Connolly pedals for votes: Councillor tours Dot villages on wheels

On a Friday morning in mid-June, City Councillor At-Large John Connolly had just toured the St. Francis House by Boston Common when his car died. “Guess who is taking shared bike to next event,” he posted to Twitter, the social networking site, along with a picture of a “Hubway” bicycle, a bike-sharing service with stations around the city.

Connolly grabbed a helmet out of his car and set off for his next appointment in the Kenmore area, posting pictures to Twitter during the roughly half-hour trip.

He recounted the sojourn to a group of Dorchester bicycling enthusiasts a month and a half later, recalling the treacherous route through Kenmore Square, where one cyclist, an MIT scientist, had died earlier this year after getting hit by a truck. Over the last three years, there have been nine biking fatalities due to motor vehicle collisions, including the death of a 63-year-old man riding down Morrissey Boulevard early on a September morning.

Connolly has gone biking with several different groups in various neighborhoods since kicking off his mayoral campaign in late February. “We’ve been trying to do bike rides as a regular part of the campaign, just to give us a chance to talk to cyclists and the cycling community generally,” Connolly said late last month as he straddled a bike outside Ashmont Cycles, a small shop across the street from the MBTA station. “I do bike. I will say it’s typically reserved for vacation. My wife is not crazy about me going out on the roads of Boston and I have come to understand why as I’ve done more biking over the campaign.”

His comments drew grim chuckles from the Dorchester group of cyclists that included riders from West Roxbury and Roslindale and a few Connolly campaign staffers.

The route through Dorchester started at Ashmont Cycles, headed up Talbot Avenue through Codman Square, Fields Corner, Bowdoin Geneva, and Uphams Corner’s Jones Hill, before heading south down Dorchester Avenue through St. Mark’s and the Neponset area, threading through Minot Street and ending up back at Ashmont Cycles.

“We wanted to show what it’s like in many parts of Dorchester and give him an idea if he becomes mayor, just a sense of what it’s like to bike,” said Jack Pelletier, who opened Ashmont Cycles in 2011. “The city needs to dedicate, short term and long term, its energy towards making its infrastructure bike-friendly, so biking around the city is not just in the realm of twenty-somethings,” he added. “It should be such that anybody can do it.”

The city of Boston has “done a lot to further” that goal, but there is more work left to do, Pelletier said. The city started its bike program in 2007, installed 60 miles of bike lanes and 1,000 bike racks, and has gone “from being called one of the worst cities for cycling in the country to one of the best,” according to a May 2013 report.

But safety remains a big issue for cyclists, Pelletier included. About a year and a half ago, he was hit by a car while he was in a bike lane on Circuit Drive in Franklin Park. Pelletier said he was knocked unconscious and woke up in an ambulance. He spent a night in the hospital, diagnosed with a concussion, bruised ribs, and a small brain bleed.

“It’s all over the city,” he said of such incidents. “They’re horrific accidents and they get press. Things like that are going to discourage people from biking.” The “gold standard” for biking in urban environments is a “separate cycle track,” not just a dedicated bike lane, so that cars can’t cross over and hit cyclists, Pelletier said.

After the ride through Dorchester, Connolly and the cyclists retired to Ashmont Grill. Taking up the tables that looked out onto Talbot Avenue, they ordered sangria and margaritas while Connolly, who had a house party in Roslindale on his schedule for later in the day, stuck to a ginger ale and water.

Connolly said he had looked at statistics and determined that the Allston area was the most dangerous for cyclists. The neighborhood has the highest crash rate in the city, “far and away,” he said. “You take your life into your hands, several times.”

Another rider, Rev. Laura Everett, who has a “CLERGY” license plate on her bicycle, pointed to Kenmore Square as a “swirling pit of death.”
Later, as he was leaving, Connolly said he consistently heard talk about safety concerns and calls for better bicycling infrastructure. Something like a cycle track is worth exploring and needs investment, he said, “so you’re not going to get door-ed and you’re not in the path of any motor vehicle either.”

Pelletier, who moved to Dorchester 12 years ago and eventually decided to turn his bicycle-based hobby into a small business, said he’s undecided in the 12-person race for mayor. “I’m still mulling the field,” he told the Reporter after the ride with Connolly, whom he found personable. “I think it’s a great idea for him to be doing this,” Pelletier said.