Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bike Community Considers "Guerilla" Approach

Gathering for their second informal meeting, a group of concerned cyclists met on Sunday at MIT’s Riverside Boathouse to discuss safety and awareness in the community for bicycle riders.

Spearheaded last month by Jaffney Roode, a Boston bike courier, and organized this month by Brookline cyclist Veronique d’Entremont, the group discussed different ways to make Boston a better place to ride and "create some empathy between bicyclists and non-bicyclists."

Citing disappointment with the city on the bike issue - the city-sponsored "bike week" was referred to by the group as "depressing" - activists discussed a number of ways to approach the mounting problems Boston cyclists face including radio public service announcements, bike safety pamphlets, erecting "ghost bike" monuments for every bike-related death in the past ten years, and putting up street signs and erecting bike ramps for curbs where necessary. The latter approach, referred to by Jeff Ferris of Jamaica Plain’s Ferris Wheels Bicycle Shop as "guerrilla actions" favoring bike safety, garnered the most immediate support from the group. While Ferris and others have already constructed and placed a number of ramps on and off curbs throughout the city, a small committee from the meeting has been set aside to brainstorm for this angle specifically. According to the group emails since the meeting, the intention of the group is to put up high-quality signs around the most dangerous streets, such as Massachusetts Avenue, depicting a cyclist and encouraging drivers to share the road and inform them more clearly about cycling law. While attempting to inform others of the rules of the road, some of the group voiced concern regarding the legality of their own activities. Ferris quickly defended the ultimately accepted idea. "We are cyclists putting up signs because nobody else is," he said. "If the city is going to come down on you for putting up a ‘be nice to bikers’ sign, well... who looks like the bad guy?"

According to Massachusetts law, bicycles are considered vehicles, and are thus permitted an entire lane on roads that do not have bicycle-specific lanes. The proposed extralegal strategy of the group seems to stem from city government disinterest in helping cyclists. Roode had unsuccessfully attempted to contact Allston-Brighton City Councilor Jerry McDermott to discuss the recent death of cyclist Kelly Wallace, while other group members expressed concern that city planning ignores cyclists. Expressing aggravation with cyclist rights, Boston bike commuter Jacqueline Genetti said "there aren’t enough bike lanes, there’s not enough awareness, and whenever something happens, it’s always the biker’s fault." Echoing a similar sentiment, Ferris declared, "In my mind, Boston is actively making itself worse for biking."

The group, although not yet finalizing a date or time, has committed to continue meeting on a monthly basis, with smaller action groups meeting on off-weeks to implement the ideas that the core group comes up with and refine them. Although avoiding any type of formality as an organization, and at one point referring to themselves as something of a "dinner club" the advocates have allied themselves rather closely with the non-profit bike advocacy organization, MassBike, who can be reached at

This article originally appeared in The Boston Bulletin on July 19, 2007.

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