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The Invisible Danger

Written by Boston Biker on Jul 07

Cars are pretty bad. Its probably not very hard to come up with a dozen bad things our use of cars has done for the planet, for cities, and for people. You might be thinking you can escape thous bad effects by riding a bicycle instead. And for the most part this is true.

But there is one danger posed by cars that still holds true when you ride your bicycle. Pollution, specifically cancer and asthma causing pollution.

A fascinating study from the Harvard school of public health shows that car drivers are not just hurting themselves, but are also hurting everyone who chooses not to drive cars.  For most things in this country your right to do whatever you want, extends right up until they hurt someone else,  however it seems that when it comes to environmental damage we still have the idea that the sky is a public dumping ground and anyone can inflict damage on anyone else.

Luckily it seems that bike paths and use of proper planning can greatly reduce the exposure to these pollutants.  Combined with the added health benefits of cycling, and the reduction of single car occupants on the road, cycling is still one of the single greatest ways to make yourself healthier, and make everyone else healthier at the same time.

From the Harvard School of Public Health:

Boston has installed more than 50 miles of bike lanes since 2007, and the number of pedal-powered commuters in the city, while only 2.1%, is more than three times the national average. To help urban planners continue to improve bike friendliness, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) set out to determine the types of lanes that expose cyclists to the smallest amount of vehicle pollution.

The researchers attached a mobile monitoring unit to the back of a bicycle and hit the road to sample two types of pollutants from vehicular exhaust—black carbon and nitrogen dioxide—known to increase the risk of asthma, heart disorders, and other health problems. They traveled five common bicycling routes in the city during both morning and evening commutes, to compare bike paths, which are separated from the road, and bike lanes, which run adjacent to traffic.

Bike paths had the best air quality, with concentrations of both pollutants about a third lower than on bike lanes. This was true even when bike paths near crowded streets were compared with bike lanes on quieter streets, suggesting that separation from the road and a protective barrier of vegetation, such as trees and bushes, makes a difference. Bike paths also allow cyclists to bypass intersections, where idling cars make the air quality particularly bad.

Piers MacNaughton, SM ’14, led the data analysis, which was published online May 16, 2014 in Science of the Total Environment. He earned his degree in the Exposure, Epidemiology and Risk Program in the Department of Environmental Health and will start a PhD in the program this fall.

A bike commuter himself, MacNaughton said the aim of the study is not to scare off city bicyclists but rather to provide evidence to shape future urban planning—particularly now that Boston is on the short list of host cities for the 2024 Olympics. “They are really pushing to be a biking capital. I wanted to get this research out so that when they start developing more bike lanes, they can do so in a smart way,” MacNaughton said.

Read abstract: Impact of bicycle route type on exposure to traffic-related air pollution

Read Boston Globe coverage: Cyclists, don your gas masks

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Do You Bike To Work?

Written by Boston Biker on Feb 19

Some students want to talk to you!


From the email:

“We are a group of students taking a class called UOCD at Olin College, or “user oriented collaborative design” where we work with a people group to conceptually design some sort of product or service specifically for the user group. We are not conducting a research study or making a finished product, we just want to learn more about our user group so that we can design something for our class.

My group is interested in people who bike to work. If you are a person who bikes to work, it would be great if we could have a phone interview or even better if we can talk to you in person (we can come to boston). We assure you that everything we talk about will be confidential and used just for the class. For privacy, we will absolutely keep you anonymous in our notes.

If you are interested, please email me at [email protected] or contact me at 510-542-7037. We would greatly appreciate your input.”

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Now We Know Who To Blame For All That Traffic

Written by Boston Biker on Feb 18

The dark blue on the map shows the neighborhoods whose residents spend the most time stuck in traffic. The red outlines identify 15 census tracts whose drivers disproportionately clog traffic, because they all tend to travel on the same small number of roads at the same time. When commuters from these census tracts clog the roads, the congestion ripples throughout the entire metro area, making everyone’s commutes longer.

The dark blue on the map shows the neighborhoods whose residents spend the most time stuck in traffic. The red outlines identify 15 census tracts whose drivers disproportionately clog traffic, because they all tend to travel on the same small number of roads at the same time. When commuters from these census tracts clog the roads, the congestion ripples throughout the entire metro area, making everyone’s commutes longer.

A recent study by MIT and UC Berkely using anonymous cell phone data and gps have determined that it is just 15 areas in the Boston metro area (out of 750 tracked by the census) are causing almost all of the traffic jams in Boston.

What they found, perhaps surprisingly, is that during rush hour, 98 percent of roads in the Boston area were in fact below traffic capacity, while just 2 percent of roads had more cars on them than they could handle. These congested roads included short stretches of I-495 southbound and Route 128 southbound, a number of downtown streets, and a wide scattering of suburban arteries, such as Bridge Street in Lowell (southbound) and Water Street in Haverhill (northbound). Each of these roads has what the engineers term a high degree of “betweenness”—that is, they’re essential for connecting one part of the metropolitan area to the others.

The backups on these roads ripple outward, causing traffic to snarl across the Hub. Marta Gonzalez of MIT, one of the lead engineers on the study, explains the effect this way. “The analogy we make is of your circulatory system,” she says. “When you have one artery that is blocked, it will affect your entire circulation.”

By tracking the cell records, they found that it’s just a small number of drivers from a small number of neighborhoods who are responsible for tying up the key roads. Specifically, they identified 15 census tracts (out of the 750 in Greater Boston) located in Everett, Marlborough, Lawrence, Lowell, and Waltham as the heart of the problem, because drivers from those areas make particularly intensive use of the problematic roads in the system.(via)

What this says to me is that, if we could connect these areas to decent public transportation and cycling options we could eliminate large amounts of traffic in this town. By working smarter, not harder, we could burst the bubble of traffic with laser guided improvements to our infrastructure.

The study demonstrated that “canceling or delaying the trips of 1 percent of all drivers across a road network would reduce delays caused by congestion by only about 3 percent,” MIT wrote. ” But canceling the trips of 1 percent of drivers from carefully selected neighborhoods would reduce the extra travel time for all other drivers in a metropolitan area by as much as 18 percent.”

The effectiveness of this “selective strategy” is attributed in the study to the facts that “only [a] few road segments are congested” and that these road segments are clogged by people originating largely from only a few areas. Even though data was anonymous, researchers were able to infer drivers’ home neighborhoods “from the regularity of the route traveled and from the locations of cell towers that handled calls made between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m,” UC-Berkeley said.(via)

If we can get drivers in these targeted areas to bus/train/cycle to work, we could dramatically reduce traffic in the rest of the town. Combined with some sort of congestion tax to keep otherwise non-car drivers from filling in the empty space made by the reduction of traffic, and using the money from that and a re-organized tax system to fund improvements in public transportation infrastructure, we could be living in a very pleasant city devoid of most single occupancy car drivers.


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Cambridge String Theory Ride

Written by Boston Biker on Apr 25

seeing as how I am a huge fan of science, this made me happy, and nice logo!



Please join our spring ride celebrating science in Cambridge. We’ve planned a route with dozens of sites landmarking innovation throughout the city. We’ll have a special presentation from the Museum of Scienceand food from the Maharaja Restaurant and Trader Joe’s.

Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 19 and check website for further details.

Saturday, May 19, 2012
10:15 AM
Start: Kendall Square
Finish: Fresh Pond

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Science And Cycling: The Pothole

Written by Boston Biker on Feb 10

As you probably have noticed there seem to be a lot of new potholes around. Potholes might be the wrong term, is there a word that means “giant wheel swallowing death traps filled with ice cold salt water?” Pothells?

I nearly ended up like the guy above yesterday as a brand new pit had sprung forth on a street that had been bereft of them the day before. I was able to swerve and avoid the front wheel and bunny hop the back wheel over it, in the most ungraceful way possible.

So where do all these monsters come from? And why do they seem to appear so suddenly? That my friend is a job for science!

To understand potholes you have to understand water. Most things shrink when they get cold, and expand when they get warm. Water is one of the few things that actually gets bigger as it gets colder. The reason for this is the way in which water molecules link up as they become ice.

The next thing you have to understand is that the road surface is not a single sold object. It feels pretty solid when you fall off your bike onto it, but its actually very porous. Black top is made of gravel and tar, concrete is comprised of gravel and cement. The road has lots of little spaces for water to soak into.

The road and everything else that is embedded into it, (utility covers, grates, train tracks, etc), shrink and expand as they heat and cool. Just to make it complicated they all expand and shrink at different rates, opening even more holes for water to soak into. Even things like white painted lines on the road can affect the rate at which things heat up and cool down.

The water soaks into tiny cracks in the road during the day when it is above freezing, at night when it cools down the water expands and pops open that hole a little more. The next day MORE water gets in there, when it freezes that hole gets bigger, repeat till your front wheel will fit into the hole. Metal objects only make this process faster, which is why you often see the worst potholes around utility hole covers and grates.

Just for good measure add a bunch of heavy vehicles driving over the surface and the smooth city streets are soon infested with a legion of evil potholes.

The recent spat of warm weather we had combined with the recent spat of extremely cold weather has caused a bumper crop of potholes. So many in fact that it seems every street now has one. Be vigilant riders, for a dark evil lurks below your wheels. Be sure to glance down once in a while to make sure a road once loyal is trustworthy still!

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Cycling Is Good For You, Safe, And Good For Everyone Else, So Says Science

Written by Boston Biker on Sep 29

If the traffic crashes and fatalities being at record low levels was not enough to convince you that cycling is safe, check out this new study about the health risks (or lack thereof) regarding cycling.

Its written in science language but I have made bold the area that you should be concerned about, read the whole thing here.

Although from a societal point of view a modal shift from car to bicycle may have beneficial health effects due to decreased air pollution emissions, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and increased levels of physical activity, shifts in individual adverse health effects such as higher exposure to air pollution and risk of a traffic accident may prevail.

Objective: We describe whether the health benefits from the increased physical activity of a modal shift for urban commutes outweigh the health risks.

Data sources and extraction: We have summarized the literature for air pollution, traffic accidents, and physical activity using systematic reviews supplemented with recent key studies.

Data synthesis: We quantified the impact on all-cause mortality when 500,000 people would make a transition from car to bicycle for short trips on a daily basis in the Netherlands. We have expressed mortality impacts in life-years gained or lost, using life table calculations. For individuals who shift from car to bicycle, we estimated that beneficial effects of increased physical activity are substantially larger (3–14 months gained) than the potential mortality effect of increased inhaled air pollution doses (0.8–40 days lost) and the increase in traffic accidents (5–9 days lost). Societal benefits are even larger because of a modest reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and traffic accidents.

Conclusions: On average, the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals shifting their mode of transport.

From a societal point of view, shifting from cars to other forms of transportation, such as bicycles, may have beneficial health effects due to decreased air pollution emissions, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and increased levels of physical activity. However, increased use of bicycles may increase both personal exposure to air pollutants and the risk of traffic accidents. De Hartog et al. (p. 1109) reviewed the literature for air pollution, traffic accidents, and physical activity and estimated the impact on all-cause mortality if 500,000 people shifted from cars to bicycles for short trips on a daily basis. The authors expressed the impact on mortality in life-years gained or lost using life table calculations. For individuals shifting from cars to bicycles, the authors estimated that beneficial effects of increased physical activity would be substantially larger than potential mortality due to increased air pollution exposure and traffic accidents. Societal benefits of cycling were even larger due to a modest reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and traffic accidents. The authors conclude that the health benefits of cycling are on average nine times greater than the risks associated with driving a car.

Or to summarize, yes you are going to be putting yourself at a little risk due to pollution while riding your bike, but its better for you to suck down a little exhaust and be active than sit around in your car and suck down exhaust. Plus you are making life better for everyone else as well.

The study goes on to consider accidents, and other dangers associated with cycling, and finds overall that you are much better off cycling than not.

You can read more here.

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A Red Light Runner, Tries Stopping For A Week

Written by Boston Biker on May 02

100 psi, the very well written blog, tried a little experiment. What would happen if you stopped at every red light for a week. I enjoyed the read, here is a little taste.

For the past five days, I conducted a non-scientific experiment of ALWAWYS stopping at EVERY red light and waiting for the green light on my daily commute.

And I non-scientifically concluded: it didn’t suck.

On the whole, waiting for reds made for a less stressful commute. I didn’t have to constantly scan the intersection while making a breakaway, nor maneuver through waiting cars to get to the front of the traffic line to get that two-second window of all reds at Cleveland Circle and get a jump to make a left turn, for example. Also, I took the lane more often while waiting, as opposed to snaking over to the right or splitting lanes where motorist can see me less than they already do. And I didn’t make an illegal turn at Beacon and Harvard, which I normally do. How about that?

And waiting at reds allowed me to catch my breath or take a drink of water, and for some good old fashion girl watching.

Read the rest here, and let 100 psi know what you think in the comments on his (I think its a he, my apologies if not) blog.

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MIT Unveils The Copenhagen Wheel

Written by Boston Biker on Dec 15

So my first impression was…what? Then I was sorta, hmmm. Now I am kinda What? Hmmm….

I am not really sure how I feel about MIT’s new Copenhagen Wheel part of me is really excited about how this could bring more people into cycling, but another part of me is kind of turned off by all the gizmo’s and wizbangs. One of the reasons why I cycle is because it is simple. This is very complicated but wrapped up in a simple shell. If it all works like they say it might be a great way to get people who would otherwise not cycle (because they are lazy, or not physically fit enough) cycling. It also allows you to collect all sorts of environmental data about the routes you cycle.

The best part of the site in my opinion is the kinds of things cities could use all this data for:


You can also make a bigger contribution through your daily commute. And share your data, anonymously, with your city. When many cyclists donate the information their wheel is collecting, your city gains access to a new scale of fine-grained environmental information. Through this, your city can: Cross analyze different types of environmental data on a scale that has never before been achieved before. Build a more detailed understanding of the impact of transportation, on a city infrastructure Or study dynamic phenomena like urban heat islands. Ultimately, this type of crowd sourcing can influence how your city allocates its resources, how it responds to environmental conditions in real-time or how it structures and implements environmental and transportation policies.

Here is there press release and quotes from their website:

New bicycle wheel not only boosts power using Formula One inspired technology, but also can keep track of fitness, friends, smog and traffic – helping Copenhagen become the first carbon neutral capital by 2025 It looks like an ordinary bicycle wheel with an oversized center. But packed inside the sleek, bright red hub is a veritable Swiss army knife’s worth of electronic gadgets and novel functions.

The Copenhagen Wheel, designed by researchers at MIT’s Senseable City Lab, will be presented at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change on December 15, 2009 before heads of state and mayors form all over the world. It can store energy every time the rider brakes and then give that power back to provide a boost when going uphill or to add a burst of speed in traffic. “The wheel uses a technology similar to the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which has radically changed Formula One racing over the past couple of years.

When you brake, your kinetic energy is recuperated by an electric motor and then stored by batteries within the wheel, so that you can have it back to you when you need it.” – explains professor Carlo Ratti, Director of the MIT Senseable City Lab. “The bike wheel contains all you need so that no sensors or additional electronics need to be added to the frame and an existing bike can be retrofitted with the blink of en eye. In a sense, you drive by foot: when you pedal forward the motor supplements your torque; when you pedal backwards to brake, the motor starts regenerating electric energy while reducing your speed.”

The first goal of the Copenhagen Wheel is to promote cycling by extending the range of distance people can cover and by making the whole riding experience smoother so that even steep up-hills are not longer a barrier to comfortable cycling. Accordig to Ritt Bjerregaard, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, “our city’s ambition is that 50% of the citizens will take their bike to work or school every day. So for us, this project is part of the answer to how can we make using a bike even more attractive.”
But there are also a variety of extra functions hidden within the hub of the Copenhagen Wheel. By using a series of sensors and a Bluetooth connection to the user’s iPhone, which can be mounted on the handlebars, the wheel can monitor the bicycle’s speed, direction and distance traveled, as well as collect data on air pollution and even the proximity of the rider’s friends. “One of the applications that we have discussed with the City of Copenhagen is that of an incentive scheme whereby citizens collect Green Miles – something similar to frequent flyer miles, but good for the environment,” comments Christine Outram, who led the team of researchers at MIT.

The project aims to create a platform for individual behavioral change. “The Copenhagen Wheel is part of a more general trend: that of inserting intelligence in our everyday objects and of creating a smart support infrastructure around ourselves for everyday life,” comments Assaf Biderman, Associate Director of the Senseable City Lab. “The Wheel also has a smart lock: if somebody tries to steal it, it goes into a mode where the brake regenerates the maximum amount of power, and sends you a text message. So in the worst case scenario the thief will have charged your batteries before you get back your bike.” The initial prototypes of the Copenhagen Wheel were developed along with company Ducati Energia and the Italian Ministry of the Environment. It is expected that the wheel will go into production next year, with a tag price competitive with that of a standard electric bike. According to Claus Juhl, CEO of Copenhagen, the city might place the first order and use bicycles retrofitted with the Copenhagen Wheel as a substitution for city employee cars as part of the city’s goal to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

The Copenhagen Wheel team at MIT is composed of Christine Outram, Project Leader, Rex Britter, Andrea Cassi, Xiaoji Chen, Jennifer Dunnam, Paula Echeverri, Myshkin Ingawale, Ari Kardasis, E Roon Kang, Sey Min, Assaf Biderman and Carlo Ratti. The project was developed for the City of Copenhagen in cooperation with Ducati Energia and with the support of the Italian Ministry for the Environment.

Patti Richards Director, Media Relations MIT News Office Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Ave., Room 11-400
Cambridge, MA 02139
tel: 617.253.8923
[email protected]


- “It uses a technology similar to the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which has revolutionized
Formula One racing over the past couple of years. When you brake, your kinetic energy is recuperated
by an electric motor and then stored by batteries within the wheel, so you can get it back
when you need it.”

- “The Wheel is a self contained unit. It can be plugged into any bike without requiring additional
electronics or wires. It is fully controlled by your feet: when you pedal forward, the motor supplements
your torque; when you pedal backwards to brake, the motor starts regenerating electric energy while
reducing your speed.”

- “Over the past few years we have seen a kind of ‘biking renaissance,’ which started in Copenhagen
and is now transforming the urban experience in many cities from Paris to Barcelona or Montreal.
We could also call it a ‘Biking 2.0′ revolution, whereby cheap electronics allow us to augment bikes
and convert them into a more flexible, on-demand system.”

- “The initial prototypes of the Copenhagen Wheel were expensive, but after production streamlining,
we calculate that the price will be competitive with that of a standard electric bike.”

- “The Copenhagen Wheel is part of a more general trend of inserting intelligence into our everyday
objects to create a smart, supporting infrastructure around ourselves.”

- “Our goal with the Copenhagen Wheel is to promote cycling by expanding the range of distance
people can cover and by making the riding experience smoother. When long distance and steep hills
are no longer barriers to comfortable cycling, many cities can become more bicycle-friendly.

- “The bike wheel is an extension of your personal mobile device.
Controlled through your smart phone, the wheel recognizes you as you approach. While you ride, you
can switch gears and motor modes using your phone, and receive real-time alerts automatically”.

- “The Wheel also has a smart security system: if someone rides away with it, the Wheel goes into a
mode where the brake regenerates the maximum amount of power and sends you a text message
with its location. So in the worst case, the thief will have fully charged your batteries before you get
back your bike.”

- “As bikers collect and share air quality data, cycling becomes more than a clean mode of transport. It
opens yet another door for citizens to participate in governance and in the maintenance of public

- “Bicycles are very efficient machines. Rather than reinventing them, we’re introducing a simple
technological enhancement that allows any bike to become a smart and responsive hybrid”

- “One of the applications we developed for the city is a Green Mile program, which is similar to a
frequent flyer program, but good for the environment.”

- “It opens the door for individuals to participate in plans to reduce emissions, such as carbon cap and
trade, which have so far been offered mostly to large organizations.”

- “In 2009, The Italian Ministry for the Environment put aside 12 million euros for supporting the
dissemination of cycling in cities. The Copenhagen Wheel fits with our vision and represents an
exciting step towards sustainable urban transportation.”

Here are some images of it in action. Sleek looking design, but I worry about the spokes…they look a bit…fragile.

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The Word On The Street

  • RSS Here is what people are saying

    • Active Versus Inactive Transportation September 15, 2014
      TweetUntil I started a bicycling blog, I had never really heard of the term “active transportation.” The first time I heard this term, I thought it was rather odd. I didn’t know whether it referred to the fact that one … Continue reading →
    • More Bikes Than Cars September 12, 2014
      TweetTwice in the last two weeks I have been a part of a lovely thing.  While riding to work I look around and see way…way more bikes than cars.   I think it is a product of the lovely riding weather … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • FREE! Bike Hangers With Security Cable’s FREE! September 12, 2014
      TweetHowdy folks, I have roughly 10 Mini Mum Vertical Bike Hangers with Security Cable.     Free to whoever wants one or all of them.  They don’t have mounting screws, but you can get those at any hardware store.   … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • The Role Of Bicycle Tourism In A Community’s Acceptance Of Bicycling September 11, 2014
      TweetBicycle tourism, although growing in leaps and bounds, is not something we think about when advocating for bicycling or bicycle infrastructure. Bicycling is generally seen as a recreational activity or a mode of transportation. Consequently, arguments for its acceptance are … Continue reading →
    • More Coverage Of Side Guards September 11, 2014
      TweetFrom Boston Magazine: ———- In late July, a Hubway cyclist traveling down Massachusetts Avenue in the South End was hit by a city-contracted trash truck as it went to make a right hand turn onto Columbus Avenue. The cyclist survived the accident, … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • David Watson Steps Down As Executive Director Of MassBike September 11, 2014
      TweetWhile I am very sad to see David go, he did an excellent job at MassBike for many years, its great that he is moving on to other challenges. From MassBike: Today our Executive Director, David Watson, announced that he … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Mayor Walsh Proposes A Truck Safety Bill For Cyclists September 9, 2014
      TweetFrom The Boston Cyclists Union: —————- The City of Boston took a big step forward for the country today as Mayor Marty Walsh presented an ordinance to the City Council that will make truck design far safer for pedestrians and … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Big Elm/ QuadCross Weekend! September 9, 2014
      Tweet Photo by Katie Busick This was good weekend at the races for the Cuppow boys. Mike took the win at Big Elm, while Ian (whose tactical nous helped win the race) managed to hold on for third. The course … Continue reading →
    • Cyclists Taking Risks When No Cars Are In Sight September 8, 2014
      TweetCyclists vary considerably in what they consider to be a risk and how much risk they are willing to take. Risk averse riders take virtually no chances. Average riders pick and choose what they are willing to risk. And bold … Continue reading →
    • Report on Route 9 reconstruction in Natick September 5, 2014
      TweetOn Sunday, August 24, Natick residents Dick and Jill Miller and I had a look at the Route 9 project, which extends either side of the Oak Street intersection. We drove the length of the project in both directions, and … Continue reading →