July 15, 2011|By Brian McGrory, Globe Columnist
As Mayor Tom Menino prepares to roll out an ambitious bicycle-sharing program on the streets of our great city this month, offering hundreds of bikes for short-term rental all across town, I might urge him to go in a slightly different direction.
He ought to ban all bicyclists from Boston instead.
Ban them as in, here’s the city line, Lance, there’s a bike rack. Lock it up, and flag yourself a nice air-conditioned cab. Maybe you won’t be sweating so much when you walk into work.
Oh, I know, bikes are the future. Bikes are clean. Bikes are quiet.
I couldn’t agree more, which is why this is not an indictment of the bicycle, an efficient, affordable instrument of transportation. But to paraphrase the National Rifle Association, bikes are not the problem, it’s the people on them.
And those people are the scourge of the city. I don’t mean anything negative by that. It’s just plain fact, painfully clear to anyone and everyone who has ever exercised their government-sanctioned right to sit behind the wheel of a combustion-powered vehicle and drive on roads that were built for, yes, cars.
In a crowded city like Boston, with narrow streets, daring pedestrians, and delivery trucks double-parked nearly everywhere, this task can already be perilous enough. Throw in a bunch of cavalier cyclists who believe with every cell of their beings that they own the road, and it’s near impossible to get around.
Here’s the biggest problem with urban bicyclists: Their personalities. They exude a sense of superiority as they sip vitamin water amid an afternoon breeze while I, just for argument’s sake, may be tucking into a Filet-O-Fish in the sealed confines of my car, quickly abandoning hope of finding parking near my gym.
That superiority leads them to blast through red lights and stop signs with no hesitation, swerve into traffic with the entitled expectation that everyone else will screech to a halt, glide the wrong way down streets, across sidewalks, through pedestrian malls, constantly yelling, “Watch it, dude!’’
They are a self-celebratory lot, these cyclists, parading around in Lycra even though most of them inexplicably have shapes that beg for L.L. Bean, proselytizing through ham-handed bike commuter days, gathering at their little festivals to talk about how they’re saving the world. Shame on us for buying into their act.
And these are the good cyclists, the ones who actually own their own bikes. We’re about to get hundreds upon hundreds of amateurs pedaling all over our city who have no idea what they’re doing. Orthopedists will be flocking here like it’s the Gold Rush of 1849.
I caught a glimmer of hope this week when Boston Police announced plans for a crackdown on reckless cyclists in preparation for the bike-sharing program. Finally, sanity. Cart the offenders away in the backseats of squad cars, just for the irony. I called yesterday to see how it was going. Over the first two days, police handed out no – that’s zero – citations, and 40 warnings. It gets better. They gave out more than 100 free helmets to offenders. Oh, and everyone got a local bike shop 20-percent-off coupon.
That’s some crackdown, folks.
Let me stress, these cyclists are more than welcome in the suburbs, riding in flocks along uncluttered roads. I figured they were perfect in Cambridge, until I learned that there’s a bit of a rebellion going on in the kumbaya capital of the world. Police have begun cracking down on sidewalk riders, and a courageous councilor named Henrietta Davis publicly admonished reckless cyclists in December.
We can’t let Cambridge, of all places, beat us to the punch. Our mayor likes being on the vanguard these days, and this is our big chance: Boston, America’s Bicycle Free City.
Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.