Mike the Mad Biologist

…for pedestrians? The Boston Globe reports that Boston is trying to implement a citywide bike sharing program:

They intend to roll out what would be the nation’s first citywide bike-sharing system next spring, making hundreds of bicycles at dozens of stations across Boston available to anyone who can swipe a credit card.

If all goes as planned, Bostonians and visitors will ride these bikes to run errands, reach their workplaces, travel from tourist site to tourist site and from meeting to meeting. All of this, officials say, will make drivers and bikers more respectful of each other, and possibly take some cars off the city’s road ways.

Over the next few weeks, officials expect to name the company with which they would negotiate a contract on how to run the system. They hope the program will lead to tens of thousands of people saddling up in Boston daily.

As someone who isn’t a cyclist, but doesn’t drive regularly (I don’t own a car, and very occasionally use ZipCar to get out of town), I’m worried about this. I’ve nearly been hit by a car once, but cyclists are a menace. Weekly, on Newbury Street, there’s a pedestrian-cyclist collision. Granted, the effects are far less severe than getting hit by a car, but too many cyclists are a fucking menace. They don’t follow the rules of the road–blowing through red lights, ignoring crosswalks, and going the wrong way down streets. These behaviors mean pedestrians don’t think to look for them–and I’m not the kind of person who crosses intersections without paying attention.

Also, where is Boston going to put bike lanes? What makes the city work is that roads aren’t wide. Lanes are narrow, and there aren’t many of them. Is the city going remove car lanes? I’m fine with that, but drivers will have a fit. Without lanes, this won’t work. As a bike store owner–someone who would want people to get in the biking habit–notes:

Nearby, Rich Coombs, whose family owns Community Bicycle, a bike sales and service shop in the South End, expressed doubt that bike sharing would work in Boston.

“There are tight roads to begin with – roads dating back hundreds of years, little cow paths,” he said. “There’s barely enough room to squeeze by with narrow handlebars.”

And Mike Mennonno remarks:

Bike stations 300 or 400 yards apart? Unlimited rides of less than 30 minutes? I guess it makes sense when you think how long it takes to ride 300 yards.

I would say the city should confine its ambitions to tourist areas for the time being, but most of those are not navigable by bike. The idea of plowing ahead with a full-blown bike-sharing program when the infrastructure can’t handle cyclists period, much less more cyclists, is counterproductive. (If you think a traffic jam in your car is bad, you have obviously never experienced bicycle rush hour in Boston.)

The idea seems to be that more cyclists on the road will in and of itself make Boston safer for cycling. “As people see more cyclists in the streets of our city they’ll be more aware of the issues of safety,” Menino has said. If nothing else, that’s a cost-effective way to approach the issue. Don’t bother fixing the roads, just get more bikes on ‘em. Safety will follow.

I’ll have whatever he’s smoking.

Getting people out of cars is a good thing: this city is designed for pedestrians. But there are ways to get people out of cars; this isn’t a good one.

Comments

  1. #1 ryan
    July 30, 2009

    Wow! So much venom for cyclists!

    I agree, many, myself included, can misbehave. Any transportation system has downsides. But how often are you put “at risk?”

    Furthermore, aren’t bikes better than more buses, cars and taxis? Less noise, lower pollution and a fitter public seem good to me.

    What other ways do you suggest getting people out of cars?

  2. #2 george.w
    July 30, 2009

    In 40 years of fanatical all-weather cycling, I’ve never so much as brushed against a pedestrian. But in that time I’ve learned; pedestrians are a menace to cyclists. If the pedestrian hears you coming, a certain percentage of them will turn around and step directly into your path in an effort to “get out of the way”.

    We won’t hit you if we can possibly avoid it. We will go around you, even the crazy cyclists will go around you if they can. If there is a collision, the cyclist will usually be hurt worse.

    Cyclists who blow red lights in traffic are a menace. If they blow a red light when the street is deserted, there’s no safety issue. I always stop and wait just because I don’t enjoy having conversations with cops regardless of the outcome.

    Note: I am also a pedestrian.

  3. #3 The Science Pundit
    July 30, 2009

    I’ve nearly been hit by a car once, but cyclists are a menace.

    Generalize much?

    They don’t follow the rules of the road–blowing through red lights, ignoring crosswalks, and going the wrong way down streets.

    This sounds like a law enforcement issue to me. In the cyclists’ defense though, traffic rules are designed strictly for motor vehicles. Some of them make little sense for bicycles. For example, the idea behind most urban one-way roads is that the roads are too narrow for two cars to fit. This is not an issue for bicycles. Granted, if bicycles are going to share the roads then they need to obey the rules of the roads. The big problem (in my opinion) is that most road planners don’t take anything but automobiles into account in their plans. Groups like the LAB are working to chamge that.

    Also, where is Boston going to put bike lanes?

    Well, where bike lanes don’t fit, the cars will just have to share the road. Maybe I’m being a bit naive not being from Boston, but I’ve always found bicycling culture to be very adaptive. And ironically, to effect the changes needed to make Boston more bike-friendly, one must first get more bikes on the road–or it will never happen.

  4. #4 bsci
    July 30, 2009

    There’s a lot of work on this topic, but here’s a start:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/06/05/safety-in-numbers-its-happening-in-nyc/

    More riders mean both drivers and pedestrians tend to look out for them more and the raw number of accidents goes down. While not Boston, NYC also has it’s share of narrow streets.

    I can write more, but I’ll wait to see what others contribute.

  5. #5 Coturnix
    July 30, 2009

    I thought Boston was built for horses (with riders or in carriages), not pedestrians.

  6. #6 Eric Juve
    July 30, 2009

    Portland Oregon did this some time back

    http://c2.com/ybp/story.html

    It seemed like a good idea to me, but Portland is a very bicycle centric city.

  7. #7 NewEnglandBob
    July 30, 2009

    Boston maneuvering has always been a problem. If I need to go to a Red Sox game or other events, I often park at Alewife or Harvard Square or even Billerica or other places and take the train.

    They should convert car lanes and find a way to reduce cars, buses and taxis. I think bicycles can help un-congest the city.

    PS: lately I don’t feel so much like attending the Red Sox :(

  8. #8 Mary
    July 30, 2009

    I want the parking lanes. What a giant waste of surface.

    Actually, the best system I saw was in Copenhagen. They have a curbed bike lane (so cars don’t get in to it) and they have a separate sidewalk for walkers.

    The cyclists had to obey the traffic signals.

    It was all so civilized and effective. It can be done. It can’t be done with Boston the way it is–I completely agree.

    I was on the Somerville bike path a couple of years ago and one of the dogwalkers was swearing at the bikers. Unless everyone gets a spot there will always be tension….

  9. #9 Tony P
    July 30, 2009

    I interviewed for a job today where my office would be exactly 1.1 miles from my home. Doesn’t make sense to drive there, walking takes about 16 or 17 minutes. A bike would get me there in about 5 minutes.

    So you can see where I’m going here. I’ll probably bike to work during the nicer months. Public transit gets me near there and I’d only have to walk 3 tenths of a mile.

    I may have to go out to offices in the courthouses but I can drop by Enterprise and for under $50 grab a fully insured vehicle for the day.

  10. #10 Jim Thomerson
    July 30, 2009

    First time I went to Amsterdam, a biking city, I mentally resigned myself to getting hit as a pedestrian due to my lack of practice with the system. I made it through OK, however.

  11. #11 Peter Smith
    July 30, 2009

    holy cow. what’s up with the hysteria? they’re just bikes, not flying saucers or zombies or something.

    you’ve got a lot of hate for cyclists who break unfair laws, but have no hate for the law-breaking psychopath drivers of Boston — you know, the ones who are actually dangerous. hmmm…

  12. #12 Will TS
    July 30, 2009

    Honest question: How frequently have bicycles killed pedestrians? Can anybody point me toward statistics?

  13. #13 Joshua
    July 30, 2009

    The guys who do stupid shit like blow through red lights are typically the asshole bike messenger wannabes. (Damned kids with their spandex and skinny jeans…) They’re not going to be the folks using the bike shares. The bigger problem would be newbie bikers scared to be in the street and trying to ride on the sidewalks instead. That’s easy enough to fix just with copious reminders to stay off the sidewalk when checking out your bike.

    I do agree, though, that the money would be well spent fixing the roads instead. There are so many stretches of road on my commute that are just awful. You can’t tell where one pothole ends and the next begins, because they all just run together in one, big, tire-destroying mess…

  14. #14 NewEnglandBob
    July 30, 2009

    Joshua@13:

    Those are actually pot holes?

    I thought they were tunnels and I always wondered why no one collected the tolls.

  15. #15 Will TS
    July 31, 2009

    I could not easily locate statistics for pedestrians killed by cyclists in the US, but I did find recent numbers for UK pedestrian casualties. In 2007, pedestrians in the UK were about 1000 times as likely to be injured or killed by cars than cyclists.

    So, it isn’t common for pedestrians to be injured by cyclists, perhaps because there are a lot fewer bicycles on the roads than cars, or perhaps for other reasons. At first glance, however, it would appear that pedestrians would be safer if some of those cars were replaced by bicycles.

    It might be interesting to compare accident statistics among countries with various cyclist populations. A project for another day.

  16. #16 george.w
    July 31, 2009

    Sadly in our community, a child was killed last week playing chicken on his bicycle with a semi in a congested area. Witnesses said there was nothing the semi driver could have done. Kids need to be taught that while bicycles are fun, the situation is real and you can die. And often have trouble thinking thinking of bicycles as serious transportation. A big reason for that is low-quality bicycles assembled by unqualified store clerks. Typical dimestore bike goes about 75 miles from Wal-Mart to landfill – a poor use of $100. No wonder adults think of bicycles as just crappy little dangerous toys.

  17. #17 Cat
    July 31, 2009

    Washington DC actually already has the nation’s first bike share program. smartbikedc.com

  18. #18 tsc
    July 31, 2009

    There are idiot drivers, idiot cyclists and idiot pedestrians. I’ll take the idiot in a pair of loafers or the idiot on a 20lb bike over the idiot manuevering two tons of steel.

  19. #19 Nomen Nescio
    July 31, 2009

    too many cyclists are a fucking menace. They don’t follow the rules of the road

    people using the roads while not obeying the rules of the road are fucking menaces no matter what their means of transport. my own pet peeve are the bleedin’ idjit cage drivers around my town who, whenever i do my damnedest to ride my bike as though it were a car, nevertheless insist on treating me as though i were a pedestrian. it snarls up traffic, slows everything down, aggravates other drivers (and me!), and occasionally puts me at risk because of conflicting assumptions of what i’m supposed to do next. i wish they’d stop already.

  20. #20 muhtar
    February 12, 2010

    First time I went to Amsterdam, a biking city, I mentally resigned myself to getting hit as a pedestrian due to my lack of practice with the system. I made it through OK, however.

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