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Boston’s challenge: “Change the culture”

Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

Photo credit: Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

The League’s Bicycle Friendly Community program recognizes cities that promote and protect bicyclists through the five E’s – education, engineering, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation – to become better places to ride. These cities are models to emulate. But there are plenty of other cities out there making progress in the up-hill climb to reverse unfriendly bicycling conditions. The BFC program is offering these communities a road map and the technical assistance needed to improve. The New York Times featured one example in this past Sunday’s edition.

From their article on Boston’s efforts to improve cycling conditions:

Boston, long known as a minefield for bicycle riders, is feverishly working to shed that reputation by creating bike lanes, installing bike racks, restoring bike paths and urging residents to switch from horsepower to pedal power. Plans to link the city’s existing bike paths and create a bike-share program are also in the works.

Boston’s new Bike Czar, Nicole Freedman, says the city’s grand plan is to “change the culture,” something the League is working on across the country.

One lesson from Boston’s experience is the importance of a well-positioned champion – by champion I am not just referring to Freedman, a former Olympic cyclist – but the enthusiastic leadership of Mayor Thomas Menino. Menino recently rediscovered bicycling after 40 years off a bike. The Mayor’s chief of policy and planning talked so passionately about bicycling that eventually the Mayor decided to join the fun. He had his new three-speed Trek delivered to City Hall. Now his staff expects early morning phone calls from the Mayor identifying potholes during his 5 a.m. rides. In addition to pushing for more facilities, the Mayor has asked the City Council to pass an ordinance prohibiting parking in bike lanes. He even has a Facebook page called Mayor Menino’s Boston Bikes.

Mayor Menino also kicked off last October’s Boston Bike Summit, which the League helped organize along with the city, the Livable Streets Alliance and MassBikes. The summit brought together advocates and decision-makers to craft a strategy to advance bicycling in Boston. In another best practice, the city sent a delegation to New York City to see what other large U.S. cities are doing to promote bicycling. In March, the Livable Streets Alliance received an REI Bicycle Friendly Community Grant – administered by Bikes Belong and the League – to help Boston develop its Bicycle Network Plan.

Although Boston’s infamous aggressive driving culture and tricky traffic engineering presents its challenges, the city is moving in the right direction by taking the first steps by convening advocates, investing in infrastructure, appointing staff, and raising the public profile of bicycling in Boston.

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