The Somerville Bike Safety Committee is working with the city, members of the community and other cycling advocacy groups to help improve cycling safety in and throughout Somerville.

By Elizabeth Long

“All ages, all abilities, and all neighborhoods” is the motto of the Somerville Bike Safety Committee or SBS. With so many people active in many new ways as a result of Covid-19, being safe is the number one concern.

July 8 marked the one-year anniversary of the founding of the Somerville Bike Safety Committee. Arah Schuur and George Schneeloch hosted a Zoom call where they spoke to their community about the increasing need for bike safety, especially in Somerville since there is not yet a bike network.

This committee has a mission to advocate for a connected network of protected bike lanes.

Schuur explained that “we think it is important to ground our work in a better future,” and a safer and less polluted future with an increasing interest in biking over driving considering the growing environmental concerns.

Somerville already has the highest bike commuter mode-share of any city on the East Coast. Protected bike lanes allow people to travel at their own pace without being afraid of sharing a lane with a much more dangerous vehicle, a car. In the meeting, they discussed that the primary obstacle of adding these lanes is the limited road space due to on-street parking. 

The long-term plans of Somerville in order to improve biker safety are focused around the Somerville Climate Forward Plan, Vision Zero Plan, and Somervision 2030 and 2040. Schuur said that “Achieving these requires two things: a fundamental change of thinking and reprioritizing the valuable and limited road space in Somerville.”

Although there is not yet a bike network plan as a result of budget cuts, the plan will move forward in house, which will overall increase mobility options in the city. This committee plans to convince the community that there is an urgent need for safe streets and could use the support of businesses and organizations. 

SBS is one of two bike groups in Somerville and they work together with the Somerville Bicycle Advisory Committee. These groups complement one another on issues, but only SBS is able to get involved in activism so that they can change the infrastructure. Schneeloch said that “Bike infrastructure is decided by elected officials; who is in office basically determines whether all ages and abilities will feel safe biking on the streets.”

The pandemic caused a delay in preparation for the construction season, so they will be moving forward in 2021. Encouraging Somerville residents to vote is one of the top priorities of SBS. “Every vote counts, especially in a city like Somerville because a local election can be decided by less than a thousand votes,” explained Schruur.

During the meeting, SBS also provided their view on using police for traffic issues. They discussed rethinking the role of police in transportation and will focus on alternatives that will shift the structure away from the police. This intent affects their implementation of the 2020 Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries in Somerville.

In order to make these changes, public support is imperative. SBS intends to build a base of supporters that can be activated on certain issues, in addition to using the media to educate and persuade new supporters. They also want to demonstrate community support for protected bike infrastructures, so they ask their supporters to email elected officials and turnout to public meetings.

SBS hopes that within the next year they can prioritize a bike network and parking plan, elect State representatives who want to implement protected bike lanes, take the police out of Vision Zero, and coalition building. Some final words from Schuur said that “I hope that our city staff thinks about how to streamline this process and make our progress more equitable.” With injury and mortality rates increasing as a direct result of roadways that are not bike-friendly, this issue is of growing importance and needs to be addressed. 

The Somerville Bike Safety Committee is always looking for new members or anyone interested in participating. If interested, contact SBS at [email protected] or go to Somervillebikesafety.org for more information.

 

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