Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's possible!

last week i was pleasantly surprised to see that a main road in cambridge suddenly became divided in car and cycle path. this was done by just converting the 2-lane road for cars into a 1 lane. but... much needs to change before boston/cambridge can (will it, ever?) become a bike friendly city. i think attitudes from both drivers and bikers need to change (as you can see above, that car in the background is driving on the bikelane!!).
here in boston we often see bikers and tim or me usually say: "ouch, they really just dont know how to do it". people here generally dont know HOW to bike! seriously! they position themselves wrong on the street, they think they have the right of way anywhere, simply because they are on a bike (the past week i was almost knocked down by bikes twice while i was in the middle of the crosswalk). bikers are often very aggressive here and they really do not realize that they are PART of the traffic, and should work with it, not against it! and yes, sometimes a car will cut you off, and thats nasty, but dont endanger yourself more. sometimes just accept that this happens and move aside! a car is much much bigger than you and its not worth it! (conclusion after seeing several bikers screaming at cars, cutting right in front of them as they think they have the right to go first, regardless of what else is happening on the street). fact: dutch bikers break rules all the time as well, but they do it much more subtle! (generally, ofcourse, there are idiots everywhere). they run red lights, but only when possible, and usually we do not run over pedestrians.
still, even when bicyclists know how to behave properly on the road and motorists acknowledge their existence, the biggest change needed i think are separate bike lanes (i dont think helmets are the solution; see yesterdays comments). they are appearing at several streets in boston, but the problem is that they are not continuous; suddenly theres an intersection where theres nowhere to go with your bike! until i saw a youtube video about biking in the netherlands, i always thought that biking is so easy and safe in my country because it has always been like that, and cities were basically built around bikes. not so. i really urge you to watch this video, it explains very well how we eventually got to the amazing bike infrastructure we have today. like any wealthy country, cars flooded the netherlands from 1957 onwards, making biking dangerous (which used to be the main form of transportation). in 1971, when 3300 bicyclists died in traffic, people were fed up and started to protest and demand safer streets. it worked. cycling was strongly encouraged; city centers were made car free and cycle paths were constructed. an oil and economic crisis certainly also helped to get more and more people biking again.
and now... say "cycle paths" out loud. now "how the dutch got their cycle paths". now watch the video again... (did you say it out loud.. ? :D)

Ghost bike

a ghost bike is a bike that has been painted white and locked to a street sign near the site where someone was killed while riding his or her bike. a plaque mentions the name, as you can see above (i took this picture in january of this year). unfortunately, there are several such bikes in boston. and for that matter, all over the world. 
the above one is in cambridge, near MIT. on december 27, 2011, phyo was riding his bike around 8 in the evening. an oil tanker truck was turning from vassar street onto mass ave when it hit phyo. he was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. he was only 23, and had obtained a bachelors degree in chemical-biological engineering in 2010. he was originally from myanmar. within days after his death, over 15,000 dollars were collected for funeral arrangements and to return phyo and his belongings to myanmar. sadly, between 2007 and 2011, polica had to respond to 55 accidents at this very intersection, 18 of them involving bikes, and 4 involving pedestrians, making it one of the most dangerous intersections in cambridge. as far as i can find, the truck driver has not been charged.
even though more people start biking, it is still not "accepted" in the us. just this week time magazine had an interesting article about the rise of biking, which unfortunately goes together with motorists who think bikes dont belong on the road; bikers literally face aggression because car drivers think they dont belong on the road! the numbers are scary too; last year, 241 pedestrians/cyclists were killed in accidents with cars in new york city, yet only 17 drivers faced criminal charges. according to the article, most police departments (in the entire country) hardly investigate car-bike or car-pedestrian accidents, unless the victim dies or the driver was under influence....
as a dutch, i love biking, and it has been my main form of transportation until moving to the us (i never even felt the need for getting a drivers license, and now i have tim to drive me around.. ;)). here, i hardly do it, exactly for the reasons above. i am terrified of all the cars (which are much bigger here), the absence of separate bike lanes, and simply the aggression of motorists. we do bike, every now and then, but i do so with great caution (albeit without helmet; those are useless i think). according to tim i do it with far too much caution. but take july 4th. a national holiday, everyone free and happy. the weather was gorgeous and we were biking to the beach on cape cod. although there were no separate bike lanes, the path was designated as being for both cars AND bikes, and signs here and there reminded cars of that (share the road!). me and tim were happily biking, while suddenly a car passed me, and a girl screamed from the window: "you're gonna die!!!" thats what she said. can you believe it? it shocked me greatly. really. why on earth would you say something like that to someone, anyone, ever? i should have wished her a happy independence day, but my anger was faster and i wished her something else..... probably she long forgot what she said. but i didnt....

i think its good ghost bikes are placed when a biker got killed in traffic. if it only reminds one motorist to be more careful and to share the road....
this is my contribution to taphophile tragics, for more tragics, go here. im not done with the biking yet, so probably some more about that tomorrow...!