Friday, June 22, 2012

Dear Mr. McGrory: stop the anti-bike/ped snark

Brian McGrory is a columnist for the Boston Globe, and someone told me he's a good one. However, he has it out for anyone not driving their own car, I think, unless he is being very coy and sarcastic. When Hubway was launching last July, he proposed banning bikes altogether. It's pretty tongue-in-cheek. Obviously he doesn't want to ban bikes, but he wants cyclists to do a better job of obeying the rules. Sure, he posits that all cyclists are lycra-clad speedsters who run red lights with abandon. (We're not.) I get the point; but there was probably a better way to say it.

But was that an isolated incident of non-driving hate? Apparently not. Today, after last year endorsing a war against bikes, McGrory rails against the war against cars. Apparently—and believe you me, I have not noticed this—Mayor Tom Menino, in declaring his support of bikes and walkers, has actually declared war on the automobile. So "the car is no longer king" is a battle cry. Right.

McGrory's latest column is pure rubbish. It turns out Menino wants to convert some parking spaces to "pop-up parks" or "parklets." This sent McGrory in to a rage. The mayor is crazy! he writes. And he needs to be committed.

Apparently, the lack of vehicular traffic is to blame for every problem in the Downtown Crossing area:
The car is still banned from Downtown Crossing, even while it’s painfully obvious that the hard luck neighborhood would benefit enormously from vehicular traffic. Cities around the country have turned their tired pedestrian malls back into real streets with great success.
Oh, where to begin? First of all, many of the country's de-pedestrianized malls have been in places like Buffalo and Kalamazoo, not the most vibrant of metropolises. Pedestrian malls are going strong in cities like Denver, Burlington, Minneapolis and Boulder, and New York has cordoned off main streets in its retail core to widespread praise. Second, it's quite possible that a lot of the issues in the area are due to a massive hole, and the mayor has been instrumental going as far as to threaten eminent domain takings (nothing says blight like an abandoned building) to speed reconstruction forwards. Third, it's not like the retail district there is dead. While it might not hop at night, during the day the area is filled with thousands (by some counts, a quarter million) of pedestrians daily. Adding a few hundred car trips would be to the detriment of these hordes.

And it's painfully obvious that cars along the currently-pedestrian streets would help? Apparently McGrory hasn't ever been to Filene's or Jordan Marsh (or Macy's). The streets in Downtown Crossing are one-way, one-lane streets. They are busy with pedestrians, cyclists and deliveries, and trafficked streets nearby usually feature stalled vehicles waiting for lights. I'm not sure how a few extra vehicles in the area—and no on-street parking, assuredly—would be a panacea for the woes. A Wegmans or Target and 500 units of housing, on the other hand, might help.

McGrory concludes, after positing not an iota of actual data, that "the mayor is at war with the car, and the drivers are the collateral damage." He, as we have seen, believes everyone drives, or at least, everyone ought to. I would contend that the mayor is simply fulfilling the wishes of the majority of voters who elected him. (Yes, believe it or not, Hizzoner still stands for elections.) 51% of Bostonians don't drive to work, and only 44% drive (it was 51% ten years ago). Yet most of the real estate of our rights of way is given over to cars, even if they are a smaller fraction of the users on a stretch of road.

Maybe, Mr. McGrory, the mayor is simply acting in the best interests of his constituency. Or, at least, the constituency who has actually gotten out of their cars in the top walking city n the country. If you'd like, I'd be glad to take you on a walk and bike ride to some of the places you'd like to have teeming with cars instead of vehicles. Let me know.

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