Cyclists Claim Another Win in Push For Improved Snow Removal Along Pathways

State officials agreed they would meet with riders to talk about clearing the way.

By | Boston Daily |
Images via Allston-Brighton Bikes

Photos provided by Allston-Brighton Bikes

A little Twitter badgering can go a long way.

After bombarding the Department of Conservation and Recreation with a social media campaign calling for cleared bike paths throughout the city, cyclists said they were able to secure a meeting with state officials to talk about how snow removal efforts can vastly improve in Boston.

“It’s very encouraging that they are going to sit down with us and listen, when at first their first response was to dismiss a citizen’s complaint. Now it seems to be an open dialogue so we can discuss the policy, which may very well be broken,” said Galen Mook, an organizer behind Allston-Brighton Bikes. Mook helped kick off the social media blitz this week, which brought attention to the snow-covered bike trails with the help of members from the Boston Cyclists Union’s Organizing Group.

The online push for a conversation with DCR, which featured photos of cyclists that rely on riding their bikes during their commute every day of the year—regardless of the snowy weather—was prompted by a series of controversial emails sent to Universal Hub last weekend.

The emails detailed a conversation between a DCR employee and cyclist that asked the agency to ramp up its snow removal process in the days following a severe storm, and clear certain pathways down to the pavement.

DCR officials became agitated by the correspondence, and told the cyclist they were “tired” of the their team wasting valuable time addressing the “less than .05 percent” of all riders who choose to bike after a snow and ice event. “Sometimes during winter in Boston you can safely bike, and I do it when it is dry and safe. This is not one of those winters! We should not spend time debating cyclists with poor judgement [sic] and unrealistic expectations,” the email said. “If someone is completely depending on a bike for year-round transportation, they are living in the wrong city.”

Thrown aback by the claim that only a small percentage of cyclists ride bikes in Boston when it snows, several local bike organizations, including Mook’s, Southie Rides, and the Boston Cyclists Union, began tweeting photos of riders holding signs that read, “I am the .05%,” and “I am a #WinterBiker.” On Monday and Tuesday, as snow once again hit the ground, dozens of photos and messages flooded DCR’s Twitter feed as more and more riders tried to stress the importance of snow removal on paths like the Southwest Corridor in Jamaica Plain.

“They dismissed an entire community of people that ride all year. They control the paths that make it possible for people to ride. If we didn’t have those paths, Boston wouldn’t have much of a bike culture,” said Pete Stidman, executive director of the Cyclists Union. “Our goal with this campaign was to get the DCR—instead of advising people to use a different kind of transportation—to really partner with us in making sure that the paths that serve the commuters are treated as a higher priority and treated in the best way possible.”

MassBike also got involved and wrote a letter to DCR asking them to host a meeting with “… a wide range of groups encompassing the bicycle, pedestrian, and parks advocacy communities.” The letter quickly led to a “productive conversation” between MassBike and DCR’s director, and the promise that they would sit down with community members and hash out the pathway problems.

A spokesman from the DCR told Boston that convening a meeting with the city’s cycling community regarding DCR snow removal “performance standards” was a “great idea.” They said DCR would be working with MassBike and other organizations over the coming days to set up a date and time to get together. The agency’s removal policies haven’t been updated since 2006.

“This is a very welcome step toward better aligning the needs of people who ride bikes for transportation with DCR policy,” according to MassBike Executive Director Dave Watson.

Mook agreed. “We know they are listening, and I think it’s time to shift the conversation. We spent two days throwing words at them, and it worked. We are glad we had the chance to light the fire as catalysts for this, and that they are willing to listen.”

Further details about the exact meeting date and location will be announced soon. This is the second time in as many weeks that cyclists used group protests and community organizing to get the state to change their plans.

  • Lowell Peabody

    Please, get a life and put the bicycles away for the winter. Maybe if the paths are really to be cleared for bicycles there could be a bicycle license the fee for which would cover the additional cost of snow removal. If the bicyclists want it and pay for it, no problem I guess. Otherwise, it’s winter give the bikes a rest. BTW between paths they become a bigger danger and liability for themselves, cars and pedestrians. Bicycles are not intended for riding in snowy or icy conditions.

    • Sabine

      So you should pay extra to have the streets plowed for your car.
      Everybody should have the option to choose their own means of transportation (and I’m not riding a bike in the winter).

    • Jon Ramos

      Another misguided soul. Lowell Peabody clearly doesn’t see that the Southwest Corridor Bike Path (the area in question) is like a highway for bicyclists. HUNDREDS of people use this path daily for commuting into Boston, is easily the most well used bike path in all of Boston. Instead, he would prefer we clog up the streets with more cars, worsen the parking situation, or contribute to MBTA overcrowding. A little extra snow-plowing on a pathway is a relatively inexpensive way to increase traffic flow for everyone.

    • Jon Ramos

      Also: cars are not intended for driving in snowy or icy conditions…

    • Jon Ramos

      Aslo Also: Nearly 1/3 of Bostonians don’t own cars, by your logic, they should not pay for snow removal either. I’m sure the motorists are not eager to take on that bill all by themselves.

    • Mike Tremblay

      You say bikes aren’t meant for snowy or icy conditions. Good point. Neither are cars; that’s why roadways are cleared, salted, and sanded. Massachusetts has over 33,000 miles of public roadway — 33,000 miles! — and the majority are cleared down to the pavement by the state, agencies such as the DCR or MassPort, or municipalities. All because cars don’t work very well if the roads aren’t cleared. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to ONLY clear the bike paths? Of course! But that wouldn’t be practical, of course, because people rely on cars to get to work. Well, guess what, people rely on bikes to get to work, and, as you said, bikes don’t work in icy or snowy conditions. (Source on roadway mileage: http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/Portals/17/docs/RoadInventory/2012_ye_rpt.pdf)

      Pop quiz: What’s the biggest hazard to bikes, cars, and pedestrians? If you answered bikes, you’re WRONG, it’s other cars. 34,000 people died in car accidents in the US in 2012. It’s a bit backwards to call a 200lb bicyclist on a 40lb bike traveling at 15 mph a hazard to someone in a 2-ton steel box traveling at 35 mph (if the bicyclist is lucky).

      Finally, if you think bicyclists ARE a hazard to cars, take them off the road! Put them on a nice, plowed, salted, sanded, bike path somewhere! Don’t you agree?

    • MattyCiii

      Suppose we put our bikes away and drive like you suggest. We know that on congested roads (like in Boston), a 5% increase in car volume causes a 50% increase in traffic delay (http://www.amazon.com/Traffic-Drive-What-Says-About/dp/0307277194). Is that what you want Mr. Peabody – to spend more time in traffic?

      Perhaps that is what you want. Because we know that misery loves company (http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/Misery+loves+company), and we know that motorists are the least happy of all commuters (http://bikeportland.org/2013/01/30/bike-commuters-are-happiest-and-other-psu-research-tidbits-82448).

      That said, smart drivers encourage their friends and neighbors to bike (or take the bus), even if only for the selfish reason that doing so might lead to less congestion for themselves.

      • Lowell Peabody

        MattyCiii, I never suggester switching to driving was the only alternative. Let’s stop addressing this as an everyday problem also. It is not. Bicycle riders are inconvenienced and disrupted by snow just like car drivers, bus riders, MBTA commuters( subways and rail), cab riders, pedestrians, motorcycles (that would be incredible to see…). It happens and it’s really not such a big deal. For a small percentage of people during a few days throughout the year the added expense being requested is do I say selfish? And I really do not mean that in a bad way, but we do all get selfish here and there and everyone’s misery increases with bad weather. I did suggest putting the bikes away in Winter, but of course that would be my approach. If you want to ride, have at it. If the paths (more than as has been suggested the SW corridor area) are to be cleared it would be nice to see it paid for with at least corresponding cut in some other area of the budget. Can’t you just see someone slipping on a path after being cleared and holding the City responsible for damages.. I certainly don’t see any significant increase in auto traffic as a result of this. If people want to see more riders, that is an entirely different issue.

        • MattyCiii

          Municipal budgets everywhere are going broke because of the heavy
          snowfall this winter. I’m not saying we need to raise and or dedicate
          more money to snow clearance – an extra severe winter is simply something that
          happens from time to time. No, this issue is fundamentally different.

          Based on my own observations of some (other) DCR parks, and some pictures and videos posted as a result of this issue, it’s clear this is less about some Storm Nemo or Blizzard of ’78 outlier, and more about routine (albeit above average) snow clearance.

          Case in point: I shovel the walk in front of my house the day itsnows, and I do so down to the concrete. Doing so costs me less in the
          long run. If I delay, the walkway will usually get iced over and stay that way for weeks. I might fall on that ice, I might get a fine from the city, or a neighbor might fall and sue me. It just isn’t worth it to do a bad job.

          It appears from my direct observations that DCR is doing a poor job of the post-storm clearance, which over succeeding days turns to ice like in my example above. This is not in fact a matter of a couple of days inconvenience – once the ice is formed the danger persists a long time. People can listen to forecasts, plan ahead, and stay off the bike paths a couple
          days. But the condition of these park paths closes them to beneficial use for WEEKS at a time. And not everyone can afford the ~$6,700/year cost of owning an economy car (http://newsroom.aaa.com/2012/04/cost-of-owning-and-operating-vehicle-in-u-s-increased-1-9-percent-according-to-aaa’s-2012-‘your-driving-costs’-study/)

          Oh and this: “MattyCiii, I never suggester switching to driving was the only alternative.” – walking is an alternative, but that path is just as treacherous to walking as it is to cycling.

  • Lowell Peabody

    Oh, please street plowing is a matter of public safety. Not just for cars, but buses, cabs, deliveries, medical assistance etc. Much different than simply cars vs bicycles. I don’t see bicycle riding falling into that category. This would be an entirely new cost which for such a minority to calm our for is fine, but they should be responsible for it somehow.

    • Dorian

      it’s comments like these that just make me think that access to year-round bicycling infrastructure is truly an issue of social justice and mobility. You are effectively saying that people shouldn’t have access to non-car modes of transportation since “they are currently in the minority.” Within the immediate neighborhoods that the SW corridor serves, this “minority” is between 5 and 10% of all commuters – and will keep growing as long as the city continues to provide better bike infrastructure.

      There is also currently a lot of demand among a substantial number people to be able to bike year-round, and many of us choose to use other modes primarily because we feel that it is unsafe – you can’t equate actual usage with actual demand.

      • Lowell Peabody

        Dorian, it’s mostly a few days of inconvenience. We all live with the results of weather. Great stats, if they are real and not, as I’d guess (I have been wrong lots..) an opinionated guess. Not worried about overall demand as I think that’s another issue. Inconvenience is largely the issue from the article, I think.

        • Dorian

          according to the american community survey, within each zipcode along the southwest corridor – the percentage of bike commuters ranges from between 5% (southern end of JP) and 10% (Mission Hill). and these numbers are probably a low-end estimate.

          Maybe the day of and after a major storm event is reasonable to expect that paths aren’t entirely cleared, but if your street was an ice-rink for an entire week after a major storm, you’d be upset too.

          • Lowell Peabody

            I tried to look up stats from the ACS and I am sure they are there, but I was going in circles (my fault) In any event, while I think you are focusing on one particular area, the article was less specific and more general, so the numbers for Boston would be interesting. I think that the day of the storm and possibly a few days after might be a problem. But, if I am wrong is switching to an alternate means of transportation for those days such a big deal? Boy I agree with you wholeheartedly regarding city sidewalks and your road. That is most certainly a public safety issue. You are absolutely right. Bicycle paths rise to this level?

          • MattyCiii

            “…is switching to an alternate means of transportation for those days such a big deal?”

            That’s an insightful question. Personally I commute to Boston by bike, it takes me 40 minutes door to door. For $9 round trip I can take the over heated, herby-jerky express bus, also 40 minutes. I could drive at $.50 per mile plus $15 to park, taking 30 minutes +/- 10 minutes. I do any one of the three based on various outside factors – but biking is usually my best choice. Similar comparisons can be used for my non-commuting travel.

            Now you try. Do you usually drive? If so have you ever used the alternative? If not, go to Google Maps and just check how many busses/transfers it would take to get to work. Is it 2 busses, at 1:40 transit time? Let us know please, how transit, biking or walking might compare to your daily drive.

            Hopefully you’re lucky like me and have an express bus or T station close to both work and home. But countless others don’t have access to a car and have far less convenient transit choices. Keep in mind that transportation networks, like a chain, are only as strong as their weakest link. An impassible 1/4 mile stretch of DCR path can mean the difference between a person being to walk 2 miles to their medical appointment, or being forced to miss it and go without care.

            So why are you and I spending so much time discussing this issue? For my part, if I genuinely believed this was about a lack of resources, and that DCR was trying the best they can to fulfill their core mission, I wouldn’t be typing this. But it’s not – it’s about DCR employees defending dereliction of duty with invented statistics. The Amateur Planner explains it much better than I do… http://amateurplanner.blogspot.com/2014/02/a-response-to-dcr-anti-bike-statement.html

          • Dorian

            yes – I am one of the hundreds of bike commuters who would normally use DCR paths year round. My commute by bike is normally around 35 minutes each way – switching to public transportation puts me at well over an hour commute (and costs $4 a day, if the transfers work properly), and driving is around 45-50 minutes and it costs $13 a day to park + gas. It’s fine for a day or two for me, but after a couple weeks it actually starts becoming a financial hardship if I have to drive, and a major time commitment to use the T which affects my family.

            Biking to work is what allows me to live in an affordable neighborhood that is still close to the urban core (which is good for a number of reasons as people like me help bring stability to otherwise “inaccessible” areas of the city). Otherwise I’d have to move very far out in order for my housing/transportation costs are even comparable – but by then I’d probably want to be looking for another job closer to where I live – and opportunities outside the city aren’t as great.

          • Lowell Peabody

            I understand. Thanks for the info and discussion.

  • Lowell Peabody

    Perhaps the Model A was not a car designed to be driven in snow, but certainly most cars today are designed to be driven safely in inclement weather. The scope of the article is not simply the Southwest Corridor Bike Path. The author offered that as an example but not as the focal point. In response to “hundreds” of bicyclists use it, fine I’ll concede 999 riders out of 636,479 total population of Boston. That’s .0014% of the population. Frankly I’d rather see the amount of money spent for clearing paths given to feed and house homeless people, but at the very least so long as there is an equal budget amount cut from some other program to be transferred to clearing paths, have at it.

    • MattyCiii

      Check your math sir, 999 riders would be 0.16%, not the more than 100 times smaller figure you cited.

      Also, if cars are so safe, why are 17% of all motorist fatalities caused by bad weather? (cite: http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm)

      • Lowell Peabody

        Actually it would would be .0016 so I mistyped .0014, sorry. Your math would yield 101,836 riders, way more than the 999 we started with..doesn’t matter it’s numbers pulled out of air anyway and was only illustrative given an assumed 999 riders. Regarding the 17% of fatalities. Horrible as that is, I suspect there was more than a little common sense and good judgement missing. Watch almost any SUV or Pick up truck passing you on a snowy road… I wonder what the number is for snow, specifically as that’s what has been the focus of this discussion. In any event I think most of us just stay home, if we can, in those conditions. If you want some fun someday, I’ll take you ice racing in New Hampshire. BTW I can’t seem to follow your links.

        • MattyCiii

          Here’s the link: http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm

          That Federal Highway Administration link breaks down crashes across many weather events, though to be fair I was answering your assertion that “most cars today are designed to be driven safely in inclement weather.”

          But related – automobile design is not the issue, it’s the implementation. Drivers are by far the biggest contributing factor to car crashes. This is important to people who walk or who cycle because there’s a strong trend in recent years that drivers are killing more and more people “outside the car”. This is germane to the DCR snow removal issue because it’s not just cycle paths that DCR is maintaining poorly, it’s some of their sidewalks near roads too, and that things like this happen: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/21788/joseph-brown-died-trying-to-avoid-a-snow-covered-path-and-dc-blamed-him-for-it/

          RE: math. It’s the use of the percent sign that makes all the difference: 0.0014% (your original post) is equal to 0.000014, not equal to 0.0014. The 0.16% I cite is equal to 0.0016.
          The off by 100 times is the piece I was concerned about.

          • Lowell Peabody

            Ha! Of course, regarding the math!! Heck it’s all a pain in the snow. My commute is all over the place working in commercial real estate I can be in Westborough one day, Boston another and Andover the next.. Traffic is miserably, but unfortunately I cannot avoid it or use alternate means of transportation. I have tried driving to Wellington and taking the “T”T from there which isn;t too bad until someone calls and wants to see me relatively quickly.. I do get worried by bicyclists who squeeze by cars on the right side and then scream if I try to pull over or turn right before I can see them, or they simply run an intersection.. We both have issues but I try to be careful. Thanks for the info and the discussion.

  • MattyCiii

    A crucial element to this issue is funding priorities, not funding levels.

    Here’s an illustrative example. DCR takes care of the parks – year round. I live near one park that has paths used by dog walkers, people walking, cyclists and joggers. In the cold of winter fewer people use the park – but some number of people still come every day.

    All these people deserve a safe place to walk, not treacherous icy paths. If weather is too extreme, close the park altogether – just like we close roads to traffic during a blizzard. But this is not about closing the parks, it’s about the condition of the paths that are open.

    What in fact happens at this particular park is: the entire 40 space parking lot (seldom full on the most beautiful days of summer) is plowed to clean pavement, but the paths are an icy patchwork. That is a gross misallocation of resources. This same parking lot is shaped such that if only half the spaces are plowed, it still functions as a parking lot (i.e., people can drive into & out of the park, and get to the paths). I see this park every day, and let me assure you no more than 1 or 2 cars are ever in the lot during even the nice days of winter.

    So maybe – just maybe – DCR could spend less time (== money) clearing the entire lot, and invest more in clearing the paths. Maybe clear half the paths in this park, and half the parking lot – instead of all the paths, halfway. Maybe, as a result of having clearer paths, more people will come and use the half of the parking lot they painstakingly cleared.

    If more people use the park, we as a society get more for the money we’ve already committed to spend.

    Everybody wins!

    • Lowell Peabody

      Cannot disagree with that logic, but the issue was more encompassing than the one park area. Not sure this translates to all other areas too. How many trails, how far, good questions. Clearing parking lots allows people to use the park for sledding, walking, bird watching, & whatever else. So it is probably appropriate to clear the parking, but I do hear you on maybe half. Ultimately it is about funding levels which no one wants increased. Whether clearing half the lot of reducing some other program by an equal amount would be fine. Think about this more city wide though, and not one park. Bottom line is the inconvenience is usually short and we all deal with it. Bad weather, I mean snow, increases the misery of all travelers, for a few days.

      • Eric Herot

        If it were a few days it would be less of an issue. In fact the current MO of the DCR is for many of these paths to be out of service “until the weather thaws the ice.” In some cases that can mean that a path is unusable for months at a time.