Pedal promise

By TOM MEEK  |  May 13, 2010

That rationale jibes with a widely regarded academic paper on biking by PL Jacobsen, “Safety in Numbers,” which concludes: “A motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking and bicycling if more people walk or bicycle.”

More is less, then — and Cara Seiderman, Cambridge’s transportation program manager, has the data to support it. The biking population in Cambridge doubled between the years 2002 and 2008, yet the crash rate held close to its average of about 90.

"If you build it," says Seiderman, “they will come.”

Of course, to build a good urban biking network, you need money — no easy task now that budgets are tight and funding is scarce.

Local bike-advocacy groups are particularly fearful the bridges in the Charles Basin, which are currently under repair as part of the stimulus-funded Accelerated Bridge Program, won’t have adequate foresight for cyclist and pedestrian use because of the “on time, on budget” mandate from the state.

According to Freedman, a heat map of cyclist activity shows that few places in the city receive more bike traffic than bridges, and that more than 70 percent of cyclists questioned by her staff felt the issues of infrastructure and road-surface conditions should top the list of the city’s biking priorities.

We are concerned that the DOT [Department of Transportation] will only do the minimum,” says David Watson, executive director of MassBike, “and in that case, the bridges won’t be touched for another 50 or 75 years . . . it doesn’t make sense. We may never see this opportunity again.”

Asked about such concerns, MassDOT said in a statement that it was “strongly committed to advancing bicycling as an important transportation mode,” and pointed to the planned 740 miles “of on- and off-road bicycling routes, known as ‘the Bay State Greenway’ ” (BSG). As laid out, the BSG — which leverages existing routes like the Minuteman Bikeway— would “consist of seven interconnected east-west and north-south corridors, many of which [will] connect to urban or dense residential areas. Four of the seven BSG corridors [will] serve Boston directly.”

“There is no reason,” adds Luisa Paiewonsky, MassDOT highway administrator, “to think that [on time, on budget] is incompatible with thoughtful bike and pedestrian planning.”

MassDOT is also in the process of performing a feasibility study to construct underpasses for bike and pedestrian use under the Western Avenue, River Street, and Anderson Memorial bridges, which would grant continuous flow along the Charles River Esplanade without intersecting with vehicular traffic.

“When it’s car versus cyclist, the car always wins,” warns Transportation Commissioner Tinlin. His advice: “Back off and be safe.” No matter how many bike lanes are built, nor how many driver-awareness programs are instated, bikers are charged with thoughtfully sharing the road and obeying traffic laws. 

READSo what are the rules anyway? 

Though many cyclists and cycling advocates at the recent summit have questioned whether “car-centric” lights always make sense for cyclists, city officials say they are serious about “balanced enforcement,” and will warn or ticket any bikers who are recklessly endangering themselves or others. Respect on the road, after all, must be a two-way street.

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