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.
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“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.
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.
Making Connections through Education and Celebrating Life on Two Wheels
By Lauren LeClaire | Communications Coordinator
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.
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