Photography by Deborah McCarthy
It’s Jon Ramos’ dream to see a bicycle network in South Boston. A sign of the times brought into the spotlight at a recent local debate over whether South Boston should have bike lanes on West Broadway or not. As little as five years ago, the question of bike lanes would never have been asked – the perception being that bike lanes are for Cambridge and certainly not Southie. Fast-forward to the present with a steady influx of new residents, the development of more condos, and a parking problem that is causing residents to throw their hands up in despair. People are trading in their cars for bikes leaving the hassle of parking in the dust and taking a more green approach to living. Enter Southie Bikes.
A year ago, Tanya Connolly, a young, vibrant, Irish immigrant living in South Boston, was struck and killed by a shipping truck at the intersection of A Street & West Broadway. “I didn’t know Tanya personally, but the news of her fate took a very serious toll on me. I was not alone in how I felt. There was a loud and angry outcry from the bicycling community here in South Boston. Scores of people, cyclists and non-cyclists came out of the woodwork to attend the Planet Southie meeting to voice their concerns about bicycle safety. It was at that moment that I discovered far more people in the neighborhood rely on their bikes for getting around than I ever realized,” says Jon. From that meeting a Bike Action Team was formed in hopes to make the roads safer for not only bicyclists but for the safety of all road users. Within a few weeks, Jon began to collect information from volunteers including transportation planners and Nicole Freedman of Boston Bikes about what would South Boston need to become more bike friendly.
Scoop on Jon:
- Grew up in Southern, NH, Living in Boston area for over 15 years.
- Moved to Southie five years ago with his wife Jane. “I’ve always known Southie to be a nice neighborhood, but I’ve been simply overwhelmed with friendly smiles and genuine people living here; new comers and old timers alike.”
- Studied architecture at Wentworth Institute of Technology
- Works at Miller Dyer Spears Inc, a Boston architecture firm that specializes in institutional work (local colleges, hospitals, & some public work)
- He is the commissioner of an architects & engineers co-ed softball league, and plays down at Moakley Park
- He is a ride leader for 1,700 member cycling club since 2005, called The Greater Boston Cycling & Outdoor Fitness Club
- One of the founders of a monthly urban ride called Boston Bike Party
- Involved in St. Vincent’s Lower End Neighborhood Association including park cleanups, development meetings, planting flowers, and meeting with election candidates.
- He rides three different bikes. “For daily commuting I use my Vilano single speed. It’s an inexpensive bike that can take the abuse of all season riding. Salt, snow, rain, it doesn’t matter, this bike is bulletproof. For longer distance rides I have a 1979 steel frame Univega. It’s a multi-gear bike which I found very useful on my bike trip from Boston to Montreal. The Univega also works great with my bike trailer for hauling groceries, portable grill, tools, sports equipment, you name it. Lastly I have a Gary Fisher hard-tail 29er mountain bike. I’ll take that beast up to the Fellsway or Blue Hills for exploring the off road trails.”
Both Jon and his wife Jane are “mutil-modal” when it comes to local transportation. They rely on walking, public transportation, biking and occasionally driving. ” I am willing to bet that more people who live South Boston use public transit, walk, shuttle, or bike to work than drive cars. Perhaps here in South Boston personal cars are actually the “alternative” mode of transportation.” According to the 2010 census, there are sections within South Boston where more than 50% of households simply don’t own a car. According to Jon, as the population within South Boston continues to become more dense, we will see an ever increasing need for public transportation, bike lanes, and improved walking.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Southie?
A: I LOVE to eat, especially after a long day of biking. I’m a bit of a beer nut, so I’m a fan of Local 149 for their ever rotating selection of craft beer, but I also have an affinity for Lucky’s because I’ve been going there with co-workers for years. Oh, and we can’t forget Harpoon’s beer hall… not exactly a restaurant, but it’s the best pretzel & beer you’ll get anywhere in the city (hint hint, try Harpoon’s Leviathan IPA, you’ll thank me later)
Q: What is your favorite spot?
A: The urban explorer in me still likes finding the hidden gems. The little park next to the 4 concrete silos on Black Falcon Ave is pretty great, and I really like Rolling Bridge park which hides itself behind the inaccessible part of Dorchester Ave… oh and we can’t forget the fantastic public dock on the Fort Point Channel…. but the best spot for me will always be the small wooden picnic table, under the canopy of a tree cluster, overlooking the water, where I enjoy a peaceful picnic with my wife. No, I’m not telling you where it is… that’s my spot ;)
Q: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about giving up their car and using a bike to get around?
A: Be smart, ride respectfully, share the road, stay alert, always bring a headlight just in case it gets dark, and leave the damn earbuds in your backpack. These are all crash prevention techniques, which is the best way to stay safe. And for heaven’s sake, you don’t need to clad yourself in neon green and spandex just to ride a bike! I ride in business casual for my commute, it’s a very civilized way to get around.
As a proponent of bike lanes in South Boston, and in particular on West Broadway, Jon is passionate about the subject. Ultimately he wants South Boston to be safe for all commuters and residents. “The main reason to have bike lanes anywhere in the city is safety. Bike lanes are proven to reduce the risk of injury by 50% by separating the bicyclists from the motorists. Many drivers will agree that bike lanes also provide a measure of stress relief knowing that bicyclists have their own place to ride that is out of their way while also encouraging bikers to ride more predictably.”
7 Positives for Bike Lanes according to Jon Ramos:
- Safety – Bike lanes are proven to reduce the risk of injury by about 50% (source: Boston Bikes)
- Predictability – Cyclists tend to operate in a more predictably in bike lanes, which is good for everyone. No more bikers swerving in an out, or splitting lanes to get past the traffic.
- Parking – Every person riding a bike to a local store represents one more parking space for someone who really needs it.
- Confidence – Bike lanes give confidence to riders who aren’t quite ready to share the road travel lanes with general motorist traffic, and allow the bicyclist to travel at his/her own pace.
- Stress – Bike lanes are proven to reduce stress of both cyclists and motorists because it separates the two transit types.
- Traffic – Removes slower-moving bikes from vehicular traffic lanes, reducing delay for drivers.
- Economy – Bikers tend to do more shopping locally. Studies show that cyclists spend more locally than the average motorist. (source: Oregon Transportation Research & Education Consortium). Bikers don’t want to ride further than necessary to buy goods. It makes sense, for the same reason many retail businesses choose locations that are close to public transportation and streets with heavy foot traffic.
When asked about why he loves living in Southie, Jon smiles and says, “It’s just such a vibrant place to live. I love it all – the good, the bad, and the potholes.”
There will be a memorial bike ride in honor of Tanya Connolly on Sunday, September 15th at 11am in South Boston.
For more information on Southie Bikes, you can follow them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SouthieBikes or on twitter @southiebikes