More and more people are getting around by bicycle, but the roads are not always safe for cyclists. The state's Department of Transportation has released a draft plan on how to improve things when it comes to safety and convenience.
Galen Mook is the head of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, an organization that advocates for those who travel by bike. Mook spoke with WGBH Radio’s Judie Yuill about the plan and what it means for cyclists in Massachusetts. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Judie Yuill: In this draft plan, MassDOT says that a guiding principle will be that all people should be treated equally no matter how they get around, whether it's by car, by bike, or on foot. Is that a step in the right direction? It's always seemed like cars have been the priority.
Galen Mook: Yeah, it's definitely the truth that cars get the majority of the funding, the majority of the importance, even the majority of the right of way. If you're out there in the streets, you'll see that the engineers even design the roads particularly for automobile traffic. However, not everybody drives, has a car, or chooses to drive a car around. So we should be pushing all of our public roads, all of our public infrastructure, to accommodate as many people as possible, especially those who are not driving cars. That includes biking, walkers, people who are using public transit and other modes — you're seeing these kind of electric micro-mobility devices that are out there, too. I think we all deserve a space in our public realm. I definitely think it's a step in the right direction. This plan kind of helps identify the goals and the priorities of the state, at least in the right mindset.
Yuill: Well one of the things the plan says is if you make it safer for bicyclists, then more of them are on the road, and then it becomes more normal.
Mook: That's very true. The safety in numbers definitely pertains to cycling, for sure. The more drivers are aware of cyclists because they see them, because they drive around them, then the safer and more accustomed to driving around them they will be. And vice-versa for the cyclists, too. You'll see this wild west anarchy that it used to be to ride a bike around here kind of calms itself down when you have bike lanes and bike lights and specific infrastructure for the cyclist. You get more riders out there. Everybody adheres a little bit more towards following the rules.
Yuill: Now the state also says it wants to address what it's calling "missing links" for bicyclists — areas where bike travel is difficult. In the plan, MassDOT says it wants to “build connected bicycle and trail networks with local, regional and state partners and close critical gaps.” Now what do those critical gaps look like to a cyclist on the street?
Mook: Oh gosh, it's tough. Well locally around here in Boston, if you think about our Paul Dudley White path, which kind of goes on both sides of Charles River, it's a contiguous pathway – it goes all the way from Auburn Dale in Waltham down to the Boston Harbor on this beautiful pathway, except you're going to cross a few crucial bridges. I'm reminded of the bridge by the Museum of Science, the Craigie Bridge. Now that is part of that pathway network. But the infrastructure does not facilitate protected and safe biking. It kind of forces cycling to be in the roads, mixing with the duck boats, the truck drivers, the buses, and all the vehicles out there. Tragically, every so often, and this happened just a couple of weeks ago, a Boston University graduate student was hit by a truck.
So in this plan, I think what the DOT is really looking at is where are these safe, attractive bike ways that are so close to being contiguous and linked, but then there's these few crucial links that the state has control over that they can identify to make spot fixes that would then have kind of a ripple effect to connect a network.
Yuill: What is not in this draft plan from the state that you would like to see?
Mook: The beauty of it being a draft is that it's yet to be finalized, and they are taking feedback all the way through the end of January.
There are a few things that I would like to see more of. One, its targets, goals, numbers that we can kind of latch onto and kind of sink our teeth into as advocates to say we're trying to make an impact on X-amount, we're trying to get double the amount of cyclists out there, or reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent, or something along those lines.
Also, I’d like to see criteria for project selection. What does DOT view as most important? What's the short-term, low-hanging fruit that can be tackled while they're focusing on the five- and 10-year goals? And then mainly, this is a big one, of course, is the funding. So we're looking at a lot of ambitious statements here, how they want it to be cycling for all types of people and they want to connect across the entire Commonwealth. Where does the funding come from?
There are funding sources, but if there's not an increase, then it's going to be hard to then associate that with projects that get completed.
Yuill: That’s Galen Mook, head of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, giving us his thoughts on MassDOT’s draft plan to improve conditions for cyclists in the state. In a statement, MassDOT said that suggestions from the public will inform the details of its final bike plan. The agency also says its capital investment plan includes $60 million for the implementation of state bicycle and pedestrian plans. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.