JP Observer: Bikes are nice, but there are limits

October 25, 2013
By

I like bicycles. I think it’s great we got a bike-share program in Boston, and bicycle rental stations came to Jamaica Plain last month. I am in favor of the tidy bike lanes and of drivers watching out for riders. But there are limits on what bikes can do for Boston.

Bicycle use, at about 2 percent right now in Boston, is good for our environment and, in many ways, the health of riders and the community—especially in conjunction with use of other environmentally friendly transportation.

Boston’s Director of Bicycle Programs Nicole Freedman lives in JP. We have Bikes Not Bombs, Ferris Wheels and Revolution Bicycle Repair. That’s very cool. The six or so new stations for the bicycle-share program are cool, too, even if they popped up by surprise to most people. They can be put elsewhere in JP next spring.

Bikes are inexpensive and good for us, but it is important not to (pardon the pun) get carried away. Bicycle riding has too many drawbacks to be a panacea.

JP’s bike riders face more dangers than getting “doored” or hit by a car. Inhaling automobile fumes isn’t good for riders’ hearts, at least short term, studies have shown. An experiment in London found that bike riders had 2.3 times as much carbon in their lungs as pedestrians who walked the same route at the same time. Riders are advised to travel when and where traffic is less dense. Good luck with that here. According to the federal Air Quality Index, Boston in general had 128 days of “moderate” air pollution, mostly from particles, so far this year.

Advocates have said their goal is to see 10 percent of Boston trips be on bikes in the next few years. With one-third of us between 20 and 34, that might be possible. But those who don’t ride routinely shouldn’t feel guilty if they don’t want to make big concessions for the minority who do.

Living in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s, most travelers, including me, crowded the streets on bikes, not in cars. We do not have those favorable conditions here and never will. Winter sees ice and snow on the streets, and we also get rain in all seasons—not mostly one.

Quite a few people are not obviously disabled, but cannot ride bikes for physical reasons. We don’t have bicycle cabs for them or for shoppers who need to buy three cans of paint—yet. And many of us couldn’t pedal fast enough to meet the demands of our 21st century daily schedules.

I heard a new term recently. I described to an environmentalist how Hubway stations suddenly appeared in a few landmark locations in JP, taking away popular parking spaces. The large, metal bike kiosk at historic Monument Square seems especially intrusive, unattractive and unnecessary. Across the street, Curtis Hall offers better locations. Another Hubway station suddenly grabbed spaces in front of the post office, which has no parking lot.

My friend said that making a prominent—but awkward—display of commitment to the environment like that is called “greenwashing.”

  • pdsewell

    You know, cars are nice, but there are limits. Cars are expensive and bad for us, but it is important not to (pardon the pun) get carried away. JP’s car drivers face more dangers than the damage caused by running into bicycles or having their fenders dented by bothersome pedestrians.

    There are roughly 200 public and private parking spaces within one block of the post office. Two of these are now being used (for a portion of the year!) by Hubway. We’ve devoted a majority of our public realm to automobiles for the last one hundred years, despite the fact the automobiles are dangerous, polluting, expensive, and space-inefficient. It’s time to start reclaiming that space for other modes. Get over it.

  • Dorian

    weather arguments are silly. Oslo has above 5% mode share – Stockholm is getting close to 10% mode share, and their winters are colder than they are here. Malmo has 25% mode share and much colder (and darker) winters. Montreal has a higher mode share… I hear it can get cold and snowy there. Minneapolis? not exactly the mildest winters. that’s a city so cold they built indoor walkways connecting all the buildings downtown – and yet plenty of people there bike in sub zero temps.

    And 2% mode share is city-wide. Some zipcodes are over 10% – such as mission hill. I believe most of JP is around 8%. Roslindale is around 4-5%, etc…

  • oxide23

    Bicycles have limits, the ones that you put on yourself.

  • lactoferment

    What’s your point exactly?

    Are you making the case that instituting a bike share program in Boston was a bad idea? Are you saying that just because some people can’t, or won’t, ride bikes, that no one should?

    Are you saying that because of pollution, walking and especially biking entail health risks, so therefore we should all just drive cars and pollute more?

    I’m not being flippant–I’m honestly not sure what you’re driving at (as it were).

    Is your point simply that bikes aren’t going to solve all the world’s problems? If that’s it, then I agree. But that’s not a very ambitious thesis–I doubt anyone would disagree with you.

    As to some of the specific points in your article:

    I find that given the realities of 21st century cities, especially small, dense ones like Boston, bicycles are often the fastest way to get around the city. I am able to get places around Boston consistently faster by bike than by car, especially taking into consideration the (sometimes non-trivial) overhead of parking. I am over 34 years old.

    Your example of “greenwashing” sounds more to me like “controversial placement of Hubway station”.

    Anyway, I’m glad that you chose to write about bicycles and bike shares. I also hope that your opinions about them continue to evolve as you learn more about them and have time to think about them more.

    Alex

  • BeebleBumble

    I don’t think that the author of this article (or their friend)
    actually knows what the term greenwashing means. Here is my
    understanding:

    1) Adoption of environmental initiatives.

    2) Very conspicuous reminders of the adoption of said initiatives.

    3) Using said initiatives to distract from continued or increasing overall disregard for environmental impacts.

    To fit the definition, those three factors must be anded together; if they
    are joined by ors, the term loses its specificity. The application in
    this article seems to suit the first two criteria, but there is no
    evidence that it fits the third. I know that using buzzwords is fun,
    but if we use them were they don’t fit, they lose their meaning.

    I also find the aesthetic arguments against bike initiatives to be
    laughable. Which is the greater eyesore: bike-share kiosks or streets
    clogged with automobiles? Though I know the kiosk doesn’t substantially
    reduce the number of cars in the city, it is only part of larger set of
    initiatives.

    A Boston with far fewer cars would be a more beautiful, vibrant and safer Boston. Though I would like to see more radical steps to reduce automobile traffic, I’m also not one to let the good be the enemy of the perfect.

  • notlob

    “I described to an environmentalist how Hubway stations suddenly appeared in a few landmark locations in JP, taking away popular parking spaces. The large, metal bike kiosk at historic Monument Square seems especially intrusive, unattractive and unnecessary…”
    And a gas-guzzzling automobile or SUV or larger is not? I’ll take the Hubway station, thank you!

  • Ethan Miguel S

    I appreciate you alerting us to other dangers, but please don’t gloss over the risk or impact of getting doored. It happened to me 3½ weeks ago; by a Public Works truck, no less! I swerved, if traffic wasn’t stopped at a light I would probably be dead. As it is the door still caught my bike, I went down & rolled. Nasty blunt trauma to my thigh from objects in my pockets, damaged electronic devices, & a wrist that had what seemed to be a minor sprain but has gotten worse instead of healing… getting x-rays next week. & I am one of the lucky ones. Most riders collide & flip over the doors, breaking bones & ending up laid up black & blue all over. I think most of us riders would be happy with just ONE more “concession” from drivers( & passengers on the driver’s side): to ALWAYS look before you open a car door.

  • JessicaLee

    Placing a COMMUNITY resource for ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE and ECONOMICALLY ACCESSIBLE transportation (ie the Hub bike rack) is not an act of green-washing. It is also not an act of a society passing judgment on Sandra Storey’s personal transportation methods. It is simply a structure that helps able and willing community members to travel by bike instead of car, an action and movement that helps us to reduce pollution, traffic congestion, and overall dependency on oil. The author seems to be trying to work out her own personal “car guilt” issues here, as well some understandable but misdirected frustration with general space/resource availability in urban areas.

  • Rudy Breteler

    The negative effects of breathing air pollution (which we all do, regardless of how we get around) are overshadowed by the increased lung and heart health that extra exercise delivers to people who commute by bicycle. Not to mention the obvious fact that the best way to reduce ambient air pollution in our cities is to have fewer cars on our streets. Bicyclists are those who choose to be the change we wish to see in the world–people who refuse to commute by bike because of concerns over air quality are those who want a better world delivered to them without making the effort to create it themselves. As long as we refuse to change our habits, epidemics like obesity, asthma, and heart disease will continue to plague our healthcare system. Contrary to what you write, people who are physically and logistically capable of commuting by bicycle, but choose to commute by car instead, SHOULD feel guilty.

    I fully support eliminating parking spaces, not just for installing Hubway stations, but everywhere. There is nothing that entitles car owners to leave their vehicles on public roadways for free. That space belongs to everybody. Parked cars endanger bicyclists by narrowing our roadways and preventing the installation of protected bike lanes. The only parking in the city should be metered parking, so that motorists who leave their cars on our streets will be forced to pay for the privilege of doing so.

    Your comments about the Hubway system being “greenwashing” are ridiculous. Greenwashing refers to corporations that falsely market their products or business practices as environmentally friendly. Hubway stations couldn’t be further from this label. They are part of a long term project to fundamentally change the way our city moves. There are no false deceptions involved here–we are going to create this shift, whether the automobile lobby approves of it or not.

  • Josette

    This
    is just BAD WRITING: “Inhaling automobile fumes isn’t good for riders’
    hearts, at least short term, studies have shown.” This reporter
    doesn’t seem to get that more bikes = less cars. Also, she says “I heard a new term recently…greenwashing”
    — where has this person been for the past fifteen years? And does she not understand that greenwashing does not have anything to do with being “awkward” but instead refers to the dishonesty and lack of integrity of companies that sell products claiming to be “green” and fetching higher prices without actually doing anything to be better for the environment.

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