A simple plan


If you’re looking for someone to blame for bike lanes, look in the mirror.

That’s in effect what the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is saying in a recently released document called the Massachusetts Bicycle Transportation Plan.

MassDOT has developed the Bike Plan “to be an actionable investment strategy to guide its decision-making and bicycle infrastructure investments, as well as support municipalities to improve bikeability.”

The plan lists an “action-oriented strategy” based on three key principles.

“First, reverse the decades-long practice of prioritizing automobile travel.”

The next time you’re stuck in an interminable traffic jam, try to be grateful for your decades of priority status. You are the reason we now need bike lanes.

Just as most Americans haven’t bought into the universal appeal of soccer, the vast majority of us have somehow managed to resist the magical allure of adult cycling.

Americans continue to prefer the automobile, with its promise of individual freedom. It’s part of our DNA, which some regard as just another of this country’s many flaws. That’s especially true in the era of climate change, which is used to justify all sorts of retrograde technologies from windmills to bike lanes.

Indeed, climate change is cited as a primary rationale for the steps laid out in the Massachusetts Bicycle Transportation Plan.

“Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, and motor vehicles are the primary source of these emissions,” the Plan informs us. “The most environmentally friendly and sustainable transportation options are zero-emission ones like walking and biking.”

Don’t forget skateboarding and those red, Radio Flyer wagons. Are we going to create separate lanes for them too?

As you putt around town in your Honda on a mission to destroy the planet, you won’t see very many cyclists – certainly not enough to justify creating entire travel lanes for them.

But you just don’t get it. The state assures us that if we build them, they will come.

“Academic research, national polling, and data collected through Bike Plan outreach activities confirm that a majority of people would consider biking as a viable travel mode if the routes to their destinations were safe, comfortable and convenient from start to finish.”

Most people would “consider” skydiving too. How many ever jump out of a plane?

“MassDOT took great care to engage and listen to existing and potential bicyclists throughout the Commonwealth,” we are told. I wonder if they listened to anyone else.

Big Brother wears spandex and a helmet and he works at MassDOT, where they’ve made bike lanes a mandatory part of any state-funded road or infrastructure project, whether the public wants them or not.

But bike lanes do have some local supporters. They tend to be the same people who lecture us that because of today’s busy lifestyles, people just don’t have time to attend Town Meetings or vote in elections. But now, suddenly they have the leisure to live their lives at 8 mph, biking to work and then cycling to shop at Whole Foods before pedaling off to yoga class.

There is even a term for this in the Bicycle Transportation Plan. It’s called “Everyday Biking,” defined as “riding a bike for everyday travel.”

I haven’t biked every day since I was 16 years old and got my driver’s license. I have no desire to regress.

I even sold my Radio Flyer.

[This column originally appeared in the August 1, 2019 Wakefield Daily Item.]

“How do you do it?” is a question I am frequently asked. “How do you sit through all those boring government meetings?”

I should probably answer that I selflessly attend these meetings in order to be your eyes and ears. I should say that I go to these meetings so that you don’t have to.

The truth is, I do it for the entertainment. It’s like live theater, or these days, soap opera, and not just because meetings are televised.

For sheer entertainment, the Town Council currently offers the best value. It can’t yet hold a candle to some of the cage matches that broke out at the old Board of Selectmen meetings back in the early 2000s, but give it time.
Continue reading ‘That’s entertainment!’


GLOUCESTER — Imagine Mel Brooks pressed into service to direct an Alfred Hitchcock movie. You might get something like Patrick Barlow’s witty stage adaptation of Hitchcock’s classic mystery thriller, The 39 Steps. The play version, currently in production at Gloucester Stage, is much more comedy than mystery. And as comedy, it’s very clever indeed.

Although the play includes every scene and most of the dialog from the 1935 film, the actors ham it up for comedic effect and comic/dramatic scenes are highlighted by Foley artist Malachi Rosen’s on-stage musical and theatrical sound effects.

Robert Walsh directs the production in which four actors play over 150 characters in the fast-paced story of Richard Hannay, a bored Londoner, whose attendance at a London Palladium show results in his getting swept up in a murder/espionage adventure with perilous implications for the entire UK.
Continue reading ‘GSC’s ‘The 39 Steps’ is a comedic thriller’

Native tongue


As has oft been stated, Wakefield is a welcoming town, for both visitors and new residents — especially new residents, whom we have a habit of electing to public office before they’ve even finished unpacking.

A couple times a year, Wakefield offers an orientation program for refugees from other communities. It’s called Wakefield 101, where newcomers to our town can talk with representatives from town departments, community groups and local businesses. They can mingle with other migrants and leave with a welcome bag filled with information, fun freebies and a special gift.

Sadly, these efforts have neglected perhaps the most important consideration in helping newcomers assimilate to our culture: learning the language. Some people live here for years and never master the local lexicon. I happen to be fluent in the native tongue, so I’m happy to fill that gap.
Continue reading ‘Native tongue’

When did we become such weather wimps?

Two recent local events that were once routinely held outdoors unless forced inside by a deluge, now automatically happen under the artificial lights of LED bulbs rather than the brilliant sunshine that Mother Nature provides for free.

I’m talking, of course, about the town’s Memorial Day exercises and Wakefield High School’s graduation.
Continue reading ‘The great indoors’

Natural history


I made my feelings known on the topic of bike lanes a few weeks ago. I’m not a fan, but they’re coming, as just one part of a $15 million downtown infrastructure project.

Rightly or wrongly, I associate bike lanes with some other obnoxious trends, like the demonization of automobiles and fossil fuels.

The internal combustion engine is one of the greatest advancements to come out of human ingenuity. But our species is now supposed to feel immense guilt and spend billions of dollars doing penance for the grievous sin of being creative and inventive, for merely using the tremendous gifts bestowed on us by God or nature, depending on your perspective.
Continue reading ‘Natural history’

Bad examples


Bad ideas seem to be finding their way to Wakefield with some regularity of late, which is why you should always be aware of what’s going on in nearby communities.

Forewarned is forearmed as they say, and in Massachusetts there’s never a shortage of “initiatives” to be forewarned about.

Let’s start with the least dubious (which isn’t saying much) idea and work our way down.
Continue reading ‘Bad examples’



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