Road Rage? More Like Bike Rage
Yesterday evening I took my new convertible for a top-down ride up to Revere Beach to grab a roast beef at Kelly’s. As I enjoyed the view of the ocean and the hot blonde in the passenger seat, I couldn’t help thinking, “this is so much cooler than a bicycle!” Well, not really. I was thinking, “this global warming thing is AWESOME.” Much like my article, “Hell Yeah, I Love My Car,” I don’t actually think that much about bicycles on a day-to-day basis. But from the volume and tone of responses that my article drew from the two-wheeled set, you’d think I proposed offering a $25 bounty for every bloodstained bike helmet brought to City Hall.
It’s a common stereotype that bicyclists are nothing but a horde of shrill activists who never pass up an opportunity to lecture everyone else about the superiority of their personal lifestyle choices, but in my experience, it’s a case of 99 percent of riders giving the other 1 percent a bad name.
To be clear, my quibble isn’t with bicycles so much as it is with bicyclists, who often display a victim complex on par with that exhibited by Santorum supporters who shriek breathlessly about the government’s war on Christianity. Naturally, one of the first features my critics seized upon as evidence of my patent stupidity was my BMI. Argumentum ad Lipitor is fun and all, but if I see a fat person pedaling around town, that doesn’t prove anything about bikes any more than my article would have been more valid if it were written by any one of the tens of thousands of skinny people in Boston who don’t ride. Another commenter thanked me for “telling us what’s up from behind the wheel of your exceedingly feminine sports coupette.” So I’m apparently not just fat and stupid, but queer to boot.
Meanwhile, the more serious pushback I received doesn’t hold up to scrutiny much better. On my point that working-class residents or families with young children would have a tough time doing grocery shopping or getting to work in the suburbs without a car, commenters replied that, (i) ‘I know plenty of people who do that because they can’t afford a car,’ and (ii) ‘you’re obviously yuppie scum so what would you know?’ I didn’t say that these things are impossible, only that they, well, stunk.
Ten years ago I commuted from Southie to a job next to the Burlington Mall for most of a year before I saved enough money to buy a car, which took my commute from 90 to 40 minutes each way, and spared me the misery of missing the once-an-hour bus by five minutes at 7 p.m. And to the extent that government policy makes keeping a car in the city more difficult and expensive, the impact of that is going to weigh heavily on working-class residents who can’t easily afford, say, a $350/month parking garage. But it does mean a lot fewer poor people clogging the roads, so hey, bonus for us yuppies!
I live in Eastie, yes, and it’s impossible to bike from here to anywhere but Chelsea or Revere, but it’s a misconception that it’s otherwise uniquely isolated. The Blue Line takes you straight into the heart of the city much faster than the Green Line, and you can — God help me — drive from here to just about anywhere super-fast on evenings or weekends outside of rush hour. As for those who say that riding a bike from JP to Somerville is fun or easy, you’re made of sterner or crazier stuff than most of us. Google Maps shows a 6.9-mile ride, and this past non-winter aside, it’s not one I’d like to do in the middle of February or at night, let alone both.
That does lead us to one serious point, and if I might extend a small olive branch to my bike-riding critics, it would be that I am broadly open to measures to make the roads safer. I haven’t looked at the debate over Idaho stops closely, but it seems sensible that the law recognize that bikes are not the same thing as cars, and while we might not agree on every situation, I have no objection to bike lanes where they can be integrated sensibly into the streetscape, even if they have to ditch a few parking spaces to do it. The recent proposal by the Esplanade Association to level the Bowker overpass and convert Storrow Drive back into a low-speed parkway, along with adding Pike exits to help re-route traffic in a more sensible and pedestrian-friendly pattern, deserves serious consideration and would make the Back Bay dramatically more bike-friendly.
On the point that car ownership is something positive for the “vast majority” of city residents, I’m not going to relent. According to the 2000 Census, about 65 percent of households in Boston own at least one car, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest that number has gone down by much, even after the Great Recession. But the Boston Biker also said that “this man needs someone take him out and ride around on a bicycle,” and I’ve accepted the challenge. We’re scheduled to meet at a Hubway stand this Friday, and provided that some enraged bike-hating SUV driver doesn’t make road pizza of me, I’ll report back on the experience. In the meantime, all of you pro-bike folks, just make sure you put a saddle on your seat-post and lighten up a bit.