Globe Attacks Cyclists, MassBike Responds

Today’s Boston Globe included an anti-bicyclist column that focused on a narrow view of bicyclist behavior to argue that we should be banned from Boston streets. While risking drawing more attention to this screed than it deserves, MassBike thought it necessary to respond. MassBike Executive Director David Watson submitted the following letter to the editor:

While I agree that too many bicyclists fail to obey the traffic laws (along with vastly larger numbers of motorists and pedestrians), shame on The Globe for publishing the sort of uninformed, inflammatory nonsense Brian McGrory expressed in “Make Boston bicycle-free”. Yes, everyone should obey traffic laws, and the police should enforce those laws. Targeted enforcement against bicyclists might encourage more bicyclists to follow the rules, but it does nothing to address the larger problem of everyone’s lack of respect for everyone else on the road, whether they are cyclists, drivers, or walkers. Stoking resentment of bicyclists among those driving several tons of steel is no way to improve roadway safety. There is no measure by which bicyclists cause more than a small fraction of the safety problems on Boston roads, and we are disproportionately the victims. Mr. McGrory also grossly mischaracterizes and stereotypes bicyclists. I respectfully suggest that he go outside and actually look at who is riding bicycles: he will see that many (perhaps most) of the people biking in Boston today are not packs of Lance Armstrong wannabes but individuals wearing regular clothes using a bicycle as transportation to get somewhere. Bicyclists are not going away and have in fact quadrupled in Boston in just the last three years. Bicycles are an efficient, affordable way to get around town, and enable people to get to jobs, school, and other opportunities that otherwise may not be easily accessible without a car or a T pass. The bike share program is a supremely flexible and affordable public transportation system that taps into this growing need, and it has been successful in big cities all over the world.

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15 Responses to Globe Attacks Cyclists, MassBike Responds

  1. Mark Kaepplein July 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    You are correct about a decreased lack of respect on the roads. Pedestrians and cyclists both frequently disregard traffic laws and signals. Drivers stress has increased due to congestion, downsized roads, and the obnoxious, selfish behaviors of others. Jealousy surely plays a part as cyclists whiz by in their express lanes.

  2. Wow July 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    This was not a very good response. Why can’t the cyclists ride to the nearest T stop outside of Boston, lock it up, and take the T from then on in? Seems much more of a answer than what you pose. I don’t drive a car in Boston, however, I have to constantly be stepping out of the way of cyclists riding on the sidewalk. When that happens, I like to use YOUR bike lane for walking purposes. Kind of… balances the aggravation.

  3. Marianna July 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    “When that happens, I like to use YOUR bike lane for walking purposes. Kind of… balances the aggravation.”

    No it doesn’t! it punishes the people who aren’t in your way and incentivizes riding on the sidewalk!

  4. MattyCiii July 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    “Bicyclists are not going away and have in fact quadrupled in Boston in just the last three years”
    Hence the four-fold increase in bigotry against cyclists in recent memory. People feel threatened.

    As a cyclist I see a subset of all three groups {pedestrians, drivers and cyclists} moving recklessly. Motorists, with momentum of 3000lbs & up to 50MPH on Boston streets, pose the greatest threat. These are facts.

    I wonder what things can be reasonably done to make the streets better for all? I have only one suggestion – timing of lights can be improved. Surface Road only supports an average speed of about 12 MPH (I ride it every day). But its random pattern of red-green-red makes cars accelerate haphazardly through yellow (to catch the following green) and some cyclists cross through the red (because it’s red, but there’s no crossing traffic). If the lights were re-timed to fall in line with this average road speed, cars and bikes alike would move better and safer. People crossing would not have to dodge the cars rocketing forward from a green…

  5. Chris Thurrott July 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    Just sent this to th Globe

    Subject: Thank you for Brian McGrory’s bike article

    I am a 40 year old married father of two.  I work hard, pay my dues, and do my best to give more time and money to charity than the average bear.  

    Thank you for putting a big fat target on my back when I get on my bike for exercise, relaxation, or to add to the thousands of dollars I’ve raised for charity through bike events.  Your article will be sure to reassure those drivers who snuff out thousands of lives yearly that they are doing the right thing when they assert their right to use their 2000+ pound steel shell as a weapon to avenge two-wheeled transgressions.

    Be sure to remind my family and friends that I had it coming when it comes time to run my obituary.  I’m sure that will help them realize the world is better off without me and my bike.

    Chris Thurrott
    Framingham, MA

  6. L A July 15, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    @WOW … you said “Why can’t the cyclists ride to the nearest T stop outside of Boston, lock it up, and take the T from then on in?”

    I can answer you by referencing any of the umpteen articles about the Red line breakdown this week that left scores of people trapped underground for hours.

    And for the record, I bike Boston (have for years) AND am a motorist and pedestrian in the city.

  7. Rich D July 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    I have a better idea — why don’t the owners of cars park them and take public transportation and we’ll make it a car-free city.

  8. BH July 16, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    When Mattyciii suggests that some bicyclists run red-lights because they are timed badly is frankly a poor excuse for breaking the law. All motorists are required to stop at red-lights including bicyclists, regardless of how the city chooses to time the lights. Is that also a reason why I see so many cyclists riding the wrong way down one-way streets, because the city should change the traffic pattern to accommodate my riding preferences?

    I would submit that the majority of bicyclists in Boston are not members of the Mass Bicycle coalition and that they are ignorant of the fact that the same laws that apply to motor vehicles apply to themselves.

    Further, I find it quite amusing that the members of the Mass. Bicycle Coalition took the article so LITERALLY. It is so clearly a sardonic pastiche of articles calling for the elimination of cars in the city. Geez, don’t take yourselves so seriously.

  9. todd s July 18, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    One thought on the one-ways from an urban planning perspective. I personally have enough trouble navigating through one-ways within the Boston Core on my bike and I’m pretty familiar with the city. It’s going to be very tough on people that are less frequent riders — especially when one-ways dump you out on a dangerous artery with little traffic moderation.

    Particularly on quiet and narrow one-ways in downtown — in and around Downtown Crossing, might it be possible to install cycle tracks to facilitate 2-way biking? Simply shift street parking over, allow bicyclists to have a protected lane to travel the “wrong way.”

    Riding the wrong way in a one-way is dangerous — but perhaps there is an element to poor street design that causes one-ways to be abused by 2-wheeled users. Why not correct the design where it’s reasonable to do so?

  10. Mark Kaepplein July 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    Rich D suggests: “why don’t the owners of cars park them and take public transportation and we’ll make it a car-free city.”

    Extreme, but on the right track. The MBTA needs to do more to keep cars out of the city. Alewife is still missing two parking levels and better highway access – nearby roads need widening. The BILLION dollar Green Line Extension project has no parking garages and no Rt 16 widening to better connect it with I-93 and Rt 2. After the extension is done, property values will increase so much near stations that land for garages becomes prohibitively expensive to do later. Likewise many commuter rail stations have inadequate parking and need more. Public transit is far more used than bicycles, thus needs and deserves funding more than bike lanes. Disabled people can use the T. Bicycles not so much.

  11. Denis V July 28, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    You’re taking a big risk by riding in the city, unfortunately, even if you obey the rules of the road.
    Cyclists who don’t ride by the rules NEED TO BE FINED !
    Maybe someday Boston will be safer for cyclists. That would be nice.

  12. Neil D. August 13, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    As a driver:
    I get to: stop at stop signs, not go though red lights, pay gas tax, pay sales tax, pay registration, pay insurance.
    Bicyclist:
    Do none of these.

    While it may sound good and “green” to promote bicycles, they halt the progress of drivers trying to get somewhere and frequently most-not all, but most-do not pay attention to traffic laws. It creates more traffic, infurtaies drivers, and last time I checked, in Boston, you can get places most of the time by T, walking, Bus or Cab.

  13. Jake December 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    Au contraire. A recent survey conducted by the City of Boston about bicyclists riding behavior concluded the following (a statistically significant census with a sample of over 1000 riders in 8 distinct locations around the city):

    -every cyclist broke at least one traffic law while riding
    -80 percent failed to stop at a red light or stop sign
    -95 percent failed to use turn signals
    -46 percent went the wrong way on a one way street
    -72 percent had no helmets

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to be empowered, and expect the taxpayers to pay for your use of highways, roads and bridges (of which cyclists pay zero), then at least improve your public perception and change your behavior.

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