Pete Stidman brings cyclists together
The Boston Cyclists Union is nearing 1,000 members — not bad for a grass-roots advocacy group that began with just 20 people in 2010. Under Stidman’s leadership as founder and executive director, the Union has done everything from fix hundreds of bikes for free at inner-city farmers’ markets to lead the charge to bring down Jamaica Plain’s Casey Overpass, which has blocked bicyclists’ paths for decades. Stidman and his group will be out in numbers at the annual Hub on Wheels event on Storrow Drive this Sunday.
Q. So be honest: Do you hate Boston drivers?
A. [Laughs] Well, I don’t hate them. There are certainly times where I feel a little animosity. I understand that everyone is trying to get to work and whatnot, and I think the conflicts that we see in our streets more often are just reflecting the poor design of the streets, not necessarily bad people or drivers.
Q. Although there are some bad drivers out there.
A. They exist. And bad bikers, too.
Q. The idea behind the union was to bring change?
A. Our method is to find ways to reach out to cyclists in every neighborhood in the city. So we do work in Mattapan, Dorchester, Roxbury, East Boston, Charlestown — everywhere that you might not think cyclists would be. But we find that everywhere we go there are cyclists. By doing that, when a road project comes up, or a policy problem, or some kind of incident, we have a huge list of people in every neighborhood who can show [support].
Q. What are some of the union’s accomplishments this year?
A. Our top achievement is the Casey Overpass project, which is going to result in an extension of the Southwest Corridor [for cyclists]. When the project is done you’re going to be able to take a left and go to Franklin Park on a bike path or take a right and go to the Arboretum on a bike path. We’ve started an indoor bike-parking effort to make sure new buildings have storage space for bikes. We’ve fixed nearly 1,000 bikes and handed out about 600 helmets at subsidized prices at farmers’ markets. And our membership by the end of the year will have doubled.
Q. The union also serves breakfast to people biking to work along Massachusetts Avenue and other spots. Can you eat on a bike?
A. Some of them try. [Laughs.] It’s about having a social connection between cyclists more than anything else. We’ll set up, and pretty soon we’ll have 15 or 20 cyclists around us all chatting and sipping coffee. It sort of highlights the fact that being on a bicycle is more social.
Q. Your main campaign, though, is something called “Connect the City.” Explain that.
A. It’s about getting the city — both the government and people who live here — into the concept of cycle tracks, which are bike lanes physically separated [from cars.] We’re trying to get a cycle track on Seaver Street in Roxbury, and the city has plans for them around the Public Garden that we’re trying to support.
Q. Why are cycle tracks important?
A. Cycle tracks reduce injuries and reduce crashes. We’re trying to create a safer environment where you can ride not just by yourself, but with your kids, your parents, your grandparents. . . . Pretty much everyone could live within a half a mile of a cycle track in the city. That’s the ultimate goal.
Q. What percentage of the way are you toward that goal?
A. Probably not even 1 percent. But there are opportunities coming up. Every time they reconstruct a street they have the opportunity to do something like this at low cost. With some streets you can just do it with paint and flexible posts [as a buffer.] We’re working on a new one in Somerville, on Beacon Street
from Inman Square almost all the way to Porter Square.
The Boston Cyclists Union will host its second annual gala on Sept. 27, with former Boston Bikes czar Nicole Freedman speaking. For details see www.bostoncyclistsunion.org.