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A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts

by Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition
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A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts
Governor Baker and the Vision Zero Coalition
Governor Baker and the Vision Zero Coalition

Hands-free win! On November 25, 2019, the Massachusetts House and Senate voted to approve the hands-free bill, and Vision Zero Coalition members joined Governor Baker at the signing ceremony. Governor Baker acknowledged the work of the Coalition and other stakeholders, saying, “We are especially grateful for the many advocates and families that passionately fought to bring this bill to fruition."


From the press release:


On November 25, 2019, Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation to improve road safety in the Commonwealth, which stipulates that no motor vehicle operator may use electronic devices while driving unless the technology is being used hands-free. The legislation, which adopts recommendations from the Commonwealth’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, also sets forth penalties for violating the law and requires that law enforcement officers report data on violations so the information can be shared with the public.


Governor Baker was joined at the signing ceremony by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, state leaders, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board, and representatives from advocacy groups, including, the Vision Zero Coalition, Safe Roads Alliance, LiveableStreets Alliance, WalkBoston, MassBike and Boston Cyclists Union. The Governor acknowledged the work of stakeholders for efforts to get hands-free legislation passed and thanked the families of victims for sharing their personal stories during legislative hearings. 


“Our Administration is committed to keeping the Commonwealth’s network of roads safe, and this legislation will substantially reduce distracted driving and hold operators accountable when they are looking at an electronic device instead of looking at the road ahead,” said Governor Baker. “We are especially grateful for the many advocates and families that passionately fought to bring this bill to fruition, are thankful for the Legislature’s collaboration on this bill and look forward to continued efforts to improve road safety in Massachusetts.” 


“The Commonwealth and its communities have a shared obligation to keep roads safe for all users, and the new hands-free law is another important step as we seek to fulfill that responsibility,” said Lt. Governor Polito. “This commonsense legislation makes clear that in order to operate a vehicle safely, individuals must put safe driving first – ahead of reading emails or texting a friend.”


Under the new law, titled An Act requiring the hands-free use of mobile telephones while driving, operators of motor vehicles cannot use an electronic device unless the device is being used in hands-free mode. Operators cannot read or view text or look at images or video, unless what is being viewed on the device is helping with navigation and the device is mounted in an appropriate location. They also cannot make phone calls unless they are able to do so without holding the phone, utilizing technology such as Bluetooth.


The new law permits the use of electronic devices if they are being used in response to an emergency, necessary for first responders to do their jobs. It also permits use if operators are stationary and not in active lanes of travel.


Punishment for violating the hands-free law includes a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 fine for a second offense and $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense.  A third or subsequent offense will count as a surchargeable incident.  Operators who commit a second or subsequent offense are required to complete an educational program focused on distracted driving prevention. 


 “The hands-free legislation is now law in Massachusetts thanks to the tireless work of advocates and victims’ families,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “Legislators were moved to action after hearing the personal stories of people who have lost loved ones in traffic crashes. Advocacy groups were with the families every step of the way and marshaled support for this bill. I would like to thank the Vision Zero Coalition, Safe Roads Alliance, LiveableStreets, WalkBoston and many other pedestrian and bicycle advocacy groups for their efforts and I look forward to continuing our collaboration to get additional road safety bills passed during the next legislative session.”


“This important reform shows how seriously we take roadway safety,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Thomas Turco. “A distracted driver is a dangerous driver. This law will help keep drivers’ attention on the road and give law enforcement an additional tool to deter risky behavior.”


“As first responders to serious crashes across the state every day, Massachusetts State Troopers know too well the consequences of distracted driving, and we thank the Baker-Polito Administration and the Legislature for this important new tool to help us combat this dangerous behavior,” said Colonel and Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police Christopher S. Mason. “Today is a day that will make our roads safer.”


“This legislation will protect pedestrians and drivers on our roads by keeping mobile devices out of the hands of those who operate vehicles,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “Additionally, this legislation establishes a new implicit bias training program for any jurisdiction deemed by an analysis of data to have engaged in racial or gender profiling.”


“There are too many heartbreaking stories of those who lost loved ones to distracted driving, and so I’m proud to see this bill signed into law,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka. "This bill strikes a balance between increased enforcement and increased transparency, requiring more demographic data to be released to the public than ever before so that we can ensure this law is being enforced equitably across the Commonwealth. I'd like to thank Senator Boncore, Senator Brownsberger, and everyone involved for their hard work to get this done."


“This bill will improve the safety of our streets and promote transparency in law enforcement,” said Senator Joe Boncore, Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “Distracted driving is an epidemic, and this bill will save lives. Further, by updating our data collection laws, we will better understand and improve our communities’ interactions with public safety officials.”


“The final bill is a major public safety improvement for the residents of Massachusetts,” said Representative Bill Straus, Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “Distracted driving has caused too many unnecessary tragedies and I am pleased that our state will now join the ranks of other states who have adopted a ban on holding a phone while driving.”  


Safe Roads Alliance President Emily Stein added, “It is such a relief to finally see a hands-free bill pass in our Commonwealth. It is a proud, emotional, and hopeful moment, and I ask that all drivers in Massachusetts pause for a moment too, and understand how distracted driving can impact so many precious lives on our roads. I fought for stronger distracted driving laws for my dad, who was killed in 2011, and also for the hundreds of lives that are lost, and the thousands of people who endure life-long injuries because of something so preventable. This law will save lives.”


“We are grateful for the leadership and partnership of the Baker-Polito Administration in moving this life-saving law forward,” said Stacy Thompson, LivableStreets Alliance Executive Director.  “This is an important step toward achieving Vision Zero in Massachusetts and we look forward to working with the Administration and Legislature to advance several other critical road safety bills in the new year.” 


Stacey Beuttell, Executive Director of WalkBoston, added, “WalkBoston is pleased that this legislation has been signed; this law will encourage people driving to focus solely on that task, making streets safer for people walking & running in communities across Massachusetts. We're hopeful that this long-awaited signing will kick off a focus on traffic safety for this next legislative session.”   


“We applaud the Legislature and Governor Baker’s Administration for delivering this bill to the people of Massachusetts,” said Becca Wolfson, Executive Director of Boston Cyclists Union. “The regional rise in bike ridership means there are more vulnerable road users than ever in Massachusetts, and this law will curb distracted driving and make streets safer for everyone.” 


The hands-free law takes effect ninety days after passage and has reporting requirements for law enforcement officers who make traffic stops. They must make note of data, including the age, race and gender of individuals issued a warning or citation. The Registry of Motor Vehicles will house the data and the Secretary of Public Safety’s office will annually release the information to the public. The new law sets forth a process in the event there are suspicions a law enforcement entity may be engaging in racial profiling. 


The hands-free legislation is one proposal included in comprehensive road-safety package filed earlier this year by the Baker-Polito AdministrationThat proposal includes measures to improve work zone safety, require the use of ignition interlock devices for first time offenders, and the creation of a framework to regulate new technology like electronic scooters and other low-speed mobility devices. For additional information, please visit: 


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A rider testing out an e-bike at a demo day event
A rider testing out an e-bike at a demo day event

MassBike is all about getting more butts on bikes. And with the percentage of bike ridership throughout the commonwealth in the single digits, we need more people choosing to bike. So we are excited about a new type of rider out on our roads, paths, and trails -- the person on an e-bike with an electric motor.

There are plenty of riders out there who rely on electric-assist who otherwise wouldn’t bike. Maybe they’re recovering from an injury, or have aging legs, or want to keep up with their friends, or they need to travel longer distances, or have to ride over those damn hills, or need to get to work without being sweaty, or want to enjoy the woods without worsening a heart condition.

This emerging ridership is a good development, as e-bikes bring the same benefits we all know from “analog” biking; improving physical and mental health, forging a connection to the advocacy community, and getting folks out into open space. And, as each bike on the road is one less car out there, e-bikes help tackle the two biggest issues facing the commonwealth: our environmental crisis with greenhouse gas emissions and congestion on the roads.

Yet the bicycle advocacy community is struggling to figure out whether e-riders fit in the same space traditionally allocated to standard bikes. Based on valid concerns mainly due to speeding and shared path etiquette, we are seeing advocates suggest blanket prohibitions for e-bikes on pathways and trails, equating them with motorcycles and mopeds, which means relegating these emerging riders to the hazards of the roadways, which we know keeps 60% of those "concerned yet interested" riders from heading out on two-wheels. So it's our charge to mitigate those issues to keep access open for e-bike riders. At a recent hearing held by the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation on the issue, an attendee fighting Parkinson’s disease put it well by stating “this wouldn’t be a prohibition on bikes, it’s a prohibition on people.”

For all intents and purposes, most e-bikes are designed to ride just as any other bike -- albeit with a bit of a kick. To help everyone understand where on the spectrum e-bikes fit, MassBike has been hosting educational e-bike demo days. While these events were open to everyone but we’re specifically inviting land managers, policy makers, and advocates to help inform sensible regulations for where these bikes should and shouldn’t be allowed.

E-bike ridership is on the rise (they were the only segment in bicycle sales that increased in the last year…), yet our laws around e-bikes were written with mopeds and scooters in mind, before the widespread adoption of modern battery technology. So, one of the ways we’re looking to clarify the issue is to define e-bikes as their own class of device in MA General Law. We are suggesting Massachusetts use the three-class model which differentiates between speed and type of assist and requires the motors to stop assisting at 20MPH for the first and second class of device. This distinction is in place across the country in 22 states, with 16 others that regulate e-bikes as bicycles that can use bike infrastructure. That’s 38 states ahead of where we are and we need to catch up fast. For a more in-depth read of our proposals, read the rest of this update here.

In the end, MassBike's aim is to be welcoming and bring better bicycling for ALL riders. We realize it’s a controversial issue and you may not need electric assist for your riding, and that's fine. We're not expecting all riders to understand everybody's needs. But as current trends continue, we're going to see a lot more e-bikes out there and as an advocacy organization we certainly should not oppose e-bikes outright as that will just leave us out of the conversation. Instead we aim to get out ahead of the issue and make ourselves a leader here. There are places e-bikes should ride and places they shouldn’t. And as this is being worked out, your help and feedback is important.

I hope you can support MassBike in our efforts to craft sensible e-bike legislation and regulations, because, in the end, another rider is another butt on a bike.

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Ghost bikes are an important part of healing
Ghost bikes are an important part of healing

"We need each other."

These words resounded among the more than one-hundred mourners who gathered in the cold and the rain for a Ghost Bike dedication ceremony this past Sunday. (What is a ghost bike?)

In this instance, an experienced urban cyclist, was struck and killed by a cement truck driver passing through an intersection in Boston.

"We need each other," we all said, collectively, after every refrain during the dedication ceremony.

This is the power of ghost bike ceremonies: to learn of the people who lived amazing lives and touched many souls. These bikes are more than a reminder of dangers we face on the roads. They are memorials of those who shared our streets and paths and trails, who rode bikes for a better life. Lives that were taken too soon.

Installing a ghost bike at a crash site may, on its face, seem gruesome. The white paint catches your attention as you pass by. The flowers in the basket and messages pinned to the spokes evoke sentiments of longing, love, and loss. And the location of the bike, at the spot where a cyclist took their last breath, is a reminder of real danger and what we have to lose out there.

But these dedications are necessary for the cathartic healing process for the sadness and shock that we feel. They help me remember that we are out here every day to save lives. As bicycle advocates, we have all helped make a few ghost bikes -- it is the hardest part of this role.

In all that we do, in all that we are, we need to be reminded that we have lasting impacts on our communities. The riders represented by ghost bikes and every rider’s influence will last far beyond their lives, beyond the ceremonies, beyond the advocacy that comes in response to reform how trucks and buses and bicycles maneuver our roads. And we’ll be reminded every time we pass these ghost bikes, chained to the posts at tragic locations. We’ll be reminded that we are not out here alone, and we’ll remember those who have ridden here before us.

"We need each other."


We need each other, we are never alone.
We need each other, we are never alone.


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Attending the recent Day of Action in Boston
Attending the recent Day of Action in Boston

Looking back on the progress of bicycle advocacy in 2018, a statistical graphic sent out by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles comes to mind. It shows that in Massachusetts we had three fatal bicycle crashes on public roads last year. Three crashes – down 70% from 10 crashes in 2017, and down 75% from the the 12 crashes in 2015. And even though MassBike’s own count of fatal crashes has the total at five people (the RMV statistics miss crashes that occur on private property), fewer fatal crashes is something to champion.

This trend reinforces how our efforts to create safer roads for bicyclists are working, from slowing speeds with Complete Streets redesigns to PSA messaging about "Scan the Street for Wheels and Feet." But even five fatal crashes in a year is tough to handle. The goal, of course, is to get this number down to zero, in keeping with the mission of our Vision Zero Coalition. We lost five people last year, ranging in age from 4 to 76 years old, and that is five too many.

So how do we continue to move forward and work towards zero?

What we have accomplished, thanks to the support of our members and partners:

  • Expanded the curriculum for the RMV and truck/bus driver training, as well as a more robust in-school bicycling classes
  • A draft of the statewideBicycle Transportation Plan, including a best-practices guide for municipalities
  • Local and state policies that require bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure on new projects

What we are doing to work towards zero fatalities:

  • Pursuing legislation to require truck side guards, hands-free cell phone use while driving, and stronger speed enforcement
  • Standardizing crash data reporting throughout all 351 municipalities to track trends and effectiveness
  • Clarifying that a “safe passing distance” is 3+ feet

What we’re looking to create:

  • Cycling and driving education for all ages and all modes, especially truck and bus drivers
  • A seamless, connected network of rail-trails and physically protected bike lanes
  • Legal protections for vulnerable road users from distracted and dangerous driving

MassBike envisions a world where all people, of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds are encouraged to hop on a bike and safely ride throughout the entire state. We have been at this effort for 41 years, and through the ebbs and flows of bicycle advocacy we have come a long way.

Only just 10 years ago, there were virtually no bike lanes in Boston. Then a door-zone bike lane was installed in August 2008 from the BU Bridge to Kenmore Square, a critical travel corridor. Now, in 2019 we’ll celebrate the ribbon cutting of a curb-protected separated bike lane on that same corridor, the new standard for the MassDOT. A great leap of progress.

Still, we have a long way to go.

With a new executive director at the helm of the organization, we remain encouraged to see how our movement is still growing stronger every day. We look ahead to bringing the decades-worth of advocacy into the new year and into a new era of better biking. At this crucial time, we need your support now more than ever!


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It's Wicked Dark! Use a Light!
It's Wicked Dark! Use a Light!

No longer will we abide your riding in dark clothes, with no lights, no reflectors, and no warning to the drivers, pedestrians, and other bicyclists that you’re out there on the roads, paths, and trails. We’re on a mission to get you to brighten up!

Yes, we are the #LightsBrigade! As the sun sets earlier each day, you may find MassBike volunteers standing out on a traffic island of a particularly long stoplight, calling out with a friendly: “Hey there! It’s wicked dark, you need some bike lights... We’ve got some for you!” It may be a rainy night and you, hidden by the shadows and the sudden darkness at 4:30pm, will be glad to see us.

By putting front and rear lights on your bicycle, we’re here to keep you safe – and legal. In Massachusetts, our state laws regulate the types of lighting on a bicycle (requiring a white front light and a rear red light and/or rear red reflector), when lights must be on (a half-hour after sunset until a half-hour before sunrise), and the distance at which the light must be seen (from 500 ft away). You also are required to have reflective material on the front, back, and sides of your bicycle or clothing.

These statewide regulations make a lot of sense. Bicycles are considered to be part of traffic and are expected to behave just the same as all vehicles. We have standards by which all road users know what to look for at nighttime, and white/front and rear/red lights are safety features to make sense of a chaotic streetscape.

And more practically, being bright and visible is important to avoid crashes! Even though there are far fewer riders during the dark hours, more than 20% of crashes take place at night. Lighting on your bicycle prevents crashes (whereas helmets only prevent injury during the crash), so the #LightsBrigade is part of our #VisionZero campaign – the goal to get all crashes to 0. Adding to this, many night riders are commuters working late-night or early-morning hours, especially in the service industry, who may not be able to afford quality front and rear lights and are riding out of necessity.

So, what is MassBike doing?

We’ve been fundraising since the first of October to purchase lights to distribute around Massachusetts through our chapters and partner organizations. So far we’ve raised over $3000 (and counting!), with a goal of $5000 before the campaign is out. Of course a huge THANK YOU to all our individual donors, who have chipped in to cover the cost of the sets of lights – a donation of $10 gets a set of front/rear lights to a rider in need.

MassBike is on a mission to shine bright lights across the Commonwealth, and we won’t stop until every bike is lighted! Shine on, you bold bikers, and help us spread the light by joining the #LightsBrigade.

PS: And, just a final PSA, when riding on pathways or roads with oncoming bikers, please direct your lights down so you don’t blind them. Remember, if you can see the whites of the approaching rider’s eyes, your light is pointed too high!


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Organization Information

Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition

Location: Boston, MA - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @massbike
Project Leader:
Edward Thomas
Boston, MA United States

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