Monday, May 01, 2006

With T fares set to go up again, and not by a small increment, I’m more committed than ever to cycling as a viable alternative to cars and mass transit. Not only is it a greener way to get around, it’s a great cardio workout, and it’s cheaper and faster than the T. What more could you want? Since I started biking to work in the Back Bay from Dorchester, I’ve cut my morning commute time in half.

Sure, there are problems with cycling in Boston. The streets are not bicycle-friendly, for the most part, and neither are those using them. And not only are motorists a danger to cyclists. Cyclists are a danger to each other. But part of the reason for this is the lack of dedicated bike lanes. Organizations like Livable Streets (www.livablestreets.info) are struggling to raise awareness of Boston’s enormous potential as a greener, more livable city, but it is an up-hill battle, for sure.

I’ve noticed a lot of things about Boston I didn’t before now that I’m cycling in the city every day. Something I’ve noticed anew, since my commute takes me through the South End, is the city’s rubbish problem. It isn’t just the South End, of course, but it’s there that it seems most visible. Riding through these beautifully gentrified neighborhoods the night before or the day of rubbish collection is like a trip to Fresh Kills Landfill: rubbish spilling out of torn plastic bags piled high and strewn all over the sidewalk.

This is not a new problem, by any means, which is why the lack of a real, viable solution is so discouraging. Residents point to the ragpickers who make their way through the streets before the city’s rubbish and recycling trucks do, tearing open trash bags in search of recyclables, and leaving a mess behind that brings animals to forage after them. But blaming the ragpickers ignores the simple fact that if residents were really recycling, the ragpickers would have nothing to pick out of their garbage. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

But the city’s “rubbish rules” do nothing to discourage it. While the rubbish code states that “There must be sufficient metal or durable plastic barrels for storing of refuse generated in building,” it contradicts this dictate on the very next line: “Disposable 2-ply [or heavier] plastic bags may be used instead of trash barrels for curbside trash collection.” In short: you MUST use trash barrels, but you don’t have to. And a stroll through the South End on rubbish days will attest to the fact that no one does.

A couple years ago I took the utterly futile step of writing Commissioner Casazza, pointing out the absurdity of the city’s rubbish code, and got a rapid reply from an underling that read: “Please contact Code Enforcement. They will send an inspector out and possibly fine the responsible parties.” The problem was, of course, precisely that no one was in violation of any code. Talk about rubbish.

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