When I first heard that Nicole Freedman was leaving her job as Boston’s Bike Czar I was shocked and saddened. There are no two ways about it: Maine’s gain is Boston’s loss. At least she’s not moving to New York.
I first met Nicole two years ago. I had just started writing the On Biking column for Boston.com and she was kind enough to join me for a ride. As we pedaled through rush hour traffic Nicole chatted with me about bike lanes, traffic calming, and the rules of the road: stop at red lights, don’t ride up one-way streets, and always use a set of lights at night.
During our ride Nicole took me down Commonwealth Avenue to show me where a new bike lane would soon be installed. I had my doubts about riding on the left hand side of the road but I trusted Nicole. She was the Boston Bike Czar, after all, plus she had ridden in the Olympics.
Riding down Commonwealth Avenue seemed confusing to me. But not to Nicole. She could see gold (a bike path and altered traffic patterns) where I only saw chaos. That’s the thing about visionary leaders, they can both imagine a better future and then do what it takes to make those dreams come true.
After our ride Nicole and I chatted about the usual things that two people who love bikes chat about: favorite rides, racing, and the best thing to eat after a ride (I think we both agreed it was ice cream). Even though it had been a long day Nicole was happy to talk with me about her ideas on how to make Boston an even better place to ride.
Nicole has worked on a number of projects that helped make Boston a more livable and inviting city. She helped organize the best ride in town (Hub On Wheels), made sure that Hubway (Boston’s bike sharing program) flourished, advocated for improved access to bicycles for underserved communities, coached the MIT women’s cycling team, made sure that over 1,500 bicycle parking spaces were added in just the past three years, and helped organize an integrated network of bike lanes- 50 miles and counting.
The fruits of Nicole’s labors are hard to miss. More and more people are biking, which many studies show is good for the economy, good for public health, and good for the environment. Plus the more people who bike, the safer it is for everyone: cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists, too.
I’m not saying that Nicole did this single-handedly. Even an Olympic cyclist needs a little help. Fortunately Nicole had the support of the mayor, as well as the legions of activists throughout Massachusetts. Their hard work has helped make Boston one of the best walking and bicycling cities in America.
So now what? Now, more than ever, it’s important to rally behind your local advocacy group to make sure that the gains from the past few years continue. Get involved with organizations like LivableStreets, MassBike, The Boston Cyclists Union, and Dot Bike (full disclosure: I am a contributor to LivableStreets) or your town’s local board of transportation.
Finally, make sure to keep riding and enjoying our city whether you’re getting around on two wheels or two legs. And have an ice cream in honor of Nicole, preferably chocolate chip (her favorite flavor).
Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist and an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published later this year.