Letter: Bike culture is on the rise for good reasons

November 8, 2013
By

Thank you, Sandra Storey, for acknowledging the shift into biking culture and raising your concerns. (“JP Observer: Bikes are nice, but there are limits,” Oct. 25.) This change has come about for many reasons, many of which drivers are not fully aware of.

Some people ride because the cost of living in Boston is high and their income is low. One of the reasons cited for the increase in ridership in the US is the changing cost of entrance into the career world. Students of higher education incur more debt, and the average renter now spends 44 percent of their income on rent, no matter what “the school of life” dealt them or what their debt is. One of the most impactful sacrifices in fungible spending a person can make is losing the car. This is uncomfortable in the cold and rainy months, but it’s part of the plan for many in order to be responsible tenants, bill-payers, and taxpayers.

Do our tax dollars build roadways for vehicles only? They certainly appear designed for cars, but the law recognizes bicycles as vehicles as well. In Massachusetts, one can legally “ride your bicycle on any public road, street, or bikeway in the Commonwealth, except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibit bikes.” Bike riders may occasionally cause drivers to go slower, but they don’t cause the light to stay red longer or drivers to stop longer at stop signs. Experiencing gridlock among riders—that would deserve special media attention.

The average walking speed is 3 mph, but biking is the most efficient self-powered means of transportation and generally triples your speed for the same amount of calories. If you wish to go faster and expend more calories than with walking, ride a bike and your body will thank you for all the health benefits!

Pedal power comes in various shapes and assistance levels to meet the needs of the rider. The easiest bike to operate for a rider with low-watt output and no balance would be a trike with a motorized assist for challenging times. These are special, high-end bikes, but with a quote from Bikes Not Bombs’ Bike Shop for a recumbent trike coming in at $1,100 to $1,600 and an aftermarket assist motor installation of about $1,200 from a nearby shop, this is substantially more affordable than the cost of car ownership.

If you are a driver and you feel like you are going and going, but you aren’t always getting somewhere in your life, try connecting the dots. Biking is good for your body, your mind, your budget, your figure, your schedule, your own immediate environment, your tax dollars, your connection to the neighborhood, your fellow drivers who just must use an automobile, and to the next generation in the world.

Sarah Albright

Jamaica Plain

 

  • Paul Schimek

    This is the letter I wrote in response to the original story:

    To the Editor:

    Although Sandra Storey pooh-poohs bicycling for transportation (“Bikes are nice, but there are limits”), bicycling is an essential piece of the effort to better the health of our people and our planet. Sure, it’s not a “panacea” (what is?); sure, it’s not for everyone all the time (but neither is driving). But many more people could be riding bicycles, and more often, than at present. One of the main obstacles is fear of traffic, reinforced by harassment from motorists-–unnecessary honking and orders to “get off the road.” The fact is, bicyclists have equal rights to use any part of the road. Fear of traffic not only keeps people from bicycling, it puts them in harm’s way when they ride too close to parked cars or on the sidewalk.

    Bicycling in J.P. has gotten much safer in recent years–-thanks entirely to the removal of the trolley tracks that were undoubtedly the leading cause of bicyclist injuries. The Boston Cyclist Safety Report, released earlier this year, shows that the biggest crash cluster in J.P. is associated with the remaining tracks on South Huntington. The presence of trolley tracks is associated with a three-fold increase in risk of serious injury to bicyclists — greater than any other factor measured, according to a recent study (http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300762).

    We know how to prevent car-bike crashes. Bicyclists must ride in the direction of traffic, out of the door zone, yielding when required to cross traffic and when moving across the road. Bicyclists must use lights at night and must not pass on the right of slow or stopped traffic that could turn right. Motorists must look and wait for bicyclists before opening a door, pulling out, entering a bigger road, or turning left. Motorists must pass bicyclists at a safe distance and not return to the right (or turn right!) before safely past – or follow behind until it is safe to pass.

    Multiple studies have shown that on balance bicycling improves health, despite a higher risk of injury compared to driving. Lack of exercise is epidemic in our country. Taking the steps outlined here to insure that bicyclists and motorists follow existing traffic law will make bicycling safer. We have made great progress in reducing pollution by controlling tailpipe emissions. People don’t seem to realize that they are exposed to fumes when sitting inside passenger cars; in fact, car commuters have similar exposure to pollutants as bicycle commuters. But since bicyclists breathe more rapidly, they are exposed to higher doses. However, they are affected less (http://igitur-archive.library.uu.nl/dissertations/2011-0314-200313/zuurbier.pdf). We can safely conclude that the fear of exposure to air pollution is not a valid reason to avoid urban bicycling.

    It’s true that cycling in a thunderstorm or blizzard is not ideal. But cold weather shouldn’t deter the cyclist any more than the skier. Certainly, no prospective bicyclist should be scared off by misconceptions about safety or by road bullies.