The League of American Bicyclists has ranked Massachusetts as the third most bike-friendly state after Washington and Minnesota, a rating based on the presence of pro-cycling policies, programs, infrastructure and funding on a state-wide and local level. However, whereas the capital city of Boston is currently building a dense network of interconnected bike lanes and investing in ideas such as the Hubway
bike share program, the suburbs remain largely left out of this equation.
I live in these suburbs and there are only two ways to leave my neighborhood in Northbridge, Mass., neither one of which could be called "bike-friendly." I can't ride to the grocery store downtown or commute to work because of the presence of heavy traffic, a general lack of wide road shoulders, and 50-MPH speed limits on the major roadways.
However, a short drive down the road is an entrance to the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park, a 1,000 acre natural area that connects Northbridge and Uxbridge, Mass.. Running through the park is the Blackstone Valley Bikeway
in a state of partial completion. The aim of this project is admirable, to create a bikepath that runs all the way from Worcester, Mass., to Providence, R.I., and that will provide a throughfare for recreationalists and commuters. Thirty minutes away in Cambridge, Mass., is the start of the Minuteman Bikeway
, an eleven-mile bikepath that passes through Arlington and Lexington on the way to Bedford. In Cambridge the path connects to the Alewife subway station and thus provides access into Boston via public transport. While the Minuteman Bikeway is special because of its attachment to a larger network, most bike paths remain anomalies and unless common-sense measures are employed that connect them to bike lanes on major roads and to additional public transportation hubs, they will never offer a convenient alternative to daily traffic patterns.
So what can Massachusetts do to create a better environment for cyclists? Creating viable bike-lane and bike-path networks is a vital step; driver education is another. Perhaps lowering speed limits on major roads or establishing bike parking areas would be tipping points for cyclists. Many of these initiatives have been picked up by bike advocacy groups across the state, most notably the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition
, but it will ultimately be the responsibility of each community to build these systems using their own creativity and resources. What a different world it would be to have the option of biking to visit family, to buy groceries, or to drop your children off at school. By supporting the growth of bicycle-friendly meansures we can add exercise into our daily lives, reduce congestion on our roads, and contribute to a healthy planet. So what's holding us back?