Friday, April 23, 2010

Boston Bike Summit = good idea, but not enough

As environmentalists would tell you, bicycling is good for Mother Earth. But is it good for Father Traffic? In the greater Boston area, not necessarily.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino convened an historic bike safety summit Wednesday at Boston University in the wake of three recent accidents -- one of which claimed the life of a cyclist. A biking bigwig quoted in the Boston Metro attributed the problem to "everyone has this 'me first' attitude," whether they be cyclists, pedestrians or motorists."
Personal and anecdotal experience seems to back this up. A friend who spent about a decade in Columbus, Ohio, reports that cyclists there are more considerate, jingling bells to alert passers-by. Other countries seem to make their cities more amenable to cyclists, such as Copenhagen, site of last year's environmental summit.
I have read pro-bike arguments that say, essentially, increase the number of cyclists and they'll all start following the rules to accommodate each other. I don't think that's entirely true, and neither does the aforementioned bike baron: "It seems like there are more and more cyclists on the road and some of them don't know how to ride safely ... At the same time, motorists have no idea what the rules are."
He may have tapped the real problem about anything traffic-related in the Boston area: Too many people crowding already congested traffic routes. The higher the concentration of motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians on streets, the greater the traffic snarls and frustration. The measures taken by cities -- such as creating too-narrow bike lanes -- seem inadequate. And if the cops go after cyclists as voraciously as they target psychotic Boston drivers, that doesn't seem so good, either ... based on what happened in New York City.
Yes, it would help if people became less self-centered ... if, say, they wouldn't cycle through red lights (which I believe I witnessed again this morning while driving in Cambridge) or ride the wrong way up streets or whiz past pedestrians while rounding corners. But that would mean changing the psyche of an entire metropolitan area, which sounds like a long-term project with headaches of its own.
Maybe the Bike Summit will lead to something good. And maybe I should think about commuting to Columbus and/or Copenhagen.

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