Pedestrians, Cyclists & Drivers: An Unharmonious Union

A new study further highlights the need for better cooperation between pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. According to Smart America Growth’s Dangerous By Design, 46,149 people were struck and killed by cars while walking in the United States between 2005 and 2014. Americans were 7.2 times more likely to die as a pedestrian than from a natural disaster. The report also shows that communities of color and people over 65 years old were more likely to be struck because (1) they are less likely to own a vehicle, (2) live in communities with poorly designed or maintained sidewalks and (3) lack access to proper public transit.

While Greater Boston ranks low on the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), the city still has many unique pedestrian problems. Unlike most American cities, Boston’s street grid infrastructure wasn’t planned. This dilemma is why there are so many narrow, two-way streets that suddenly become one-way streets. Because the city was founded in 1630, Boston streets are literally designed for just horse and buggy travel.  I have said it here before; the problem also stems from the fact that car-less people are treated like second-class citizens because public transit and infrastructure are viewed as an afterthought and not essential in America’s car-obsessed culture.

Just last month, nine people in Boston were struck by cars in one day! It would be easy to just blame all these problems on cars, but in reality, better cooperation and judgment could also be used by cyclists and pedestrians alike. The two snow storms we had last week highlighted many of these issues that I would like to point out:

Pay attention: Stop looking at your phone when you are driving, walking across the street and even cycling (yes, I see this a lot too). If you have a headset on when you are walking or jogging, make sure the volume is low enough that you can still hear what is going on around you. I usually have a headset on, but I always know what is happening around me. Also, with all the snow banks, it can be hard for drivers to see a pedestrian or cyclist come out of nowhere and cross the street. Always look both ways at least three times and walk out far enough, so drivers see you before crossing.

Sidewalks are for pedestrians only: Yesterday morning as I was walking to the bus stop, I saw three adult cyclists riding ON the sidewalk when there is a dedicated bike lane on this particular road. And then one cyclist decided to suddenly go into the street and go across a moving car without signaling. I’m all for cyclist rights on the road, but you all can’t have it both ways! Cyclists can’t demand the same rights as car drivers while not following basic road rules like turn signaling and stopping at red lights. Adult cyclists should only be allowed on the road. I guess the storm forced them to ride on the sidewalk? In that case, maybe you shouldn’t ride a bike if the roads are impacted. Bikes on sidewalks are just as dangerous to pedestrians because we can be easily struck or clipped if the cyclist doesn’t signal or suddenly rides into the pedestrian’s walking space. It is already hard enough for pedestrians to use sidewalks after snowstorms, which brings me to my next point.

Clear sidewalks and pathways: Car-less people have to walk to places where a bus or a train don’t, so it is important to make sure sidewalks are clear enough for walking. Unfortunately, a lot of homeowners just shovel enough to get to their car.  When the sidewalks aren’t cleared, pedestrians are forced to walk in the streets, where they are more likely to be struck by a vehicle or bicycle. Furthermore, don’t you want your postman or Amazon delivery person to drop off your mail or products? Last year a UPS delivery guy wasn’t able to get to my neighbor’s mailbox because the neighbor didn’t shovel the pathway, so UPS threw the package in the front yard instead. Of course, my neighbor was mad when he found his brand new computer sitting in the snow. I don’t know if UPS is supposed to leave packages like that, but my neighbor could have avoided this if he had shoveled his pathway. I do my best to make sure my sidewalk and pathway are clear enough for easy passage. Sometimes if the snow is too hard or heavy to shovel, I put some rock salt down to at least melt the ice. That way the path is walkable, and no one slips.

Overall, it would make more sense to improve public infrastructure in general for inclement weather that would make everyone’s quality of life better. If there were better quality trains and buses in Boston and the MBTA actually bothered to do its job properly, we could encourage more people to use public transit and ditch cars. If there were fewer cars on the road during storms, there would be fewer traffic accidents, spin-outs, and other safety hazards. If snow removal on sidewalks were enforced better, more people would be able to walk safely. Some people ride bikes year-round, even when snow is on the ground, like a former roommate I had many years ago, so roads need to be clear enough for both cars and bikes.

We all have to cohabitate the same space, so why don’t we cooperate better with each other.  After all, we all have to get somewhere, whether by foot, by car or by bike.

Life Cycles: Shining Sea Bikeway

shining sea bikewayWith the summer coming to an end, a couple of my friends and I decided to make our last cycling trip on Cape Cod for the season a couple of weeks ago, this time to the Shining Sea Bikeway.  This is one of my favorite places to cycle on the Cape.  It is a 10-mile scenic route between Woods Hole and North Falmouth.  About three miles of it is along the Vineyard Sound, and the rest of it goes pass beach homes, farms, cranberry bogs and a lot of wonderful Mother Nature!

I stopped a few times during our ride to take some photos.  Ah, summer…

How to Make Exercise Part of Your Daily Life

Keep Calm and ExerciseWe are one month into 2015, and many of you may have already given up on your New Year’s resolution to hit the gym and lose weight.  Getting into the routine of physical activity can be difficult for many of us.  I have a family member who has finally started going to the gym regularly after many years of dragging his feet to make the better health commitment.

I only got serious myself about exercise after learning that diabetes runs in my family about 10 years ago.  At the time, I got a membership at my local YMCA, but I think I only went once a month.  I would walk for a while on the treadmill and maybe jump on the bike, but then went home feeling like I didn’t really accomplish much.

Then I spoke to one of the personal trainers at the gym who told me that I had to find an activity that I enjoyed doing; so it wouldn’t feel like it was work, but rather a fun activity.  He also said that when you feel good after that activity, then you have found the exercise that works for you.  “It will be hard to do, but you will know when you found that sweet spot,” he said.

I tried a variety of group exercise classes at the gym, from Zumba to spinning, and none of them appealed to me.

So then I tried running for 10 minutes outside in my neighborhood.  It was hard to do at first, but I actually felt good afterwards.  For the next few weeks, I ran for 20 minutes three times a week.  Over the course of the next year, I noticed I was losing weight and toning muscles.  So I ran longer distances, running up to 15 miles in a week.

About five years ago I wanted to diversify my exercise regimen, so I tried yoga.  I had read that yoga was a great compliment to running.  Again, it was hard to do the first class, especially downward facing dog and crow, but at the end of the class I did feel energized and willing to come to another class.  Since then I either go to a vinyasa yoga class or practice at home twice a week.

This summer I took up outdoor cycling again in earnest.  What sparked my interest after all these years? I wanted to try something different that I might enjoy.  And, yes, I did enjoy riding with my friends along the Charles River and just around my neighborhood.

So just to recap how I exercise during the week these days:

Running: I run about 5-7 miles a day, three times a week – regardless of weather – and after a meditation session.  Because of the dreadful New England weather, I have to run on a gym treadmill, but I long for outdoor running and nicer weather.  Running outdoors and indoors are two completely different experiences.  I also run first thing in the morning, like 4:30 or 5, because that is when the body has the most natural energy stored up for use.  Furthermore, I also feel like I have accomplished something before the day has really begun!

Yoga: I practice yoga for 30 minutes a day, twice a week, after a meditation sessions and also first thing in the morning.   And, yes, I can do a crow pose now without falling on my face!

Cycling: Since I don’t try to bike on top of all the snow we have been getting lately in Boston, I started taking spinning classes again at the Y.  Not sure I will keep doing this, since outdoor cycling is a way better experience.  But then again, I don’t have to worry about a car mowing me down on the street either, so I will see.

Also, exercising in the morning has worked best for my hectic work schedule.  I have become so used to exercising that I feel guilty when I don’t exercise on schedule.

Just to reiterate, exercise should be something that you enjoy doing, so running, yoga or cycling may not be your thing, and that’s okay.  That is how you make exercise part of your daily life.  Even if you don’t have time to participate in an exercise session, there are many ways to incorporate physical activity into your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking somewhere instead of driving a car.  What matters at the end of the day is that you are physically active and staying healthy.

My Boston Cycling Craze

Boston's Cycling Craze Book CoverAs a disclaimer, sometimes I get free books at my office to review.  I don’t read most of them, and when I do, I only write about the ones that appeal to me here.  The latest book to come across my desk is one by Boston historian Lorenz J. Finison. Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880 – 1900: A Story of Race, Sports & Society tells the story of the rising popularity of bicycles one hundred years ago and the social politics that arose out of it.

In the late 1800s, everyone was cycling all over the city.  Most communities had their own cycling clubs.  However, African-Americans were barred from joining these clubs and had to form their own black clubs.  Women were chastised for not wearing long dress while riding bikes and called unladylike (because it makes so much sense to wear long dresses while cycling…).

I really enjoyed reading the book.  I’m a recreational cyclist myself.  I mostly bike during the weekends along the Southwest Corridor and the Charles River Bike Path.  Like the cyclists featured in the book, I feel a certain level of freedom with my cycling.  Because I don’t own a car, I have to either walk or take the T to get around the city.  Having a bike allows me to travel when I want to without having to wait for the next bus or train, I can get to where I need to be for free, and most importantly, I don’t create a carbon footprint.

I used to cycle a lot more when I was a kid and only recently took up cycling again in the last four years to help recover from an injury and have a complementary activity for running and yoga.  Cycling is such a great way to be active for a long time and not injure your knees while keeping in shape.  The only downside here is that sometimes I cycle so much, I lose too much weight!

Also, I get to notice a lot of things about today’s social politics from just peddling around the city for a couple hours.  I see an equal number of male and female cyclists on the roads, but a lot of times its the men who wear the fancy, expensive bike wear to live out their inner Lance Armstrong. Is this ungentlemanlike?

I am more casual, wearing a helmet, a t-shirt and jeans or sometimes running capris if I am cycling long distances.  A far cry from the days of bloomers.

I don’t see a lot of cyclists of color, however, I think that is starting to change.  Over the summer, I went on a couple of trips with a group of my black, Latino and Asian friends along the entire Charles River Bike Path.  We also did the annual Hub on Wheels last September to celebrate and promote cycling in Boston.  It was great to see people from all different backgrounds come together – men, women, black, white, young and old.

It shows how much our society has changed over the last one hundred years, and it would be interesting to see what happens in the next century!