peter & Kay were at the finish line cheering for us.  We had some delicious food and listened to the groovy marching band before heading home for a well-earned rest.

Support Bikes Not Bombs!


This weekend I will be riding in the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon with my 18-month daughter Kay as my co-pilot.

Bikes Not Bombs is one of my favorite charitable  social justice organization because it uses the bicycle as a vehicle for social change. This includes shipping restored bikes to International Programs in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean where sustainable transportation is vital for economic development. Closer to home, Youth Programs in the Boston area teach bicycle safety and mechanical skills to local teens building self-confidence and personal responsibility. Please make a donation to help the world-changing activities of Bikes Not Bombs. Better yet, come join us for the ride and/or for the post-ride festival at Stony Brook.