The Love/Hate of Bikes in Boston
Oliver and I met in a bike shop in Central Square this summer, and I’ll be honest; I was instantly smitten with his whole vibe. He seemed hip, unfussy, and fun, with perhaps an air of being from out of town. The smart style, sharp features, and general joie de vive suggested he might be European. (I would later learn he hails from California). I wasn’t necessarily looking, but when it hits you, you know. Love.
After being stopped dead in my tracks by his good looks that day, I decided I had to learn more, so I did what any gal would do these days. I ran home and Googled him.
Sure enough, I found everything I needed. Nay, the typical checklist one seeks to find from a mate’s online persona, such as interests, occupation, and the lack of a criminal record. Instead, I sought to find: design inspiration, price range, dimensions, and available colors.
Let me explain: Oliver is not a mate. He’s a bicycle (albeit a handsome one).
However, not everyone loves Oliver the way I do. Some Bostonians hate him, along with all bikes: handsome or homely, speedy or slow cruising, purchased or rented through the recently launched bike share program, Hubway. (Let’s not even get anyone started on messengers or pedi-cabs). It wasn’t until I bought a bicycle that I realized how divisive two-wheels can be.
First, Globe columnist Brian McGrory wrote a piece calling for a citywide ban on bicycles. He was being cheeky, but try telling that to the bevy of bikers who took to Twitter in protest. McGrory wasn’t merely sharing an ornery, anti-biking opinion of his own as much as he was giving voice to a larger group of Bostonians who feel the same way (one hallmark of a bona fide journalist). I would soon learn that this group included a client to whom I teach yoga in Beacon Hill.
“Can I just tell you: I hate bikers,” she said recently before a 6:30 a.m. session, the vitriol awake before I was.
She proceeded to tell me a story about the most deplorable biker behavior I’d ever heard (speeding the wrong way down Charles Street, nearly overrunning her and her small children as they stood in a crosswalk, and, then, hurling a despicable and misogynistic insult as he passed). I listened with my mouth agape, shaking my head in dismay, and decided to skip the part where I proudly announce that I rode my bike to her house for the first time, and that his name is Oliver, and he’s dreamy.
Finally, a sleek, black, commercial SUV nearly turned Oliver and me into mangled metal and yoga parts when the driver neglected to signal and turned left in front of me on Tremont Street. I managed to bail out of the way before being seriously injured, but when two Emerson students, who witnessed the whole thing — “Oh, shit!” I heard one say in the flash of near disaster — rushed over to help, I just stood and stared.
“Do you want me to stop the car?” a maybe-sophomore asked.
“Um, I don’t know … No, I’m OK. Thank you,” I mumbled.
My right hand hurt from hitting the driver’s side door, and I was shaking with fear or adrenaline or both, shaking so much it was as if I’d tried to wear a bikini to Gillette Stadium in December. If there was any doubt about the love lost between motorists and cyclists in Boston, here it was. I wasn’t a brash biker plowing down pedestrians. I was a cautious newcomer to bike commuting, in a bike lane, wearing a helmet, peddling a bike with a basket, for God’s sake! And I almost became road kill for someone getting chauffeured to the airport from the Ritz.
I could barely steady my voice and fight back tears enough to I ask, “Is my bike OK?”
Oliver needed only a minor realignment after the accident, but it would seem Boston residents (both on four wheels and two) need the same. Last week, Boston police began ticketing bikers for offenses such as running red lights (no word on name-calling in crosswalks), but it remains to be seen if this measure will do anything for the rift between those who love the way life looks from a bike and those who, most assuredly, do not.
Is the new enforcement meant to protect bikers and create efficient traffic habits? Or, is it just another way of sending the message that, despite the increasing number of bikes in Boston, there’s no interest in sharing the road? Bikes are better for the environment. People who forgo driving create more parking spaces for people in cars, and the added exercise improves the overall health of the city’s residents. For these reasons alone, one would think bikers would get a little love.
Or, at the very least, some respect.