The more they talked to people, the more it seemed like the major roadblock was safety. Everyone they talked to said they would use bikes for errands if only the roads were safer. But the City government didn’t seem interested in making roads safer for bikers; in spite of the Commonwealth’s Paulsen Bill mandating that road projects include bike accommodations like lanes and paths, and the pro-bicycling Newton Comprehensive Plan and Newton Energy Action Plan, the City avoided adding bike accommodations. Why? Bikers were thought to be a small interest group, not a silent majority.
The thing to do was to help City Hall understand that there were many people who would bike if roads were more bike-friendly. That’s when the idea of a rally and ride came about: get people on bikes and make them visible. Have them come together to demand safer roads. After a lot of planning and coordinating, in May 2008 300+ people showed up at the Veteran’s Memorial steps to hear Anne Lusk’s ideas about safe bike accommodations, go for a short bike ride, meet Mayor Cohen, and eat ice cream. That was Bike Newton, the event. It created a lot of buzz.
The planners decided not to let that buzz just fizzle out, and turned Bike Newton the event into Bike Newton the organization. In 2009 and 2010 came two more successful Rally and Rides, with Boston’s “Bike Czarina” Nicole Freedman speaking at the first, and Newton’s new Mayor Setti Warren leading the ride at the second, and the help and participation of many organizations, including Newton Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force, MassBike, and Livable Streets.
After the 2010 rally, momentum really started to gather: Bike Newton was awarded 501c3 nonprofit status, Mayor Warren appointed the Transportation Advisory Council, the first “Share the Road” signs were installed and the first miles of bike lanes were painted along Beacon and Walnut Streets. It was time to let go of the Rally and Ride as the focal point, and turn the group’s energy to the many projects it had undertaken:
- filing an application for the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly City certification,
- leading weekly group rides,
- undertaking a bike rack survey with Newton Serves and getting more bike racks installed,
- doing a bike count with Newton Serves to provide baseline numbers on various routes,
- fostering a bike-sharing program at City Hall,
- gathering city planners, police, Aldermen, and citizens for a March 2010 Bike Summit,
- encouraging planning and engineering projects by local university students,
- lobbying for bike paths,
- planning and lobbying for a Complete Streets plan for Needham Street,
- providing safety instruction by a League of American Bicyclists certified instructor,
- planning a safety curriculum with Newton Public Schools,
- and updating the website.
The most recent victory was the appointment of Lois Levin as Bicycle Coordinator, along with Alicia Bowman as Pedestrian Coordinator. These are volunteer positions in City Hall that provide citizens with contact people for all planning, transportation, and policy issues having to do with biking and walking. Now, Newton also has a comprehensive Bicycle Network Plan that will provide a basis for rapidly expanding Newton’s bicycle accommodations.
In just four short years, Bike Newton has grown from what was going to be a one-time rally and ride to a growing movement whose effects are starting to be seen in Newton’s governance, and more importantly on Newton’s roads: more signs, more road markings, and more bikes. All of these things mean more bikers can bike more safely in Newton. Roads should be safe for everyone who wants to bike: young and old, male and female, carefree and risk-averse, athletic and sedentary, for sport and for transportation. Bike Newton is doing what it can to foster that vision, with the help of its growing membership. Want to help? Join, volunteer, write to aldermen or report road hazards, or join us on a bike ride. Or you can just contact us if you have questions.