By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Avid, life-long cycling enthusiast Jan van Steenwijk was unanimously endorsed by the Selectmen on Monday night to fill the final vacancy on Bedford’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. The Bicycle Advisory Committee is a standing Town committee that encourages use of bicycles by residents, workers, and visitors in order to decrease traffic congestion and air pollution, and increase recreational opportunities. According to the Town’s website, the responsibilities of the Committee include “monitoring activities on current bike paths, planning additional bike paths, signage and facilities for bikers, and working to make bicycle use in Bedford safe.”
Margot Fleischman, Selectmen’s liaison to the Committee, explained that the Bicycle Advisory Committee makes recommendations to the Selectmen about matters such as bicycle infrastructure and accommodations. The Committee also works closely with the Transportation Advisory Committee, in Fleischman’s words, “to make sure that we are paying attention to multi-modal transportation” of which bicycling is a component.
Van Steenwijk said that his keen interest to join this committee stems from vast experience in the US and in Europe, seeing how transportation by bicycle is either encouraged or discouraged through infrastructure and policy decisions. He also cites safety as an utmost concern now that “more and more people are biking all the time.” Van Steenwijk himself bikes, by his reckoning, “between 4,000 and 6,000 miles per year,” and estimates that he has cycled a distance equivalent to the circumference of the world since he began riding as a youth.
“I see that people [who bike] dress totally wrong,” van Steenwijk said. “You see them in black [clothes], no helmets, no lights on.” In other parts of the world, where biking is well integrated in to daily life, van Steenwijk reports that bike safety is learned in school as a standard part of education.
When asked his opinion of “sharrows”—a relatively new symbol for alerting automobile drivers that the roads are shared with bicycles—van Steenwijk said that he believes that older drivers need to be educated about what the painted chevron icon means. Training for new drivers includes road sharing information, such as sharrows, but the concept is less familiar for older drivers.
Van Steenwijk expects that it will be many years before all users of the streets happily co-exist. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been yelled at [angrily], ‘What are you doing on the road?’ It’s a continuous battle. I would like to see The Great Road expanded [to include] a bike lane…. we’re a long way from that, probably. But it would be nice.”