Last Friday, in the pouring rain, I drove to Newton North High School for the dedication of a new bicycle shelter. The project was a collaborative effort of Bike Newton, on whose board I serve, and city government, and boy, was the shelter needed that day! Mayor Fuller was present for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, as was Nicole Freedman, Newton’s head of transportation and an avid cyclist herself. Several other city officials and members of Bike Newton also attended, including Alicia Bowman, director of Bike Newton and candidate for City Council. The bravest souls cycled to the event, but I demurred: no reason for a senior like me to risk pneumonia in the 45-degree downpour. Had it been dry and cold, I’d have hazarded the ride.
The funding for this modest shelter (South got one as well, but both schools could use three or four more – bicycles are booming at both North and South) came about both through funds raised by Bike Newton and students and through the largesse of the city. This kind of partnership is how many projects happen these days in Newton, including the plans for repairing the paths in Cold Spring Park, another passion of mine. A dozen years ago the nonprofit I co-founded, Friends of Newton Tennis, went 50/50 with Parks and Rec to fund a short-term repair of the court surface at Newton South. Money is tight in the city’s coffers, and only major projects seem to get 100% funding, often through issuing bonds.
I don’t resent contributing to these causes I have mentioned because I recognize the political difficulties of raising taxes sufficient to meet the city’s needs. An override is looming to generate funds to effect repairs at several elementary schools. I will support it.
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That Friday, Alicia was leading Greg Schwartz for the final Ward 6 at-large councilor spot by 30 votes, subject to a recount the following day. I quipped, “Alicia’s going to camp out at City Hall tonight in preparation.” Someone there asked me, “Will you attend the recount as a poll-watcher?” I smiled and replied, “Well, I received email requests from both candidates to do so since I voted for both!” In truth, all three candidates in the Ward 6 at-large race were worthy.
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Earlier in the month four of us from Bike Newton made a bicycle excursion to Chinatown and back on Veterans Day. The ride was ten miles each way. We ate dim sum in town at Empire Garden, a cavernous restaurant that had once been a vaudeville hall. Hundreds of diners enjoyed a delicious meal at little expense, and almost all of them, excepting our table, were Chinese-Americans. Like us, though, the diners were mostly seniors. We all got our money’s worth.
On our return route through Boston, Brookline, and Brighton, each of us observed how much better biking conditions are in those communities than in Newton. Boston has many dedicated bike lanes, often lying between the curb and parked cars- much safer than Newton’s painted lanes, which place bicycles next to speeding cars. On some roads in Brighton, whole lanes were dedicated exclusively to buses and bicycles. It reminded me of London and Paris, which have similar infrastructure.
Admittedly, Newton need not worry much about creating bus lanes since we have so few internal bus routes! Sometimes I bike for miles within city limits without ever seeing a bus. If the Garden City ever decides to address its traffic congestion by adding both public transportation and safer bike lanes, it could learn a great deal from our neighboring communities. Until then, many residents will remain too frightened to take to their bicycles in Newton.