Cambridge’s debate of bike lanes vs. businesses, seen by an ex-Western Massachusetts resident
For the past several months I have read about the controversy surrounding whether there should be bike lanes installed throughout the city. One side says it’s going to lose business due to the lack of parking, and the other side says it’s about public safety for bikers. To me both sides are reacting unnecessarily to perceived fears and neither side is talking to one another – and the city isn’t willing to compromise and really take its time in implementing the Cycling Safety Ordinance, especially since its own law says it has about five years to implement it.
To me as a former Western Massachusetts resident and former human rights and disability commissioner, the big elephant in the room that no one is talking about is the lack of transit options for non-bike riders. When I see bike lanes I smile, because they make cities look nice, provide riders with their own lane and keep riders separated from busy traffic. I am neither for or opposed to bike lanes – the issue for me is moot – but to liberals and arch environmentalists concerned about climate change, this is considered a win in this fight. To me it’s not a win at all, just a cosmetic Band-Aid on the bigger problem: Why do people drive cars in the first place?
Because for many, especially those in Western Massachusetts who struggle each day to get around, it is their lifeline; the car is their best friend. It’s the only way to get to doctor’s appointments, work and grocery shopping. Biking isn’t an option for most people because the roads aren’t designed for that; people are older, disabled or low-income and can’t afford a good bike to handle the rigors of U.S. roads. And public transit barely runs on time or beyond 9 p.m. to most places, especially toward the hill towns with older populations. When I was a disability commissioner for Easthampton, we had to fight tooth and nail in 2018 to keep the only town buses, a village bus and a regular 40-footer to Holyoke, from being cut back dramatically to almost nothing.
I decided years ago that I would no longer drive a car due to unaffordability and a desire for exercise, but in Western Massachusetts that was nearly impossible – as with most of the United States. So I moved to Cambridge, where despite the dirty subway cars and overcrowded buses I can move around freely and be independent. My bike helps get me to places I need to go also, with or without a bike lane; many places I go, there isn’t one. In short, until we address the problem of how people get around without cars, until we start enforcing traffic laws on out-of-control drivers and daredevil teenage bikers, until the public learns and respects that cars and bikes must share the road safely through education and cooperation, there’s no amount of bike lanes that will change our car culture. Businesses are not to blame for that. Reactionary signs, throwing trash at people, name calling and yelling at people with bike helmets at Dunkin’ Donuts is unacceptable and immature. We are all adults, and we should be able to accept different points of view on such a minor issue and to accept defeat with grace and respect. No one, businesses or bikers, is going to win 100 percent on this, but as we debate bike lanes, we miss the larger picture: How do we create bold and groundbreaking initiatives to once and for all make it so using a car isn’t the first and only option for people? A bike lane isn’t going to achieve that.
Doug Ross, Huron Avenue