Bicycles and Kindness

Last week, my bicycle was towed by the city of Boston. I am mostly able to laugh about it, but the whole thing brought up a few points worth talking about.

The story

It was the second day of my dietetic internship. I navigated my way through Beacon Hill to arrive near the MA State House with time to spare. Not seeing any bike racks around, I locked my bike to a street sign in front of the building, thinking that it was unlikely to be stolen with so many people around. My bike was there when I left for lunch, and when I returned half an hour later, it was gone. State police officers in front of the building informed me that Boston Transportation removed the bike, and that I would need to call them. I returned to my cubicle, and called to ask about my bike. Danny, the transportation department worker who answered the phone, told me that someone had complained about my bike being in the way, so they removed it, and that I could go pick it up whenever I wanted. After work, my husband and I trekked through Southie to the municipal wasteland that runs adjacent to the highway. I found my bike, safe and sound, and made my way home with nothing lost, other than time, mental energy, and my U-lock.

The aftermath

Having something dramatic happen is a great way to make friends at a new job. My current internship rotation is in a land of cubicles, which means that a handful of people could hear my phone conversation with Danny, the transportation guy. Word spread through the office within minutes. 3pm Stretch and Smile (how adorable is that?) took an extra 10 minutes because everyone wanted to know what happened. I had people coming up to me who I had never met, expressing disbelief and concern. One week later, people are still checking in on my bike status. It’s really nice to feel like people care. Or maybe it was just a slow news day in the office. I’m going to assume the former.

I since have learned that the building has bike racks in the garage, which I do not have access to as an intern. After emailing the city to inquire about my parking options, I was informed that the area near the State House is state property, so the city is not allowed to install bike racks. The only option that I’ve been able to find is a public bike rack down the hill. It’s not super convenient to schlep my overstuffed pannier with me up the hill each morning, but it’s certainly better than paying another visit to Sketchville to retrieve my poor bicycle.

I’ve been biking in the Boston area for the past 6 years. I’ve always been proud and grateful to live in a place that puts energy and resources into creating a bike-friendly environment. I could drive, but I choose to bike. I have to admit that my view is a bit tarnished now, although it certainly doesn’t dissuade me from continuing to commute by bike. I tried to find information online regarding bike parking laws that would result in bike removal, but I could only find vague statements about not blocking sidewalks. Maybe the information is out there, but I didn’t find it. I may have been in the wrong, but it would have been nice if they had given me a warning first. Cutting my lock, taking my bike, and not leaving me any information on how to find it seems like overkill. I wonder how many bikes they end up with because people assume that their bikes were stolen. So, I guess my advice to my fellow cyclists is to avoid locking your bike to a sign post…? Or maybe just some sign posts? Or maybe just not in that neighborhood? Or maybe it’s actually fine, and this was just a fluke thing? I still don’t know. Sorry.

On kindness

My apologies for sounding self-righteous, but I truly think that the world would be a better place if compassion for others was practiced on a more regular basis. One of the women in the office who overheard me on the phone told me that she couldn’t believe how nice I was to the person, and that she would have been livid. I realized that my many years in customer service jobs, dealing with the stressful topic of finances, taught me to have compassion for the people that I interact with. I suspect that the transportation department workers are required to carry out policies set by people who have no contact with the public, and that they are just doing their best to get through the day. I would imagine that they deal with a whole lot of bullshit on a daily basis. I am not going to be another person who adds to their stress, regardless of what I am experiencing. I knew that I could still get the information that I needed while treating Danny with respect, especially because he likely had nothing to do with the decision to tow my bike. In return, he took the time to help me problem-solve how I was going to get my bike home, and he gave me very detailed directions to a place that would have been nearly impossible to find otherwise. We probably both had a better afternoon than if I had entered the conversation with demands and accusations.

The moral of the story: stretch, smile, be kind to others, and be careful where you lock your bike.

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