Natural history

24May19

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.

I’m often reminded of a lyric from a song by 1980s band Love & Rockets, called No New Tale to Tell. The lyric goes, “You cannot go against nature, because when you do, going against nature is part of nature too.”

Human beings are part of nature, with all of our intelligence, our technology and inventions. It’s what we do. Cats are magnificent hunters. Fish are fantastic swimmers. Birds have the enviable ability to fly.

But only the human species is required to apologize for doing what we do best: thinking, inventing, creatively solving problems to improve the quality and ease of life.

The greatest medical and scientific advancements of the last century-and-a-half were only possible by our harnessing of fossil fuels, generating the electricity to power and illuminate hospitals and their surgical suites, X-Ray and MRI machines and other technologies too numerous to list here. Not to mention keeping the lights, heat and AC on 24-hours-a-day at universities and in scientific and medical laboratories so round-the-clock research can bring us the next life-saving breakthroughs.

The discovery of fossil fuels is the reason that, when you need to get to the emergency room in the middle of the night, you arrive in minutes at a well-lit, well-equipped facility. And you don’t need to take a horse and buggy to get there.

Fossil fuel-powered transportation is also the reason we have easy access to a wide variety of healthy, fresh foods year-round.

I’m sorry, but if we’d had to rely on wind and solar for the last 150 years, the sick would still be seeking out the local barber for an application of leeches. And your diet would be limited to what you and your neighbors could grow and raise.

Thanks to those same human advances in science and technology, we have virtually unlimited, instant access to information. Yet many people just didn’t know much, if anything, about the infrastructure project that will include bike lanes.

Who’s fault it that? Certainly not the town’s.

The planned, state-funded $15 million downtown infrastructure upgrade has been in the news since at least last September, when DPW Director Rick Stinson presented the proposal to the Town Council. That story was in the Daily Item, both in print and online editions. The meeting was televised by WCAT. If you couldn’t watch it live, you could watch it online at some more convenient time.

The first $331,500 for Phase 1 of the design study was voted at Town Meeting in November of 2018. Any registered voter can attend Town Meeting. It was written up in the Item, before and after Town Meeting, in print and online. The Town Meeting warrant was published on the town web site, in the paper and posted in public places.

Once the design reached a certain stage, three public Envision Wakefield forums were held to gather public input on the project. They were publicized in the Item, on the town’s web site, on social media and elsewhere. They were televised by WCAT, the videos, and are still available on the town’s web site.

A few weeks ago, Town Meeting voted another $390,000 for Phase 2 the project design, also covered in the Item and broadcast on WCAT and online.

I don’t much like bike lanes. Maybe you don’t either, but the time to stop them is past. If you’re just now finding out about this project, you haven’t been paying attention.

[A version of this column originally appeared in the May 23, 2019 Wakefield Daily Item.]



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