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.

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


Please also send an email to with your own comments (mention “Project File # 606376”).


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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.

New Bicycle Blog

I’ve started yet another blog, this one about bicycle commuting, aptly named Bike Commuter through the Boston Biker blog network. I’ve been thinking about starting a bicycle blog for a long time and have dragged my feet about it but with spring coming in, this is as good of a time to get started.

I don’t ride as much as I once did, but I hope to get back into more regular commuting and I intend to use this blog as a way of keeping me in check.  I also feel that my many years of experience as a bicycle commuter could be helpful to others.  Boston feels like a scary place to ride a bike, but I’ve found my experience riding in the city Here’s what you may expect to read on the Bike Commuter blog:

  • Ride Log – stories about my experiences biking in and around Boston.
  • Tips –  suggestions for how to make your ride in the city safe and enjoyable.
  • Advocacy – political action to support bicyclists and bicycle facilities (I may sometimes venture into overlapping issues related to walking, public transportation, and urban planning).

Things you won’t see on this blog:

  • Athletic pursuits – if you’re into bike racing, endurance rides, and/or mountain biking, I salute you, but you’re probably not going to find anything you’re interested in.  This blog is more geared to the everyday person who uses a bike to get around.
  • Rampant consumerism – much of what is on the internet about bicycling is geared toward convincing you that you need to spend money on the right bike, the right accessories, and the right clothing if you want to be serious about riding a bike.  This blog is here to convince you to get a bike that works, put on it what you need, wear what you have on and get on the road.

If you’re interested in bicycling or just like to read things that I write, subscribe to the feed at


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.

Links of the Day for 14 December 2007

  • Has Amtrak’s Time Come? by Neal Pierce (The Washington Post Writers Group, 12/2/2007) – Rail travel in the US is becoming more popular, even successful, but Amtrak needs government funding for infrastructure if it hopes to capitalize.
  • Holidays, Minus the Junk by Kate Sheppard (Wiretap, 12/13/2007) via Isak -ways to give for the holidays without giving in to consumerism.
  • Daily News to Deceased Cyclists: “Your Fault.” by Brad Aaron (Streetsblog, 12/14/2007) – This kind of media bias gets me really steamed.
  • What Henry David Thoreau Taught Me About Travel by Tim Patterson (Brave New Traveller, 12/14/2007) – “Thoreau understood something that many of us modern day nomads would do well to recognize: travel is a matter of perspective, not location. With curiosity, an open mind and a broad horizon of free time, it’s possible to travel in your own backyard.”

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.

Craziness in Cambridge

A few years ago as a I pedaled to work on my daily sojourn to work I would make a mental note of some of the more egregious behavior of my fellow cyclists and motorists on the road. I would award them the “Bad Bicyclist of the Day Award” or the “Dangerous Driver Du Jour Award”. If I’d had a blog back then I’d probably have posted the awards for all to see. These days I don’t see so much bad behavior either because people are becoming better cyclists & drivers (unlikely) or I’m just inured to such atrocities. Today I witnessed something that must be shared that must have caught my attention because it did not involve a bike nor car, but it happened on the road.

Let me preface this by stating that I have a fairly strict ethic of observing all the rules of the road when riding my bike. This includes stopping for red lights and remaining stopped until they turn green. I amazed by the number of cyclists who’ve told me proudly, even boastfully, that they never stop for red lights. This to me just defies all logic. I’m sure these same people would never purposefully run a red light while driving a car. Yet should a car with right of way come along the red-light running car has the option of braking hard, speeding up to get out of the way, and if worse comes to worse the frame of the car may protect you in the impact. A bicyclist braking hard will fall in front of a moving car (I’ve seen this happen), cannot outrace a car and does not have much protection from impact. Additionally, the oncoming drivers probably won’t even see you until it’s too late, so they will not be attempting to avert an accident. So you can see why I cannot understand why so many cyclists willingly risk their lives like this.

Anyhow, I was slowing down for a red light in Cambridge this morning, and alongside me came a man on a scooter (not a Vespa, but similar). He did not stop, nor even slow down but speed right under the red light and made a left turn. Seconds later, while I was pondering the gall of this, along came a jogger running down the street. Now you may have seen runners who run on the side of the road when the sidewalk is crowded or obstructed, but this man was running down the center of the street along the double line. He also, literally, ran through the red light. That cars with right of way were turning in the intersection didn’t seem to perturb him, he just ran right alongside them and made the drivers change their course.

When it comes to the roads in the Boston area, I can never say I’ve seen it all.

Crosswalk Sting

The Boston Herald reports on a police sting operation in a crosswalk in Boston’s South End. A female police officer with a baby carriage crossed the street to see if anyone would stop. Over the four days of the operation, 214 motorists did not stop and they were all slapped with $200 fines. As a regular walker/bicyclist I’m pleased to see the Boston Police making this effort as auto-centric attitudes and urban design often make “America’s Walking City” unfriendly and unsafe for pedestrians. I’ve long thought that if Boston and Cambridge wanted to fill the city coffers then they should station cops at the ends of the Lars Andersen Bridge and collect fines on the many moving violations that happen there daily.

Reactions on the blogosphere range from outright joy and approval to the opposing view of the typical, selfish motorist who prefers to blame the victims of car culture. Now I don’t favor pedestrians stepping out in front of cars when the motorist has right of way (or for that matter bicyclists who run lights and ride on the wrong side of the street) but the fact is that the deck is stacked against the pedestrian. My philosophy is that the roads should be made safe and accessible and shared by all types of users with preference toward none.

Safe places to cross the street are rare and even when there is a stop sign or a traffic light motorists will still plow through. Until recently, for example, a long stretch of North Harvard Street in Allston had no crosswalks for nearly half a mile. In these circumstances it is a necessary act of civil disobedience to jaywalk. If tables were turned and cars had to go a long way out of their way to cross a pedestrian walkway, motorists would not stand for it so why should pedestrians stand for this situation?