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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

“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.

Links:

Freight and Bikes - How the Porter Square Tragedy Can Spark Real Change

Interactions between large vehicles and bicycles remains a huge issue in our urban centers. The most recent incident in Porter Square that killed 60-year-old Dr. Bernard “Joe” Lavins of Lexington had a unique component. The door on the cab of the truck showed the name of the company.

MassBike contacted Mitlitsky Eggs, a Connecticut based firm founded in 1964, for comments and information. In the conversation, a representative of the firm made comments about the chaotic nature of Porter Square and the growing density and frenetic nature of traffic in the Metro Boston area. This chaotic, clumsy and deadly drama is playing to a packed house every rush hour in every major league metropolitan area in the U.S.

The trucking industry is crying out for less cars and better infrastructure. This means - albeit indirectly - more transit, more bikes, better infrastructure, and way better enforcement.

Want to know more? Ask 'what can brown do for you'?

“My business is mostly about the truck. Because the last mile in the life of every product in America happens in a truck,” said a representative of the Southern California District President of the United Parcel Service. “The glasses on your face, the tie you’re wearing, the phone in your pocket. It may get here in a container. It may spend on a train. It may fly in a plane. But the last mile is always in a truck.”  

“It’s simple really. Trucks are like the bloodstream in the human body,” we were told. “If your blood stops flowing, you would die. If trucks stop moving, the economy would die.”

At this point, bike advocates and transportation officials will quickly point out that the most important thing on our highways are people. And that the “lifeblood of our economy” is truly mixing tragically with the very real blood of 38,000 deaths on our roadways last year or the 2.5 million emergency room visits from roadway crashes, or the  4.5 million annual medical consultations resulting from crashes each year. That figure of medical consultations is more than every war America ever fought combined…..every year.

In short, the trucking lobby could become a tremendous ally to the bicycle lobby. More bicycle and pedestrian accommodation could greatly abet the trucking industry.

We need to respect that the work of truck drivers is indeed ‘necessary.”  But consider the number of bicycle riders struck and killed by truck drivers in the past few years. Surgeons, immunologists, students….Truck drivers may be driving freight, but those people on bicycles are driving our economy… in equal measure.

Both truck drivers and bicycle advocates simply want government to take charge of a system that is chaotic, environmentally destructive, economically unsustainable and deadly.  

Anybody that has ridden a bicycle in Metro Boston during rush hour has seen the chaos. Bike lanes become loading zones, double parking lanes, drop-off zones, etc. And yet, we still have curbside policies developed in 1965.

MassBike offers the following six considerations:

1. Vastly expand loading zones for deliveries.

2. Completely eliminate cab stands. These are spatially and environmentally stupid in the 21st Century.

3. Create drop-off zones where private citizens, cabbies, and Uber and Lyft can all do drop-offs and pickups. Those curbside zones can be flexed to serve as loading zones between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

4. Create cell phone lots where drivers can wait for a call to service without spawning dangerous double-parking and dooring circumstances.  

5. Integrate congestion mitigation pricing that discourages all rush-hour driving and encourages alternative transit.

6. Discourage all deliveries - either through toll pricing or outright bans - during peak hours. Like a snow storm, just give it a few hours and let the roads clear.

This is not a wild idea. These same principles have been put in place in Europe with great effect. A big part of the reason so many Americans are enchanted with the streetscapes of Brussels or Paris or Barcelona is that the rumbling terror of trucks is restricted to off-hours. This has been explained in detail in this EU report.

But we in bicycle advocacy must not vilify the people who are working hard to deliver the goods that we demand. We must remain vigilant in our cities to reduce the use of single-occupant automobiles, which remains the biggest problem to our environment, our public health, and our economy.

A ghost bike in Lincoln, MA
A ghost bike in Lincoln, MA

Response to tragedy and moving forward through education and enforcement.

The last several weeks have been a trying time. We’ve witnessed crashes in urban areas as well as the Boston suburbs with one proving fatal in Lincoln. We’ve attended Ghost Bike Ceremonies. We’ve seen a ghost bike taken down by the town just as another was being planned. It has been difficult and at times, emotional.

After the tragic death of Amanda Phillips in Cambridge, we recognized the increasing frustration of the bicycling community. In all of these cases the crashes remain “under investigation” and no charges are brought against the motorists involved. And that’s it. We rarely hear about it again, until the next tragic crash.

It’s time for this to change.

We’ve sent letters and met with the Middlesex District Attorney to address these frustrations. We saw direct results from this meeting in the response to a recent crash in Waltham where the protocol seemed a bit different. Charges were immediately filed against the driver, a rarity in bicycle related crashes! We will continue to press on the Middlesex District Attorney’s office on the two fatalities in Lincoln. MassBike is scheduled to have meetings with other DA’s across the state including Bristol and Worcester County, as well as the State Attorney General. The goal is to meet with each District across the state to ensure that our laws are being enforced and charges are brought in all appropriate cases. We plan to present a database of crashes going back to 2014 to their attention and get an update on each case so that changes can be made to prevent future tragedies. We cannot move forward without fully understanding where we have been.

In a separate, but related, effort to improve the investigation process and the understanding of these crashes, MassBike is currently working with Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPSS) to create a program to produce contextual training for Massachusetts police officers. It would combine direct on-bike training as well as virtual reality video to foster a better understanding of the conditions bicycle riders face every day.

These two “e’s” - education and enforcement - are critical to our mission and to making roadways safer for all users. With your help MassBike can continue to press on District Attorneys across the state for answers and create positive change out of tragic circumstances.

Kids in Cambridge in our education pilot program
Kids in Cambridge in our education pilot program

National Bike Month and Bay State Bike Week are an annual source of momentum and energy as we endeavor to create a more bicycle friendly state. In partnership with the Department of Transportation and MassRIDES, we host a week of events each year designed to encourage people to get outside and ride their bikes! In addition to organizing and promoting this celebration of two-wheeled travel, MassBike Executive Director Richard Fries led a daily commuter convoy ride from Lexington to downtown Boston as well as a new event, Fun Way to Fenway, where groups of riders throughout the city rode their bikes together to Fenway Park, where we offer free bike valet parking in partnership with the Boston Red Sox, one of only two MLB franchises to offer such a service! This season we have had up to 70 bikes being stored during home games. Through grassroots events such as these, we can help new or nervous riders overcome their fears to become confident and capable riders on their own.

The next step after overcoming the fear to get on a bike is to ensure that people go by bike safely. One of the top priorities at MassBike is to ensure that bicyclists in Massachusetts are safe and well prepared to ride. Through our educational programming, we offer opportunities at a low cost (and at times, free!) for adults and children to learn crucial skills to keep them safe on the roadways. Through Safe Routes to School, available to children in public school systems, and MassBike University, an adult educational program we launched last fall, riders of all ages and abilities can hone their skills to make riding their bike an integral part of their day to day life.

This Spring, we launched a unique on the bike pilot program for middle school students in Cambridge where the kids learned basic bike skills in traffic in Cambridge! Working with a single middle school, the Vassal Upper School, the city of Cambridge turned to the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition to foster a pilot program to integrate in-traffic skills to middle school students. Instead of simply preaching a safety message, this pilot program would focus on skills needed to lawfully and confidently navigate a bicycle on the roadway. MassBike, with the support of the schools and the Cambridge police, successfully and safely operated this program in May of 2016.  

This unprecedented program was one of four new educational pilots that debuted this year during Bike Month. Middle schools were targeted in Northampton, Falmouth and Beverly for our “adopt-a-school” program that connects a local bicycle racing club and a bike shop with a middle school class. With these partners of the club and the shop we are able to teach the message of safety within a powerful message about adventure, fun, and a healthy lifestyle. The response proved astounding and we plan to expand the program to additional schools in the fall and again for Bike Month next Spring.

 

A student in Cambridge learns valuable skills!
A student in Cambridge learns valuable skills!
Bike Month in full swing!
Bike Month in full swing!
MassBike moves by bike to a new shared office!
MassBike moves by bike to a new shared office!

MassBike leapt into the new year with excitement, energy, and momentum. Thanks to the efforts and generosity of our supporters we were able to make the jump to be the first tenant of a new transportation hub at the Cambridge Innovation Center, a co-working space in downtown Boston. Led by MassBike, this hub will showcase the collaborative spirit of local transportation advocacy groups and facilitate new projects and relationships with a diverse array of partners. 

You can see a video of our fun move done entirely by bicycle here!

One of these projects will be to focus on the formation of chapters of MassBike. As we continue to grow, we hope to enlist local advocates in key communities across the state to help with on the ground efforts as well as contributing to our Project 351 goal of having a complete database of resources for every community in Massachusetts. Through a strong team across the state, we can begin to replicate the changes and improvements that are occurring in the greater Boston area.

A crucial part of the initiative will focus on Vision Zero, a global movement that strives to reduce traffic deaths to zero. MassBike, along with the other members of the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition, continues to work together to improve Massachusetts roadways for all users including bicycles, pedestrians, and transit users. MassBike works within the Vision Zero framework pairing this with Complete Streets design and funding opportunities for communities throughout the state of Massachusetts to make our roadways safer.

MassBike Programs Director Barbara Jacobson will speak at the National Bike Summit this month in Washington, DC about the formation of the coalition and will also represent MassBike at the Vision Zero Cities Conference in New York.

Through recent legislative work, MassBike worked towards the goal of Vision Zero with a package of bills critical to both bicyclists and pedestrians. MassBike took the lead in organizing State House testimony to support passage of key bills such as the Vulnerable Road Users bill and the Bike Lane Protection bill. MassBike is still working through the legislative process to ensure passage of those key bills during this legislative session.

2015 National Bike Summit with Senator Warren
2015 National Bike Summit with Senator Warren

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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