STANDING BEFORE a backdrop of bicycle patrol officers, Mayor Menino on Thursday announced a new initiative designed to make Boston friendlier to cyclists. A recent convert to the joys of cycling, Menino introduced his newly appointed bike czar, Nicole Freedman. The former Olympic cyclist discussed an upcoming bike summit to address specific improvements, adding that there were plenty of cities with good models to follow. "We're not first in this effort, and that's a good thing," she said.
Far from being first, Boston has long been considered one of the worst major cities in the country for biking, due to beat-up roads and lack of lanes and secure bike racks. Prior efforts to address the problem have stalled. The mayor's recent enthusiasm is encouraging, but urban biking advocates must work to ensure that the city will follow through, especially on those small things that have a big impact.
"A lot of us here are still taking a wait-and-see approach," said Chris Porter, chairman of the MassBike Metro Boston Chapter. "We'll believe it when we see it."
Advocates have reason to be skeptical. In 1999, Menino announced a Bicycle Advisory Committee and later appointed a bike coordinator; both were axed due to budget cuts in 2003. Until recently, the city has hardly made biking a top priority. The ideas now being considered, however, are extensive and suggest making up for lost time. They include more lanes, and bike rental stations throughout the city. Menino also announced a $25,000 Boston Redevelopment Authority grant for a master plan of the South Bay Harbor Trail, a 3.5-mile pedestrian-friendly trail that will connect Lower Roxbury to the waterfront.
"Well, these are different times," said Menino, when asked why cyclists could expect results this time. "Cycling is more of an environmental issue than before."
Thinking big is a good thing when it comes to biking, and long overdue. But the little things - ideas that are practical but have so far been neglected - should be the top priority. To his credit, Menino has pledged 250 new bike racks by next fall. And there are other possibilities: Although adding new bike lanes isn't possible on every street, a simple "share the road" sign in such areas goes a long way to ensure biker safety. An extensive bike rental network is an excellent idea. But that won't address the potholes that are the bane of every cyclist.
Today is the annual Hub on Wheels cycling event along Storrow Drive, which Menino plans to ride in. There, he will meet many more of the advocates who have been pushing for years for Boston to become more bike-friendly. Menino has shown that he is listening, but results will show only if his newfound interest is more than just a passing hobby.