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News :: Politics
Boston Pedals Ahead?
18 Sep 2004
City Hearing on Bicycle Safety This Monday, 9/20, 5pm at Honan Allston Library

Bicycling activists all around the city have tried for years to get the city thinking on two wheels but no amount of coaxing, re-assuring or elbow padding seems to work. MassBike has partially convinced the state to take off its training wheels but no luck with li’l Boston, Critical Mass continues to try to slap some sense into the kid on a monthly basis to no avail, and at one time the city hired a tutor with the title of “Bicycle Program Manager,” but so far all the efforts to get the city to understand how to pedal forward have ended up flat on the pavement. This city either has a total lack of coordination or something wrong with it's ability to think. Now, suddenly, when all heads are turned the other way, the city is asking for advice on bicycle safety.
One of the fundamental problems with the city’s learning skills is it's poor memory, and it doesn’t take notes. When a bicyclist dies in Boston he or she is recorded as a pedestrian, not as someone who is operating a vehicle. Thus whenever you ask a police chief how many bicyclists have been hit by cars this year all you get is a few blinks and a blank stare. This carries over into the city government. When I asked City Councilor Jerry McDermott if the city council has ever discussed bicycle safety as bicycle safety he answered:

“We take a more comprehensive, you know, we don’t want to just do strictly bicycle safety but we want to talk about bicyclists and pedestrians, so we’re covering everybody.” When asked if he knew how many bicyclists have been killed in his district in the past five years the councilor responded flatly, “I don’t.”

If he had known the information could not have come easily, but the problem of how the police report bicycle accidents is in the jurisdiction of the state. Charlotte Burger, a bicycle activist who approached McDermott with lists of problem intersections after Kirsten Malone’s tragic accident and death, has also been trying to compile information on bicycle accidents in Allston-Brighton to see if her death is part of a greater pattern. She began wading through a swamp of red tape and bureaucracy after noticing another memorial a few blocks away from the scene of the Ms. Malone’s accident. She has discovered that at least 5 pedestrians have died by automobile in Allston-Brighton alone since 2001, but she hasn’t yet determined how many were bicyclists because of the state’s faulty reporting system.

“The police do not make a distinction between bicyclists and pedestrians, so you have to request the full reports of every pedestrian accident and read them to see if there is a bicycle mentioned, and it gets expensive to do it because they charge for each report,” says Burger.

Ms. Burger is not the first one to run up against this paper wall, just over 20 years ago a study of Boston bicycle-motor vehicle accidents was completed by Wendy Plotkin and Anthony Komornick, Jr., of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and they expressed their frustration in detail.

“The quality of data on cyclists was markedly poorer than that on motor vehicle operators, Age of the cyclist was not reported on 26 percent of the sample reports (compared to less than 1 percent of the motor vehicle operators); situation for cyclist was not reported on 60 percent of the sample reports (compared to 8 percent for the situation on the motorists). In many cases, information on the bicyclist was only reported under the "Injured" section (see Appendix A) rather than in the "Vehicle" section, indicating that police and operators do not consistently identify the bicycle as a vehicle,”

The report specifically recommended that the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles “create a separate file of bicycle-motor vehicle accidents to allow easy reference and analysis, and develop a campaign to obtain the cooperation of local police departments in doing the same.” But apparently this recommendation was ignored despite the findings of the study.

The idea that bikers and walkers are in the same class is pervasive everywhere except those places in which they are both present. Pedestrian advocacy groups like Walk On want bikers off the sidewalks for fear of getting hit and MassBike as well as most bikers I know would prefer the street to the obstacle course of the sidewalk any day. Neither the city nor the state has any method of looking at or thinking about what is happening to bicyclists as a class, while bicyclists quite obviously face an entirely different set of problems than pedestrians.

When this mentality hits the street in the form of motorists it can be very dangerous for bicyclists. During our interview, bike activist and former Bicycle Program Manager Paul Schimek related a familiar story, “as I was trying to turn right some guy who has plenty of room to pass me sort of gratuitously yells out ‘Get out of the street!’ as he’s passing me.” We’ve all heard it before as bicyclists; many Bostonians think we have no right to be in the road. “A lot of it is just Public Awareness,” says Schimek.

This problem, at least, seems to be something the council is aware of.

“We are all in agreement on is that we’ve got to do something to change the culture of motor vehicle operators in the city of Boston,” comments Councilor McDermott. He has asked that bicycle advocates come forward in a public hearing this Monday at Honan-Allston Public Library to consult the city on how to make the streets and intersections safer for bikes. “We’re hoping that at this hearing we can brainstorm and come up with something that’s a positive step towards doing that and I think what well do is get a handle on maybe a top ten list of trouble intersections or troubled spots that need to be addressed quickly.” Among other things McDermott also mentioned, as an idea, the creation of a Public Service Announcement campaign (that would need to have additional state funding) to promote tips like looking back when opening a car door to check for bikes, or just sharing the road.

When I interviewed McDermott he mentioned that one of his staff members was “in contact with MassBike,” but that turned out to be either false or a contact through the wrong channels. Dorie Clark, the Executive Director of MassBike, did not know of this hearing until I interviewed her over the phone. When she did find out she was quick to act on it and arranged to send Paul Schimek (above) as a representative. He will be presenting a list of their “top ten requests.” [This is included in the comments section below this article] In general, MassBike is increasingly focused at the state level, where they recently lobbyer for and won legislation that requires the RMV to include a representative from MassBike as a consultant in creating a section of the RMV driver’s manual that will carry bike awareness instructions. Right now they are helping to re-write the Massachusetts Roadway Design Manual, as Ms. Clark explains it: “it’s a sort of Guidebook that governs street design that has not been updated since the 1960’s. [We are] integrating bike and pedestrian concerns into it, so that they’re not segmented off as an afterthought but are an actual integral part of the roadway design.” This project would influence roadway design throughout Boston and the state.

As a result of these statewide campaigns MassBike has strayed away from its roots as a Boston based bike advocacy group for city commuters. They still hold workshops for businesses and schools that teach city riding skills but they seem to be leaving the city government alone. Currently, no particular group seems to be hounding Boston City Council about bike rights.

The hearing itself is a direct reaction to Ms. Malone’s accident, so among the items discussed will be what to do with that particular intersection of Lincoln and Franklin in Lower Allston. At the time of the accident there was only one slow sign 2-300ft from the crossing and no crosswalk. Since then the city has added a crosswalk and a yellow pedestrian crossing sign but has not installed a 3 way stop sign, which many see as a sure solution. Another idea that hasn’t been applied yet is to alternate no parking signs from side to side all down the street to eliminate the appearance of straightaway and thus slow people down a few miles an hour. One of the other issues in the accident was visibility, so the city has banned parking near the crossing so that pedestrians can see down the street before entering it. In addition city traffic police have been staking out different spots along Lincoln with radar guns. According to Ms. Burger, who lives in the area, local residents had been complaining to the city about that stretch of road for years without getting a response from the city.

Tragedies like Ms. Malone’s untimely death do not have to happen, and they should not occur in a city that has so long heard the demands of bicycle activists. It is time that Boston City Council, Mayor Menino, Police Commissioner O’Toole and the RMV listen to the people who know bicycle safety through experience and research instead of relying on their own misguided perceptions of what will help bicyclists be safe and get more bicyclists on the road. This hearing with a councilor who seems to be listening (and does own a bike) is an opportunity that folks who care about biking in Boston shouldn’t miss.

The hearing will be on Monday Evening, September 20th, 5pm in the

Honan-Allston Branch Library
300 North Harvard Street, Allston, MA 02134

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Re: Boston Pedals Ahead?
18 Sep 2004
Wish List: Bicycling Improvements in the City of Boston

1. Washington Street Bike + Bus Lane
What: Add bicycle (word or logo) to existing signage and pavement markings on Washington Street bus lane, including contra-flow portion.
Why: This was the design requested by the city-sponsored design advisory committee and promised by the MBTA in its environmental filings. The existing signage appears to prohibit bicycles from the bus lane and therefore makes bicyclists more subject to harassment and puts them in an uncertain legal position in the event of a crash.
Cost: Minimal, and to be paid from existing MBTA contract.

2. Share the Road Signs
What: Post pairs of share the road signs (one in each direction) along major arterials that have narrow lanes. Suggested locations include Hyde Park Avenue (Metropolitan Avenue to Washington St), Bennington St (East Boston), Brookline Avenue (LMA), Columbus Ave/Tremont St (Roxbury), Blue Hill Avenue (Mattapan), and Centre Street (West Roxbury).
Why: Many motorists think that bicyclists have no right to “block” a travel lane. But when a travel lane is too narrow to safely share, the safest place for the bicyclist is the middle of the lane. The signs will help deter motorist harassment and encourage more bicycling.
Cost: About $25/sign installed, according to BTD sign shop estimate.

3. Bicycle Rack Program
What: Create a program with an annual budget to install bike racks around the city on public sidewalks. Provide materials and tools for installation on both concrete and brick sidewalks. Get permission to install them in the Back Bay.
Why: There are many streets where there is no place to lock a bicycle. No bike racks have been installed on brick pavements. The city already owns about 115 bike racks that are not being installed.
Cost: About $150 per rack installed; target of 200 racks per year or $30,000/yr.

4. Huntington Avenue Bike Racks
What: Install the 48 bike racks shown on the plans for this project. Also, turn drain grates so their slots are perpendicular to the direction of traffic and fill holes and smooth bumps.
Why: Bicyclists have been waiting since 1995 for these racks. Construction has been going on for more than 2 years, and landscaping has already been installed. The stretch includes very high demand areas such as MassArt, Wentworth, Harvard School of Public Health, and Northeastern University.
Cost: $0, already included in project budget.

5. Standard Road Cross Sections with Bicycle-Friendly Lanes
What: Produce a set of standard designs for major through roads with on-street parking of various widths showing cross section with 24 feet (preferred) or 22 feet (minimum) from curb to left edge of right-most travel lane. These standards should be adopted as official city policy. The specs should be provided to all designers, both consultants and in-house, on all projects, regardless of funding source.
Why: Current standards allow for a parking lane of 8 feet and a travel lane of 10-11 feet. Under such conditions safe bicyclists ride in the middle of the right travel lane and get harassed, and other bicyclists ride dangerously on the sidewalk or stay at home. State Highway Department policy requires a minimum of 15 feet from curb to left edge of right-most travel lane. The City has not followed this policy on projects that are not state-funded. The state policy also does not clarify how to design roads with on-street parking.
Cost: A few days of design work to produce designs.

6. Bicycling Improvement Fund
What: Create a fund which would be used to fix problems in bicycle facilities and create small-scale improvements. For example, the fund could be used to reconstruct deteriorated or narrow sections of paths, to move curb ramps to better align with paths, to pave unpaved sections of paths, to add or replace directional signage on paths or roads, etc. The fund also would be used to adjust and retrofit existing loop detectors to be sensitive to bicycles.
Why: There are many small defects in existing bicycle facilities that are not fixed for lack of resources. One problem is that these facilities are under the control of many different city and state agencies. This fund could be used for any facility within Boston city limits, regardless of ownership.
Cost: $50,000 annually.

7. Design Directive on Loop Detectors
What: Adopt a policy that all loop detector installations will be sensitive to bicyclists. The bicycle-sensitive loop should be quadropole and placed immediately behind the stop line. Pavement markings and optional signs should comply with the 2003 MUTCD. Bicycle-sensitive loops should cover the width of a lane that serves more than one movement, but need only cover the right-most part of a lane that serves only one movement.
Why: Many traffic signals are activated by detecting the metal in vehicles by means of a buried loop of wire. These can detect bicycles if properly designed and adjusted. The current state standards have not been adopted by the city; the state standards need to be revised to reflect the 2003 MUTCD.
Cost: Minimal.

8. Bicycle Enforcement Pilot Program
What: Offer NHTSA’s police bicycle enforcement instruction program to officers in District E-13 as a prelude to a pilot program of greater traffic enforcement. Officers would issue warnings and tickets for key traffic violations that produce most car-bike crashes: bicyclist wrong way, bicyclist fail to yield, bicyclist on sidewalk, bicyclist no lights at night, motorist improper right turn, motorist fail to yield when entering road, motorist fail to yield turning left.
Why: Police officers are not currently trained in the laws regarding bicycling, and, as a result, very rarely enforce these laws. A pilot program would allow the city to phase in enforcement. NHTSA’s new program demonstrates clearly that most car-bike collisions are due to the failure of either the motorist or bicyclist to follow the rules of the road. Officer Johnson, an E-13 bicycle officer, has expressed an interest in participating in this program.
Cost: Four hours of training time per officer.

9. Bicycle Parking in Zoning Code
What: Add a general requirement that most land uses require bicycle parking when there is new construction or substantial rehabilitation. Certain uses would be exempt. Can be modeled on guidelines already adopted by Zoning Board of Appeals.
Why: Almost all land uses need at least some place to lock bicycles. The zoning code already requires automobile parking (except for parts of the downtown area). Already 16 other Massachusetts communities have bike parking requirements.
Cost: No cost to the city. Would add $300 to $5,000 to the cost of new construction.

10. Priority Road Repaving
What: Prioritize the following streets in road resurfacing that are deteriorated and important bicycle connections: Columbus Avenue (Melnea Cass Blvd to Arlington St.), Amory Street, Heath Street, [more streets to be inserted].
Why: Road defects are a major cause of bicyclist injuries.Columbus is the major connector from the Southwest Corridor path to downtown and is bicycle-friendly because of its 12-foot parking lane.
Cost: No additional cost; to come out of annual road resurfacing program.
Re: Boston Pedals Ahead?
18 Sep 2004
Good article. Just as a followup, not only do many cyclist and pedestrians prefer to see bikes in the streets to the pedestrian obstacle course that is the sidewalk, but it's also the law.

BTD article 6, section 8 says you can't right bikes on the sidewalk in Boston.
Re: Boston Pedals Ahead?
18 Sep 2004
Just a note to those who may be interested in promoting bike safety: Beware of well-meaning "pro-bicycling" government officials who promote dangerous bike lanes as an answer to bicyclists demands for safer streets.

The Dana Laird case a few years ago is a very tragic example of good intentions gone wrong. A cyclist was killed while driving her bike in the bike lane on Mass Ave. This lane is squeezed between two substandard lanes leaving essentially no space between the door zone of the parking lane and the all-vehicle travel lane. While the idea of providing a special lane for cyclists may have been noble, the faulty and substandard design (according to the official national road design standards of AASHTO) made the road MORE dangerous than it already was, at least for bicyclists who aren't trained in vehicular cycling techniques. To borrow a phrase from another sector of the equal rights movement, seperate is not always equal. Segregating bicyclists from the rest of the vehicle traffioc flow, especially in crowded urban streets is more dangerous than you might think. For more information about truly safe road engineering, check out the following site (created by the recently laid off Boston Bike Coordinator:

The real danger to bicyclists is not lack of painted lines on the roadways, but ever increasing road rage, inattention, and ignorance by motorists (and some bicyclists and pedestrians too). Education and enforcement are absolutely necessary to reverse the trend of the "Boston Driver" syndrome. And this isn't just about bicyclists, it's about all folks who want to go somewhere without being assaulted on a regular basis by bad car drivers. Cars are the number one cause of death in children and adults up to age 35!

Anyway, it's great that the bicycling community is able to rally together! Let's let them know that these streets are ours, too. And that we won't accept second class citizenry simply because we choose to travel using the world's most efficient vehicle!

Who's Streets? Everyone's Streets!
Re: Boston Pedals Ahead?
19 Sep 2004
i'm not interested in being part of an effort to "slap" "sense" into anyone.
why use that image of abuse? especially in the interest of benign biking
- thanks for the overall effort
Re: Boston Pedals Ahead?
19 Sep 2004
Fuck, it'll be a big step toward bike safety to criminalize yakking on your cell phone while you're driving. Study after study has shown that it's the same as driving with an illegal alcohol buzz. And yet the issue isn't even on the table.
Re: Boston Pedals Ahead?
20 Sep 2004
This article states that "Another idea alternate no parking signs from side to side all down the street to eliminate the appearance of straightaway".
I lived in Cambridge near Columbia St. and the city instituted one of these so-called "traffic calming" plans. I think it's horrible. The weaving back and forth made it much more difficult to ride down Columbia. People still double-park and now it creates a more dangerous situation than it did before. What do other people think about this "solution"?
Re: Boston Pedals Ahead?
21 Sep 2004
In SF they have signs all over the city that plainly state: "Bicycles entitled to full use of lane," which are the result of lobbying by SF's full time, year round cyclist interest groups, e.g. Critical Mass. And guess what? It doesn't make a bit of difference. There's accidents and conflicts between bikes and cars all the time. The two are basically incompatible. The only way to stay safe isn't political and has nothing to do with government or hearings or retarted city politics. You stay safe by being hyper aware, wearing a helmet, defending your space against assholes with a big U-lock, if necessary, and riding where-ever you need to to avoid danger, and if that means running reds and riding sidewalks, you fucking do it. And if it means getting off the bike and walking it home, you fucking do that too. People, it's war out there. Every day, bikes vs. cars, and if war is merely a continuation of politics by other means, then my political objectives are accomplished by victory in every small battle I fight for the larger war, every day on the streets of Boston. Every rear view window I smash when they cut me off, every car I run down and deliver a personalized one-finger salute, and every rock I deliver in my patented "right through the windshield at the red light" style, bring us closer to victory! Bike on soldiers, and I'll see you out there between those dotted lines.
Re: Boston Pedals Ahead?
22 Sep 2004
xenophon-- though i feel where your coming from-- i respectfully disagree that politics has nothing to do with "it"-- unfortunatly, citizens have to request that stops signs and the like be installed by their government.. i guarentee you, sometimes the only things that keep us alive is the fact that we know an asshole who has just cut us off and who we've just smashed in their mirror CAN'T turn down a wrong way, or cut across a busy intersection... if none of the "rules of the road" or road signage existed, cyclist would have no chance. On streets where people speed, stop signs, lower speed and enforcement do make a difference, thats why when people get killed for lack of these things, some of us think it a good idea to try and change that situation.

really, your reality is what it is, you see a war out there-- your right there are a lot of wars... and there will never be a complete peace, but its better to work for a little than none at all-- but thats just my reality--
Re: Boston Pedals Ahead?
22 Sep 2004
Xenophon, I'm sorry you feel that way about the other people who live in the city with you - some of whom may even drive cars occasionally. I'm not a proponent of aggressive driving of any sort (bike, car, scooter, etc.), as that's exactly what the problem is. Most Bostonians have no patience or respect for anyone but themselves.

I refuse to be a part of it. These streets are for everyone, not just you, the jerk with the Ford Explorer, or the kid with the skateboard. We have to share.

If you drive aggressively, you may, in the very short term, avoid being hurt. But in the long run you only do yourself and the rest of us a disservice by increasing the anger and hostility on the road, and potentially causing a crash yourself (maybe with another car, cyclist, or pedestrian). I for one have been hit by a red light running cyclist while I was biking, was it you?

My advice to everyone, is to drive like everyone else on the road is your friend, because they may be.