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Can Boston be safe for bicycles?

Posted by Joanna Weiss  May 21, 2013 01:22 PM

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Forget about the mayor's race; one of Boston's toughest rivalries is the ongoing battle between bicycles and cars. The city has recently taken great strides to be bicycle-friendly. Its Hubway bike-sharing system has exceeded projections for ridership. But Boston is also notoriously dangerous for bikes, and this week's tragic accident -- in which a scholar from Japan was killed by a truck in Kenmore Square -- underscores the risks of sharing the road.

So what's the solution? Some call for a gas tax to discourage driving. Others say Boston's old, narrow streets simply aren't designed for bikes. A poll by MassINC, commissioned for WGBH, found that bikers -- more than drivers -- want bike lanes and paths. A Boston Globe editorial today calls for better infrastructure, but also helmet laws and tickets for bikers who disobey traffic laws. Where do you stand? Have you been in a close encounter between bicycle and car? What's the key to a safe coexistence? Here are some opinions about bicycles in Boston; add yours to the comments below, or tweet at the hashtag #BostonComment.

The bicyclist's job

ty_burr.jpgBiking in Boston is not impossible -- in fact, it's incredibly enjoyable -- as long as the bicyclist understands it's up to him or herself to ride sanely. That means observing traffic laws, ceding right of way to both cars (they can kill us) and pedestrians (we can kill them), never riding parallel to trucks and buses, avoiding blowing through intersections (a little diplomacy goes a long way), and generally assuming that no one actually knows you're there. This mindset needs to keep shifting (will someone please tell the students of greater Boston that they're not invincible?), because only then will the folks in cars and on sidewalks understand we have as much right to the roads as they do.
Ty Burr, @TyBurr
Globe movie critic and cyclist

The city's job

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Tweets from Paul McMorrow, Globe columnist and Commonwealth Magazine associate editor

Reengineer attitudes, along with roads

david watson mug.jpgBoston is making good progress rebalancing its roadways for the new mix of urban transportation - more bikes, more transit, more walking, less driving. The planned network of bicycle-friendly roads and paths will be great, someday (though I would like it to be tomorrow). Where we need to do a much better job is communicating to drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and, most importantly, kids how to interact safely. Attitudes are much more difficult to re-engineer than roads. We have to stop treating commuting like a competitive sport - slow down, look around, and put safety first. No one should have to be brave to ride a bicycle in Boston.
David Watson, @MassBike
Executive Director, MassBike

A modest proposal: ban bikes

mcgrory mug.jpgIt’s just plain fact, painfully clear to anyone and everyone who has ever exercised their government-sanctioned right to sit behind the wheel of a combustion-powered vehicle and drive on roads that were built for, yes, cars. In a crowded city like Boston, with narrow streets, daring pedestrians, and delivery trucks double-parked nearly everywhere, this task can already be perilous enough. Throw in a bunch of cavalier cyclists who believe with every cell of their beings that they own the road, and it’s near impossible to get around.
Brian McGrory, @GlobeMcGrory
Boston Globe, July 15, 2011

A simple solution?

More bikers = more safety?

Ticketing cyclists and mandating helmets has been shown to discourage cycling, especially in low-income areas, where access to affordable transportation is already low. Conversely, efforts that encourage responsible cycling, like the Boston Cyclists Union’s Bike to Market program, should be supported because, as the biking community grows, everyone gets used to sharing the road. In recent years Boston has installed bike lanes, bike boxes and other facilities but, as the city itself acknowledges, what’s been done so far is just low hanging fruit. Once we see cycle tracks, or separated bike lanes, like the one on Western Avenue, cyclists, drivers and pedestrians will all benefit.
Noelle Janka, former board president
Boston Cyclists Union

Getting past the stereotypes

Bikers, as it turns out, are not responsible for the majority of bicycle accidents in Boston. Of the 891 crashes in Boston where a cause was listed, cyclists ran a red light or stop sign before colliding with a car 12 percent of the time, and 12 percent occurred when a cyclist rode into oncoming traffic. Blaming the problems mainly on drivers’ lack of awareness doesn’t quite hold up either. Only 18 percent of the incidents occured when a motorist didn’t see a cyclist. Many crashes were caused by car doors opening in the way of cyclists, but a disproportionate share of them involved passengers exiting taxis.
Boston Globe editorial
May 22, 2013

Ways to get along?

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About Boston.comment

weiss.jpegBoston.comment is an exchange for ideas about Boston and beyond, brought to you by the Boston Globe editorial page and edited by Globe columnist Joanna Weiss. We're the sponsor of's #LabDebates and the creator of the Choose Your Own Adventure mayoral game.

Our producer is Alex Pearlman, with contributions (and sea monsters) from Noah Guiney. To join the conversation, post a comment, tweet with our daily hashtag, or follow us on Twitter @BostonComment.

A note on comments: Be honest, be open, be polite. And be warned: Personal attacks will be removed.

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