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Boston’s Urban Bike Culture

Boston's urban bicyclist: friend or foe? (AP)

Boston's urban bicyclist: friend or foe? (AP)

Walking or driving around the streets of Boston, you may have spotted the native, two-wheeled creature, known as Duos Rota Bostonia.

Yes, OK. Of course I made it up. But Duos Rota Bostonia has a kinder ring, don’t you think, than what others would call Boston’s urban cyclists. Brian McGrory calls them “the scourge of the city.”

In a recent column in the Boston Globe, McGrory went farther, expressing not only his particular distaste for those two-wheeled, lycra-clad, take-no-prisoners, traffic-darting cyclists, but suggesting the city ban street cyclists outright.

“Riding around downtown Boston, the Kenmore square area, the Boston University area, typically going as fast as cars are out there, except for they don’t bother with stop signs, they don’t bother with red lights, they don’t stop for pedestrians and crosswalks,” McGrory tells me in a recent phone conversation.

He arguest that Boston’s bicyclists don’t follow the rules of the road and some of them act as if they don’t have to follow the laws of physics, either.

And, wait- what about Boston’s drivers and pedestrians? They aren’t following all the rules of the road either. Step foot on the streets of Boston, look both ways and you will find that you are in the middle of a low-grade, three-way urban turf war.

Boston's urban cyclists set off. Whose's roads are these? (AP)

Boston's urban cyclists set off. Whose's roads are these? (AP)

McGrory agrees: “You have this stew on our city streets of drivers who may typically be in a rush, and may not be the most polite people,” he says. “And what you do have is bedlam, and it’s only going to get worse when we start this new bike sharing program.”

McGrory’s being deliberately inflammatory. (It is the columnist’s wont to inject a little melodrama to make a point.) Here’s a man, after all, who owns a bike, rides it in the suburbs, even has fond memories of delivering the Globe by bike around his neighborhood as a young paperboy.

Still, what irks McGrory is that there is something peculiar going on in the Boston version of this transportation war. Boston is not New York, or Copenhagen, or Paris, or Vancouver, he says. It’s old Beantown. It’s paved over cowpaths and narrow streets. It’s squares that aren’t square. It’s historic buildings and crumbling sidewalks. It’s a city that may not be suited for all modes of transportation.

And yet Boston is launching a new bike-share program. Hubway, a novel low-cost rental program that’s been very successful in several other cities. Residents and tourists will be able to rent 600 bikes located in 60 kiosks in select areas of the city.

For a man like McGrory, the bike-share program is like living in an imaginary Boston utopia. “People grabbing bikes for very little money, happily peddling to an outdoor café across town and you know, everybody living in perfect harmony with bunnies skipping across the meadows,” he says.

But here’s the thing. Even McGrory admits that we might see him on the back of a Hubway bike. “I’ll be honest,” he says, “If these bikes are convenient and I need to get up to Fenway Park, I would think nothing of jumping on one. But, I’ll tell you what. I guarantee you I’d stop for stop signs and traffic lights.”

What do you think?

Do you agree with Brian McGrory? Are urban cyclists as the two-wheeled miscreants of the metropolis? (“Miscreant” – that’s McGrory’s word, not mine.) Or if you are one of the fast growing numbers of city cyclists, do you think the real problem is drivers? Do you think the streets of Boston can handle 600 more bikes in the hands of potentially inexperienced riders? How would you describe the city’s biking culture, and how would you make it better?

We discuss Boston’s bike culture with David Watson, executive director of MassBike, a state-wide bicycle advocacy group, and Vice Mayor of Cambridge Henrietta Davis, formerly the chair of Cambridge City Council Traffic and Transportation Committee.

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Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

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