Friday, March 16, 2012

Arlington Advocacy

I have just received the newest issue of our local newspaper - The Arlington Advocate and on its front page I see this:
Clearly, the bicycle traffic along Massachusetts Ave seems to be an issue. Let's see why.

The first problem presented in the article refers to the situation when two bikers nearly ran over a lady standing on the sidewalk in front of her home in East Arlington:
"A pair of cyclists barreling down the sidewalk was using vocal cords in lieu of a horn to alert her to their presence. Fortunately, she froze, spandex-clad cyclists flying past her in a blur."
First of all, what the hell were those bikers doing on the sidewalk? And if they were "spandex-clad" indeed, they were probably on their road bikes. Why wouldn't they ride their bikes on the road and share it with cars? Were they so afraid of the car traffic? Honestly fellow bikers, sidewalks are not for your wheels and such actions should be penalized.

The Advocate suggests that perhaps Arlington should follow Cambridge's example and put its police force on bikes to better enforce the law. Apparently, the City of Cambridge is also considering a dramatic increase in fines for cyclists who run red lights. Yes, that may help, although it's how well the law can be enforced what really matters, not how high the fine is. Also, according to the Advocate,
"the matter is complicated by the fact bicyclists are unregistered, unlicensed and uninsured commuters".
Oops, here we go again with an idea to require cyclists to have insurance and license plates on their bikes. Just please remember that drivers are insured, registered and licensed, yet it doesn't stop them from breaking the law.

But going back the situation presented above - If bikers are riding on sidewalk just because the "want to", there is not much we can do about it except educating and ticketing them. But we could also show them an alternative and put bike lanes along Massachusetts Ave. As I mentioned earlier, it is wide enough to be shared with bicycles. Arlington's Selectmen supported Mass Ave Corridor Project, which would add those long-awaited bike lines, but many residents oppose this idea claiming that it would not solve the problem. Eric Berger, Arlington's resident and movement's leader, is quoted in the article:
"When they (cyclists) engage in illegal activity like running red lights, blasting through crosswalks, riding the wrong way on one-way streets, failing to signal when turning or stopping (...), they can cause accidents and injuries and possibly deaths."
Mr Berger is right, cyclists can do all this. But I don't think this is the reason we should not let them to ride on Mass Ave. Many drivers break law the same way every day and we don't ban them from our streets. In fact, I have a hard time finding drivers in Massachusetts who really use their turn signals. Apparently, signaling turns is a sign of weakness here. To my understanding, Mr Berger's group is simply trying to say: "Mass Ave is for cars and we don't want any bikers there. Go ride your bike elsewhere!"

Fortunately, our Selectmen see it differently and they would like to add bike lanes on East Arlington's Mass Ave since it would "slow down the traffic" and stop Mass Ave being a "raceway" (Agree!). There are many residents who would support this project and they proposed a ballot vote later this year to decide the fate of those bike lanes. Immediately, about 3,000 Arlington residents signed a petition to oppose this idea, which makes me think that they must be afraid of losing the vote. I like to be optimistic and hope that people of Arlington will understand that regulating and enforcing bicycle traffic would improve everyone's safety.

You can read more about cycling in Arlington (and many other issues) on newspaper's website.

UPDATE: The article is available now online as well.

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