Massachusetts Official: Boston’s Winter Cyclists “Living in the Wrong City”

Bostonians making polite requests for a clear path on one of the city’s key bike routes were met with disdain from the state agency responsible for maintaining the paths.

Social media campaigns by Boston cyclists seized on some unfortunate remakrs by state officials to dramatize the plight of the city's winter cyclists. Image: Boston Cyclists Union
With a rapid-response social media campaign, Boston residents put a face on the purported “.05%” of cyclists who bike through the winter. Photo: Boston Cyclists Union

Here’s how one unnamed official from the Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation responded in an internal email thread to a message from a Boston resident asking for better snow removal on the Southwest Corridor, an important off-street bike path. The leaked email was published on the Boston site Universal Hub (emphasis ours):

Frankly, I am tired of our dedicated team wasting valuable time addressing the less than .05% of all cyclists who choose to bike after a snow/ice event… We should not spend time debating cyclists with poor judgement [sic] and unrealistic expectations, and stick with [the staffer]‘s recommendation that they find other transportation. If someone is completely depending on a bike for year-round transportation, they are living in the wrong city.

Bikes advocates in the Boston region didn’t take those remarks lying down. The Boston Cyclists Union, working with Allston-Brighton Bikes and Southie Bikes, asked local cyclists to share photos of themselves on social media with the slogan “I am the .05%” to demonstrate their numbers and their normalcy. Local cyclists also took to tweeting under the hastag #winterbiker to explain why biking in cold weather months is their best option.

Those efforts appear to have found their target. The Boston Cyclists Union and MassBike are reporting today that DCR has agreed to meet with local cyclists to discuss their concerns regarding snow and ice clearance on bike paths.

And, for the record, cold weather cities that put real effort into making it safe to bike see little drop-off in cycling during the winter. Copenhagen, for instance, retains 80 percent of its peak-season bike traffic in the cold months.

26 thoughts on Massachusetts Official: Boston’s Winter Cyclists “Living in the Wrong City”

  1. Let’s see if I got the logic straight: we should not clean the bike paths because no one rides bikes on them when they are full of snow because we don’t clean them.

  2. You can’t measure the demand for a bridge over a river by the number of people swimming across the river. If safe facilities are provided, people will use them — especially a path like the Southwest Corridor, which is one of the most heavily used paths in the city. Provide more safe connections and more people will ride, even in cold weather, provided they are properly maintained.

  3. I’m part of the 0.05%

    We all understand resources are limited, and there are times & places where a path can’t be plowed down to bare pavement. That’s not the issue. The issue, over and above the unprofessional comments from the DCR, is where scarce resources are invested.

    Case in point: Monday I visited a local DCR park. The 40-something space parking lot was plowed down to bare pavement. The paths all had an inch or more of snow and ice.

    The parking lot was of course completely empty – who in their right mind would drive to a park where it’s too dangerous to ride a bike or walk the dog?

    SO it’s the attitude, plus the lack of common sense that really grinds my gears.

  4. I biked through the winter in Boston for years. Now I bike through the winter in Boulder, CO. What a difference! Boulder actually cares about its bike paths and its bikers. Boston really needs to do more.

  5. Where do they get the “0.05% of cyclists” from? Boston’s population is around 640,000. Let’s say 10% of those are “cyclists”, meaning people who ride a bike somewhat regularly, either for transportation or recreation. That’s 64,000 people. 0.05% of this number would be 32 people. I have a hard time believing there’s only 32 people in Boston who would want to use their bicycles after a snow event.

    If you decide to count as “cyclists” only those who use their bikes to commute to work, then 0.05% of that group probably numbers in the single digits. Either way, the 0.05% comment is ludicrous.

  6. Winter tires are a damn good idea. I keep a couple pairs mounted on spare rims (I have two commuter bikes) for rough days and mount ’em up when it gets ugly out there. Sadly, our weather in the Southwest has been bone dry. We will pay for that during the summer fire season.

    A tough winter doesn’t excuse the city from doing its part to clear cycling facilities of snow and ice as best it can, but city transportation managers are not gods who can print money. The city needs to clear its facilities in a reasonable fashion and cyclists need to accept that in a winter where Nor’easters have been hammering the east coast every few days, conditions may be far from optimal. Cyclists need to grow a pair, too.

    We all need to do our part. Any cyclist who is serious about commuting in a winter climate should be equipped properly, rather than expecting municipal authorities to always clear paths down to bare pavement. Go to for an excellent discussion of winter tread.

    Someone needs to publish the name of that bigshot public servant. His/her comment was needlessly inflammatory. Think first, then hit send.

  7. The Metro that invented Ciclovia (Memorial Drive Sunday closures, which occur on a MDC/Metro/DCR road date back to the mid-1970’s) ought to be ashamed of itself.

    Dr. Paul Dudley White is rolling in his grave.

  8. I think the argument is more about the fairness issue of keeping motor vehicle paths clear “down to bare pavement”. Yes, there is the issue of emergency vehicle and freight access, but these modes don’t require “bare pavement” either and could easily be accommodated with a cursory pass of the plow, rather than the intense plowing and salting we see. If we’re going to continue clearing motor vehicle paths in a manner such that private autos can continue to romp around like it’s spring time, then surely cyclists and pedestrians deserve the same treatment. It’s not like motorists are paying any kind of user fees to help offset the cost of snow removal.

  9. I actually use this path to get to work sometimes, because I commute by
    train to Jamaica Plain some days. I have yet to ever use it as a bike
    commuter to get to work, but slipping on it this morning as a train
    rider off the Orange Line was pretty bad (and I think the two coworkers
    walking with me, who both own cars and drive to work on non-Boston days,
    agreed). So “using other options” would be hard without plowing too.

  10. Correct. In Chicago we are over the plowing budget – probably because a) there’s a lot of snow this winter but b) people have become accustomed to thinking that if a street isn’t INSTA plowed, the city isn’t doing it’s job.

  11. I can’t speak for conditions in the Northeast, Jeff, but in the Southwest, even plowing down to bare pavement should not be taken a a sign of safety due to the ubiquitous presence of black ice. Cyclists, me included, have occasionally had a tough discussion with Mr. Pavement because road surface that looked like it was “bare” was actually covered with a thin sheen of ice.

    I agree completely that cyclists and pedestrians deserve equal treatment with motorists. That should be a no-brainer and should be made policy. We all pay those user fees! They are called “taxes”.

    BTW, when I was a kid growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., many urban streets were posted “Snow Emergency Street”. If you got stuck there without snow tires, you were issued a whopping fine. Perhaps Boston and its motorists have gotten lazy, but back in the daze, we Buffalonians were held to a much higher standard of citizenship when it came to winter driving. Hence my “take no prisoners” approach to winter cycling, I suppose. No one should assume springlike conditions, esp. this winter. My view is not to leave home in the morning without checking the weather, and if it might snow, make sure I toss on those winter hoops.

    Keep the rubber side down, brother.

  12. That would be a fine response so long as taxes are returned to a person since the city/state is negligent in their responsibilities to maintain their publicly funded property.

    Same happened in DC and in Virginia by the way, it is simply a disregard by DOTs on anything other than vehicle traffic… and some people wonder how our infrastructure got to the point it has.

  13. We had the same discussion here in Stockholm, Sweden, where the authority kept claiming that “we can’t fight an entire season” and when asked about why the snow from the cleared car-lanes were just dumped in the bicycle lane answered that “it had to be put somewhere”.

    However last two seasons has seen a change in policy, last winter the city did trials with the “Multihog”, a machine that uses brushes and water mixed with salt to clear the lanes.

    It worked so well, this year they expanded to five machines, and now the policy is that priority is to be given to the bicycle commuter lanes.

    You can see the effect of the use here:

    Basically it removes all traces of snow from the bike lanes.

  14. Clearing to bare pavement would be nice, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here. With my studded tires, I can ride on sheer ice, but I can’t ride on two feet of snow.

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