Rage on the Bikeway

minutemen_bikes.jpg

The Boston Globe ran a front-page story yesterday about confrontations among users of the super-popular tree-lined Minuteman Bikeway in Boston. Police have already filed more reports of clashes between users of the bikeway this year than the previous two combined. As the Arlington Police Chief noted, "We have road rage, and now we have bikeway rage."

"It’s a good thing that it’s used so much," said David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. "But in some ways I guess you can call it a victim of its own success."

There are cyclists in full-body spandex suits, aerodynamic helmets, and titanium bikes that go fast enough to leave roadkill in their wake. There are roller bladers, swaying back and forth to music playing on headphones. There are dog-walkers, stroller-pushers, and frequent choruses of "On your left!" screamed by cyclists as they whiz by pedestrians.

On weekdays, some subway commuters take the trail to Alewife Station in Cambridge. Pedestrians can be seen reading books as they walk, and a few cyclists chat on cellphones, one hand on the phone and another gripping the handlebars.

This type of "modal conflict" is familiar to users of the West Side bike path and the Central Park loop. And as the New York Times reports in an article this weekend about clashes between dog owners and cyclists, there can be conflict between species as well:

The city Parks Department does not keep statistics on collisions between bikes and dogs. But almost every cyclist and every dog owner seems to have a story about a collision, and there is no lack of finger-pointing as to who is to blame.

"It’s the owner’s fault," said Alex Rodriguez, race director for the Road Club Association, which has been holding races in the park since the 1920s.

Nancy Kramer, a 59-year-old interior designer who lives on the Upper East Side, says most of the people she sees on her park walks are collegial. "Except for the bikers."

  • nobody

    This just goes to show how much pent-up demand there is for car-free space. The solution, of course, is more of it. Just like road-building: if you build it, they will come.

  • Bikeway gladiator

    Also just goes to show how Boston’s home to the dumbest, rudest, most counterintuitive commuters in every transit mode. Can I tell you how many times I’ve tried to step off a rush hour T only to have a wave of jerks pushing in as soon as the doors open?

  • Gwin

    I don’t know how the paths in Boston are set up, but the ones on the Hudson River have separate paths for bikers and pedestrians (for the most part). I am by no means a hardcore cyclist, but I have essentially given up on the Hudson River paths because there are so many inconsiderate pedestrians walking in the bike lane.

    Actually, the East River side is one day going to be just as bad. I actually nearly hit a toddler who ran into my path near the South Street Seaport because his stupid parents chose to walk in the bike lane rather than on the much more pleasant riverside pedestrian path. Unbelieveable!!

  • galvo

    speaking of dogs, yesterday on the greenway by the George Washington Bridge there was a father and son riding single file in front of me. A guy was walking a pit bull and it lunged to bite the bicyclist, luckily the pit bull got smacked by the bike rather than the bicyclist getting bit.

  • Dave

    Galvo – exact same thing happened to me and 2 friends on Ocean Parkway a few weekends ago. The pitbull got smacked by my rear tire when it lunged at me, but then bit a friend 2 bikes behind me. Luckily she had sneakers on (not sandals) so didn’t get cut.

  • pa

    i have actually had three bad dog experiences riding my bike and they all included pitbulls. i think there are too many morons whose stupid macho attitudes end up rubbing off on the dogs.
    they use pitbulls as some prop to look cool so the dogs in turn act just as dumb as the owners. also, lots of dopes who casually walk their dogs and let the leash go long not realizing that people walking by and cyclists as well have to keep from tripping over them which can also harm the dog.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Boston is helping to meet that pent up demand by restoring hundreds of miles of greenways along its historic parkways, which were inspired by New York City’s. The Emerald Necklace runs along the rivers and links parks. On summer weekends many of the roads themselves are closed to accommodate the demand. Urban parkways offer cities the rare opportunity to create long-distance, scenic greenways.

    Boston’s historic parkway initiative came out of the Mass Department of Environmental Protection, which recognized the environmental importance of this greenbelt. The DOT understands that the parkways’ greatest potential is to support alternative modes. The slogan “A Parkway is not a road. It’s a park with a road in it” is Boston’s. It should be New York’s.

    (The Big Dig is seen as the newest addition to the parkway network – the highway is buried and a park and greenway laid on top.)

    For some pictures check out:

    http://www.rizzo.com/our_services/transportation_memorial_drive_rehabilitation_historic_parkways_initiative
    htm

  • I have the same frustration as Gwin. I commute on the Hudson river greenway which features completely physically separated (when there’s not construction) lanes for pedestrians and cyclists. The pedestrian lane is right on the river so it has the nicer view by far.

    The architects went as far as putting a big ass planter between the two paths so there’s a nice row of trees between the two. I’m sure the lads patted themselves on the back for going the extra mile to ensure that its painfully obvious that one side of the hedge is for people on wheels and the other side is for pedestrians. There’s no way a reasonable human being who isn’t in the middle of a PCP and cough syrup binge could mistake one path for the other.

    Wrong.

    Right up there with the twit who thought riding their bicycle down the 3rd ave sidewalk in the East Village on a Friday afternoon was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

    What force compels people to do wrong in such ways?

  • Hilary Kitasei

    I think New Yorkers are just hard-wired to reassert their right to the streets they were banned from. We are famous for ignoring traffic lights. We even tell our children to walk in middle of the street at night for safety (leftover habit from dangerous 80s). Heavy bike use of the bike paths, like heavy traffic in the streets, will be the solution to the problem. Keep riding, ringing your bell, barking. The day will come.

  • Spud Spudly

    If there was plenty of room for the pedestrians to walk, then sure, they should have stayed out of the bike lane. But if the pedestrian lane was crowded then let them overflow into the bike lane and boo-friggin-hoo for the bikers.

  • Bill

    I walked the Battle Road from Concord to Lexington, and then the Minuteman Bikeway from Lexington to Alewife when I visited Boston in the fall of 2005. It’s a beautiful bikeway and did not seem crowded (late afternoon of a weekday, nice weather). However, I couldn’t help thinking, as I passed the one stretch of tracks kept as a memento, it would make an even better rail line, like it once was. The numerous and excellent historical kiosks along the way explained that service was just discontinued after a huge blizzard in January 1977 wiped out service for days. If there was ever a commuter belt that could/should be served by trains, it was the series of neighborhoods the Bikeway went through. Rail trails are great, but they are also supposedly “railbanks” kept for future restoration of train use. Will the bikers, dog walkers, and pedestrians ever allow that to happen, I wonder?

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Bill is so right. That’s why we shouldn’t rely on greenways that make use of rail right-of-ways. Many are not permanent and the return of rail would be a good thing, whether long-distance or intra-urban, passenger of freight. All the more reason to preserve the parkways for greenways.

    Corridors are extremely difficult and costly to assemble. They are probably the most precious public asset a city has.

  • Gwin

    Wow Spud, are you a troll or what? Boo-friggin-hoo for the pedestrians, if you ask me!

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Okay, so are there any parallel roads that don’t carry as many people as the Minuteman Bikeway? Take one of those roads, plant some trees on it, turn it into a bikeway, and let the pedestrians have the old bikeway.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Also, I agree with Bill and Hilary (no, not that Bill and Hillary!) about rail-trails. My wife and I are members of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and their relentlessly upbeat magazine is nice to read when I’m feeling down. But like Bill, I often have this nagging thought in the back of my head, “you mean there was a railroad that went from there to there? That would be so convenient if it had passenger service today…”

    Rail-trails aren’t a permanent solution, because if we’re going to restore our quality of life we’ll need to rebuild our rail network, and we’ll need those rights-of-way. Long term, we’re going to have to think about making some of the roads obselete, and converting them to greenways and railroads.

  • Abba

    One size usually doesn’t fit all, so it’s good to know a bit of specific history before bemoaning a theoretical transit vs trail conflict.

    The 1980s extension of the MBTA Red Line (subway) was planned to reach Lexington Center, not end in Cambridge at Alewife. Reactionaries in Arlington (the town gov’t and probably the local state legislators) prevented the extension westward from the Arlington-Cambridge line. So as planned, that area would’ve had rapid rail to downtown Boston as well as the trail to Cambridge along the old rail ROW. As a result, Arlington Center remained a relative dump throughout the 1990s (haven’t really been around there since) compared to the thriving Davis and Porter Square areas, which got new subway stops from the project.

    Commuter rail service on that line ended well before 1977 – a blizzard may have been the coup de grace but it was late 1960s or early 1970s. I learned my cycling in traffic skills as a kid riding down Mass. Avenue, the street paralleling the rail line, in the mid and late 1970s because bus service to Harvard Square was so crappy.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Just try to run a train, or even lay the track on any of those bike ways in the “railbank” the NIMBYs and BANANAs will be all over you. Where and when was the last such reclamation. There are dormant right of ways all over the country and many in New York City (one of my favorites is the dormant Rockaway Branch of the LIRR from White Pot Junction to Ozone Park). People buy property along the right of ways at a price depressed by the potential rail service, then bitch and moan should a train dare run on the track.

  • galvo

    speaking of greenways, i spotted a new speed limit sign of 5MPH at the tennis courts near the little red lighthouse.
    i have never seen crazy pedestrian traffic here, but someone that plays tennis here has some clout.
    I find it interesting that bicycles in close proximity to pedestrians is quickly limited to 5MPH, however motor vehicle traffic in close proximity to millions of peds is at 30mph

  • Spud Spudly

    I’m sure those nasty pedestrians who walk on those paths appreciate that you, Gwin, have given up riding there. There are a lot more of them than there are bikers and they should be entitled to the space if they need it.

  • ben

    #6, i agree – so many dog owners have those those fishing reel-style dog leashes and just let their dogs run 20 feet in front of them, and then across the path/road, creating a tripwire across the whole street.

    it also consistently amazes me that dog owners allow their dogs on long leashes to run out into the road far before the owner reaches the crosswalk.

    they may not think a car is coming, but they can rarely see bikes coming at speed. only a matter of time till i hit a pooch…

  • pa

    good point #20.
    yeah it’s weird. dogs are supposed to be leashed but what is the point if the leash is like 20 feet long?

  • the real poop

    the point is to be far from the poop and maybe even ignore it!

  • Steve

    Yeah, Galvo, saw those signs last weekend and was wondering whether Parks is shifting from a transport to a recreational mindset on the Greenways. This is also evident on the East Side Esplanade from East 82nd to East 63rd. Parks has installed benches and planters almost in the middle of the pathway so that two-way traffic is impossible. Every few blocks, the benches and planters are discontinued and only then do the pavement markings indicating the possbility of two-way traffic return, for brief 50′ stretches. Why is Parks turning the greenways into woonerfs while DoT proclaims the need to build out the cycling network? Is it fair for DoT to count this single mile of ~5′ wide pathway that accomodates northbound and southbound cyclists and pedestrians as two linear miles of Class I bike path for purposes of its bike lane buildout commitments?

  • Gwin

    Spud, you seem to be misunderstanding something. There are TONS of places where pedestrians are allowed but bikers are not. The bike path on the Hudson River is SET ASIDE FOR BIKERS and therefore pedestrians should stay out of it at the risk of their own safety and that of the bikers. Got it?

  • offgrid

    I regret that I can’t find a piece I read a few months
    ago, I thought in The Guardian, on a London canal whose
    paths have been dedicated to cycling. The conflicts
    the piece reported read something like a prototype for
    the Boston piece. … But:

    I have a trunkful of exquisite memories of blissful hours,
    days, weeks wasted on the Village and Tribeca waterfront
    and piers. Luckily. After buying a bike expressly to ride
    along the Hudson River, the Battery Park City promenade
    is the only place I can get near the water now.

    Like Gwin, I had to abandon the “bike route” (the
    official designation–n.b. the signage): What riders
    have been encouraged to think of as a “bike path” is more
    precisely a riverside sidewalk, albeit one where cyclists are
    allowed laboriously if legally to thread among pedestrians,
    strollers, and NY State-owned and -operated motor vehicles.

    The state forbids bike riders exploring near this facility
    by prohibiting riding closer to the river and by providing
    no bike parking. Alongside the wreckage of Piers 25, 26, and
    32, the sidewalk is another stark demonstration of Hudson
    the River Park Trust’s contempt for we who’ve always loved
    the waterfront and whose taxes support HRPT in grand style.

    The unelected state body’s hostility toward bicycle
    riders is matched only by NYPD’s. But HRPT apparently
    has even more tax revenues to squander relatively than
    NYPD. What with actual criminals so hard to find, cyclists
    obviously make good target practice for imagination-challenged
    officials and enforcement agents with too much time on their
    hands.

    Trust me, any pol who advocates sharply decreased
    state funding for parks and no DHS funding for NYPD has
    my enthusiastic support. And I couldn’t be more serious.

    Between here and BPC my bike and I gladly take our
    chances in the streets. Like Battery Park City
    Authority honchos, drivers are more considerate by a city
    mile of bike riders than HRPT officials and the pedestrians
    who dominate State Route 9’s riverside sidewalk.

  • Hilary

    Offgrid: I’m sure you know that the Battery Park City Promenade is not for bikes either. You’re supposed to use the bike route a block inland. But of course you can walk with them anywhere.

    But the situation you describe on the 9A bike route is sense-defying. I will lobby HRPT for bike racks and for letting bikes be walked anywhere. I was equally shocked a few years ago to learn that bikes had been banned from Riverbank State Park.

    Has this ever been considered as a legal issue?

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  • Steve

    Questions about leashed dogs –
    First, there is a leash law in NYC and most cities and towns with sidewalks, bike and multi-use paths.

    Second, the leash is limited to SIX (6) FEET LONG in NYC and most other towns. Those 25 foot reels are illegal in NYC and elsewhere. Out on the Shore Parkway shared use path east of Sheepshead Bay, a dog can run completely across the entire 12 foot wide path on the end of these reel leashes. There is no way they are safe.

    Years ago, when I had a dog, I would usually walk her off the leash, but she would respond to hand signals and stay out of the way of pedestrians and cyclists. It seems that some of the current dog owners are just using their pets as weapons against other street users. It’s not the dog, but the owner at fault.

  • Any kind of dog training seems to be out of fashion, in favor of trying to divine, explain with wide-eyed amazement, and satisfy the animal’s every passing desire. Ruff.

    What about running on the greenway? I’ve done it for stretches, depending on how crowded (and sometimes closed) the adjacent walkway is. I keep to the side and look back before passing a stroller or anything. I’d hate to think any cyclists are cursing me for being there. For my part, I wouldn’t mind if (for whatever reason) a cyclist wanted to pedal along the water for a while without hitting or startling people. Or wanted to go faster than 5 m.p.h. on the bike path (wtf?). The rule that really matters in those prized spaces is the one keeping out cars.

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