April 30, 2012
BOSTON — Bay State Bike Week is coming up, the Hubway bike share stations have reopened for business and inaugural Boston "bike czar" Nicole Freedman is departing to plaudits: In the last 5 years, Boston has added over 50 miles of bike lanes and cycling has increased by 50 percent.
But there's a downside to the bike craze: increased tension, frequently, between drivers and bicyclists.
Traveling down the old cow paths
No one knows that better than bike commuter John Aslanian. Rain or shine, he puts on his helmet and rides from his home in Brookline to his office in Cambridge.
"I ride a bike for ease of commute. It’s a faster way to get from my house to my office," he said. Plus, "there is the fitness aspect."
But with the gain comes pain — or at least, some aches. Even with many new bike lanes, Aslanian still has to deal with streets that aren’t bike-friendly. And his biggest frustration is drivers who think the road is meant just for them.
"The roads were actually meant for horses and then they were meant for trolleys. So we’re all kind of using the same space," he said.
Other cyclists agree: Bikes and cars fighting over limited space leads to limited patience. Said cyclist Morgan Staples, "The infrastructure for Boston is dated and was made 100 years ago and not really made for today’s amount of traffic, so everybody kind of fighting for their space leads to a lot of tension."
Red light, green light, 1-2-3
The biggest complaint to WGBH was riders who don't follow the rules of the road.
Ask Cambridge driver Michael Purcell who the true road rebels are, and he points the finger at cyclists: "They don’t stop at red lights. They pretend that they are different than cars. So what are they? They are vehicles and yet—it’s hard to treat them exactly like vehicles."
"It's definitely an issue. We strongly believe that everyone should be following the rules on the road," said MassBike executive director David Watson. "But you have to keep it in perspective ... it's happening with everybody. We have a culture of incivility on our roadways."
However, Watson thought one typical driver complaint was tired. "The time is past where motorists can say 'I didn't expect anybody to be there' because we're there in growing numbers, and so there's a greater responsibility on everybody, not just the bicyclists, to pay attention to what's going on around them," he said.
One cyclist told WGBH that he doesn’t always follow the law — but that it’s actually out of courtesy.
"Sometimes I don’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign," said Lance Stephens, because it's easier for drivers "if I just keep moving rather than them having to deal with a cyclist who has stopped and is restarting."
Former Boston city councilor Tom Keane uses the Hubway system and pointed to the issue of awareness. "Between a bike and a car, bike loses, every time," he said.
Serenity … soon?
Even though plenty of locals own both bicycles and cars, peace can be a hard sell to the frustrated and angry. One woman told WGBH, "The cyclists are flat-out evil." We started gathering comments from Twitter on the bikes vs. cars debate but dropped the attempt due to the amount of profanity from drivers.
Aslanian admitted that some cyclists embrace a rebel image, but he keeps it in perspective: "A few decades it was popular to have a muscle car and go out on the drag strip."
He'll continue riding to work in his business suit, which he thinks is the best way to show that not all cyclists are rebels ... some just want to get to work.
"The more regular people like myself, that bike on a daily basis — the less appeal [there is] for it to be a rebel activity," Aslanian said.
And maybe they can unite against a shared foe. Said Keane, "Pedestrians, I think, are the bane of both drivers and cyclists."