Why It Was Wrong For Charlestown To Remove The Main Street Bike Lanes

Written by Boston Biker on Dec 10

Now that the dust has settled on the Charlestown bike lane issue its clear that removing them, at least removing them so quickly, was the wrong decision. Before I get to laying out any justification for the title of this post a quick recap on the situation.

If you believe everyone, here is basically what happened. The city of Boston painted some bike lanes on Main street in Charlestown, an elected neighborhood advisory board said “Hey we love bike lanes, and we love bikers, but you didn’t ask us about putting those lanes in, so remove them.” Several days later the lanes were removed under cover of night. When people found out about it, they threw a stink.

Removing the lanes so quickly was the worst possible response that Charlestown could have taken. Heres why.

If Charlestown had stopped to think about it they would have realized that removing the lanes without any community process, wasted a lot of money, and is exactly the kind of thing Charlestown were so upset about in the first place.

They could have said:

“OK we are not happy that we didn’t get a say in installing these lanes, but since we love cyclists so much, and the lanes have been paid for, and we are in the middle of a massive recession, and they are already installed, and we love community process over here, perhaps we will ask the people of Charlestown if they want the lanes before we spend a bunch more money to remove them.”

They then could have had some of that community process they seem to value so much, and the people of Charlestown might have actually said “Yes we want to keep them.” The city certainly would have saved a bunch of money, and Charlestown would have been able to show the city how real community process is done. A win win.

If, on the other hand, the community of Charlestown had said they didn’t want the lanes, the cost would have been the same for removing them, and the principle of community involvement (which Charlestown says they are all about) would have been preserved. Instead the lanes were hastily removed with no public comment period, wasting money, and embarrassing everyone involved.

It also sets an unreasonable speed expectation. Will all future city projects be completed this fast? If we call up city hall asking for something repaired, and its not done instantly by road work ninjas under cover of night should we be up in arms?

The lesson we should learn from this incident is that times they are a changing. There is a shift in the way people get around Boston, cycling, walking, and public transit are growing, and car driving is shrinking. Boston is on its way towards becoming a more livable city, a city designed for people, not for cars. There is bound to be some hiccups on the way towards a better Boston, and this is one of them.

I was heartened to see that people got upset about this, it means they value bicycle infrastructure, and don’t take kindly to it being installed, and then suddenly removed. Even if the way it was installed wasn’t perfect, we can’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We also need leaders who are forward thinking, when planning infrastructure, and when responding to events like waking up to find surprise bike lanes on your Main street.

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Posted in advocacy, bostonbiker, infrastructure | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Why It Was Wrong For Charlestown To Remove The Main Street Bike Lanes”

  1. By mtalinm on Dec 11, 2010 | Reply

    The reasoning here is so poor in many places that my head hurts. I would have thought the next Charlestown-related post might instead have included an apology for the incensed, profane tirade prior to having investigated what actually happened (as BCU did). I’m taking my bostonbiker.org blog out of the list here.


  2. By JJJJ on Dec 11, 2010 | Reply

    I don’t think mtalinm will be missed. The only poor reasoning came out of Charlestown. If they really hated the lanes, they should have set up a meeting about them, as BB wrote. And only if the response was negative, spend the money to remove it.

    Now if a meeting is called and people ask for it back, will they really spend the money in doing so?

  3. By Boston Biker on Dec 11, 2010 | Reply

    mtalinm, your data on your blogs are totally exportable, so if you want to you can move it lock stock and barrel to some place else, we believe in data portability here at BostonBiker.org.

    Also I would love to hear why you think my logic is flawed?

  4. By Pete Stidman on Dec 11, 2010 | Reply

    The neighborhood did not ask for them to be removed. They asked for the work on them to be halted. This is really a no blame situation that was borne of miscommunication. Get the full story at bostoncyclistsunion.org.

    There could still be a positive outcome for cyclists in Charlestown in the near future but getting angry really does not help.

    It’s an emotional issue for all of us who ride, but we gotta keep cool heads and realize everyone in this city is part of these changes. If we make this into an us vs. them. We lose.

  5. By JJJJ on Dec 12, 2010 | Reply

    I don’t see how paying a contractor to illegally remove lanes at 3am is a “mistake”. Who handed over the cash?

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