Rally promotes safer bike lanes, other solutions that protect riders across city lines and statewide

20 Sep

By Tom Meek Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Lily Linke speaks Saturday at a Safe Streets rally she co-organized in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

More aggressive pushes for bike lanes and other safety measures were promoted at a weekend rally in Somerville inspired by the August death of Stephen Conley, 72, in a “dooring” incident with a car.

The Saturday rally for Safe Streets at Seven Hills Park in Davis Square drew speakers that included state Reps. Mike Connolly and Erika Uyterhoeven, Somerville city councilor Willie Burnley Jr., former Cambridge vice mayor Jan Devereux, Cambridge city councilor Burhan Azeem and several residents.

Burnley, a first-term member and “proud member of the carless,” announced that he was calling for a safe streets ordinance similar to Cambridge’s Cycling Safety Ordinance, which requires miles of protected bike lanes to be installed on an aggressive timeline. The frequent need to remove parking to make room has created a divide with some residents and businesses; many speakers acknowledged the controversy but said it steeled their resolve.

“We know there’s a backlash,” Connolly said. “Unfortunately there are lawsuits and a degree of Nimby-ism. Certainly everyone’s entitled to their opinion. But I can tell you, as an elected official, we’re not going backward. We’re going to achieve Vision Zero.” The term refers to street engineered to be safe enough to cause zero deaths.

A crowd gathers to listen to speakers at Saturday’s rally in Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Azeem spoke more directly to challenges in Cambridge. “It’s hard when you’re sitting across the table from a small-business owner who says, ‘You know, if you take away my parking, it will shut down my business,’ but this [bike law] is literally life or death,” Azeem said.

Uyterhoeven shared her own story of long recovery after being hit by a cab in Boston while bicycling, and she encouraged activists to keep pushing until bike lanes were statewide – raising the issue of complications across city lines. Somerville’s portion of Webster Avenue has a protected bike lane, for example, but it ends at the back of a parked car at the Cambridge line to morph into what cyclists and transportation experts call a “door zone” bike lane of just a painted line next to parked cars. “Municipal structures don’t make those cross-city collaborations very easy. But they’re still critical to do,” Devereux said, cited Webster’s disjointed solution.

Another idea Burnley said he was working on with Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne was the prospect of using 311 tickets as a means of ticketing cars parked illegally in bike lanes. Like when failing to pay a toll, a ticket for the infraction would be mailed to the violator. A petition to decriminalize jaywalking circulated before speakers took the stage.

Among the residents speaking were Nadav Tanners, widower of doctor and social activist Leah Zallman. who was walking in Davis square when she was killed by a pickup truck in November 2020; and Cambridge Bicycle Group member Janie Katz-Christy, who talked about the perils and challenges of cycling with children.

The event was organized and hosted by husband and wife Seth Hurwitz and Lily Linke and drew around 100 people, including several cargo bikes laden with children.

Linke and Burnley wore bright red jumpsuits. The outfits were “not coordinated,” Linke said, “but the idea was the same: ‘Stop’ traffic violence.”

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