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Boston Rising: Boston Bikes’ Nicole Freedman

The Boston metro area has always had plenty of cyclists.  But other than some fantastic greenways like the Minuteman Trail, riding along the Charles, and some ahead-of-its-time traffic calming & bike lanes in Cambridge, cyclists have had very little to crow about.  In fact, it wasn't uncommon to hear murmurs that Boston was the worst cycling city in the U.S.

But that's all slowly changing. Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino hired Nicole Freedman - a former U.S. National Champion and 2000 Olympian - as his "bike czar" to head up Boston Bikes in late 2007. Though there is still quite a ways to go, Boston is rising from decades of bike rust and planning to make its city more bike-friendly. Recently, the Mayor told a gathering of cyclists at Boston's first "Bicycling Safety Summit" in April, "The car is no longer king in Boston."

While Streetfilms was in town with NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) we got to spend a few minutes with Nicole in between her busy schedule to file this report.

<blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Nicole Freedman:</cite> [0:00] Hello, I'm Nicole Freedman. I'm the director of Boston Bikes for Mayor Menino and the City of Boston. Today, we're going to take a tour of Boston's newest bike facilities. [music] </p><p>[0:10] I started heading up the mayor's Hub on Wheels Citywide Bike Ride. The city did not have a bike program at the time, but we did have the Hub On Wheels ride, which was modeled after New York's Five Borough ride. It was just about that time that Mayor Menino was looking at biking, and seeing how it really fit into his sustainability initiatives and new philosophies on transportation with a car as no longer king.</p><p>[0:44] So, the mayor in 2007, September, launched Boston Bikes, and hired me full time to run the bike program.</p><p>[applause] </p><p>[0:50] We do the convoys the last Friday of every month. We want to get new cyclists trying to bike. I think 25-30 percent of the people that come out here ride very, very infrequently. This is an opportunity to try commuting safely.</p><p>[1:12] Cyclists come up all the time, and they say, "What can I do?" What you can do is get your friends to this event. Get them on a bike, because they'll fall in love with biking.</p><p>[1:20] When we started the program two years ago, we were very well known as the worst cycling city in the country. The mayor strongly believes that the most important thing we can do is get a network of bike facilities up and running, because that makes it safer for everyone.</p><p>[1:36] Exactly, yeah. What we want to do is get your input on some things that we are thinking about. Really, bringing the best minds together.</p><p>[1:44] I always joke that if we never have an original idea, and if we plagiarize from all the other cities, we'll be very successful. We've been watching the protected bike lanes in New York City and Portland, and our plan is to definitely go that route.</p><p>[1:57] I think I traveled to 13 or 14 different countries and almost every state racing. You get to see the conditions for cyclists, and how each state or each country treats their cyclists. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Man 1:</cite> [2:09] Today, we announce bike lanes on Mass Ave. [applause] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_3_text"> <cite class="speaker_3" >Nicole:</cite> [2:16] One thing about the announcement of Mass Ave. It's the spine of our system. With bike lanes all from Cambridge, across the Mass Ave Bridge and on Mass Ave, all the bike lanes that we're putting in will become that much more effective. [music] </p><p>[2:30] I love riding in Boston. It's the fastest way to get around, period. Ultimately, that's what I think people want, is to get from point A to point B fast. It's also a beautiful city, and there's a lot of green space and green ways. A lot of what we have to do in building our network is build off the current network of green ways, and then help people with their first mile and last mile, getting to those green ways. </blockquote> <br/><br/>
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  • cycler

    Nichole is a force of nature-It's incredible what she's been able to coax, cajole and finesse in a couple of short years! We in Boston are so lucky to have such a fun and dedicated advocate working for us

  • ddartley

    Couple things they have that beat NYC:

    The “share” markings at :18 and :20 are how sharrows should really look here in NYC: in the *middle* of the lane, not off to the side and *just barely* out of the door zone (because that doesn’t really say “share” at all, but rather, “keep out of the way.”). I think BicyclesOnly has commented similarly in the past.

    To me, the bike lane at 1:28 is superior to ANY on-street bike lane I've seen in NYC (yes, even the physically separated ones), in that it’s wide enough for cyclists to pass each other, and to safely pass any driver who parks in it. Why can we never have that in NYC?

    Go Yankees.

  • ddartley

    Another advantage Boston's share markings have over ours:

    The sharrows are bordered by pairs of dashed lines that are longer than the sharrow itself. That makes the markings much more visible to motorists. NYC should improve its sharrows that way too.

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    I also really like the Sharrow markings that ddartly points out.

    However, there are some other things I saw that I guess I'm just gonna' just have to bite my lips about till they bleed since the seem to becoming standards despite going against what they teach you in LCI training (nice run-on sentence).

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Regarding the Sharrow treatment - I really enjoyed riding in them. Would like to see those used in some places in NYC.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/jass jass

    The sharrows you folks are talking about are actually in the city of Brookline, Nicole has nothing to do with those. They are experimental, and do indeed look good.

  • Herzog

    Another great Streetfilm!

  • brooklinebiker

    Here's the explanation from Northeastern University's Prof. Furth regarding the Longwood Ave. pavement marking experiment: http://runningahospital.blogspot.com/2009/12/dashes-in-brookline.html?showComment=1261521867984#c8655304978755459930

    He also links to his paper on the same subject.

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    These delineated sharrows were Prof. Furth's idea?!?! That explains why I like them as much as I do. He takes the best principles of vehicular cycling when thinking up new bicycle specific infrastructure.

    I've read his paper on the idea of a "bicycle priority lane" which are already used in many places in Europe. I highly advise everyone to take a look.


    Oddly enough people were just talking about them today on the APBP listserv.

  • JamesR

    I'd be curious to know the extent to which Ms. Freedman is working with the staff of the neighboring municipalities, like Medford, Somerville, Brookline, Cambridge, etc to build a coordinated bike route system. The entity people commonly refer to as "Boston" is really a conurbation of a million people divided into a bunch of autonomous local governments, much as it would be if Brooklyn and Queens were independent cities rather than part of the greater metropolis. This really complicates the efforts to make Greater Boston a bike friendly area. If a cyclist has to spend 20 minutes riding through hell in Revere before reaching the safety of bike lanes and sharrows in Boston, then the battle is only half won. I wish her and her fellow advocates all the best in making this happen.

  • JJJ

    JamesR, the lack of coordination has sort of helped by creating competition and comparison.

    Brookline painted bike lanes to their southern broder with Boston. Soon after, people in Boston began to demand that Boston have them as well, and now they exist. On the northern border, a movement in Newton was born to connect with the bike lanes too.

    Nobody wants the neighboring city to be better, so everybody races to match and exceed what the neighbors are doing.

  • http://newtonstreets.blogspot.com Sean

    Another great film by Clarence.


    Actually, folks in Newton agitated for Boston to paint the bike lanes in order to put pressure on Newton. Proves your point about competition and comparison.

  • eric

    IS it true that the bikesharing project is being postponed? I love the shared system in Montreal and was thrilled to think we'd soon have it in boston...