September 2011

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As anyone who lives in Boston and has visited New York knows: New York is better.

Architecture:  The best we can do is Copley Sq. (an absolute treasure) but when held in comparison to the best of NYC, we lose.  Olmstead blessed both our cities with his creative energies, but I think that Central Park bests the Emerald Necklace (especially when Boston makes little effort to connect the gems).

NYC Subway vs. the T: service after 11pm, thank you.

Pizza: have you had a “grandma slice” in Brooklyn?  N. End Regina’s is good, but that’s all we’ve got

Rock scene: Brooklyn, enough said.

Arts: we call it “ahts”.

The one exception to this hierarchy is sports franchises (of course), but otherwise there is no contest. Case in point: NY has Janette Sadik-Khan, we have Nicole Freedman. Ms. Freedman has done some admirable things for this city over the past (5?) years—especially considering the cycling infrastructure in Boston in the previous millennium—but when compared to JSK there is no contest: we have Hubway and suburban tourists who haven’t been on a bike in 20 years deciding to give it a go on the Greenway in order to get from Faneuil Hall to Paul Revere’s house, and a city government that cowers to the townies in Charlestown that are unhappy with bike lanes because they weren’t consulted prior to their installation; NY has protected bike lanes down 9th Ave (among others) and challenges nimby opposition to them (as they did during the ruckus that was caused after lanes were put in along Prospect Park).  We re-pave Columbus Avenue through the South End (it’s currently in process) and leave in place a 3-foot wide section of cobblestones that if removed would allow the city enough room to install a protected bike lane that connects the SW Corridor with downtown.  But cobblestones make the city feel so “antique-y” I can hear them say…

Frank Bruni has a piece in the Times today extolling the virtues of cycling and it is a refreshing break from the vitriolic provincialism that our local rags have attempted to hold up as journalism.  If you are not familiar with Janette Sadik-Khan, I highly recommend you also read this New York Magazine profile from 2009.  The citizens of Boston consider themselves more enlightened than those in the rest of the country, yet our city is so rarely at the vanguard of urban thinking.  Perhaps it’s just the execution of contemporary urban planning, as plenty of urban ponderers are based here but it is rare that Boston is the place where their ideas are experimented with.  NYC has always been the place that gets shit done.  New York confronts the same issues of political obstinacy as Boston—only they are an order of magnitude larger in NYC than they are here.  Why we can’t be in front of NY on bicycle infrastructure is beyond me.  We live in a smaller city with a highly progressive political base that would appear to be game for a change.

“Oh, but the weather is terrible here, much worse than NYC and our streets were designed for cows (or cars according to Brian McGrory).”  Minneapolis and Chicago have more bike commuters as a percentage of population than us and far worse weather.  So does Portland for that matter, but PDX is another story entirely.

When Nicole Freedman was first hired as the Boston Bike Czar, many of us in the local urban cycling community were ecstatic that such a position even existed in the city, and we were happy to have anyone that gave a shit about cyclists’ concerns.  Perhaps it’s time that we (the Boston cycling community that is) demand more from the official that occupies this office.  Why should we be content to just have a warm body in this position?  There is no identifiable vision coming from the office.  We deserve more.  We deserve someone that challenges the status quo and fights for progressive urban solutions to distinctly urban problems.  I’m sure there is a job at Alta Planning waiting Ms. Freedman on the other side of her public service anyway.

I appreciate what Nicole Freedman has done for the local cycling community, but to paraphrase  Lloyd Bensten, “Ms. Freedman, you’re no Janette Sadik-Kahn”.

September 2011
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