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.