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

This past Saturday, our Executive Director Richard Fries embarked on the 2018 Perambulation, the start of a New Year’s Resolution to ride every bike path in Massachusetts. Turns out, there are thousands of miles of paths! This was to be the start of quite the adventure. To launch this effort on the Cape Cod’s Shining Sea Path, America’s first rail-to-trail project, seemed appropriate. So off to the Cape we went.

Packed in tight while sitting down for coffee before the ride, our group picked up on a conversation commenting on current events. Within seconds we all realized the subject. They were talking about the tragic death of a surgeon killed while bicycling in Boston by a large truck and our video that had been released earlier that week entitled 16 seconds.

We've heard it once and we'll hear it again. We expected to hear the victim blamed in this incident. But we were surprised. They all lamented how many times they had been threatened or startled by reckless drivers operating large trucks. A common problem on narrow roads of the Bay State.

Had MassBike simply written a letter or filed a report or cited some data in dealing with this case, our voices would never have reached beyond some shelf. No news coverage. No social media. No viral conversation, such as this one unfurling nearly 100 miles from the site of the crash. But we used video in our appeal for justice. Sometimes it's better to show them then to tell them.

We felt from the day of the crash that this particular incident warranted charges or - at a minimum - a citation against the driver. We needed to do more. After more than a dozen attempts to secure an audience with the Boston Police, we finally chose to go public with our video presentation. The turnout of the media for this event proved overwhelming. All the major network television affiliates covered the story. The Boston Globe put it on the front of its Metro section; The Boston Herald went with a full front page photo. The story continues to spread globally via such podcasts as the Paceline, the Outspoken Cyclist, and Streetsblog.  

While our short term goal was to get the Boston Police to reopen the case, our secondary goal was to foster a dialogue to improve crash response protocol and improve law enforcement training around bicycle issues. But the longer goal was just what we accomplished. We wanted to alter the mainstream culture and conversation.  Moving the cultural needle is a small part of what we do as an organization but one of the most important to progressing safety on our roadways for all bicyclists.

 

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We installed lights on bikes across the state!
We installed lights on bikes across the state!

Throughout the entire month of October, MassBike went on a mission to shine bright lights across the Commonwealth.

As we approach darker months of the year and the fall time-change, rider safety can become more challenging. To combat this issue, throughout the entire month of October, MassBike worked to raise funds to purchase lights from Planet Bike, to distribute free lights to riders in need prior the end of Daylight Savings Time.

Although only 20 percent of bike rides happen after sunset, more than 50 percent of bike fatalities happen during those hours. Simply being seen is one of the most important ways to make a bike rider safer. But too often - especially during this time of year - we find people caught on their bikes with inadequate lighting. This can be a simple lack of awareness or they cannot afford lights. In either case, MassBike wants to help make sure riders are seen on the roadways and get to where they need to go safely.

Through crowdfunding efforts, MassBike raised enough money to exceed their goal of distributing 1000 light in a single day. On November 2nd teams of volunteers, bike shops, Earn-a-Bike programs, and MassBike staff fanned out across he state and not only distributed lights for free to riders in need but installed them on their bikes and showed them out to change the batteries.

We hope to install another 1000 lights when we run this new campaign again next year!

Free bike lights for folks who need them!
Free bike lights for folks who need them!

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Clearing after the rainstorm
Clearing after the rainstorm

Each year MassBike hosts an annual summer ride. This year, our staff arrived at the start on a hot, early morning in August with thunderstorms looming on the radar. 2 MassBike staffers, 2 board members, and 1 lone volunteer wait under the tent at the starting location in scenic Western Massachusetts as the dark clouds begin to roll in. We’re gearing up and getting ready to roll out on a 65 mile ride through hilly, quiet roads. It’s a nice route with just the right amount of climbing. But the mood isn’t what you might expect. The weather forecast appears especially ominous for exactly when we are scheduled to depart.

Apparently our participants checked the weather, too. The only ones to brave the potential thunderstorms for our ride? Two women, Emma and Luisa, neither of whom hadn’t biked more than 25 miles in one go this year. And neither of whom appeared familiar with what our organization is or does, they simply wanted to go for a bike ride.

Not a problem, we tell them. Come along with us. It’ll be fine, we assure them.

9:00am hits and off we go. Our troop of dedicated riders gets just a few miles in and BOOM! It downpours for a solid 30 minutes but by the time we’ve crested our first climb the rain stops. It’s humid and puddly. Everyone pulls off rain jackets and settles in for the day, soaking wet from head to toe. But things are looking up.

As we ride along, our two riders get an education. From all 5 of us. They hear tips on how to ride their bikes steadily, the easiest way to keep their balance and reach for a water bottle while rolling along, and how to shift properly when going up a steep hill. They’re appreciative of the tips and tricks and by the end of the morning and the more miles we ride, they move into bigger questions.

They ask about the work we do. What is MassBike, anyways? The who, the why, and the what. Lots of questions. We answer.

At this point, you see our staff light up with joy. The excitement is back. It’s the rainbow after the dark storm. One rider asks what she can do to volunteer. They too, are excited and want to get involved.

The end of the ride culminates with a few drinks and snacks at a local pub with good conversation amongst new allies and friends. Bonds forged over a soggy pedal on quiet roads.

It’s not always through some sort of grand impact, large statement, or statewide change that we can make a difference. It’s through one person at a time, one ride, one moment, one rainbow after a storm that we work to make change. It doesn’t always look like an easy task. Sometimes it’s soggy and daunting. Sometimes it is convincing that one person at a townhall meeting that bikes belong. Or having a conversation with a business owner who thinks that a new bike lane will take away parking and hurt his business. The most rewarding change that we can impart is one person at a time. It’s watching someone see something a different way. It’s what keeps us going. Sometimes it’s as easy as it was on this day, a simple bike ride to make an impact, that merely had to traverse a bit of bad weather.

We hope to see you on the next ride.

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Awards were presented for lifetime achievements
Awards were presented for lifetime achievements

The year 2017 marks MassBike’s 40th year. That birthday gave us pause to reflect on all we’ve achieved.

Since our humble beginnings as the “Boston Area Bicycle Coalition” in 1977 we’ve grown into to a statewide organization, fostering change on the roadways around the Commonwealth. We’ve worked hard to create a safer, more accessible biking environment through education, legislation, and infrastructure design.

In the 1970s, with the emergence of the environmental movement, an oil embargo and the Bikecentennial Movement, American bike sales skyrocketed. Amid this revolution, MassBike launched an education program, which has since educated thousands of adults and schoolchildren on safe bike riding.

In the 1980s, we successfully lobbied the MBTA to lift their ban on bikes on trains. In 1990s we helped lobby for the creation of the Minuteman Bikeway, now one of the most popular rail trails in the U.S.

Since then we’ve lobbied to pass bike friendly legislation, partnered with MassDOT and the MBTA, held events and rides that brought together bicyclists of all varieties.

Last week we hosted a 40th Anniversary Party, where we celebrated these bicycling milestones and those who have been a part of the movement. The room was full, not just of bike advocates, but all types of cyclists. There were charity riders, racers, commuters, tourists, utility cyclists, and more. All of them celebrating our accomplishments and all of them wanting better conditions for bikes of all types. Just a few short years ago, not all of those types of cyclists would have been in that room. We have truly become a coalition where all types of riders play a part in our forward momentum.

While working to plan and execute a lifetime achievement awards celebration, a video retrospective of our 40 years, a presentation by PMC founder Billy Starr and hilarious keynote speech from The Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Gay, our tiny roster of staff never missed a beat in their advocacy rounds in the weeks leading up to the event.

  • We kept on teaching Safe Routes to School, reaching 53 percent of the state’s public schools.
  • We helped organize a program help more than 500 immigrants on Cape Cod learn bike safety American style.
  • We prepared for testimony on Beacon Hill where the largest bike bill in recent history will be debated by the Transportation Committee.
  • We helped promote the inaugural May 7 River Roll and Stroll, a street festival where MassDOT closed the Route 116 bridge between Holyoke and South Hadley.  
  • Working with the Vision Zero Coalition, we also responded to the tragic death of a Boston cyclist by helping to fill the City Council chamber to advocate for increased funding for road safety.

We found ourselves asking, as we went into this celebration of our progress and history, what will the next 40 years bring?

We’ll work towards further progress with involvement and support from all types of bicyclists. We seek a future with zero traffic fatalities, because even one is too many. But it will take all of us working together, as a coalition, to create that change. We seek a culture shift where drivers take care around cyclists and pedestrians, where we all operate with a “yield down” philosophy. We have made significant improvements on the traffic landscape in the last 40 years and are excited about what we can do in the next 40!

Guests enjoying the celebration!
Guests enjoying the celebration!

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“I just didn’t see them.”  

That is one of the most common statements given by motorists who have hit a person on a bicycle.

This is, of course, especially problematic in the dark. According to the Federal Highway Administration-funded Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, 30 percent of all bicyclist fatalities occur between 4 and 8 p.m. In response, bike lights are being required in more and more places to increase safety. Here in Massachusetts, MassBike is working with a coalition of like-minded nonprofits to pass an omnibus traffic safety bill which tackles many issues that face bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. A part of this larger bill would require bicyclists to have a rear light in addition to the already required rear reflector.

We believe lights to be as important, if not more important, than helmets.

While bills such as these are put forth with safety in mind if passed, what then would become of those riders who cannot afford lights? Like helmets, some believe that by making these sometimes pricey safety items, like lights, a requirement we are going to risk discouraging people from riding. And for those who ride not by choice, it presents not only a dangerous scenario but one that could risk fines for not being in compliance with the new law.

MassBike believes that safety should not be limited based on socio-economic status. As part of our work in drafting this traffic safety bill, we plan to work alongside law enforcement to perform educational enforcement that will include the distribution of free bike lights to those in need. To achieve safer roadways for bicyclists we must work to change laws but it's imperative that we also consider the enforcement of said law and the greater impact.

In the past, we have worked to distribute free lights during Bay State Bike Week which is coming up soon in May! We also hosted a “Light up the Night” bike ride where we gave out free lights to attendees. Through a combination of fun events and educational enforcement traffic stops we hope to eliminate the “I just didn’t see them” excuse from the driver lexicon.

However, we also know it’s not just about being seen. It’s important to deal with distracted driving, infrastructure issues, speed limits, and much more. There are other components of our bill, An Act to reduce traffic fatalities, that will address other problems bicyclists and all road users face. To find out more about the bill please visit massbike.org/advocacy.

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Organization Information

Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition

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

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