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A Bicyclist-Friendly Massachusetts

by Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition
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
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.

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.

Links:

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!

Links:

It
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!

Links:

Riders at Tim Johnson
Riders at Tim Johnson's Wachusett Fondo

July was a whirlwind of a month for MassBike, as our new executive director settled into the swing of things at your statewide bike advocacy HQ. We spent July expanding our clinics and classes, promoting biking to events with our bike valet program, and working with local police departments to distribute free blinkie lights for communities on Cape Cod. Amidst this work, we were stunned by the death of recreational cyclists in Nantucket and in Gill, and joined in round-table conversations with everyone from law enforcement to bike shops up to the mayor to deal with tack attacks in Newton’s bikes lanes. But along with the daily ups and downs of bicycle advocacy, I’d like to highlight three important components to our work which showcase some of the successes and challenges we face:

In the middle of the month, the MassBike team joined fellow advocates and planners in Fall River for a meeting of the Massachusetts Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board. After presentations on the strong work being done by the Fall River Bike Committee and the South Coast Bikeway Alliance, we gathered for a ride along the surprisingly impressive Quequechan River Rail Trail, which is currently a finalist for the Urban Land Institute Open Space Award, an international recognition!

Later in July, we co-hosted Tim Johnson’s Wachusett Fondo with the Minuteman Road Club at Wachusett Brewery. MassBike staff, board members, and volunteers from the newly formed Central Mass Chapter were on hand to grind some gravel and tackle a few monster hills, all in pursuit of a good post-ride beer. Thank you to all the riders who registered for the ride, which raised funds to support MassBike.

On the final day of the month, we were disappointed to learn that the legislative pursuits we’ve been tracking did not make it out of the House of Representatives in a formal session. Both An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities and a bill to ban handheld cell phone use while driving cleared their way through the Senate, but got held up in the House (along with many other worthy efforts this session). These powerful pieces of legislation are still alive and could go through an informal session this summer – or be picked up again in January. As one Representative told us, “the path of bills through Legislature is often unpredictable,” so we’re keeping our eyes on the prize here, we will continue to work with our friends to move through the channels of Beacon Hill. Please stay tuned for future updates and action alerts from our communications team!

Going forward, we have much to look forward to in August. We’ll be out celebrating biking in the North Berkshires BikeFest, out on the shimmering Cape Cod Canal, and in rolling hills of the Pioneer Valley. We’ll be running on-bike classes to teach safe and legal riding in communities that have instituted dockless bike sharing. And we’re gearing up for our Safe Routes to Schools work which will kick off again this coming fall.

And since we certainly cannot do this work as just a statewide coalition. Please visit our website to find out more about what our chapters are doing around the state.

See you on the roads and trails!

Teaching kids basic riding skills in Lawrence
Teaching kids basic riding skills in Lawrence

Links:

 

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Organization Information

Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition

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

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