One of many protected bike lanes in Boston.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Coppola
Urban Biking: Revolution on Two Wheels
By Sara Mack November 20, 2017
Although it is possible, commuting to work on a bicycle consistently in some suburban and even rural areas is not for the faint of heart. Ralph Shultz of rural and scenic Souderton, Pennsylvania will be celebrating 40 years of bicycling to his job in 2018. When I spoke with Schultz on the phone regarding his dedication to the demanding daily ride, he conceded that although some busier roads can be “tricky to handle,” his route is manageable as it consists mostly of country backroads. According to Shultz, he has always enjoyed the commute, and the longer he has persisted the easier it has become.
Even though they are achievable in rural locations, bicycle commutes are more common in areas of higher population density. Even so, city-goers often take their position in a cultural and economic hub for granted. Overlooking the benefits of bike-friendly portions of the road such as special lanes and stop-lights, city residents tend to become caught up in the fast-paced aspect of metropolitan life. One of the most exciting opportunities available in urban areas is the potential for a commute without the use of independently owned cars and trucks.
For those that live in metropolitan centers, bicycle commutes are even more appealing than they are to rural commuters, as they are becoming more convenient than other forms of public or private transportation. Public bike rentals (known as Hubway Bikes in Boston, but under other names across the U.S) provide 1,600 bikes available in approximately 180 bike hub locations in the Boston area alone. This form of easy rental allows quick and easy bike transportation to be possible even without the commitment required to own and maintain a personal bicycle. These bikes can be reserved by joining the Hubway system either online, at a bike dock, or via the official app. Once one a bike is reserved, it can be rode any distance as long as it is eventually returned to another bike hub. Rentals are affordable and practical: bikers are charged a rate of 8 dollars for 24 hours, 20 dollars for a month of access, or 99 dollars for a full year of Hubway bike membership.
In order to improve safety standards for city biking, developments are being made nation-wide in an effort to reduce the number of accidents involving bicyclists. On Boston University’s campus alone, substantial changes have occurred within the last year to promote safe biking for students, professors, and other Bostonian bicyclists. After the approval of a 20.4 million dollar reconstruction plan in the summer of 2016, construction projects have included the installation of bicycle-specific traffic lights, vibrantly painted green bike lanes, and the beginnings of protected lanes designed to protect cyclists from deadly “right-hooks” routinely performed by motorists. The protections designed to prevent this type of incident hits close to home after the occurrence of a fatal accident on BU’s campus in 2012 involving a tractor trailer and a BU student. In order to minimize risk for students, BU has partnered with the City of Boston to improve safety on Commonwealth Avenue.
Bike lanes are not the only bicycle related trends making headlines. Companies like We-Flashy are entering the market to make the commute safer and more fashionable. The Brooklyn-based startup was born out of the fundraising site Kickstarter, and it has successfully launched its reflective clothing campaign with apparel ranging from 45 dollar shirts to 115 dollar sweatshirts.
These pushes towards sustainable commuting are clearly reflected in statistics. In a poll conducted by The League of American Bicyclists, in 2013, 2% of Bostonian commuters bicycled to work. This is a 122% increase from .9% in 1990. In comparison, the city with the highest concentration of bicycle commuters according to the same study is Portland, Oregon with a 5.9% cyclist commuter rate. There is a substantial aspect of comradery present between these cyclists as well. In Boston, the creation of the Boston Cyclists Union allows these members of the greater Boston area to unite and bond over campaigns such as “Bikeways for Everyone” and events such as “Bike Prom.”
Bikes Not Bombs, a company based out of the greater-Boston area, takes these campaigns to the next level. Using the bicycle as a vehicle for social change, Bikes Not Bombs reclaims 6,000 bikes each year from the Northeastern United States and ships them to international economic development projects across Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean. These bicycles are utilized as means to address inequality and violence in a way that also promotes sustainability and positive social change. Bikes Not Bombs also maintains a retail bike shop in Jamaica Plains, MA., where donated bikes are restored and resold. Additionally, mechanical training workshops are offered to teens (part of Pathways Young Employment Program) in order to teach important skills that promote environmental efficiency and financial stability.
Biking is an exciting component of the metropolitan lifestyle as well as an exciting prospect in terms of environmental sustainability. According to a study published in National Geographic, individuals who bike five miles every day rather than driving an average car had the potential to reduce total household emissions by six percent. This type of personal accountability is exceedingly important in the 21st century as it is more important now than ever to enact the changes necessary to reduce carbon emissions. Although bicycling to work each day may seem like a futile sacrifice in the grand scheme of things, the commitment to positive change and dedication to the environment displayed by the action will create a ripple effect that reflects an unimaginable degree of social and environmental responsibility.
Bikes Not Bombs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2017, from https://bikesnotbombs.org/
Boston Cyclists Union. (2014, July 18). City, BU resist protected bike lanes on Comm Ave. Retrieved October 20, 2017, from http://bostoncyclistsunion.org/uncategorized/city-bu-resist-protected-bike-lanes-on-comm-ave/
International, I. M. (n.d.). How Hubway Works: Join, Unlock, Ride, Return. Retrieved October 20, 2017, from https://www.thehubway.com/how-it-works
Laskowski, A. (2016, June 23). Commonwealth Approves Cycle Tracks along Comm Ave | BU Today | Boston University. Retrieved October 20, 2017, from http://www.bu.edu/today/2016/state-approves-cycle-tracks-along-commonwealth-ave/
Society, N. G. (n.d.). Buying Guide - Bike Environmental Impact - National Geographic's Green Guide. Retrieved October 20, 2017, from http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/green-guide/buying-guides/bikes/environmental-impact/
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