MassBike Responds To Snow Removal Controversy


Bikes use the Southwest Corridor and other DCR paths for transportation every day of the year. Photo: Cycle Style Boston

UPDATE 2/19: Great news – MassBike is very pleased to announce that DCR has agreed to convene a meeting. Yesterday, Commissioner Jack Murray and I had a productive conversation about the need to address both snow removal and bicycle transportation policy. This is a very welcome step toward better aligning the needs of people who ride bikes for transportation with DCR policy. Further details about the meeting will be announced shortly.

Over the weekend, a series of emails was made public depicting an exchange between various DCR personnel and a bicycle commuter regarding bicycling conditions on the Southwest Corridor. The emails contain a number of controversial statements that have caused major concern among the bicycling community and need to be addressed.

MassBike takes the issue of snow removal on off-road pathways – and all bicycle facilities – very seriously because many people who ride bikes rely on them for their daily transportation 365 days a year. In many cases, pathways like the Southwest Corridor or the Charles River bike paths are the only safe route for people who ride bikes where parallel roadways are unsafe or uncomfortable for bicycling. Furthermoreall state agencies should be unequivocally committed to well-established state laws and policies, such as the Healthy Transportation Compact, that support increased bicycle use for everyday transportation.

This is why I have written DCR Commissioner Jack Murray to request a meeting to address the issues raised in these emails and ensuing public discussion. I appreciate the challenges that DCR and other agencies have faced this winter, and can understand the frustrations expressed by both DCR and bicyclists, but we have the opportunity to shift this discussion to a real dialogue.

I have recommended a wide range of groups encompassing the bicycle, pedestrian, and parks advocacy communities be at the table. The goal of the meeting should be recommendations to better align the needs of people who ride bikes with DCR policy, and set expectations appropriately for both DCR personnel and the bicycling community.

My hope is for a frank and open discussion covering the snow clearance expectations and needs of cyclists and other user groups, and DCR’s policies and practices regarding snow clearance and bicycle transportation.

– David

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11 Responses to MassBike Responds To Snow Removal Controversy

  1. Jeremy February 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    The emails seem to be another indication of the way our political agencies view bicycling: not as real transportation, but simply a leisure activity that’s not all that important.

    We need to change the culture in which we do everything possible (and spend billions of dollars and hours) to facilitate easy car travel at all times, yet only allow safe biking and walking if there is money left over, and not until we get around to it.

    These repeated fights can be discouraging but we are making progress.

  2. Adam February 17, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    Why don’t you get together as an organization and take control of this? The snow removal that is. There’s other things the dcr has to worry about during snow emergencies.

    • Rita February 21, 2014 at 10:48 am #

      Adam, I was thinking through your comment that MassBike should take control of snow removal for bicycles. AAA has access to fleets of large trucks, so I propose instead that AAA plow the roads for cars, leaving DCR resources to plow for bikes.

  3. Rudy Breteler February 17, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    Thank you for doing this on our behalf. There would be many more than .05% of us riding in the winter if cycling infrastructure were properly maintained after snow events. Those of us who ride 365 days a year do not appreciate being characterized as having “poor judgement” and “unrealistic expectations.” The suggestion that we should go live in a different state if we don’t think our state agencies are doing their jobs is an outrageous way to respond to our reasonable statement of expectations. We vote and pay taxes. Massachusetts DCR works for us, and should be more respectful and deferential to our reasonable feedback on their performance.

  4. robert fine February 17, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

    At last years Massachusetts Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board Meeting on Wednesday, January 23, 2013, David Watson noted that ongoing mode shifts will require embedding and institutionalizing changes. I think one thing he was referring to is the limited mission of the DCR to manage recreational trails may fall short of those who need these trails as daily transportation. If the state wants to get serious about relieving traffic congestion and reducing it’s carbon footprint, more than just PR campaigns to be green are needed. A shift in priorites and organization should emphasize bike/pedestrian trails and infrastructure be managed by a transportation department. This is already happening in bridge work and major roadways that the DCR used to manage the design of. It seemed easy enough for Mayor Walsh to merge the Public Works and Transportation departments and in a similar manner, the Governor can put more of these DCR facilities under the control of MassDOT. Don’t blame the DCR for trying to do their job which is to maintain recreational faclilities in a manner that is consistent with good conservation practices as would be to avoid excessive chlorides in the soil. As for this controversial comment, I hope there isn’t a backlash of less open and direct communication between the DCR and the public if this unfortunate comment gets used as campaign to chastise the whole department.

  5. Charlie February 18, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    Glad to see this discussion happening and to hear that MassBike is working with the DCR to make the snow clearing situation better. I would buy the whole “recreational trail” position about not clearing snow from paths, but only if the parkways designed for “pleasure vehicles” were given the same lack of attention. DCR acknowledges that the parkways are regional commuting routes and always makes sure they are clear to the pavement within hours of a storm. Meanwhile the paths for bicycles and pedestrians go unplowed or partially plowed for days and weeks after the storm. Their solution for people without a car is to take the T or move apparently.

    • robert fine February 19, 2014 at 10:40 am #

      The whole program of parkways in this area to create pleasurable driving experience through landscaped scenery is an oxymoron for anyone other than those driving cars. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking too about allowing commercial trucks to drive on these parkways so as to get them off city streets. I’d hate to see that happen since I live off Truman Parkway and it’s quite tranquil but thought that this may help reduce the dangerousness large trucks and buses pose to cyclists in the other parts of the city.

  6. Brian C. Postlewaite February 18, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    I commend DCR for their open communications, and clear desire for this to be an open discussion. The author of the 0.05% email stated specifically that it should be shared. Though the staffer should have been more diplomatic in his comment, it is a reasonable perspective that does NOT match the current public expectations. MassBike and other bike advocates appear to be making this an important topic for DCR to address.

    It is fair to note that DCR and other street maintenance operators are having difficulty expanding their winter maintenance role to a new public facility (paths, cycle tracks, etc). And this will only become more important as Hubway expands into winter months. Given our wide spread, low-density (and poorly connected) path & track system, it may be more cost effective for these various municipalities and departments to contract out the maintenance of these facilities to a third party with dedicated equipment and expertise. Such a third party could be private or non-profit, and could eventually be retaken by the public institutions they support when it makes more economic sense. The key is their maintenance work should be contracted and paid through public institutions.

  7. Mark Kaepplein February 19, 2014 at 1:05 am #

    Clarity is long overdue for defining recreational ways vs. transportation routes. Funding of these routes contribute to the confusion. When recreational park money and/or land is used to make bike paths or linear parks should we defy funding intentions/law to be treated as transportation? This is a problem with paths in the Boston Common being a recent example of a park used for transportation. Parkways that are used for vital transportation were funded as depression recovery transportation projects, though the public land used had been given over to park use previously as thought not developable. Many, but not all parkways need to be redefined as vital transportation, modernized, sometimes expanded, and made safer despite the MDC blocking changes with National Historic Places registration. Likewise, vital pedestrian and bicycling transportation routes ought to be defined and funded as such, rather than having ambiguous and inconsistent designations, intentions, and level of maintenance.

    Finally, on a practical level, motor vehicles sharing roadway with bicycles greatly help melt the snow and blow sand from the pavement to the curb, thus being an advantage in snowy climes.

    • dk12 February 24, 2014 at 10:37 am #

      @mark – I had a similar e-mail exchange with the emerald necklace conservancy a while ago when they decided to block the bike path along leverett pond for a friday evening event. While I wouldn’t have minded switching over to the pedestrian path for 100 yards, there was absolutely no accommodation for cyclists who use that path for transportation – just a barricade with no detour signs that appeared out of nowhere – There was even a huge mud puddle between the bike path and the pedestrian path which meant I had to backtrack… I complained about this and they just said that the event was rescheduled from a weekend due to rain and that they hope that all users can enjoy the park – absolutely no recognition that this is a main commuting path.


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