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Getting People Out of Their Cars

by John Moore | September 27, 2010

Boston is a beautiful city with many a European tourist delighting in its Euro-feel, especially the city’s walkability. Literally, you can get around Boston pretty easily on your own two feet.  In fact, over 13% of Boston residents commute to work by walking. That may not seem high, but it is the highest percentage in the US.  Go Boston!

Unfortunately, getting around Boston by bike can be a challenge, the drivers are at times terrible and the roads can be atrocious.  Since moving to this city some 24 years ago, I have been commuting by bike to work (it’s my way of training for race season & just staying fit and eating whatever I like, including that second helping of desert) and have been doing it year-round since 1989.  Over the years, I have witnessed a very slow yet steady increase in the number of people commuting by bike. For example, in ’89, I may have seen 5 fellow bike commuters over the entire winter.  Last winter, I saw easily double that amount every evening on my commute home after dark. For whatever reason, these people are choosing to ignore the Bicycling magazine article from several years back that rated Boston one of the worst cities for cyclists in the US and are venturing forth. I welcome these cyclists, partly because seeing them ride gives me some measure of faith in humanity and also from a self-preservation viewpoint as the more bike commuters there are on the streets, the more drivers are aware that yes indeed they need to share the road.

And that Bicycling article caught the attention of our good Mayor, Thomas Menino, who took it personally and set out to do something about Boston’s poor showing. He started riding a bike, he hired a cycling czar and city hall actually started to listen to cyclists and making changes. (In the early nineties I was appointed to the Mayor’s commission on cycling which went absolutely nowhere – but that was a few years before that article in Bicycling appeared). We now

have a number of streets in Boston with a big graphic of a bicycle now painted on the right-hand side every couple hundred yards or so delineating a bike lane, the number of commuters on bike has seen a marked increase and this weekend, the City hosted its annual Hub on Wheels Ride.

The Hub on Wheels ride takes riders on either a 10, 30 or 50 mile ride around Boston. One of the highlights is the beginning when all of the nearly 7,000 riders ride on Storrow Drive, the major thoroughfare that courses from east to west along the Charles River. Let me tell you, if you’ve never seen some 7,000 people all riding at roughly the same time, you are in for a treat – its a beautiful sight to behold – so many smiling faces, people chatting, even saw one parent towing his two young daughters all three pedaling together.

While Storrow Drive was closed to vehicular traffic, on virtually all other roads cyclists rode on streets with cars.  Granted, it was a Sunday when there is no commuter traffic, school buses and the like, but it did expose these riders to a city that is one that can be travelled on bike about as easily as it can be on foot (at least in the warmer months).  Hopefully, this experience will encourage some of these recreational riders to reconsider their mode of transport to and from work, stepping outside on a beautiful fall morning to ride their bike to work arriving fresh, fit and invigorated, rather than reaching for the car keys, expanding their carbon footprint and arriving to work isolated, frustrated and tired.


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