Below is my response to an editorial that ran in the Boston Herald on December 27, 2018, dismissing the state’s Draft Bicycle Transportation Plan as a “Victorian-era” solution to a 21st challenge. Given its length and sharply critical tone, I don’t expect them to print it but it felt good to write. The Plan is solid and action-oriented. MassDOT invites public comment either online (a form will be posted soon) or by mail to: MassDOT Office of Transportation Planning, 10 Park Plaza, Suite 4150, Boston MA 02116. Please submit comments by January 31, 2019.
To the Editorial Board,
Your editorial (“Plan to push bikes should take a hike” 12/27/18) should never have made it past your fact-checkers (assuming The Herald still employs some of them), much less into print. It mischaracterizes MassDOT’s draft 2018 Bicycle Transportation Plan and disrespects the thousands of Bay State residents and taxpayers who are helping to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions by choosing to bike, despite roads and attitudes that place them at risk of serious injury and death in crashes with cars and trucks. The Plan does not “push” bikes — no one is going to force your readers or your staff to “peddle” (sic) everywhere on two wheels — it merely recognizes that, as MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack writes in her introduction to the Plan, “bicycling can play an important role in our transportation ecosystem by serving short trips and filling ‘first and last mile” gaps.’” The Draft Plan sets out a strategy to guide the Commonwealth and cities in working together to “to advance safe, comfortable, everyday biking.”
Implying that concerns about “the latest greenhouse gas emissions” are a passing “social trend” skates perilously close to denying climate change. Your editorial is all wet, as large parts of Boston will be, too, if we fail to curb our addiction to fossil fuels to address the imminent threat of rising seas and increased precipitation. Blaming the adoption of Complete Streets policies for an increase in pedestrian deaths nationally conflates correlation with causation and ignores evidence that shows Complete Streets make conditions safer for all road users. It also buries the headline that traffic fatalities involving motor vehicles are the leading cause of death among young people in the US. And if fatalities among cyclists of color are higher, it is because they are more likely to live in urban neighborhoods that do not have safe bike facilities.
Finally, your assertion that there is snow on the ground for one-third of the year is inaccurate; on average there are less than two weeks a year where daily accumulation is more than an inch, and with a warming climate we can expect less snow in the future. Snow can be cleared from bike lanes just as it is from streets and sidewalks. Good news: winter cycling gear has advanced beyond “Victorian-era” driving costumes, and “technology and the marketplace” have already solved the woes of winter cyclists. Apart from a handful of declared snow emergencies, many people continue to bike in the winter for the same reasons they bike in other seasons: not only is biking greener, it is more affordable than owning a car, it provides the benefits of physical activity, and it can be faster than sitting in traffic. Plus, parking is free and seldom a hassle.
The draft Bicycle Transportation Plan is hardly radical in acknowledging that cycling “can play an important role in our transportation ecosystem.” I invite the Herald editors to join me any time on a bike ride. Owning a bike isn’t necessary — in Cambridge alone we have over 50 Bluebikes bike-share stations that are open year-round. Discounted memberships are available to low-income riders, making bicycling a financially accessible, convenient, and flexible transportation option for those who choose it. And it’s an option that will surely be chosen more often in the future with the implementation of a forward-thinking Bicycle Transportation Plan.
Vice Mayor, Cambridge
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Jan Devereux City Councillor Cambridge, MA