09 April 2009

Boston and Velib

bicycling in Boston cityscape perspective
There is an extensive Boston Globe article coming out on Sunday, discussing a bike share for Boston and comparing it to Velib in Paris. The comment section is already heating up! I hope that it doesn't turn into too much of a cyclist-slam, as previous Boston Globe comment sections have done.

I appreciated the author's ode to bicycling in Boston:
Boston is a different city on a bike. As the fresh air hits your face, you see things you would miss from a car: the sun reflecting off a historic church steeple; an old lady who wears a different, outrageous hat every day; intricately carved brownstone doorways. If you look closely, it doesn't feel like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. I always swear I must be in London or Paris. No other American city has the history and architecture and grandeur of ours, and it's best seen on two wheels.

And I'm cheering for Menino, mayor of our compact, flat, historic city:
"Boston's not like other major cities; we're the most European city in America," Menino says when I meet with him. "We have 300,000 college students in Boston. One out of three Bostonians is 20 to 34. No other city can say that. We will follow Paris's lead, and Nicole (Freedman) will get us there."

Transportation cycling is important for so many reasons - community, health, the environment, financial liberation - I hope the rest of Boston can understand these multiple benefits to such a simple choice. One of the commenters touched on my position there:
"If you walk or drive all the time, you should want more people biking in Boston-- every biker means less traffic, more open parking spots, and fewer people on the T for YOU. Some people are so close-minded that they can't even think beyond their immediate reaction of "ooh I hate bikes, I'm never going to ride one, so I am against the whole idea" to realize that it's in their own personal self-interest to have other people ride bikes."

Three cheers for more bikes!


Dave Feucht said...

That all sounds very familiar :)

Here in Portland, even though we've seen the number of cyclists grow by something like 5 times in the last 10 years, there are still plenty of people with the "bikes = bad" mentality, even though, as you say, increased bicycle usage would benefit them directly.

It's shocking to see some of the comments left on public media sites here with regard to cyclists. Things like "I have a lot of insurance on my car, and I don't care if you ever ride again" types of things.

Thankfully those people are the vast minority, and more and more people are warming up to the idea of having bikes on the roads. Most motorists I encounter in Portland proper are very nice about sharing the road, and the city is really comfortable and convenient to ride in for the most part.

Don't worry, it just takes time, people will get there.

Portland has considered bike share programs before, but has abandoned them as they just weren't financially feasible. But if you have strong backing for it and maybe even corporate buy-in, you might be able to push it long enough that it catches on and becomes profitable. Are there helmet laws in Boston (and/or Massachusetts)?

Charlotte said...

We have a helmet law for cyclists aged 16 and younger.

Dave Feucht said...

Ah, good - I know some other notable attempts at bike share programs have totally failed (in Australia for instance), because they require everyone to wear a helmet, but they couldn't find a way to give out helmets with the bikes, so the whole plan just completely flopped.

dr2chase said...

The comments didn't look nearly as horrible as I had feared. I tried to do my part, with (I hope) sensible-sounding bike advocacy.

The thing I find most interesting about all of this is that I am at the age (49, now) where I am supposed to be getting more conservative and set in my ways, and instead I find myself getting more and more impatient with "conservative" "moderate" "sensible" approaches to solving problems, and I feel that it is a tremendous imposition on me that I must take the pains not to say exactly what I am thinking. Go slow? Why? We're doing it wrong, there's places elsewhere showing us how to do it right, let's do what they're doing, now, thank you very much. Why not move quickly? What exactly are people scared of, if we're trying to do something that's already been shown to work elsewhere?

spiderleggreen said...

Great article. I love ending with the gold ring. Mpls. has some bike sharing effort starting soon. I hope they heed the advice of folks who have tried it. I love how we are seeing how a critical mass of bikes is changing a city.

If someone proposes a helmet law in your area, raise hell against it. You'll never have a bike sharing program and bikes will continue to be just toys.

About the comment section, we have lots of ignorant boobs in Minnesota too. Remember, the louder they yell the more afraid they are. Don't respond in kind. Just tell the truth as you see it.

JPTwins said...

One big difference is that most European cities already have some bicycle infrastructure (bike traffic lights, curbed bike lanes) that makes it easy for novices to hop on a rented bike and ride around. Boston, on the other hand, has very little (well, almost none) of that.

As an experienced biker, I'm even a little intimidated to ride the Freedom trail in the middle of the day (when tourists would ride it) and I hope that they solve this problem before the bike program. I also feel that the people that like biking and have bikes, but are afraid to ride in the city are the people we should focus on converting. Riders such as you and I and a lot of readers of this blog need no added incentive, because we'll ride no matter what.

Either way, it's exciting to see what happens.

Dave Feucht said...

@dr2chase: I'm still at the impetuous young age of 29, but I feel much the same way - I think there are a lot of factors that influence that resistance to change in America, but I think we're seeing a slow turning of the tide, and eventually our politicians are going to be facing larger and larger masses of people saying "hey! support people riding bicycles already!" to the extent that they will feel obliged to at make some real effort to do so.

We're just hitting that point in Portland where enough people are riding bikes that it's starting to be a very visible and even somewhat influential group in the city. There is still a *lot* of resistance, especially to anything that comes at the expense of convenience for automobiles, but it's clear that things are shifting.

Carice said...

The thing that's potentially interesting to me is that I don't believe that Paris had a lot of bicycle infrastructure when this began and like Boston, roads are so cramped that there are real tradeoffs in allocating space. I don't know enough about the program to know what kinds of facilities they have now.
When I lived in Milan there was NO bicycle infrastructure (much worse than Cambridge for example) and yet there were tons of bikers. It was just the easiest way to get around in the old parts of the city. Boston's density helps a lot compared to somewhere like Portland.
Although theoretically this is a cheap way for the city to introduce bikes into the urban landscape (funded by advertising) I'm worried that there's too high a mental barrier for many people to just hop on, and the people who are willing to make that leap, already have bikes.
Sorry to go on at such length it's just on my mind because I have two co-workers that have just started commuting and other co-workers keep saying things to the newbies like "you're going to get killed" " I can't believe you're doing that", etc. I try to be supportive and lead by example. I do have the occasional dark thought though- what happens if one of these new riders DOES get hurt? (one of them got lost and ended up biking down Monsignor O'Brian highway!!!) Will I feel responsible for encouraging them?

Dottie said...

I would really love to see this happen in Boston! The Chicago mayor said he was developing one for Chicago last summer at a bike-to-work rally, but I haven't heard a peep about it since. It would be so interesting to watch it develop in Boston.

I kinda agree with those who say that those who would bike in the city already own bikes, but you never know! Seems to be working in Paris.

dr2chase said...

I am curious about one thing -- what condition are the streets in, in Paris? All the burbs (at least all the burbs that I ride in) have streets that are falling apart, especially after this winter. The greatest risk from cycling in the dark is that you might hit some godawful pothole and lose control of your bike.

And as near as I can tell, rather than spend the multiple millions of dollars per year it would take to fix this, people prefer to vote down overrides and let their roads really go to heck. My solution to this, starting a couple of years ago, has been monster (2.35") tires and monster (200+lumen) lights, but that's not normal, and my biking friends joke about "the truck".

Can a truck be chic :-)? (Yes, I think it can, provided you are willing to wait for Vanilla Cycles to build it for you.)

Charlotte said...

I can only speak to my own experience of the Parisian streets. In '05-'06 the pavement itself was in much better condition than Boston's. The big challenge there is the glass. It seems to be sport to smash bottles late at night in the streets. They're good about cleaning it up, there are men in green with old fashioned brooms whose job it is to keep the streets clean. They have access to running water and use rolled up carpets to channel it in various ways to best clean a stretch of road. Also the proprietors of shops/restaurants take much more care of the area surrounding their business.
Our biggest problem in Paris was the lane reserved for bikes, buses, and crazy cabs. If ever there were two vehicles which don't work well together it's bikes and buses.

It was my experience that the Parisians are better drivers than Bostonians. I think it is largely due to the small size of their cars, they can actually see and control what they're doing. My only problems in France were from cabbies knowing how much clearance they have and pushing that space, in Boston it's always been little women driving Suburbans while talking on their cell phone and having no idea that I even exist.

That's a rant for another day, but I think enforcement of the cell phone laws will do more for traffic safety than anything else. OK, enough already, sorry!

lagatta à montréal said...

Cramped roads do mean that we are taking over, or taking back, space monopolised by cars. So much the better! After all, Amsterdam isn't known for its broad boulevards.

This is a wonderful article. Boston amd Montréal are certainly comparable cities of similar vintage and density, but we have fought for years to win a network of cycle paths and other amenities - though alas in recent years there has been less development than promised, with La Piste Claire-Morrissette being about the only major improvement in the network.

The Paris article shows that change can come - unlike Amsterdam, Copenhagen, some German cities, and the German-influenced border city Strasbourg in eastern France, Paris was never viewed as a cycling-riendly place. Traffic was chaotic and rude, and few people cycled in the city centre.

A lot of commuters started to cycle during a long public-service strike in 1995 when the métro and buses were functioning, if at all, with a skeleton staff. In recent years Paris has become the great outsider, adding trams in the "proche banlieue" (urbanised suburbs) and one line in Paris proper, many dedicated bus and cycle lanes and a qualitative shift in mentalities.

Boston's density is one of its best points in favour of developing cycling culture - moreover, you are flat, and our winters are even a bit more severe than yours (brrr).

Yes, whatever one thinks of helmet promotion, a helmet law is poison for cycling-share schemes and for developing mass urban cycling in normal clothes.

Finally, I've pretty much given up reading the comments section in mass media, including the CBC (public broadcaster). Where do they find all these rednecks in Boston, one of the most highly-educated areas in North America? It is the same in papers and electronic media here. Perhaps the rednecks are simply jealous of cyclists, as adults aren't supposed to be having so much fun getting to work or school.

spiderleggreen said...

Here's a blog I found via Velo Vogue, that can keep you up on what's happening in the bike-sharing world.

Montreal~ Where are the rednecks in the Boston area? I'm not from Boston, but my guess would be Revere.