We asked Tom Bertulis, a bike enthusiast and Ph.D. student in the civil engineering department at NEU whether he was optimistic about Boston becoming as bike friendly as Portland or even New York City. Here is his response.
After years of Boston being one of the worst biking cities in the country (three times in seven years, according to Bicycling Magazine) the Mayor of Boston has publicly come out in support of bicycling, has held the Biking Summit, and is developing a Bike Master Plan by one of the top sustainable transport consultants in the country. Local Bicycle Advisory Boards and bicycling advocacy groups have played a pivotal role in the transformation of our region, galvanizing local citizens to action, holding several large-scale bike rides, and becoming an integral part of the local political process. We have world class cycling experts, such as Northeastern Civil Engineering professor Peter Furth, to use as a resource as we move forward into the great unknown.
Boston now has 500 bike racks installed and dozens of miles of bike facilities, compared to the less than one mile we had before 2007. The Mayor proudly proclaimed his desire to turn Boston into a “World Class Bicycling City” and Bicycling Magazine has recently named Boston as one of its “Five for the Future” cities. According to the 2009 American Commuter Survey data, Boston has more than doubled its rate of bicycle commuting in just three short years and is now ranked 10th in bicycle commuting out of the 70 most populous US cities. Boston has been running an impressive Youth Cycling Education program and recently received $3 million to start a bike sharing program similar to the très magnifique Velib bike sharing program in Paris, France.
Granted, bike sharing may have limited potential for facilitating modal shift, but it is a form of free marketing for raising awareness of biking. Aside from the psychological boon to bicyclists, with the City telling them “you, too, are important,” the stands and the bikes will symbolize the greater community’s acceptance of biking as a mode of transport.
Sure, the City of Boston could take a more bike friendly stance. There is much work to be done if Boston wants to reach European levels of cycle-friendliness. Much of the “low-hanging fruit” has been plucked and more low stress bicycling facilities are sorely needed. There are designs of cycletracks already done, sitting on the shelf, just waiting for approval from the current administration, and they aren’t moving. So the flood gates haven’t opened yet. But at least the water is trickling out, so-to-speak. Boston has installed an (admittedly small) cycletrack in Alston, and the City of Boston recently approved a raised crossing near the Museum of Fine Arts, which is a critical first step in Boston becoming more like European cities in terms of pedestrian and cycle-friendliness.
A trickle is still a trickle. It is movement in the right direction. I believe that within a decade the flood gates will open and Boston will really become a cycle-friendly city. We will take the lead from NYC and other American cities and maybe even pass them. Boston has the right density. Boston has an incredibly high student population. The latent demand is there. The national trendline is there. After reading the book Pedaling Revolution by Jeff Mapes I can’t help be anything but optimistic.
By Tom Bertulis