Both Anne McKinnon and Paul Schimek make excellent points in their letters to the editor (JP Gazette, Feb. 19 and March 5). It is fantastic that this discussion is taking place today. As a regular bike commuter for most of the year, I find myself behaving in a much more civilized manner when riding within an official “cycling network.” Where bike lanes and adequate signage are provided (e.g., Cambridge and Brookline), I am more likely to operate my bike in a legal manner. Within most of Boston (aka “The Wild West”), I always feel much more at risk of injury. I’m trying to survive, literally, so my first priority is to get out of the way of cars and the stressed drivers. Suffice it to say that the official “rules of the road” sometimes seem secondary to self-preservation.
To Ms. McKinnon’s point, I wholeheartedly agree that it is critical that the correct questions be asked and the proper goals be set. It seems to me that this overall goal should be to improve the quality of life within Jamaica Plain by reducing auto congestion and all of its unfortunate by-products by increasing cycling. Increasing the sheer numbers of cyclists will, I think, increase driver awareness and cycling safety. It is a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg problem. Only the bravest cyclists currently participate—and that needs to change. Although there are many possible parts to the solution, I think proper signage on and along our streets would have the biggest and quickest impact.
Mr. Schimek makes an interesting point regarding the “real world” effect of creating bike lanes. However, the visual clues created by a demarcated bike lane remain extremely effective at communicating two things to drivers: the fact that cyclists have a right to use the road and a reminder that there may be a cyclist nearby at any given moment. There are, of course, other ways to communicate this: signs posted along the streets, cycling symbols painted on the street surface, etc. Ms. McKinnon is correct that different stretches of the same streets may be better served by using different graphic methods. The question of whether the painted line is dashed or solid shouldn’t hinder the implementation of more effective signage. In this regard, “putting bike lanes wherever we can” is a significant improvement, but it doesn’t solve the problem on its own. Important cycling routes should be identified and treated as such—even if a bike lane doesn’t fit.
Drastically improved signage throughout JP will make drivers more aware and cyclists safer. A safer cycling environment will result in a healthier population and improved quality of life for all residents. One day we may evolve our traffic systems into something similar to those found in Europe. We are far from that now, but we can and should take action to make whatever incremental improvements we can today—otherwise, zero improvement should be our only expectation.