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.

Moving Forward in Forest Hills


Every so often, I like to write about my neighborhood of Forest Hills, a section of Jamaica Plain in the city of Boston, as the area is going through great changes with the removal of an antiquated elevated highway and development of previously underused parcels near the MBTA station. Progress on revitalizing the neighborhood continues this week as 25% Design Hearing will be held for the new Casey Arborway at-grade roadway at 5:30 on February 27th at English High School. You can read my earlier posts from Nov. 29, 2011 and April 4, 2012 for background information on the project. It should be an exciting time when the neighborhood can come together for input on a new system of roads and public spaces that will serve all users – walker, bicyclists, transit users and drivers alike. If you can’t attend the meeting, please write a letter of support for the at-grade project and your ideas for design to:

Thomas F. Broderick,
P.E., Chief Engineer,
MassDOT,
10 Park Plaza,
Boston, MA 02116,
Attention.: Paul King, Project File No. 605511

or

dot.feedback.highway@state.ma.us (include the above address information in the email)

Such submissions will also be accepted at the meeting. Mailed statements and exhibits intended for inclusion in the public meeting transcript must be postmarked within ten (10) business days of this Public Information Meeting. Project inquiries may be emailed to:

dot.feedback.highway@state.ma.us

(This information via the Boston Cyclists Union)

Unfortunately, there is a small but vocal group that will be using this meeting to agitate for building a new overpass cutting through the neighborhood, an automotive-centered model that offers little for other users or the neighborhood in general. Through nearly two years of a public process with dozens of meetings and hundreds of letters, at least 2/3’s of the people of Jamaica Plain have let it be known that they prefer not to have an elevated highway slicing the neighborhood in half. I hope if you’re reading this and feel that a new overpass would be a good idea that you can take a moment to step back from the hostility of the most extreme overpass advocates and work together with other neighbors in the 25% Design Process to find solutions that work for everyone.

Just for review, here are some reasons why an elevated highway is a bad idea for an urban area:

  • Doesn’t reduces automotive congestion – Most people think that by building more highways and wider highways, we can improve traffic flow and reduce congestion. It makes intuitive sense and for about six decades starting from the end of WWII it was the main way cities responded to traffic concerns (including constructing the original Casey Overpass in the 1950s). However, building more highways simply creates induced demand where the more road built, the more people drive cars, and with cars prioritized other users suffer. Cities across the world from San Francisco to New York to Seoul are learning the benefits of highway removal which actually reduces traffic congestion and makes for healthier, more economically vibrant neighborhoods.
  • Creates a highway mentality – The Casey Overpass does not just carry a large volume of cars rumbling overhead, but creates a full highway interchange with a system of access and exit ramps. These added roads complicate the intersections around Forest Hills greatly. Much of the congestion that occurs on Washington Street and South Street at peak periods is caused by cars trapped in-between the traffic lights on each side of the overpass that regulate access and exits to the highway. It also brings a lot more cars into the area than there will be with an at-grade neighborhood road system. With highway mentality encouraged by the car-first design of the overpass, most drivers exceed safe neighborhood speed limits and are looking more for a way to jockey themselves into a better position than looking out for walkers and bikers.
  • Highways cost more – Two options were presented last year, a new overpass and an at-grade plan. The new overpass plan cost significantly more and didn’t include many of the benefits such as new bike lanes, walking paths, and public space covered by the lest costly at-grade plan. The “iconic bridge” proposed by the most vocal overpass proponents would cost significantly more, and again would prioritize motorists over all other users. In these troubled economic times, there is a limited pool of money available from the government, and much of that should be spent on repairing actual bridges that cross rivers and railroad tracks in other parts of the commonwealth. Not to mention, these are just the construction costs. An elevated structure will require more money for maintenance. The current Casey Overpass built in the 1950s was significantly rebuilt in the late 1980s/early 1990s. A new overpass now would force the next generation to face the cost of repairing or demolishing the highway once again in 25-30 years.
  • An antiquated model for changing times – A lot of the pressure to rebuild the overpass comes from the idea that the current levels of traffic will continue to increase in the future. Current trends indicate that the future of Boston will see fewer than more cars. For one thing, the troubled economic times have forced many people out of their cars for more affordable transportation. Even when the economy fully recovers, peak oil has made cheap gas a thing of the past. Since the 1990s, more and more people have decided to take advantage of the social and business connections of living in the city. The Millennial generation are driving less frequently than their parents and grandparents. The growing danger of pollution and climate change will also force people to drive less. In short, a new overpass is a 1950s-era solution that could be a fossil shortly after it’s built. Instead of being saddled with a fixed structure, an at-grade road in Forest Hills would be able to adapt to changing uses and serve the needs of a developing, transit-oriented neighborhood.
  • Make Transit Alternatives Irresistible – Considering that urban highways create congestion, prioritize motorists while putting walker and bicyclists at risk, have enormous costs that just keep building, and are on the verge of being extraneous anyway, why not have Forest Hills be the center of a new, cutting edge Boston? Instead of putting cars first, why not make alternate transportation irresistible so that people once fearful of leaving their cars can enjoy walking, biking, and public transit instead? There are a number of parcels of land to be developed in Forest Hills. In the shadow of an overpass they are likely to end up oriented to serving automotive customers. Without the overpass, Forest Hill can begin to develop as the hub of a transit-oriented neighborhood of the future. Ultimately it comes down to a choice of maintaining the status quo based on fearful predictions of traffic nightmares or working together to create a vibrant neighborhood that fulfills our hopes and dreams.

Having said all this, there is one point upon which I agree with the opponents of the at-grade plan. The current design for the Casey Arborway road at 6 lanes is too wide, and like proposals for a new overpass, puts too great an emphasis on prioritizing motorists. As we work towards a final design for what is ultimately constructed at Forest Hills, now in its 25% design phase, I would like to propose a narrower road. In fact, last summer the Jamaica Plain Gazette noted that the opening year design would be reduced by two lanes. I believe that a four-lane road with additional right turn lanes at appropriate intersections would be the optimal final design for the Casey Arborway for the following reasons:

  • Induced demand – Like building a new overpass, building an oversized at-grade road will encourage more people to drive. The designs for both the new overpass and the at-grade model were based on projections of future traffic increases rather than current use. In a sense, building the wider road may just create the increased traffic congestion they were hoping to avoid, whereas a more modest roadway could help encourage the trends I noted for a future with reduced car use.
  • Consistency – The Casey Arborway connects the 4 lane road of Morton Street to the 4 lane road of the Arborway. There’s no good reason for the road to swell to six lanes for 3/10 of a mile as it will not increase the throughput of traffic. The wider road will just encourage drivers to shift lanes which traffic studies indicate is a cause of greater congestion. One only need to look further along the Arborway where the road inexplicably expands from 4 to 8 lanes and then back down to 4 lanes causing traffic backups as vehicles merge together.
  • Makes it bigger than it already is – Currently, due to the deterioration on the Casey Overpass there is only one lane in each direction. On the ground level on New Washington Street, there is one through lane in each direction with other lanes dedicated to turns and parking. So as it right now there are four through lanes crossing Forest Hills. The plans to remove the confusing system of access/exit ramps, clear away infrastructure that creates blindspots, take away left turn lanes at the intersections, and most importantly to vastly improve the signaling will help make the new four lane road less congested than the current four lane road/overpass.
  • Overbuilding for peak periods – Okay, so Forest Hill can see some nasty traffic backups, and that is what most people complain about. But I wonder if these drivers ever see Forest Hills outside of the peak morning and evening rush hours. Since I actually live in Forest Hills, I notice that at midday, nights, weekends and holidays that traffic runs smoothly around Forest Hills and in fact can get pretty sparse. Even in the mornings I’ve noticed that there can be snarled traffic at 7:30 or 8 am, but everything running smoothly at 7:45 or 8:15 am. I think it’s a mistake to overbuild the road to serve the levels of automotive traffic that Forest Hills gets for a small part of each business day. It is a recipe for:
  • High Speeds and Reckless Driving – Wide roads and wide lanes in residential/commercial areas are not a good idea, because no matter the posted speed limit, a wide road is an invitation to speed. As it is today, Washington St./Hyde Park Av./Ukraine Way/South St/New Washington Street often has the ambience of a NASCAR speedway. Speeding cars will kill any chances of building a walking/biking community and most likely kill some walkers and bicyclists. A narrower road will force drivers to operate their cars at safer speeds.
  • Make walking, biking, and transit irresistible – I said this before, but it’s worth reiterating that it is beneficial for everyone in the community to encourage as many people as possible to get out of their cars and use other means of getting around. Forest Hills sits in between the Southwest Corridor community path, Franklin Park, and the Arnold Arboretum. A narrower road means there is more space for cycletracks, comfortable places to walk, and connections to transit that can tie these places together as well as making new connections south to Roslindale.

So those are my thoughts on the design of the new Casey Arborway as we reach this latest milestone of the 25% design hearing. Again, if you live in Jamaica Plain or Boston, I encourage you to attend Wednesday’s meeting and/or write a letter with your thoughts. I’m looking forward to seeing what changes come forward as the design process continues.


The Casey Arborway is not the only thing happening in Forest Hills. I thank you for reading this far, but if you can bear to read more, here are a few tidbits:

  • New Harvest Co-op opens – the first major new development in the neighborhood is a very welcome grocery market. It is a bit pricy gourmet store but it’s still great to have a place to shop within walking distance.
  • A new cafe is on the way – the next development will also be welcome. It’s kind of across the tracks for me, so it will be a good excuse to walk over
  • Ideas for new park space –  The Casey Arborway plan will open new park space at the end of the Southwest Corridor Park.  Public space is great but I do worry that it may end up only being used during commuter hours and be an empty void on evenings and weekends.  One idea I have to keep the space active is to create a dog park.  Although I’m not a dog owner myself , there are a lot of dogs in our neighborhood.  I expect that dog owners would take their dogs out to exercise on evenings and weekends even in the winter time so it would make for an active and social space year round.  I’m sure there are other great ideas for the space as well (I’d love a Munich-style beer garden but I doubt that would happen in Boston).

The Future of Forest Hills Looks Bright


About a month ago MassDot announced that the Casey Overpass in Forest Hills will be torn down and replaced by a network of surface roads.  I wrote in favor of this plan back in November so I am pleased that MassDot will be taking this approach.  I believe the removal of the elevated highway through our residential and commercial neighborhood will bring many benefits to the area.  Without the infrastructure for high-speed automotive traffic, the volume and speed of motor vehicles through the neighborhood will be reduced and redesigned intersections will ease traffic backups.  Facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit will be vastly improved.  New open space will reconnect the Emerald Necklace between Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park.  Without the overpass hindering the aesthetics of the neighborhood, plans to redevelop the Arborway bus yard and Forest Hills MBTA station will be more likely to create a dense, transit-oriented residential/commercial area.

I hope that people in the Forest Hills area, once divided by the choice of a new overpass or at-grade plan, will unite together in the design process to ensure that the new streets plan is safe and equitable to all.  I have a number of thoughts  about the next steps in the process – some more well-formed than others – that I’ve gathered together for further pondering:

  • Mike’s Casey provides a great map with an overlay of what the future street plan looks like over the current streets.  One thing that I like about the plan is that it reduces the number of traffic lights a vehicle may have to stop at when crossing the Arborway on South Street or Washington Street from 2 to 1.  A lot the traffic in the area today results from cars getting stuck between the two lights and backing up.
  • Some opponents to the at-grade plan  honestly feel that segregating the auto traffic will make things safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.  One thing they note is that the new Arborway will be six-lanes wide at Forest Hills,wider than the current New Washington Street, which is a very valid point.  I think that without the overpass the reorientation of the ground-level street will make the intersection less confusing with clear crosswalks and bike lanes.  It will also take away the highway mentality as now all cars entering the neighborhood will be closer to speed limit of city streets rather than a high-speed highway.  It should also be noted that the current orientation requires a pedestrian to cross at least 6 lanes in most places.  Someone walking up Washington Street from Forest Hills/Woodbourne has to cross two wide access lanes (that have a gradual curve allowing cars to turn without slowing down) and then three lanes coming off the overpass. On South St, a pedestrian from the Asticou neighborhood has to cross two exit lanes, two access lanes, and then the two lanes of the “other” Arborway.  Any of these pedestrians wanting to use the four-lane crosswalk on New Washington Street at the bike path will have to cross four lanes of South Street or Washington Street first, thus making an eight-lane transit if they chose that option.  So the new road, even at six-lanes, with clearly marked crosswalks and moderated automotive traffic will be much safer than it is now.
  • Despite that, even I think that six lanes is too “auto-friendly” and  four lanes of through traffic with right-turn lanes at appropriate places would be a better plan and should be advocated during the design process.  Regardless, even if they go through with building the street with six lanes, we may learn in the future that they’re not all needed and adapt some lanes to other uses.  That flexibility is not possible with the construction of a new overpass.
  • There are other places around Forest Hills that could benefit from a “lane diet.”  I notice that a lot of congestion on Washington Street/Hyde Park Avenue is caused by cars coming in from the left trying to merge right and vice versa.  I think Washington/Hyde Park and South Street/Washington Street would benefit from the removal of a lane.  The new configuration on these roads would have just one lane for traffic in each direction with a third “buffer lane” between them that would be signaled as a left-turn lane in the appropriate places and could be used for passing in the instances when a lane is obstructed by a double-parked car or delivery truck.  The space gained can be used to create cycle-tracks and more on-street parking.  Arborway could also stand to lose some asphalt, especially the portion between Centre Street and Jamaica Pond where it inexplicably swells to eight lanes.  I think a consistent configuration of four lanes would help prevent the inevitable congestion that arises when traffic merges from the wider portions to the narrower portions, not to mention making things safer for walkers and bikers.  For more on how lane diets work, watch this Streetsfilm: [vimeo http://vimeo.com/21903160]
  • This great post on the Small Streets blog illustrates that park and ride lots at rail stations in America are often large enough to hold the footprint of a dense European village of 1,000-1,500 people. There’s a great illogic to having so much space dedicated to people driving to public transit rather than developing that space around the public transit options. Imagine the little villages that could be built near Boston at Riverside Station in Newton, Route 128 Station in Westwood, or the Anderson Regional Transportation Center in Woburn.  More relevant to Forest Hills is the sea of parking that dominates both sides of Washington St./Hyde Park Avenue near the T station.  These parking lots and the Arborway bus yard, already slated for redevelopment, could be turned into a beautiful transit-oriented village where people live, shop, and eat.
  • The new streets configuration will open public space the size of Copley Square at the end of the Southwest Corridor Park.  There are obvious benefits to more park space including a greener connection between the existing parks on the Emerald Necklace.  However, open space can create a void that can sometimes be as much of a barrier as a highway.  So I’ve been trying to think of ways of using this space that would encourage activity in the area not just during the commuter hours but on evenings and weekends as well.  Some ideas I’ve had include a community garden, an amphitheater, or a dog park.  The first two would not see much use in the wintertime and only R.E.M. gardens at night, but there are a lot of people in JP who own dogs.  Since dogs have to be exercised regularly I think a well-lit dog park would see activity all year round and well into the night.  Another option that I can imagine would be unpopular would be to allow the development of this space by commercial interests.  I can imagine walking or biking along the Southwest Corridor and at the end the path opens up into a plaza surrounded by restaurants, cafes, and bars with plentiful outdoor seating in warm weather.  It could work.
  • Do you have any ideas for the Future of Forest Hills?  Any thoughts on my ponderings?  Please note them in the comments below.

Related news on the Forest Hills At-Grade Plan:

The Future of Forest Hills: The At-Grade City Street Option


I live in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in the city of Boston.  The neighborhood on the whole is a great place to live as it features diverse people of different backgrounds and social scale, a wide variety of attractive housing, interesting and successful local business, access to public transit and bike paths and lots of parks and green space.  One scar on this great neighborhood is the area immediately around the Forest Hills T Station.  In the shadow of a large highway overpass carrying cars on the Arborway there are large parking areas, derelict empty lots, and depressed-looking commercial and industrial places.  Plans are afoot to revitalize this area such as redeveloping the MBTA’s Arborway Yard and building new transit-oriented housing and commercial space directly around the T station.  While these plans seem to be on hold due to the current state of the economy, plans to remove the elevated highway known as the Casey Overpass appears to be going forward.

I heartily welcome the removal of this eyesore which is both overbuilt for the traffic it carries and a detriment to the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, there is a movement afoot to create an auto-centric solution by rebuilding the overpass which I believe would bode poorly for the future of the neighborhood as well as for anyone who wishes to navigate the area below the bridge on foot, by bike, on public transportation, and even by car.  Several organizations such as LivableStreet, WalkBostonThe Emerald Necklace ConservancyMassBike, the Boston Cyclists Union, and JP Bikes have come out in favor of an at-grade city street option to replace the current overpass.  Below is a copy of my letter to Thomas Broderick, acting chief engineer of MassDOT, explaining my reasons for supporting the at-grade option.  If you live in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale or elsewhere in Boston  and would like to help spur the economic development of Forest Hills by making it livable for all users – pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users as well as motorists – please consider writing a letter yourself (the BCU provides a good template) and attending future public meetings to support an at-grade city street.

Dear Mr. Broderick,

I am a resident of the Forest Hills neighborhood in Jamaica Plain and commute through the intersection below the Casey Overpass on a daily basis by foot, bicycle, public transportation and by automobile.  I welcome the news that the crumbling and overbuilt Casey Overpass must be demolished and could be replaced with an at-grade city street.  This approach would help reconnect the Emerald Necklace, create new public space, allow for better neighborhood development and provide safer connections for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as motorists.  Unfortunately, voices are mobilizing to encourage MassDOT to take a more expensive and auto-centric approach by reconstructing the highway overpass over Forest Hills.  I am writing to offer my support for an at-grade city street connecting the Arborway as the better option for the future of the neighborhood and its residents.

I am aware that traffic engineers in your department have determined that both a bridge and the at-grade option will handle the predicted traffic flow of 2035 in roughly the same way. In light of this I see no reason to build a bridge. In future projects, I believe that the recently consolidated MassDOT would serve Massachusetts better to find ways to hold traffic flow around our fair city to the levels of 2011 or less instead of planning for traffic increases. This could be accomplished in many areas by developing public transportation, a safe connective bikeways network and pedestrian-friendly streets that encourage active transportation and healthier lifestyles.

The current situation under the bridge is quite the harrowing experience for pedestrians and cyclists and even for motorists.  The bridge support structure creates blinds spots for turning vehicles and lack signaled left turn lanes making the intersection a frightening place to make a turn.  When I commute by bike passing under the Casey Overpass is the most unpleasant part of my ride although necessary to navigate this intersection to get from my home to the Southwest Corridor Bike Path.  An at-grade option would mean that the bike path would no longer have to dead end at New Washington St.

With the existing at grade New Washington Street and the access lanes to the highway overpass, pedestrians have to make as many as three crossings in a short distance when walking down Washington or South Streets.  The access ramps are particularly dangerous to cross since drivers using them have a “highway mentality” that causes them to exceed the speed limit and not pay attention to walkers and bikers.  I find that the overpass and the access lines also contribute to automotive congestion in the morning rush hour as the need to have multiple traffic signals close together causes the traffic flow to back up.  In fact, on one occasion I was stuck on a 39 bus for five minutes because a handful of cars snarled up South Street between the two traffic lights under the overpass.  An at-grade city street would mean that motorists, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians would only have to navigate one crossing making the street easier and more welcoming for everyone.

I am also concerned of the costs to taxpayers and neighborhood residents that come from constructing a new highway overpass through Forest Hills.  The overpass is obviously the more expensive option and would leave little money for improved facilities for bicycling, walking and public transportation that would be possible with the at-grade option.  Historically, the Casey Overpass was a decision made in the 1950s when high-speed auto transportation through the city was thought to be the wave the future.  This mentality caused considerable harm to Boston such as the Fitzgerald Expressway forced through the heart of the city and paving over James Jackson Storrow’s Embankment parks.  Here in Boston and in cities worldwide the idea of urban freeways has been discredited and when elevated highways are removed in cities from San Francisco to Seoul the cities have benefited from increased economic development and reduced automobile congestion.  It should also be noted that the Casey Overpasss was rebuilt in the 1980s just 30 years after it was constructed.  Now 30 years later it needs to be rebuilt again.  The cost of the new overpass would include greater maintenance costs and the very real possibility that in another 30 years we would be in the same situation of repairing and replacing that bridge. 

Finally, there are great opportunities to improve the Forest Hills neighborhood from the Arborway Yard to the parking lots and open space around the T station.  Examples of economic development in the shadow of a freeway overpass are few and far between and the current development in the immediate area of the overpass reflects the depressing effect of highway infrastructure in a neighborhood setting.  Permanently removing the Casey Overpass would be a good first step in encouraging the development of new transit-oriented housing and commercial space that would revitalize Forest Hills as a dynamic bikable, walkable and economically-flourishing neighborhood. With the construction of the new large Co-Op store and other small businesses to join them in the near future, the Forest Hills area is fast becoming a thriving business district, not merely an MBTA transit center located amidst several neighborhoods. It is imperative that traffic is slowed down and adequate long-term access solutions are created to accommodate the increasing numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists.

My approval and support of the at-grade option is contingent on the timely completion of bike paths that will travel up both sides of Washington St. toward Roslindale from the project area, and ending at Ukraine Way where they will be designed to connect to and complement the bike lanes on that street. The construction of these bike paths should be considered as part of the replacement project and completed within the same time frame as that project.

It is also contingent on there being no “slip lanes” at either Washington Street, Hyde Park Avenue or South Street. Slip lanes create dangerous situations for both pedestrians and cyclists due their wider radius turn that allows cars to travel through them at an increased speed. There is no need for speed in this area and in this community we value the safety of our residents over convenience for motor vehicles.

I also support converting Shea Circle into “Shea Square” by creating a normal intersection there. Traffic circles, particularly those handling more than one lane of traffic, have been proven to be particularly dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians.  Further along the Arborway, MassDOT should consider redesigning the large rotary at the intersection with Centre Street.  Currently traffic coming from Forest Hills gets backed up by the traffic signal while traffic from all other directions is not signaled and enters directly into the circle with very little congestion.  Improved traffic flow for this intersection would help prevent auto traffic from backing up into Forest Hills.

I strongly believe that the at-grade option offers a better future for myself and for the neighborhood I love.  Please consider the needs and happiness of all people – residents, pedestrians, public transit users, and cyclists as well as motorists – when planning for the future of Forest Hills.

Hub on Wheels 2011


My son Peter & I participated in Boston’s citywide bike ride Hub on Wheels yesterday, our second consecutive year of participation. Participants could ride a 10-mile route on Storrow Drive or extend it to 30 and 50-mile routes around the city. We did an abridged version of the 30-mile route ending at the Arnold Arboretum since it’s near our home.

The ride started at City Hall with thousands of riders (apparently 5000 total) lined up past the Old State House. It was exciting to turn Storrow Drive into a big bicycle party. Peter enjoyed passing his day care center twice. The route then followed the Muddy River along Park Drive and the various Ways (River, Jamaica, and Arbor) to the Arboretum. Honestly the ride went by almost too quickly for me. We started at 8:08 am and arrived at the Arboretum around 9:20. I’d like to ride farther but there’s only so long one can expect an active 3-year-old to sit still in a bike seat.

The event went off without a hitch, with perhaps the one exception of the rest area at the Arboretum. The portable toilets and snack stands were set up along the road right in front of the visitor center creating a huge bottle neck as thousands of bicyclists tried to cram in. Last year the rest area was deeper in the Arboretum where Meadow Road and Forest Hills Road meet allowing a place for bikes to pull off without obstructing ongoing traffic.

Nevertheless, Peter & I had a good long snack on the hill by the visitor center. The bike traffic cleared out quickly and about fifteen minutes later it seemed that almost all the other cyclists were well on their way. We stayed in the Arboretum to play at Peter’s favorite little bridge, throwing rock and sticks in the stream.

Hub on Wheels is a great event and I love that every year Boston becomes more and more of a bicycle-friendly city. I’m going to have to figure out how to ride next year since Peter will have outgrown his child seat.

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Video of thousands of cyclists at the starting line:

Related posts:

Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon & Green Roots Festival


On Sunday June 26th, my son Peter & I rode in the fundraiser Bike-A-Thon for Bikes Not Bombs.  We were able to raise $376 for this worthy cause (feel free to add to our donations).  All-together 464 riders raised over $135,000 to support the work of Bikes Not Bombs!

My photos are online and some other great photographs from a professional photographer are also available.

The 15-mile riders prepare to set out.
  • There were rides of 65-miles, 25-miles, and 15-miles in length.  We rode the shortest of these, the longest I could expect Peter  to stay still.
  • Riders were sent off with a “trumpet” blast played through a modified set of handlebars.
  • The PA system was powered by cyclists spinning on stationary bikes.
  • There were an impressive number of children riding on their own bikes on the 15-mile ride.
  • Some of the steepest hills were near the start of the ride challenging everyone especially the young children.
  • The first place I’d never been before was the Stony Brook Reservation which featured a bike path through the woods that felt miles away from the city.
  • The path rather gloriously zipped downhill, but wet pavement and downed leaves forced me to be cautious.
  • Near our rest break there were well-uniformed adults playing baseball.
  • We returned to urban Boston passing through the rusty but charming Hyde Park area.  The neighborhood was very quiet on a Sunday morning.
  • When I finally returned to parts of the city I’d been to before on Walk Hill Avenue, I didn’t recognize it at first.
  • Another new discovery is a corrections facility right behind Forest Hills Cemetery.  I live on the opposite side of the cemetery and never knew it was there.
  • In Franklin Park we saw men playing cricket in the field by the zoo.  We were not able to find a toilet or port-a-potty that was  open (several were chained shut) for when Peter really needed to pee.
  • At the finish of the ride we were awarded medals made of old bike parts! Mine was a chainring, Peter’s a brake lever.
  • The Green Roots Festival was a great follow-up to the ride (and very JP).
  • Free food for the riders, which was delicious – hummus, beans, salad.  Yum, yum, yum!
  • Musical entertainment include some great drummers.   Peter enjoyed that a band of bucket drummers had left their instruments out for children to play with.
  • Children of all ages enjoyed zipping down the hillside on potato sacks down a large strip of cardboard.  Peter spent most of the afternoon doing this.  There were no real rules other than that you had to get off the slide so as not to be in the way of the next slider.
  • Other activities we admired but didn’t participate in included yoga, face painting and massages.
Weeeee!

Tired but happy we went home to cool off in the wading pool.  I had a great time and would love to do this ride again next year.  Come join me!

Hub on Wheels


Today, Peter & I participated in the Hub On Wheels community bike ride and cycling celebration in Boston.  This was our first time riding although I signed up in a previous year and then slept through my alarm.  The only ride of this sort that I’ve participated in before was the Bike New York Five Boro Bike Tour back in 2001. Although there are no awe-inspiring moments like crossing the Verazanno Bridge, I’ll have to say that Hub On Wheels felt much better organized than the New York ride as the volunteers spaced out the bikes to avoid back ups.  In the latter part of the rides cars & bikes shared the road without much fear of bicycle safety or delay for the cars.  And unlike New York, everyone was well-behaved with no punk teens doing stunt riding.

Highlights from the ride for me:

  • riding on the Orange Line with more and more riders and their bicycles boarding at each stop.
  • check-in at the pre-register desk was pretty easy, and presumably on the honor system since no one asked for my name.
  • we didn’t get started from our point in the line until 8:20 but after that there were no “bike traffic jams” and all the riders could cruise along at their own speed and ability.
  • speeding along Storrow Drive without those pesky cars or joggers in the way.
  • while crossing the Charlesgate flyover, I noticed that the wall was battered and covered in broken car parts.  Do people really crash there that often?  Crazy!
  • Riding along Riverway bicyclists were pelted with falling acorns.  One bounced off Peter’s helmet with a loud crack!
  • lots of people said hi to Peter and told me how cute he is
  • Gorgeous views of Jamaica Pond from Perkins St. and Parkman Drive.
  • I have my own cheering section on the hills chanting “Go! Daddy! Go!”
  • Big line at the Arnold Arboretum rest area but then the volunteers walked around handing out the snacks.
  • Peter checked out the pond at the Arboretum and suddenly almost all of the bikers were gone!
  • Peter chatted with a 1-year old who was riding in a trailer behind his Mom.
  • Actually, almost all the people left at the back of the ride were people riding with kids.
  • If I didn’t feel slow enough already, at the point where the 30-mile ride and the 50-mile ride merged back together, there were dozens of 50-milers speeding in!
  • Forest Hills Cemetery is a gorgeous place to ride.  I live right next to the Cemetery, why don’t I know this already?
  • At the Forest Hills rest area, Peter enjoyed running around and around and getting out all that pent-up energy.  I followed on my sore legs.
  • Peter also picked up acorns off the ground and threw them over his head.
  • Forest Hills was our “Finish Line” and we dropped out to go to Java Jo’s for a celebratory smoothie (and coffee for a tired Dad.

I’m looking forward to doing this again next year.  My goal will be more miles and encouraging more people to ride with us!

Check out my photos from the ride in this slideshow:

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Seashore Trolley Museum


As a Father’s Day treat, Susan & Peter took me to the Seashore Trolley Museum in Arundel, ME.  Admission was free for Dads with their children and Peter was free himself by virtue of being under five.

Click for complete gallery of Seashore Trolley Museum photos.

There are two surprising things about the Museum that stand out.  First, despite being a museum of mass transit the museum is located in a relatively remote and wooded area.  And yet, as we would soon learn, during the golden age of trolleys even this part of Maine had a trolley line.  Second, on first view the Museum has kind of a “cluttered attic” look to it with various vehicles parked all over an open yard, some of them in rather decrepit condition.  Again we would learn that restoration of these trollies is a long and laborious process which is a labor of love by the Museum’s volunteers.  It is to their credit that they save so many vehicles from becoming scrap and making the available for visitors to see.

Right upon arrival we boarded a restored Third Avenue Railway streetcar from New York City (which later did a stint in Vienna, Austria after WWII) for a ride along a restored portion of the Atlantic Shore Line Railway.  A conductor punched our tickets, and Peter & I enjoyed looking out the window and playing on the seats.

The conductor punches our ticket
The conductor punches our ticket

After returning to the Museum proper, we took another ride on the Shuttle – a Dallas Railway & Terminal Co. car – to the Riverside barn. One of the volunteers gave us an excellent walk through of the trolleys on exhibit. From that point we were pretty much on our own to wander around and explore the trolleys and other vehicles on display and dodge rain drops. Not only are there passenger trolleys but work cars, freight cars, mail cars, and even a prison car!

Twin Cities Railway Company Gate Car
Twin Cities Railway Company "Gate Car"

Some of our favorites include:

  • Glasgow Corporation Transport #1274 – a double decker with plush upholstered seats on the first floor and leather seats on the upper deck because that was the smoking area.  Peter enjoyed climbing up the steep narrow staircase.
  • City of Manchester parlor car – an elegantly decorated and detailed car used by railway officials and dignitaries in Manchester, NH.
  • State of the Art Cars (S.O.A.C.) – rapid transit cars designed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and tested in five cities – including Boston – in the 1970’s.  Peter particularly enjoyed exploring this train.
  • Twin Cities Rapid Transit #1267 – these homemade “gate cars” worked the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul with the large platform and gates allowing for quick boarding by large numbers of passengers.
  • West End Railway Co. #396 – a “Boston Special” wooden streetcar from the early part of the 20th century
  • Cleveland Railway #1227 – The conductor/volunteer (in the photo above) snuck us in the center-car entrance of this trolley which was undergoing renovation for 20-years to get to its current lovely condition.
Boston Special streetcar
"Boston Special" streetcar

Although there are trolleys from around the world, I particularly liked the relics from Boston’s public transit. These include signs from when the Charlestown elevated and Washington Street elevated closed down. The biggest piece of Boston transit history sits in the parking lot surrounded by weeds. Northampton station once was elevated over Washington Street near Massachusetts avenue but was torn down after the Orange Line was rerouted in 1987.

Northampton station from the Washington Street Elevated in Boston
Northampton station from the Washington Street Elevated in Boston

I had a great time and would love to visit again to explore this large collection of transit history.

Commuting with kids in Boston


I’ve hesitated to write anything on this blog from a parenting perspective since I’m such a novice parent, but after 17 months as Daddy I think there’s one issue I can write about and maybe actually be helpful:  commuting with kids.  Or one child at least.  My son Peter has been riding the T since he was three weeks old and for the past seven months he & I have made the daily commute from Jamaica Plain to Allston where he goes to child care and I go to work.

Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurence.
Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurrence.

Riding the subway to bring Peter to child care has many obvious advantages: save money, save gas, reduce auto exhaust pollution, et al.  Developmentally I think it is also much more interesting for Peter.  He could sit in a car seat in the back of a car (facing backward before he turned one) and have not much to do for half an hour, or ride the subway for 45 minutes where he gets to watch and interact with numerous people and read books and play with toys with Dad.   Turns out, Peter loves the T.  He loves to wave and say hi to people, and especially has fun making faces at other children on the T.  I find myself in conversations more often with my fellow passengers as well, who often seem delighted by a little boy in this grown-up world of commuters.  In fact, if I were a single dad I don’t think I’d be one for long because Peter particularly likes to flirt with women. Mostly, I enjoy the company.  It’s a lovely way to begin and end each work day spending time with my little boy.

Stroller vs. Carrier

One of the first things to consider when taking children on public transportation is how to carry the child.  A carrier of some sort – a sling, frontpack or backpack – can be a good option.  On a crowded subway it’s definitely the sleeker option less likely to create a hindrance for other passengers.  Plus one can take full advantage of the stairs and escalators instead of looking for the often hidden, sometimes broken elevators.

When Peter was very little my wife and I carried him in a Maya sling and it worked quite well.  When he got bigger I tried a backpack and liked it for all the reasons mentioned above.  One day I noticed women taking pictures of us with our cellphone as I stood hanging on to a strap with Peter on my back.  I turned my head and saw that Peter was also holding a strap which made us so photogenic.  Unfortunately there were downsides to the backpack as well.  Peter was constantly losing his hats, gloves, and shoes or his nose would get runny or some other problem that was difficult to address without taking off the pack.  And taking off and putting on the pack on a moving train is not a safe or easy thing to do.  I was also constantly afraid I was going to whack some other passenger and/or Peter when moving in tight spaces.  Throw in some back problems and the back pack was not for me.  A front pack of some sort may make a better option and will definitely be something to look into for a future child.

So I use a stroller, a sturdy not overly-large MacLaren.  The stroller takes a load off my back and makes it easier to see that Peter is all put-together as well as interact to play with toys, read books or just hold hands when we’re tired.  Unfortunately, the stroller can be a bit bulky and get in people’s way, and I’m afraid I’ve run over more than one set of toes trying to steer it in tight spaces.  Sometimes on the Red Line in the morning I have to let a train (or two!) pass by because they are just too crowded for me and a stroller to fit.  This is why I loved the Big Red seatless cars but apparently they’re not running them anymore.

Riding the elevators adds a bit of time to the commute and they’re  not always in the most intuitive locations.  For example, if riding the Red Line toward Ashmont/Braintree and wanting to transfer to the Orange Line to Forest Hills, one must get off at Park Street and walk down the pedestrian tunnel to the Orange Line platform at Downtown Crossing.  Heading the other way, one must exit the turnstiles at Downtown Crossing, walk down the Winter Street Concourse, reenter the turnstiles at the other end and take the elevator down to the Red Line (makes me wonder if a person in a wheelchair who doesn’t have a Charlie Card link pass to have to pay to get back in, which doesn’t seem to fair).  This actually isn’t all that inconvenient just not the most obvious route to make a transfer.

Overall, once I’ve learned where all the elevators are and the best spots in the car to go with the stroller (all the way at the end so I don’t get in the way of aisle) I think the stroller has been very positive for me and for Peter.  As I mentioned above most of the other passengers seem to be very welcoming to an infant on the T, and often people offer me a seat.  That’s one courtesy I never expected anyone to share with burly, 6’1″ man in the pink of health!

Problems and Potential Pitfalls

While my commuting experience with Peter has been overwhelmingly positive there are a few problems to watch out for:

  • Other passengers – My greatest fear going into this is that I would encounter people who would find Peter too noisy, too distracting, or otherwise too bothersome to their commute and they would let me know about it in no uncertain terms.  Blessedly this has not happen as people have been mostly friendly and helpful or at least hold their tongue.  One grandmotherly type actually read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to Peter and a young man told me Peter was the highlight of his day. There was one occasion when Peter was five months old when a woman told me that T was too dangerous and I should get a car (which defies logic since automobile crashes are a leading cause of death in the US).  Even though that was upsetting, she actually said it in a way that made it seem that she thought she was being helpful.  I’ve yet to meet the truly nasty person on the T which makes me more trustful of my fellow humans.  Still, I worry because of
  • Meltdowns – For whatever reason – because he likes other people, hanging out with Dad, or the soothing rhythm of the rails – Peter is usually pretty happy when we’re on the T.  But he has his bad days.  He particularly doesn’t like it when the subway car gets overly crowded and like many a commuter he complains when there are delays.  One morning he had a complete meltdown while we were stuck for an interminable amount of time between Central and Harvard and I had to contend with trying to soothe him and worrying about how he was affecting the other passengers.  Stressful to say the least. All babies cry, and there’s no foolproof way to prevent this, but I believe distraction is the key – have toys, teething rings, books, or anything the child loves on hand.  Sometimes with Peter it’s as simple as turning the stroller in a different direction so he has someone else to look.  Again, other passengers are my friends offering a silly face or a tissue during my times of need.
  • Buses – The subway is very workable for commuting with a stroller but I’ve all but given up on the bus.  The narrow aisle on the newer models leaves nowhere to put a stroller out of the way, and folding up the stroller and holding Peter isn’t very feasible either.  Perhaps with a less active child that might work.  Route 66 especially is a nightmare.  Route 39 has a nice spot for strollers in the bendy section, but there’s no guarantee that you can actually get down the aisle to that point when it’s crowded.

So that is my experience commuting with a child on the T.  I hope the suggestions are useful to any other parents out there.  If you’re thinking about taking the T with your own children and wondering if it’s worth the hassle, I say go for it.  I find it rewarding in ways I never imagined.  If you have any questions or suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments or email me at liamothemts AT gmail DOT com.  I’d particularly like to hear from parents about their experiences with an older child or with multiple children on the T.

Riding Big Red


Last month, Boston’s transit authority the MBTA introduced a new “high-capacity car” on the Red Line which they call Big Red. Basically during rush hours a couple of car without any seats are placed at the center of the train. As an experienced commuter, I’ve long become accustomed to the limited circulation within MBTA subway cars. This is especially true for people in wheelchairs, people with bikes, luggage, or other bulky items, and people like myself who travel with children in strollers. Even when it’s just human bodies, it can get pretty tight in the subway car. So I found this an excellent idea and having recently had a chance to ride the Big Red (with my son in his stroller) found it much more convenient to board, get into the center of the car, and find a place to ride in peace without getting in anyone else’s way.

While Big Red is promoted as a high-capacity car, I think it’s real advantage is in improving the circulation of passengers within the cars which will contribute greatly to speeding up boarding times at the station. In a normal subway car, the ride is often slowed down by:

  • People who start boarding while other people are trying to get out of the train
  • Passengers who stand in front of the door while other people are trying to board and unload.
  • Passengers who completely block the aisle w/ their bodies and/or accouterments.
  • Passengers who refuse to move into the center of the car (of course w/ other passengers blocking the aisles can often be blamed for this)
  • People who insist on squishing into an already crowded train even when it’s been announced that another train is approaching.

I’ve only had a chance to ride a Big Red car once, but I did find that a lot of these problems were alleviated by the more spacious interior of the seatless cars. The MBTA has received a lot of harsh criticism for Big Red – most noticeably from that bastion of fair & balanced journalism the Boston Herald which pictured a subway car full of heifers under the headline CATTLE CAR. I personally applaud the MBTA for thinking creatively, and even if Big Red flops, I hope they continue to try out new ideas that may improve the rider experience on the T.

I’ve travelled on transit systems in other cities that have spring-loaded seats that can be flipped down when needed by the riders.  I think this is something the MBTA should consider to make the interiors of the subway cars more flexible.  On the U-Bahn in Munich, I was also impressed that at the stations in the center city all the passengers would exit out one side of the train while boarding passengers would enter from the other side of the train, greatly decreasing the amount of time the train has to spend at the station.  I think the MBTA should try this at Park Street station by having passengers board the train from the side platforms and exit onto the center platform (although since the elevator is on the center platform, anyone needing the elevator would still have to board from the center platform).

I’ve submitted my comments to the MBTA through their Big Red survey on their website.  Let’s hope they keep trying things out to make getting around our great city all the more pleasurable

Bicycling in Boston (Links of the Day)


Here’s another walking through Harvard Square story. On my way to work, a passerby said, “You just missed seeing that guy get hit by a bike!”

“Ouch!” I said.

“Yeah,” he replied.

The police were already on the scene and as far as I could tell no one was hurt. At least if the guy with the courier bag holding the bike was actually the bicyclist who got hit. His bike didn’t even look in bad shape. The car however was worse for wear as the entire windshield was shattered. Something for those anti-bicycle motorists who say things like “in a contest between a bike and a car the car always wins” to remember. Collisions can hurt people and damage vehicles, period. Hopefully everyone is okay after this accident, and well-insured.

Here are a couple of Bicycling in Boston links I’d planned to post before I’d witnessed the aftermath of this accident:

Good stories for Boston bicycling on a bad day.

Mattapan Trolley Returns


Good news from the MBTA.  The Mattapan High-Speed Trolley reopens tomorrow after 18 months of renovation.  I’m a big fan of trolleys and streetcars but I’ve never ridden on this branch of the Red Line.  Based on the MBTA’s history with the Arborway Line suspension of service, I was worried the Mattapan line would never return.  I hope they have all the snow cleared off the tracks for tomorrow.

More trolley love from Feb. 5, 2007.

New Boston Bicycle Zine


Yesterday, while getting a picnic lunch at Canto 6 I picked up issue #1 of Boston Bicycle Reflector a cute little ‘zine for bicycle commuters. I’m not sure who put this together but it has articles with tips on biking to work, commentary on Mayor Menino’s bicycle initiatives (see the comments in this post for more), and my favorite was a piece called “Picking on Bikes” by Jeffrey Ferris which lists the many social stigmas against bicyclists.  I’m not alone!

There’s a website for Boston Bicycle Reflector but it’s just a placeholder for now.  Searching the web, I found only two other references to this publication: a Flickr photo of Issue # 1 (see, I told you it was cute) and a blog post on Joe’s Amazing Technicolor Weblog.  I hope to see more of the Reflector in the future.

Bike Culture


Riding home from work on  Friday night, I got stuck behind a large mob of hooting and hollering bicyclists (imagine a bicyclist being slowed down by bicycle traffic).  Oddly enough this was at the same intersection where I witnessed a scooter and a jogger run through a red light.  At any rate, this was most certainly the monthly ride of Critical Mass Boston, but I was too tired to join in and was glad I was only at the back of the pack for a block or so until I reached the spot where I usually turn left.

Critical Mass is a bicycle advocacy event that I believe originated in San Francisco and also is very active in New York and hundreds of other cities.  I have mixed feelings about Critical Mass.  On the plus side I like that they are advocating for the bicyclists belonging on the road in such a fun and public manner.  On the downside, I’ve seen and heard of Critical Mass participants deliberately interfering with the flow of traffic, shouting obnoxious things at drivers and pedestrians, and ignoring all rules of the road.  On a previous occasion when I inadvertently ended up in the midst of a Critical Mass ride, participants mocked me for stopping at a red light.  The basic message I get is that since motorists are selfish, rule-flouting, bullies on the road, it’s okay for  bicyclists to do the same one day a month.  Since I don’t believe that two wrongs make a right, I can’t fully support Critical Mass.  I would be pleased if in addition to political activism and a fun participatory event they added bicycle safety as a third element for their rides. I imagine a line of bicyclists signaling for turns, stopping for red lights, wearing helmets, using headlights and taillights, and refraining from insults would make a very powerful statement.

Critical Mass is not the only game in town on the last Friday of the month.  This day is also the Green Streets initiative’s Walk/Ride Day.  Apparently if you walk or ride a bike on these days AND wear green one can get discounts and freebies at local stores.  I forgot to  wear green and didn’t do any shopping, and for that matter haven’t really figured out how it works so I’ve not been a participant.  I imagine it being like those radio bumper sticker promotions where if they see you on a bike in green you win cash prizes, but it’s probably not.

Another aspect of Boston area bike culture I’ve been enjoying lately is seeing riders on modified bikes called choppers.  There are whole organizations of these bicyclists with cool modified bikes such as SCUL in Somerville.  In my not-so-distant youth I recall leaving the clubs in Central Square and witnessing fleets of choppers on their missions.  Now I’m seeing more and more of them in the daylight.  One I saw in Porter Square the other day looked like two large bike frames welded one on top of the other and painted bright orange.  Since this put the rider about 8 feet off the ground, I really wonder how he mounts and dismounts without injuring himself.  On the bright side, drivers can never claim that they can’t see him!

For those of you interested in bike culture in Boston, you should check out this survey at the MassBike website.   The City of Boston is working with MassBike to gather information for future bike paths.  Things are changing now that Tom Menino is riding a bike.

To conclude this post, here are a few more links about bike culture outside of Boston.   I know the grass is always greener, but it looks like some places have a much more friendly, accepting environment for bikes than we do.  All of these links come via the blogs you’ll see under Bicycling in the blogroll, but I can’t remember who to credit for each of them so I’ll credit them all.

  •  You know you’re officially a bicycle commuter when… a thread from Team Estrogen forum, a website for women who cycle.
  • Amsterdam Bicycles – you can see a lot of people on bikes in the Netherlands, and this guy photographed 82 in 73 minutes.  Lots of funny pictures of the diversity of people riding bikes in Amsterdam.
  • Cycle Chic – Or you can go to Denmark where the women of Copenhagen prove that you don’t need to buy expensive bike jerseys and bike cleats to go for a ride.  What you wear to work or school or to the dance club is just fine.