It’s 5:30 pm in Boston and I’m about to depart on my daily 5.5 mile commute to Huron Village in Cambridge. It’s 35 degrees, so I stretch Gore Tex cycling shoes over my feet, throw on a jacket, attach my light to my helmet and start the descent down a series of elevators to a parking garage where my bike is locked.
I take a right out of the garage at 4 Copley place and turn on right Huntington Avenue. Immediately the streets are gridlocked, far more than normal. I push through stuck cars and take a left on Dartmouth where I wait wait at the light at Copley Square. As usual valet and delivery drivers for the Fairmount Copley are occupying the bike lane forcing me to maneuver through drivers on their cell phones. I wait for pedestrians to clear the streets outside of Boston Public library and proceed through the intersection on the pedestrian walk signal to avoid conflict with drivers switching lanes across the bike lane.
I continue down Dartmouth cautiously and watch for cars trying to speed past me to cut in front of me for the turn onto Marlborough. I wait at the intersection of Dartmouth, and Boylston for the walk light to come on. I proceed cautiously the wrong way down a one way to avoid riding on the 3-lane speedway that is Boylston Street. I cross Storrow Drive via a foot bridge off Back Street.
From this vantage point I can see tail lights as far as the eye can see; traffic at a grinding halt on Storrow and Memorial Drives. I continue to the Dr. Paul Dudley Bike Path that mirrors the natural contours of the Charles river. I could take Mass Ave all the way to my apartment, but the stress is palpable. On the bike path I’ve never felt more free, especially with the visuals of Storrow, Memorial Drive, and the Mass Ave Bridge and I-90 in a state of relenting gridlock.
Despite it being a brisk but pleasant night my companions on the path are few. I pass by some Canadian Geese wading in the water, as well as a few joggers, I only encounter one other cyclist on this journey. The lights of high rises along Memorial Drive in Cambridge reflect on the water in way that is reminiscent of a painting by Claude Monet. For a moment I stop worrying about the typical stressors that come along with urban living; spending all day at a job you don’t particularly enjoy to afford the rising rent, crowding, traffic and the emotional energy it takes to interact with people all day.
This is the way bike commuting should and could be. You should have the time to contemplate life and use exercise as a way to unwind. Bike commuting should not be stressful. Unfortunately I’m in the minority of Boston Bike commuters who can use a protected path for the majority of their commute. I formally lived in Somerville and had to commute through Union and Central Squares using Mass Ave. I can’t tell you how many near misses with cars, arguments with drivers I’ve had and actual threats that I’ve received from drivers; one of which I had to call the Somerville Police about.
I still maintain that bike commuting is a far more efficient way to get around an aging and gridlocked city such as Boston. My 30 minute bike commute would easily become 60 minutes or more depending on the frequent delays of the MBTA. I would have to pay $84.50 a month for a service that doesn’t deliver. Even driving to work would take longer and I’d have to pay an upwards of $300 a month to park in a garage downtown. Commuting by bike is inexpensive, quick and a nice way to stay active doing something you need to do anyway. The fitness needed to commute 50 miles a week by bike is far less than you imagine. In short time it will feel less vigorous than walking.
Unfortunately bike commuting in Boston is not for everyone. Setting out on the streets as a beginner rider is intimidating as riders are frequently put in contention with aggressive drivers who have no regard for the safety of others, roads that are in disrepair, winter weather that leaves city streets slick and icy. It’s estimated that only 2% of Boston commutes regularly by bike and I can understand why. The cities of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Boston are rushing to make efforts to change things. However it feels like a little too late, fatalities of cyclists and pedestrians that could have been easily prevented have sparked the boom. I do applaud cycling advocacy organizations like the Boston Cyclists Union, Mass bike, and livable streets for being so vocal.
No one should die getting to and from work. We live in an aging city that’s in the midst of an innovation boom, yet public transportation and our streets are grinding to a halt. The bicycle is the quickest way around the city. Fixing the MBTA is a far more daunting and expensive task than adding some cycling infrastructure for us to maneuver when the gridlock is too thick to bear and the trains on fire again.