The concept that bicyclists will not affect real change until they all follow the law was shot full of holes in Brookline this week when a group of residents used that logic to petition for a warrant article that would require Town Meeting approval for the creation of contraflow bicycle lanes.
Currently, such lanes would be suggested by the Brookline Bicycle Committee, studied by the Transportation Department and approved by the Transportation Board—a decision that can also be appealed by the Town Selectmen if need be. Some proposals for contraflow lanes, such as the one on Parkway Drive along the Emerald Necklace, have been accepted by their communities and the Transportation Board, while others, such as one proposed for Green Street near Coolidge Corner, have not. Contraflows are widely accepted in Europe, are already in use in Cambridge and Brookline, and appear in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide that the city of Boston helped create.
But lead petitioner Lee Selwyn’s stated motivation for proposing the change in process had very little to do with the efficacy of contraflow bike lanes at all.
At an April 3 public hearing on the article, Selwyn explained that bicyclists run red lights, head the wrong way up one-way streets, ride on the sidewalks and break other laws. For this reason, he indicated, the Town of Brookline should not have facilities built that would encourage more people to ride.
“We are looking at what to me is a major change in policy,” said Selwyn, referring to Brookline’s efforts to build contraflow lanes and other bike facilities. “It seems to be driven by a reality of ‘They’re going to do it anyway so we should address it.’ But they’re not following the law.”
When questioned further, Selwyn cited concerns about the visually impaired not being able to hear or see cyclists coming at any intersection, much less crossing a one way street with a contraflow bike lane. But when asked if police enforcement of the state law that requires headlights would help, or if he would consider promoting a campaign to put more bells on bikes, Selwyn was dismissive, favoring instead measures that seemed to be aimed at reducing cycling altogether.
Transportation Board member Brian Kane advised the committee that the article would not pass if it were submitted to the state legislature as a Home Rule Petition, and that the existing process was a good one. “We don’t think that Article 23 is logical or consistent with the way the town is run.”
Other residents and Town Meeting members spoke up in defense of cyclists, and for a moment there were more tangents in the room than points, until clearer heads brought the arguments back to contraflow lanes and the town’s decision-making processes.
Some committee members in the room clearly supported Mr. Selwyn’s intent at the outset of the meeting, but in the end only one voted to have the committee recommend passing it. In his closing comments, chair of the meeting Len Weiss summed up his own feelings.
“To me this is an inordinately overwhelming reaction to a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said. “At the core of this is a camel getting its nose under the tent, and that camel is anti-biking and I don’t much care for that.”