Wellesley hearing draws impassioned pleas from cycling safety enthusiasts, Motsenigos family

Cyclists came out in force to speak at the Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday night in support of Wellesley becoming a more bike and pedestrian friendly community. The two-hour hearing came to a dramatic close when Spiros Motsenigos, whose brother Alex died while cycling after being struck by a motor vehicle on Weston Road last summer, thanked the board for having the hearing and urged town officials to follow through on efforts to make Wellesley safer for cyclists.

The meeting started with an overview by the Wellesley Police, DPW and an outside engineering consultant on things such as reported cycling/car accident numbers in town, steps taken to make the town more pedestrian friendly via bumped out crosswalks and improved signals, and options that can be implemented to include bike lanes or shared car/bike lanes dubbed “sharrows” and to perhaps one day become designated a Bicycle Friendly CommunityNew Deputy Police Chief Jack Pilecki surprised some in the crowd by informing them that you actually are allowed to bike on sidewalks in town, except in front of churches and businesses, though do need to give pedestrians the right of way.

But the real meat of the meeting came when more than a dozen members of the public, mostly from Wellesley, came to the microphone to share their points of view.

Spiros Motsenigos, who does not live in Wellesley, said he felt it was important for his family to be represented at the meeting (which in large part was inspired by the Motsenigos accident). Spiros said he was heartened by the sophistication of the conversation that took place between citizens and town leaders, and extended special thanks to the police for vigilantly pursuing justice in his brother’s case (which has moved onto the civil lawsuit front).

“Don’t give up on this and see it through,” he said, in hopes that efforts to make the town safer for cyclists would pay “homage to the legacy of my brother not as a victim, but as… a dedicated athlete who was very impassioned to move to Wellesley” to be with like-minded people who care about their families and want to spend time outdoors. He said that sometimes the efforts of municipal engineers can reflect past generations, but urged the town to put its resources into reflecting the “ethos and culture of present and future generations.”new Wellesley High bike racks Feb 2012

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While many cyclists and others were outraged at the grand jury’s decision not to indict the driver involved in the Motsenigos accident and have expressed their disgust through social media and other outlets, those who spoke at the meeting were civil and profusely thanked the board and other town officials for addressing the safety issue in public. There seemed to be some agreement that making Wellesley’s main roads wide enough to accommodate parking and separate bike lines would be a huge financial and engineering challenge, but there was a fair amount of support for shared bike/car lanes and lots of support for education of drivers too often ignorant of cyclists’ rights. Some also raised the idea of better supporting cyclists on the town’s miles of off-road trails.

A sampling of speakers:

*A father and daughter (Matt and Sophia Kressy) spoke separately, with the father expressing his concerns about his daughter often taking a scary cycling route across town under the Bacon Street bridge on Rte. 135. He invited others to try cycling in that Bacon Street area to gain empathy for what cyclists in town go through.

*Wellesley’s Bruce Franco said people obliviously opening car doors into the path of cyclists is his biggest fear as a cyclist, though not far behind are the knife-sharp edges of new curbs in lower falls that would take a cyclist down if he or she crashed into them  regardless of the quality of their helmet. He also lamented the preponderance of no right turn on red signs in town, which he said slows traffic flows and leads to car/bicycle accidents.

*One speaker praised the redesign of Rte. 135 near Wellesley College, reducing what was 2 car lanes to 1, and giving cyclists a safer path between Wellesley and Natick. However, he questioned why similar considerations were not acted upon in the redesign of Weston Road, pointing to a recent restructuring of Oak Street in Natick that includes marked bike lanes.

*Resident and avid cyclist Angus McQuilken urged town officials to look at the cycling issue more broadly than addressing baseline safety issues. His message was to think about what sort of infrastructure investments would need to be made to help get people out of cars and onto bikes, to reduce congestion and improve health. He said there aren’t many places in town he feels safe riding bikes with his kids and would love to see Wellesley have more mixed use paths, like the Minuteman Trail in Lexington or those he’s ridden on in other countries, including Dublin, where sidewalks were widened into mixed use paths.

*Non-Wellesley resident and cycling advocate Lee Toma (who tweeted throughout the meeting) and other speakers suggested that the town form an advisory group of cyclists who know about cycling issues as well as the town’s terrain, including dangerous intersections. Such groups could help the town better deal with outfits such as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation that don’t know the area as well, he said. Toma also encouraged the town to learn more about which routes are most traveled by cyclists, by tapping information found on websites that use cyclists GPS device data, and to think creatively about raising money, such as through grants, for educational efforts.

The Board of Selectmen said the hearing was really a starting point of a multi-part discussion, so we’ll see where things go from here.

Check the Wellesley Media website for the schedule of when a recording of the meeting will be viewable.