Bicycle advocates, city try to summit cycle-unfriendly obstacles

November 2, 2007
By

DAVID TABER

SOUTH STREET AREA—Barnstorming and brainstorming were the orders of the day at the Oct. 23 JP open house session of the Boston Bicycle Summit.

Sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists (LAB) and the City of Boston, the Oct. 21-23 conference was intended to kick off a new round of cyclist-friendly initiatives in the city. Over the three days a range of topics, including biking and economic development, streetscape design and enforcement of traffic laws, were discussed in open- and closed-door sessions.

According to Nick Jackson, who works for a Chicago-based bicycle and pedestrian advocacy firm, and was hired by LAB as a consultant for the conference, Boston has nowhere to go but up.

It “has the distinction of consistently ranking as one of the worst big cities for bicycling in the country,” he said.

Jackson ran the open house at JP’s Agassiz School, intended as a chance for community members from JP, Roslindale and Roxbury to toss their two cents into the summit proceedings. The majority of the approximately 25 attendees were JP residents.

No identified representatives from city government attended the open house.

“I am glad you are talking about access in general instead of just hotspots,” said JP resident Ann McKinnon, of the wide-ranging, free-form conversation.

Among local issues discussed was the creation of on street bike lanes. Columbus Avenue, Hyde Park Avenue, Green Street and Seaverns Avenue and Pond Street were all suggested as potential targets for striping. Particular interest was expressed in a lane connecting the Southwest Corridor park on the east side of JP with the Emerald Necklace bike path to the west.

The community also advocated paving over the disused trolley tracks that run down Centre and South streets to Forest Hills. The tracks are extremely slippery in the rain, and just about everyone at the meeting said they had wiped out on them at least once.

The Gazette previously reported that the city plans to pave over the tracks next April. McKinnon’s husband, Ferris Wheels Bike Shop proprietor and longtime bicycle advocate Jeff Ferris said in the meantime he would like the city to fill the numerous potholes that dot the pavement running next to the tracks.

Another veteran bicycle advocate, Doug Mink, one of the few Roslindale natives to attend the meeting, said he would like to see the Southwest Corridor bike path, which runs between downtown Boston and Forest Hills, extended to Roslindale.

Ferris described the existing corridor path, which has been a major bike-commuter route since it was constructed in the 1970s, as “a great path that needs to be perfected.” Community members expressed concerns about cracks from root growth, less than optimally safe street crossings, and numerous unlit sections along the path.

Generally, attendees said they would like to see more attention paid to traffic-calming measures and driver education.

“Anything that slows down traffic speeds is important,” said JP resident Michael Halle.

Pointing out that most of the ideas being discussed have been sitting on bike advocates’ agendas for decades, and that the meeting had attracted an eerily familiar looking crowd of people, Bikes Not Bombs co-founder Carl Kurtz said it is going to take more to convince him the city is serious about its commitment to getting bicycle friendly.

Kurtz argued that the city should do more outreach to groups, like Main Streets organizations and community development corporations, that are not bicycle-oriented per se, but have interests in streetscape design issues.

“The mayor should give all the Main Streets groups a training on what it means to be a bicycle-friendly business center,” and do outreach to other organizations that have “zoning and housing leverage and get things done on their own streets,” Kurtz said.

He also said it would not have hurt to invite other community organizations like Roxbury’s Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, or the environmental organization Alternatives for Community and the Environment.

Involving such organizations “and not just those of us that are in the [bicycle advocacy] community” would send a clear signal that the stakes have been raised, Kurtz said.

In general, bicycle advocates have said they are feeling cautiously optimistic about the future of cycling in Boston. The summit came on the heels of Mayor Thomas Menino’s much publicized integration of a morning bike ride into his daily schedule and the September hiring, by the Mayor’s office, of JP-resident Nicole Freedman as the new city bike coordinator.

Outreach to more organizations is “a big part of the work that I have to do,” Freedman said in a phone interview. The haste with which the summit was pulled together meant there wasn’t time to involve as broad an array of organizations as she would have liked to, she said.

Speaking to the Gazette from the group’s Washington, D.C. office latter in the week, LAB Executive Director Andy Clark said the summit left a clear impression that, “Everyone from the city and the community sides wants to see stuff done quickly.”

To that end, the LAB will make specific changes that could start to transform the city’s streetscape immediately, Clark said.

They will recommend “bike lanes, share lines, arrows and other things that will help capture the momentum,” coming out of the summit, Clark said.

LAB will also recommend a bike rack installation plan, “starting from city hall and emanating out,” he said.

Clark said the national organization would also make longer-term recommendations, including that some healing take place.

“It’s clear that over the last 30 years the city and the advocacy community haven’t seen eye-to-eye and don’t have the good working relationship that exists in other cities. The community needs to give the city space to get stuff done, and the city has to show they are making improvements in the short term as well as committing to progress in the long term,” Clark said.

At the meeting, Jackson said LAB is also planning to float a proposal that the MBTA discontinue its policy of instructing bus drivers to lean on their horns when passing cyclists.