Tactical urbanism hits the streets of Boston

Bikeyface with a message
© Bikeyface with a message, photo by Jonathan Fertig

Yes, we know, sometimes you can blame the victim. But most of the time when a pedestrian a cyclist is killed, it is the fault of the driver of the car. However Boston Mayor Marty Walsh went on the Boston Public Radio last week, (published under a headline Mayor Walsh Says Bicyclists, Pedestrians Share Blame In Accidents) made his view clear:

“Pedestrians need to put their head up when they’re walking down the street, take your headphones off… you’ve got to understand, cars are going to hit you," Walsh told WGBH, two weeks after a cyclist was killed by a hit-and-run driver. “People need to be more cognizant of the fact that a car is a car. Even bicyclists, when you’re riding; a car can’t stop on a dime.”

There are two responses I would have to this. First, a car is not a car, which on its own is an inanimate object. People are hit by people who are drivers of cars, which is a very different thing. This is about people killing people, not cars killing people.

Secondly the mayor complains that "I see it all day long, people walking down with headphones on. You can’t hear a car coming, and they don’t know you have headphones on, so take them off.” Of the 15 walking people killed last year in Boston by driving people, 2 were under three years old and four were elderly, both demographics that are not likely to be wearing headphones. The elderly are also likely to be looking down for trip hazards. As I noted in MNN earlier, There are all kinds of distracted and compromised people in our roads. Some of them cannot help it. Older people have reduced vision, hearing and mobility, and often die from injuries that young people survive. So why focus on headphones? The roads need to be safer for everyone.

cutout© Jonathan Fertig

Steven Miller of Streetsblog describes another response, made by cartoonist Bekka Wright, AKA Bikeyface, (seen on TreeHugger here) and Jonathan Fertig, well known to TreeHugger for his wonderful cartoon of Flaneurs in hi-viz. They and other volunteers installed large comic cutouts.

“Introducing some whimsy to the street is just one strategy. It’s about expressing my displeasure with how we treat the streets now,” said Jonathan Fertig, an architect who came up with the project.

“I wanted something that was quirky and random and came from a place of absurdity, rather than a place of anger,” said Bekka Wright, who collaborated with Fertig and drew the characters in the style of her web comic, Bikeyface.


The Boston Transportation Department was not amused and has moved quickly to remove them all, although they had been a bit slower replacing missing flex posts, noting in a statement:

We appreciate the intent of the cartoon cutouts to inform and educate people about bike safety on Massachusetts Avenue in an artistic, eye-catching manner. We agree that it is beneficial to circulate these important messages and we are working each day to further enhance our streets so that they are safe and welcoming for all users….Unfortunately, however, the cutouts needed to be removed from this busy street to maximize visibility for all users of the roadway and to maintain safe passage for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.


And of course, as Jonathan notes, after they are removed and the cones are pushed to the side, a truck immediately parks in the bike lane. But it is a great example of tactical urbanism that was welcomed by advocacy groups. From Streetsblog:

“We do typically see these [street interventions] when the public is pushing back against officials when they’re dismayed at the slow rate of change,” said Andrew McFarland, community engagement manager for the LivableStreets Alliance. “Let’s ask more of our city officials. Let’s not wait around for another crash to take another life.”

And once again, we present Jonathan’s wonderful adaptation of Gustave Caillebotte’s flâneur:
flaneurJonathan Fertig/ how the modern flaneur dresses for walking/via

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Bikes | Biking | Boston

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