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Riding the T with the NUMTOT creator.
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How NUMTOT founder Juliet Eldred gets around Boston

Bike-commuting, T-riding, and monorail-tweeting with the transit-oriented 20-something

Juliet Eldred lives and breathes transportation policy. She works as a transit analyst at a consulting firm outside of Boston, and she’s also the co-founder of New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens, better known as NUMTOT, the Facebook group that spawned a thousand zoning memes (and dozens of copycat groups).

From her home in Somerville, Massachusetts, Eldred also organizes with the Boston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) on housing and transportation issues. In her spare time, she designs sweet enamel pins of vernacular architecture. Follow her on Twitter, join NUMTOT, of course, and read on for her week of bike-commuting, T-riding, and monorail-tweeting.

Saturday, April 13

I’m out the door and en route to my local bagel place by 9 a.m., much earlier than usual for a Saturday. But today is not like other Saturdays—I’ve been planning a housing policy workshop with Boston DSA’s Housing Working Group (of which I am co-chair) for a few months now, and today’s the big day! I get my usual bacon, egg, and cheddar on a plain bagel, then hoof it to the Davis Red Line stop to head to Downtown Boston.

For the past few weekends, the MBTA has been repairing its floating slabs on the tracks between Harvard and Alewife stations (and running shuttle buses instead), but because of the Boston Marathon on Monday, there’s no bustitutions this week—hooray! I only have to wait a minute or two for the train, which painlessly gets me to Downtown Crossing. I camp out in a coffee shop for the next hour to wrap up my presentation slides and notes (old habits die hard), then cut across downtown Boston to our venue, the NonProfit Center.

The workshop—a crash course in housing policy for socialists—goes quite well! We have a small but engaged group of participants, and I’m feeling good and energized. I leave the windowless conference room and am greeted by a beautiful, sunny spring afternoon.

In full bike-commuter garb.
Juliet Eldred

On the way back to the T, I make a slight detour through Chinatown, where I treat myself to a post-workshop bubble tea (my usual: black milk tea with extra tapioca pearls). After a little window-shopping in Downtown Crossing, my energy burst has run out, and I’m losing steam; I hop back on the Red Line and head back to my house, where I stay for the rest of the day.

Sunday, April 14

Today I’m doing double-duty at Black Market Flea, a bimonthly craft fair and flea market hosted by local arts and music organization Boston Hassle. I’m spending the afternoon tabling with Boston DSA, while simultaneously selling my line of vernacular architecture enamel pins and street sign-inspired stickers. It’s perfect biking weather outside—high 60s and slightly overcast—so I shove my wares into my backpack and saddle up.

The market’s at the Cambridge Community Center down in Cambridgeport, which is a quick and painless 15-minute ride from my house. The market itself is pretty fun; over the course of the afternoon, we manage to talk to a whole bunch people about socialism, and I make around $60 in sales. All in all, a good time. Afterwards, I pack up my stuff, and make a quick stop on the bike ride home at Anna’s Taqueria to get a burrito, as it was 4 p.m. and I had yet to have an actual meal.

After getting home and scarfing down my burrito, I pop open my laptop to check up on my Facebook group, New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens (or NUMTOT for short). My friend Emily Orenstein and I co-founded NUMTOT in March of 2017 as a place where we could make silly jokes and memes about, like, Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Over the past two years, it’s ballooned to 143,000 members, and we’ve added 10 more admins and moderators to keep tabs on things, as the group has taken on a life of its own. At any given point, we have somewhere between 100 to 300 posts in the queue for approval; I scan through a couple dozen and call it a day.

Monday, April 15

It’s Patriots’ Day, also known as the day of the Boston Marathon, as well as spring break for the local elementary schools, so a number of my coworkers are out of town, and I decide to work from home today. I make a quick stop at my local bagel place, of course—I never get breakfast bagels on workdays, but this is a special occasion—then head back to my house to work.

I work as an analyst at a small transportation consulting firm; we primarily contract with state transportation department and transit agencies on asset management. I manage to get one assignment done and start working on another, but around 2 p.m., I get a text from my roommate that our internet’s down, and it won’t be working for another few hours. This seems like a sign to seek somewhere else to work.

My third DSA-related event in three days—the monthly Housing Working Group meeting—is in Harvard Square at 7, so I head down in that direction to find somewhere with free Wi-Fi. I bike-sprint there in an attempt to beat the imminent rainstorm, but I’m just a little too late; the wind’s picking up and the rain’s coming down.

My trusty steed.
Juliet Eldred

I hide under a restaurant awning until the rain lets up a bit, then I lock up my bike and seek somewhere to work. Given the precipitation, I can’t be too picky, so I duck into the first place I see, which happens to be the atrium of the Smith Campus Center at Harvard. It appears to be a privately owned public space, or at the very least, it’s open to the public during the day. I stake out a spot in the atrium, and spend the afternoon pretending to be a Harvard student.

Once I’m done with work, I still have some time to kill, so I wander around Harvard Square for a bit before my meeting, then head over to the venue to get set up. The meeting itself goes well; we hear from other group members on our current tenant organizing campaigns, discuss upcoming events, then head to a nearby bar to socialize over beers. Around 10 p.m. I unlock my bike and head home; the temperature’s dropped at least 15 degrees since I left my house earlier, so I power through the quick trip home so I can curl up in bed.

Tuesday, April 16

I wake up around 7:30 and I’m glad to be back in my normal routine. I put on all my bike-commuting gear—tights, leggings, long-sleeved shirt, hiking socks, windbreaker, etc.— then head out to the office. My usual commute is about five miles each way, and it’s almost always the highlight of my day.

I’ve become something of bike-commuting evangelist over the past few years; though commuting by bike can sometimes be stressful (and on rare occasions, dangerous), it’s the fastest, cheapest, and most fun way for me to get to my job, and I love it. Starting my day with a built-in workout is a great way to wake up, and there are few things more satisfying than zooming down the bike lane, past a row of cars stuck at a red light, the frustration of the drivers nearly palpable.

Today I take the slightly longer and slower but overall more enjoyable route, most of which is a straight shot on the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway.

The Minuteman Commuter Bikeway (aka “the Minuteman Trail” or just “the Minuteman”) is a 10-mile off-street multi-use path that runs on a former railroad right-of-way, and goes from the terminus of the Red Line in Cambridge, through the towns of Arlington, Lexington, and Bedford. It was one of the first rail-trail conversions in the United States, and took over 20 years of organizing, planning, and wrangling before it finally opened to the public in 1992. My ride into the office is refreshing and painless, which is always ideal.

Around 6:15 p.m., I finish up at work, get my bike clothes on, and queue up a few songs on my Bluetooth speaker. On the way into work (especially on the rail-trails) I don’t like to play music, but I typically take the more direct, on-street route for my commute home, which is slightly downhill the entire way, so I like to add some tunes. My trip home takes around 20 minutes, so I usually queue up eight or nine songs, which includes a cool-down song at the end for when I’m putting my bike stuff away. Today’s playlist is a couple of newer songs, as well as some mainstays from my college radio days.

Riding the Minuteman Trail.
Juliet Eldred

It’s a beautiful spring evening, which makes for a lovely trip home. This also means that there have been a lot more people out cycling than there was even a week or two prior. On one hand, I’m always happy to see more people out on their bikes. But as a four-season bike commuter, I sometimes feel a tiny bit of bitterness as all these men keep passing me, who I know were not riding through the winter like I was, because no one (regardless of gender) would pass me in the winter because there were so few people out on their bikes.

Another pet peeve of mine is “shoaling”—when you’re waiting at a red light and another cyclist tries to zoom to the front of the intersection and cut in front of you. And as a woman cyclist, I’ve so often experienced the sexist variant of this: when men assume they’re faster than you, so they try to cut you in line. On my way home last week, a guy tried to pull this on me, and I was so indignant that once the light changed, I sprinted out of that intersection so fast that it took him another half-mile to catch up with me; eventually he did pass me, but he spent the subsequent mile looking back over his shoulder in fear that I’d pass him again, so I think he learned his lesson.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen on this particular ride; the light timing worked in my favor and I pulled into my driveway right as the sweet sounds of Elvis Costello began to pour out of my speaker.

Wednesday, April 17

I had a bit of a later start today, so I took the more direct on-street route into the office instead of the rail-trail. By noon, it was the picture-perfect spring day (60 degrees and sunny!) so I decided to take a lunch-break ride to get some bubble tea from a new cafe in Arlington Center. All I needed was my helmet and windbreaker; it’s so nice to be able to bike without putting on so many layers of bike clothes!

Whenever I’m in Arlington Center, I think about how in the 1970s, the MBTA had planned to extend the Red Line, which currently ends at Alewife in Cambridge, all the way out to Route 128, with stops in Arlington and Lexington. However, due to organized opposition from Arlington residents and a local church, which was rooted largely in fear of change and the potential influx of “undesirables” (read: nonwhite people), the extension—80 percent of which would have been paid for with federal funding—was killed.

Arlington residents ultimately got what they wanted: the Center still has something of a quaint, small-town feel. But on a personal level, I am somewhat bitter, as my commute (on days when I don’t bike in) would be a whole lot easier if the Red Line had been extended. Given the current state of mass transit funding in this country, it is unlikely we could fund this extension for the foreseeable future. After getting my bubble tea and pondering what could have been, I sigh deeply and get back on my bike.

For the trip home, I’m not really in the mood for music, so I opt for a quiet ride on the rail-trail. In Cambridge by the Alewife T stop, the Minuteman Trail connects with another rail trail, the Alewife Linear Park, which extends to the outer edge of Davis Square. When it hits Davis, the path suddenly ends, and you have to dismount your bike and walk it through the square. People are out and about, eating ice cream on park benches, sipping sodas at outdoor cafe tables, enjoying the spring weather; Jane Jacobs’s sidewalk ballet is in full swing.

On the other side of the square, the rail-trail continues as the Somerville Community Path. As it’s so close to the Davis T stop, this portion of the trail in particular usually has a lot of pedestrians, many of whom do not seem to be familiar with the first law of rail-trail etiquette: Stay right, pass left.

Tunnel between Downtown Crossing and Park Street T stops.
Juliet Eldred

As I exit the rail-trail, I see a sign reminding trail users that the Broadway Bridge in Ball Square is closed until March 2020 for the long-awaited extension of the Green Line from Lechmere to College Avenue in Medford. First promised as part of the environmental remediation package of the Big Dig, it’s experienced an almost comical sequence of delays and cost overruns, but at long last it’s finally under construction, and the nearby communities are experiencing some short-term pain. For a moment I am grateful that I do not live close to the Broadway Bridge, and ride the rest of the way home.

Thursday, April 18

Today’s commute is an uneventful bike trip, both in and out. I leave work slightly earlier than usual so I can take a quick breather at home before my weekly therapy appointment. I am very lucky to have a therapist who takes my insurance, has evening hours, and whose office is only a 10-minute walk from my house. I change out of my bike clothes and leave home a little bit behind schedule, but power-walk to the office and make it just in time for my appointment.

Afterwards, I decide to take the longer, more scenic route home, which involves walking up the side of a fairly steep hill and walking back down the other side. I admire the pocket-parks and interesting vernacular architecture of the area, and from the top of the hill I can see hints of the Boston skyline poking out from beneath the trees.

Friday, April 19

I was going to be the only person in the office today, so I’m working remotely once again. Today’s destination: the Boston Public Library in Back Bay. Since I usually reverse-commute, it’s fun to mix up my routine by commuting right into the heart of Boston, and since the weather is gorgeous today, I have plenty of company.

My route takes me around the periphery of Harvard’s campus and through an interesting cross-section of Cambridge. Cambridge recently passed a law that would require the addition of a permanent, protected bike lane whenever a roadway included in the city’s bike plan is reconstructed. There are a couple of stretches I pass through that could definitely use this treatment!

Bike parking at the Boston Public Library.
Juliet Eldred

My route takes me across the Longfellow Bridge, where I am unfortunately stuck behind a slow rider. The design of the bike lane would require me to cut across the row of bollards and move into car traffic that regularly moves at well above the 25 mph speed limit to pass the person in front of me, so I take this the moment of mandatory slowness to appreciate the Charles River and the beautiful Boston skyline. After the bridge, I take the riverfront path, where I’m hit with a sudden blast of wind that nearly knocks me off my bike!

Once I make it to the library, I’m excited to find that they have ample, well-located bike parking! It’s always nice when my destinations have cyclists in mind, so I’m not forced to lock my bike to a bus stop or a “No Parking” sign.

After finishing the day’s work, I head home on a slightly different route, taking the Harvard Bridge instead and going up through Inman Square. Just after I make a left onto Hampshire Avenue, someone passes me on the right. I’m so annoyed by this breach of bike etiquette that I sprint the rest of the way to my place, and in doing so set four new personal records on Strava. Not bad! After today’s sprint home and all of the past week’s activities, I am very tired, and eagerly await what should be a restful and relaxing weekend.

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