Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Charles River Connectivity Meeting Notes

I went to the first of the three connectivity study meetings, and was a little surprised by what it was.   I thought that Mass DOT was going to be reporting on findings of a study.  Instead the meetings this week and next week are to solicit public comments and recommendations for improving connectivity in the Charles River basin.  The study team, which includes Halvorson design and Alta planning have done existing conditions analysis (including a "field trip" actually getting DOT and DCR staff out on bikes to ride through the entire area- which was evidently eye opening for them!).

They're now soliciting (your?)  input and then will put together recommendations which they will present in a meeting in the spring.   These are "unfunded" wish lists, but by having the research done now, they'll be more ready to respond when funding for improvements becomes available,  and closer to "shovel ready" if more infrastructure money becomes available.

I won't get too much into the details, but if you have a particular pet peeve about getting to and from the river paths, or about connections parallel to the river,  the next two meetings (this Thursday and next Tuesday) would be a fantastic time to bend the ear of the design team,  who were writing down comments on giant maps as people made them.

My "hit list"
Hawthorne st crosswalk just west of Harvard sq.  There's hope of putting a light there at some point as part of the reconfiguration of JFK/ Mem drive.

Connections between Allston/Brighton/ Newton and the river along Nonantum.  The combination of a steep slope,  industrial land and a significant grade change make crossing to get to the river pretty awful from North Harvard st to Watertown sq.

Crossing across Rt 2 near the Elliot bridge to get to BB&N,  Watertown, or Mt Auburn street is really tough as a pedestrian or biker.

Connections parallel to the river around Western Ave- River Street on the Boston side which are godawful right now.

What would be your "hit list"?

Basically the designers and DOT/ DCR people were saying all the right things.  What concerned me was that several people, including the longtime active transportation advocate Marty Walz were complaining about how much of a menace scofflaw bicyclists were, and how increased cyclist facilities and numbers (hubway) were making it more dangerous to be a pedestrian.   The DCR guy (whose name I didn't catch- might have been Dan Driscoll) did mention that it goes a bit both ways and that a weaving texting headphone wearing pedestrian can be a menace as well.   It's hyperbole for Marty to say that  "stepping off the curb you're taking your life into your hands,"  (all the jaywalkers on Water street downtown didn't get that memo I guess)  and she knows as well as we do the relative risks of being hit by a car vs a bike,  but still, "we've" got to find some kind of way to stop alienating pedestrians.

Pedestrians and bicyclists should be natural allies in the quest for safer, more livable streets,  which is why it's so disturbing to hear that rhetoric.    I commented that as long as pedestrians and bicyclists are fighting for crumbs of the roadway,  no one will be comfortable, and that adequate facilities were key in reducing conflicts.   In the meantime though, "we" have a major PR problem.  I think that even bikers who don't "blow" lights,  tend to look for cars and then proceed, without much thought for pedestrians.  Let's not even talk about sidewalk riding.   Enforcement would be a good start,  but self restraint would be an even better one.   But it's a conundrum- how to discourage individual behavior that reflects badly on an entire class?   I don't think anyone in the advocacy community has any ideas on how to solve this problem,  and it's going to either be, or be perceived as, a bigger problem as bicycle ridership grows.  It's complicated by the fact that the people most likely to display jerky behavior are the least likely to be accessible through an advocacy campaign, or to care about the public image of all cyclists as a class.   They're just hell bent on getting where they're going, other road users be damned.

So what should "we"  do to improve the image of bicyclists as respectable citizens who obey laws and are considerate of others? Assuming that all of you reading this are models of bicycling rectitude,  what can be done about those we see menacing pedestrians,  fueling cager talk show host rants by blowing lights, or endangering other bikers by riding as ninja salmon?  Does shaming work?  Should we encourage police crackdowns?  Education?  We gotta come up with something, because so far just trusting that better facilities will attract more civic minded cyclists isn't working.


  1. The people doing to the most damage to cyclists reputations are the ones that care the least about what other people think. They wear their hostility towards others and disregard for the law, and often common sense, as a badge of honor. Shaming them will only further reinforce their behavior through adulation in their small peer groups and self centered ego driven universe.

    The only thing civil civic minded cyclists can do is continue to obey the law and peacefully coexist with motorists and pedestrians. If we can reinforce the majority of cyclists as being benign the general public will less apt to jump on the scofflaw stereotype bandwagon.

  2. Thanks for reporting back on the meeting! Your hit list matches up with mine, I'd only add that I'd love some small signs on Beacon St or Comm Ave in Back Bay to remind me where I can get over a bridge onto the bike path between Storrow and the river.

    Riding with you on Saturday, I was impressed/charmed by how nicely you interacted with motorists and pedestrians. I have a hard time saying "on your left" so it can be heard and yet still sounds pleasant, but I do try to thank people as I pass them. You've inspired me to try and up my game, so leading by example works at least a bit. :)
    One thing that I was considering is reaching out to places that sell bikes to have them include some education with each sale. Maybe only a leaflet that hits the major points, since I've encountered people who just don't know that bikers are supposed to follow the rules of the road. Getting the RMV to include an "interacting with bikes" primer when you have to renew your license might help as well (I've long been amazed that you can renew your license without any sort of quiz).

  3. My main peeves about the river paths is the condition of the paths themselves, especially on the north side. On the Boston side they're wider and better maintained, on the Cambridge side they're narrow and in rough shape, broken up by a lot of tree roots. I've given up trying to use it.

    And I think we will not see great improvement in cyclist behavior until there is more actual enforcement of rules. Social pressure and being good examples on the road (I've actually had drivers thank me for stopping at lights!) are useful, but not enough. And it has to be consistent. Cambridge cops will issue warnings for about a week or two out of the year. That's not going to really change behavior. (Personally I feel that if there were stricter enforcement of just two rules--red lights and wrong way riding--safety would be enhanced significantly for everyone). Obviously, it'll never be perfect. I mean, most drivers exhibit a fairly high level of compliance with the rules because there's a significant consequence for infractions, but as we know all too well, infractions continue to happen anyways.

  4. Honestly, it's not our job to encourage cyclists to obey traffic laws. I think all illegal cyclist behavior comes back to one thing: cyclists don't feel respected on our streets. And the main effect of this is to create an "everyone for themself" mentality where all you worry about is your own safety and comfort. That's why people bike on sidewalks, because they don't feel safe on streets, and because they've been conditioned to worry only about their safety they aren't thinking about pedestrians who may be scared by bikes in their small spaces.

    I also don't think it matters if cyclists disregard traffic laws, as long as they yield the right of way and wait until it's safe (for others) to proceed. Pedestrians disregard traffic laws all the time, AND THAT'S OK. As long as nobody is at risk of injury or terror (i.e. buzzing), who cares?

    You're correct that it's a PR problem but it's just not our place to solve it. There are no practical steps we can take to solve it, and the only reason people expect us to solve it is that it's a convenient narrative by which to dismiss bike safety improvements.

    So I guess the real question is, how do we make the real safety problems -- numerous routine safety violations by motor vehicle drivers -- into a political problem for them? Nothing will improve safety more than confronting this ongoing problem, but bike path improvements are a separate issue.

  5. my comment about peds and the "stepping off the curb" comment is that I personally think that boston ( and lots of places in Mass with it's ped crosswalk laws) actually is the WORST place to get across an intersection be it car, bike or on foot.

    My first time in boston right before I went to college my dad and I were walking in harvard square and I was looking around at everyone as if they were on Crack. the whole cross walk system was a giant game of chicken in my mind and I saw people literally throwing themselves into the street without looking. I remember grabbing my dads hand as we hurried across several crosswalks.

    imho- crosswalks suck. Basically as a ped- you must step off and launch to make someone stop, and the likelihood that a car will actually stop is 50-50 in some places. As a car- it's hard to keep scanning left and right to make sure no one is jetting and I'm fairly vigilant. Still I have been surprised by a ped running across a few times. I also had a car accident b/c I stopped at a crosswalk seeing a man at the curb wanting to cross. I stopped perhaps a bit short b/c I didn't want to be an asshole- yet the car behind me didn't. She tried to tell the officer that I " Stopped for a person who wasn't crossing" and luckily the officer smiled and gave her a ticket, but still- if a man standing at the lip of the curb holding a cup of coffee looking to the other side of the street isn't hoping to cross- then who is? yes- he was wise to be patient and not expect me to stop- but the law says I should stop so I did. anyway- that's my gripe about boston and peds and bikes and cars. Doesn't touch on the pathway at all. but I feel like in NYC the cars go super fast- it's a hectic pace. However there is also structure in that being a ped feels perfectly safe. Each party knows where they belong and when they should move forth. ( there are jaywalkers- but they know that the law is not on their side and move accordingly.) I don't bike in NYC so I can't speak to that part at all.

    My final boston rant- right turns on reds are my nemesis. Also good for the car, but shitty for the ped. I've waved angrily at more people when trying to cross when being nearly hooked by a right on red person. I love it when in a car I see "NO right on red" I can relax and wait my freaking turn.

  6. Jeremy,

    I understand, and of course cars are more dangerous than bikes to pedestrians. The problem is that bikes clearly are endangering pedestrians, which isn't cool and is going to hurt us. It's one thing for drivers to use the scofflaw argument because it's convenient and emotional, but I think it's a different issue when pedestrians start to turn anti-bike, partly because of the numbers of pedestrians vs bikers. Everyone in boston is a pedestrian. Most are drivers, and a few are bikers. The biggest overlap is the pedestrian-driver group, and there can be more sympathy for a class that you're (sometimes) part of.

    Ideally, of course we get more people on bikes, and increase the driver-biker overlap, but it's going to be a bumpy road if the pedestrians, who are too afraid to bike because of the drivers, turn against the bikers because they're afraid of them.

    Mama Vee, it's funny- in Texas and Missouri you are generally allowed to turn on red, and while pedestrian density is not as high, I don't recall people ever turning without stopping (and yielding to peds). In MA, it seems that people feel entitled to turn right on red without stopping, which is crazy, and I'm really glad that in most of Cambridge, and a lot of Boston there's no right on red posted in many ped-intensive areas.

  7. Convincing cyclists to ride more respectfully and lawfully can be addressed by shame, education, enforcement, or just by setting a good example. However, shame creates resentment, education requires willing students, enforcement discourages more than it encourages, and good examples work best at small scales.
    This problem requires convincing a large number of people to do or believe something that they are not inclined to. America has pioneered the solution to this problem, and the pioneers are PR and marketing professionals.
    Unfortunately in my rounds of the cycling community I have not met such professionals, but they have the best skills to solve this problem.