Boston Focuses on Bike Safety
by Tad Staley
Following an unfortunate string of bicycle accidents in April, including the death of a cyclist after being hit by an MBTA bus, bike safety suddenly became a hot issue in Boston.
Nicole Freedman, the Director of Bicycle Programs for the city of Boston, put together the city's first-ever Bicycling Safety Summit, held on April 21 at Boston University.
Mayor Menino himself attended the summit, along with an impressive group of state and city officials. In his speech, Mayor Menino laid out some of his plans to improve conditions for bicyclists in the city. The mayor called for a lowering of the speed limit to 25 mph for all of Boston, bike safety classes at City Hall, and the creation of 50 miles of new bike lanes throughout the city.
"My administration has made it a priority to make the road safe for all travelers in our city," Menino said. "We should have a shared, common respect for everyone who uses Boston's roads…we all have the right to safe passage through our city streets."
Menino proposed a $100 fine for cars parked in bike lanes, eliciting thunderous applause from the 150 or so attendees.
Menino also directed the Boston Police Department to step up law enforcement efforts aimed at both motorists and cyclists.
As a show of support and the city's increased attention on bicycle safety, Boston Police Department Commissioner Edward Davis was in attendance and spoke to the bicycle enthusiasts.
"We understand that we need to make it clear to operators of vehicles that they need to respect your rights as bicyclists and that we need to make it clear to them that . . . this is the right thing to do for our city," Davis said.
Davis, however, added that there needs to be a greater emphasis on enforcing safety standards for cyclists who run stop signs and do not obey traffic control signals, and that he will instruct officers to be more vigilant in looking for cyclists who violate laws.
Davis also made commitments for greater availability of data on cycling accidents in the city. The Boston Police Department is looking at deploying an accident reporting system so the city can document all accidents involving bikes. (There are many such reporting systems—for example, the Cascade Bicycle Club of Seattle has a useful reporting tool at www.bikewise.org.)
Boston Cyclists' Union director Pete Stidman, in an interview with the Boston Globe, voiced the need for a better accident reporting system. "In our opinion, the lack of a comprehensive database of motor vehicle/cyclist accidents that includes how and where they occur is one of the most important obstacles [to] being able to improve bicycle safety in our city today,''
Unwilling to wait for a reporting system in the future, Freedman has deployed a way that cyclists can report accidents now. The new solution is based on Google Maps - for instructions on using the system, visit www.bostonbikes.org. In a telephone interview, Freedman admitted that the Google Maps system is an interim measure, and she expressed an interest in finding a long-term, easy-to-use replacement.
"An accident-reporting system is a high priority," said Freedman, "because we need to know what to fix."
In response to a recent survey, Boston Bikes received over 2,500 reports of accidents and dangerous intersections in and around Boston. This information, along with reports submitted through the online system, will go a long way toward directing biking improvements in the city.
Though there is much work ahead, and heated debates on many safety topics (like mandating helmets), it's encouraging to see bicycle safety get such prominent and high-level attention. Some of us ride for exercise, to commute or for the sheer pleasure of being out on the road. Whatever your reasons, safety must remain a paramount concern, and the primary guarantor of your safety on a bicycle is you.
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