Bikes lanes good for feeling safer, being healthier

February 19, 2010
By

Thank you to the Gazette for “‘Radical’ designs for squares unveiled” in the Feb. 5 issue. I attended the Centre/South planning meeting where the discussion about the possibility of creating a bike lane on a section of Centre Street possibly as early as this summer, took place. I believe this is a very exciting and important opportunity for JP. I am reacting from two perspectives: 1) as a woman “of a certain age” (not young) who is not comfortable bicycling in the same lane with motor vehicles and 2) as a public health researcher who has spent decades examining the role of physical activity in chronic disease prevention and promoting physical activity as an important factor in quality of life.

1) “Traffic-tolerant cyclists” are comfortable riding in travel lanes that are used by and dominated by cars. They can ride in these travel lanes legally, except on roads like the Mass Pike, Rt. 128, etc. However, many of us are not traffic-tolerant. I am a timid cyclist who grew up in a rural area and never had to ride in traffic. I do occasionally bike in the JP business district, but it took me nearly a decade of cycling in the area (on off-road paths) to have the courage to try, and it still doesn’t feel safe. Others have told me that they do not currently bike in JP, but they would like to. What would it take to get them to bike on Centre Street? Bike lanes. Bike lanes have consistently been shown to increase the number of cyclists in cities, and to decrease the number of accidents.

2) Obesity is on the rise, and it is related to several chronic diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Sedentary living contributes to these problems, along with other lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking. The JP business district is often gridlocked by traffic. If we can get people into the business district with fewer cars, it will be healthier for the business district, healthier for the environment/air quality and healthier for the individuals who are walking and biking instead of driving. It’s a win/win.

What kind of community do we want? If we want a healthy vibrant community, we need to create conditions where bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians can all safely coexist. Thank you to all who are thinking about these issues and opportunities. If we work together, we will see real progress soon.

Sarah Freeman
Jamaica Plain