More and more Bostonians are putting two wheels to the road – and the media has certainly taken notice this Spring. Leading the burst in the seasonal coverage was “Right of Way,” a week-long series exploring the relationship of drivers and cyclists on Boston’s streets produced by WGBH and Wicked Local (otherwise known as Gatehouse Media, a 386-newspaper media giant). True to it’s name, the majority of the coverage was balanced and thoughtful.
Originally, the series was to be named “Wheel Wars” but earlier this year supporters of the Bike Union and other groups flooded the “Wheel Wars” Facebook page with complaints, called editors, and used other avenues to influence a more balanced title.
Some quick highlights, for those of you who prefer to be on your bike rather than staring at your computer, include:
- A WGBH sponsored poll of 500 Boston residents found that only 1 out of 3 residents feel that cars and bikes are sharing the road safely. The poll indicated some support for increased bicycle infrastructure – 45 percent of respondents believe that more bike lanes are the key to a better driver-cyclist interaction. A panel discussion on the poll revealed, however, that compared with other transportation initiatives such as improving the T, bike lanes are given lower priority by most respondents. Clearly cyclists want more bike lanes, but understandably the wider population demands good transit (even cyclists, we assume).
- In another segment of the series, Bike Union director Pete Stidman made the case for better bicycle infrastructure — cycletracks in particular — throughout many neighborhoods in the city.
- Wicked Local profiles other advocacy efforts as well, in particular a push led by MassBike to pass the Vullnerable Road User Bill that would put harsher penalties on drivers who intentionally harm cyclists and pedestrians.
- In panel discussions, bicyclists from all walks of life discussed the joys and challenges of biking as well as on an interactive map of “problem areas” for bicyclists and more informal postings the “Right of Way” Facebook page.
- The series explored how to be both a better driver and cyclist, with a safety quiz and tips for bikers, as well as a piece featuring Dan Strollo, President of Massachusetts Driver Education Association, who discussed how drivers can improve their skills of sharing the road with bikes. Number one suggestion? Ride a bike to see how it feels in their shoes. Number two? Brush up on the rules – dust off that driver’s manual you haven’t looked at since the permit test.
- Coverage extended beyond Boston proper, with pieces from WGBH on hot spots of bicycling debate such as Arlington and Wellesley and an inspiring piece on Wicked Local about the healing benefits of cycling for veterans in Plymouth.
- On a lighter note, the series also sampled some exciting new bike inventions – including a bike horn that can hold its own against cars – as well as cyclist fashion statements.
If there was any consensus in the varied commentators in the series’ panel discussions, it was simply that cycling and bike infrastructure has grown rapidly in Boston in the last six years – going from 1 to 60 miles of on-street bike infrastructure. Bike commuting shot up by 80 in the last ten years, but Boston has a long way to go before it is truly a “bike city.” Part of that will be increased civility on the road. WGBH’s Callie Crossley got to the heart of the matter: “Nobody’s life is worth a claim to the right of way.”
All in all, the stories, interviews, features, and response to “Right of Way” did much to further the ongoing conversation on the challenges and opportunities of truly “complete” streets in Boston. The Bike Union sends a big thank you to the stellar reporting, editing, and producing staff of WGBH and Wicked Local who worked on the series, as well as to all our members who participated in the coverage. It is this continued conversation and the connections and relationships that we are forming in the diverse cycling community that are transforming Boston into a better city for cycling.