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Tackling Bike Safety In Boston

A man rides a bicycle on his morning work commute through downtown Boston. (AP)

A man rides a bicycle on his morning work commute through downtown Boston. (AP)

The greater Boston area is going through something of a bicycle renaissance. Thanks in part to 56 miles of new trails, the opening of the Hubway bike-share program, and a growing appreciation for healthy living, bike ridership has doubled since 2007.

But unfortunately, the number of accidents and injuries is also rising – including a pair of fatalities just last month. Boston Emergency Medical Services count more than 450 bike-related accidents and collisions this year, up significantly since a year ago.

That’s prompted advocates to call on the city to do more to make the city safer for bikes. But it’s unclear what more is needed: more education for bikers or motorists, more or better bikes lanes, better enforcement of traffic laws — or some other idea alltogether.


  • Kristopher Carter, Interim Director of Boston Bikes
  • Peter Furth, professor of transportation engineering at Northeastern University and a member of the Boston Bike Advisory Board


Other stories from this show:

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  • Jimi Cyber

    One issue that is never brought up in many circles and the media is the fact many people now are riding their bikes on sidewalks. 

    Yes, they are ignoring the bike lanes and actually travel on the side walk.  Some amble along, but others ride at 15 to 30 miles an hour.  When the police are advised of these illegal and dangerous riders, callers are either ignored or put through a lengthy questionaire by police dispatchers.  After escaping from being hit by these dangerous riders, callers are asked for details about the perpetrators such as ethnicity, etc .  that waste too much time.  Also, I have never seen a biker who violates a law being apprehended or stopped by the police.


    Roxbury MA

  • Keep it Balanced NPR

    I ride my bike a lot but I also see bikers that do not follow the proper rules of the road.  Bikers need to lose the entitled attitude.  While they do have the SAME right of way as a car, they also need to follow the rules of the road…stop at stop lights, refrain from weaving in and out of traffic…etc.  The bikers in Massachusetts are just as bad as the drivers!

    • midtempo

      As a long-time city cyclist, I know this is not a politically and legally correct statement that I am about to make.  But  the traffic lights in cities are timed to accommodate car traffic, not bicycle traffic, which means a bike may frequently have to stop at every single light.  And a bicycle is not a car — it is not capable of killing or seriously injuring someone and visibility is much better.  It is actually usually SAFER to run a red light after clearly stopping and looking both ways, because if you start at the same time as the cars when the light turns green, you will be in their blind spots and they could possibly run you over or turn into you.  I have had cars turn into me on right turns several times over the years because I was in their blind spot.

      I will continue to run red lights regularly and will not be ashamed to do so.  If I am given a ticket to a cop, I will explain my stance to him and gladly take the ticket.

  • Bry

    first an foremost address the massive danger by slowing traffic down, enforcement of the current bike lane is just like enforcement of no parking at bus stop….Not happening. The horror thats happening though is not on the road…a vast majority of acciedents are happening on the sidewalks, most these rental and non city riders are on the sidewalk…I want to see the %50 dollar fee trippled and enforced city wide

  • Yvonne in Boston

    I bike and I walk. As a biker, I respect the road and the rules. As a walker, I get frustrated when bikers don’t understand and follow the rules – like, don’t ride on the sidewalk – especially when there is a bike lane;  don’t run red lights, especially when pedestrians are crossing the road.  It’s just dangerous for everyone. Bikers must understand, same road – same rules.

  • Emily

    I applaud any effort to encourage more cycling. I have been living in the U.S. (coming from Germany) for more than 15 years and I still haven’t been able to see any considerable increase of cycling in the suburbs (I love what is done in the City of Boston!). There are hardly any students, especially High Schoolers, that ride their bikes to school. What about college students? I live close to Salem, Mass., a perfect city to bike in, but it seems they are all driving. Cycling as a mode of transportation needs to start with the kids… and has to be made cool for the students.

  • Zandeerae

    Safety?  How about bicyclists, using turn signals, looking  before they are turning, and not riding two abreast on skinny streets ?

    How about cyclists allowing pedestrians to walk in walk zones without running us over?

    How about cyclists realizing that on an dark rainy night it’s really hard to see them through car windows full of raindrops and fog?

    • http://twitter.com/cdevers Chris Devers

      One nitpick: 

      You’re right that bikes are vehicles, and as such they need to obey the same traffic laws that cars do: They need to use turn signals, look before they go, stay off the sidewalks, and do what they can to make themselves visible to foot & auto traffic at night & in inclement weather. These are all good points, and personally when I ride my bike, I do all of these things. 

      Riding two abreast on skinny streets though? There’s an asterisk on that one. As vehicles, cyclists have an absolute right to use the entire travel lane as they see fit, just as cars do. On wide roads with broad shoulders, it’s both polite & safe to move to the side so that cars can pass, but on narrow roads, if the cyclist is worried that cars won’t be able to pass, then the cyclist can AND SHOULD take over the whole lane, so that cars have to wait for a safer opportunity to pass. And if riding side-by-side helps to emphasize that a stretch of road is not a safe place to pass, then so be it: the cars must wait, and that’s that. 

  • J__o__h__n

    Lets not have any more stories promoting bikes until there is one about keeping them off the sidewalks.

    • midtempo

      The bicycles on sidewalks issue won’t go away as long as parents teach Johnnie to ride his bike on the sidewalk when he  is learning.  The parents believe that Johnnie and his bike belong on the sidewalk, and the myth perpetuates and multiplies, and this is why it persists.  I think there needs to be some efforts to educate parents of young children about where bicycles belong.

      For anyone reading this who still believes bicycles belong on sidewalks, let me just refute this by four statements: 1) Bicycles are vehicles and need to behave as such on the roads just like cars do (though not literally in every single respect because Massachusetts law has some special rules for bicycles) 2) A bicycle on a sidewalk can easily be hit by a car coming out of a driveway or side street that doesn’t see the bicycle.  3) Bicycles riding on sidewalks are a danger to pedestrians using them, especially when they are going 15 miles per hour.  4) Massachusetts law states that bicycles must ride on the street and may only ride on the sidewalk under special circumstances (i.e., more suburban/rural areas where there likely isn’t a sidewalk anyway).

      • J__o__h__n

        I have no problem with children learning to ride a bike on the sidewalk.  They aren’t riding recklessly.  Anyone who isn’t stupid should be able to learn that a child isn’t the same danger as an adult rider going fast.

  • Zandeerae

    Yes, Just read the others.  Running red lights is so common.  So very common.
    At one point Cambridge was really policing the bike road rules.  Now I see that doesn’t seem to be important any more.

  • Jimi Cyber

    During the discussion, I did not hear one any mention of the dangers that bikers may pose to pedestrians because of bikers who ride in denial of the fact that they are a vehicles!  The biking “bureaucracy,” in its infancy needs to grapple with this growing problem.  Otherwise,  they are in denial about the additional danger to the vulverable pedestrians that face an additional challenge after they escape the automobile hazards in Boston’s perilous intersections.

  • concerneddriverandpedestrian

    I listened to the discussion on bike safety today and appreciated the caller from Watertown for bringing up the point that biker’s lack of respect for traffic rules makes the roads unsafe for cyclists and drivers. We all know that driving around Boston is stressful and I don’t mind sharing the roads with bikers, but when they do not follow traffic laws, they make the roads unsafe for drivers. Where is the concern for drivers? Why don’t bikers ride with care and courtesy for drivers? Having bikers coming out of nowhere is added stress for drivers. I feel strongly that if bikers rode with more caution and respect for road rules, drivers would be able to relax a bit and possibly also drive with more care. 

    I have seen so many bikers run red lights and I’ve almost been hit by bikers while walking through crosswalks. I’ve also seen many bikers riding on sidewalks. There seem to be no rules for the bikers. I too have never seen a biker ticketed for running red lights. Why is all the concern for the bikers and why do they not treat walkers and drivers with courtesy? 

    • bw

      I ride my bike to work often  and I also often drive a car on the same streets.  When I ride my bike I am one of the many cyclists that DO stop at red lights. I see just as many drivers run red lights or disregard traffic laws as cyclists. Cars come out of nowhere and illegally cut off bikers just as frequently. I have never seen a driver ticketed for endangering a cyclist.  The problems are not just cyclists. Everyone is part of the overall situation.

      The problem is that everyone’s thought process is me versus them and only focus on the small fraction of people causing the problems while ignoring the large number of people following the rules. This blame game just serves as a distraction or excuse to not do their own part to make it a better environment to commute to and from work.

  • Eric Herot

    As someone who commutes to work by bike every day, I am just as annoyed as the next person by bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk or are otherwise inconsiderate of pedestrians and other people who have the right-of-way.

    But lets be clear here.  The two fatalities that prompted this discussion were not caused by bicyclists violating motor vehicle laws or otherwise being daredevils.  To the extent that people do ride on sidewalks (and it really is fairly minimal compared to the total number of cyclists), I think that would be largely eliminated if people felt a lot safer riding in the street.  This is something that is achieved by lowering vehicle speeds, increasing the availability of *protected* bike lanes, and educating drivers.  It’s also achieved by just having more cyclists on the road.

    As for bicyclists running red lights, much as this seems to annoy drivers above all else, I have never seen any statistical evidence to suggest that this is something we need to be concerned about.  Yes, it can be annoying if the bicyclist does it with no regard for the other vehicles or pedestrians that have the right of way, but I cannot recall a single incident in Boston of someone (other than the bicyclist) ever being seriously injured as a direct result of this.  And stricter enforcement of traffic laws against bicyclists only discourages more people from getting on a bike in the first place (and why would we want that?).

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NG4UZC44SCTIJ3RGLUVMO645ZM Rudolf

    Usually I try to avoid driving a car in Boston but last weekend I had a
    need to do so. What I found was many bicycle lanes but was confused as to what
    the rules were for these lanes. When turning it was necessary to cross these
    lanes. What are the rules for doing so? What are the rules for cyclists and
    motorists for using these lanes? There were no signs that I saw or rules made
    known publicly. Without such publicity the lanes are of insignificant benefit to
    either group.

  • Brendanjkearney

    Underpasses along the Charles River would help make it safer for everyone – runners, cyclists, and drivers. http://blog.racemenu.com/charles-river-underpasses/

  • Wishing for civility

    Surprise surprise:  Some cyclists are as rude as the driver around here.  Boston would be a better and safe place with more cyclists.  I’d rather police enforce cars running red lights than cyclists. 

  • Rogerson

    Hey, where’s WalkBoston, the so-called pedestrian advocacy organization that’s supposed to be advocating for pedestrian safety in Boston?

    You don’t hear a peep from them regarding the dangers to pedestrian safety that sidewalk cycling (and other dangerous practices) poses…

    What a wimp-out bunch!

  • Dailybiker

    I ride my bike to work every day. I am a careful rider and stay in the bike lanes when I can (ie. when they are not being blocked by double parked cars, vans, etc.).

    I use hand signals and obey almost all the rules, with the exception of the red light rule. I never blow through a red light (obviously, this would be dangerous), but come to a complete stop, make sure there are no cars coming, and go through the red light. I don’t do this because I think I’m too good for rules, I do this because it is safer than waiting for the light to turn green and starting up, at which point cars are trying to turn right or go past me while I am getting up to speed. By going when no cars are coming, I make it safer for me and less annyoing for the drivers!

    I recently received a citation for doing exactly this (coming to a complete stop, making sure no cars were coming, and then going). The irony is, if I had been a pedestrian, or walking my bike, they wouldn’t have ticketed me, even though I can get through the intersection faster on my bike than by walking.

    I can’t believe that the police have nothing better to do and frankly, I think it’s BS. I think bikers should have to treat red lights like stop signs. I bet everyone would be safer and happier as a result. And the police could focus on something more important. Like stopping crime.  

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