How Many Dead Cyclists is Enough?

Ghost Bike(Ghost Bike by Bankside via Flickr)

On Friday night, Boston counted the death of another bicyclist. Kelsey Rennebohm, a 28-year-old graduate student at Boston College, was struck and killed at the intersection of Huntington Ave. and Forsyth Street, about a block away from the Museum of Fine Arts.

The details of the accident remain under investigation, though police have questioned an MBTA bus driver thought to be somehow involved in the accident. The deaths of young people have a way of galvanizing action, but not when it comes to cycling. Instead the public reaction is something like, Oh, well, was she wearing a helmet?, or, I bet she was one of those impatient, light-blowing psychos. Maybe someone organizes a vigil, another ghost bike goes up, nice things are said, but then within a couple of days, everyone forgets. Blame transfers back to the dead with the callous, cold observation that, well, Boston is a bad city for biking.

That’s why it’s so surprising to realize that almost the same thing happened in the same spot five years ago when Gordon Riker, a 22-year-old student at MassArt, was struck by a taxi and knocked under the wheels of a dump truck. Same exact intersection, Huntington and Forsyth.

Back then, that was just another bicycling tragedy, but at some point, politicians and transportation planners are going to have to realize that the can no longer allow young people to be run down without consequence. As it stands, cyclists and pedestrians account for 19 percent of road fatalities (though they only take 12 percent of trips) and the state’s pedestrian and cyclist fatality rate is 14 percent higher than the national average, according to cyclist advocate MassBike.

Yet even last week, the Joint Committee on Transportation of the state legislature voted to “study” (translation: do nothing) to a bill called the Vulnerable Road Users Act, which would provide cops with additional tools to enforce motorist-on-pedestrian/cyclist crime, and put in place safety classes for drivers involved in accidents with vulnerable road users. The bill was modest in scope, yet it failed to gain sufficient support.

Why does it always take a death — or in this case, two — before anything gets done? When will people start demanding more accountability from drivers and safer cycling lanes, and give police more power to keep people engaging in a lawful activity from getting mowed down? I’m hoping it’s no more, but if it does take more, the blood of these cyclists will certainly be on the hands of those who could act, but chose not to.

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  • rob

    i find the title misleading. the accidents were five years apart – having lived in other cities, and accidents in areas that have had multiple incidents within a 30 day and year period are stressed and highlighted. It seems seems that you are finding a reason to campaign for cyclists where maybe a concern doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, there are cyclists who ruin it for the others by their poor road habits – not obeying stop signs, turn signals, crosswalks, etc… It is always sad when someone is killed in an accident, despite fault and age. I hope that the concern here is for the families/friends of the victim(s).

    • Vinnie X

      Hey Rob,

      Fives years, five days, five minutes, they’re still dead.

      Your comment makes light of their deaths. And you blame Kelsey for her death. Nah, nothgin to see hesr, move along, Rob, move along.

  • Vinnie X

    Here’s something any cop could enforce w/out any legislative action or additional funding: Drivers run red lights with impunity. Doesn’t matter if you’re on foot or a bike, drivers run red lights. Long after the light has changed, 2, 3 at a time.

    I’ve been nearly run down by cops, by school buses and tow trucks (I think they’re the same species of driver) and famously by cars that were parked when I began to cross but roared into motion and came at me when I was in the middle of the street.
    Helmets don’t count for squat . Don’t hit me. Pay attention. Don’t hit me.
    And drivers, after a close call avoided by my quick avoidance manuever, say, “sorry.
    Avoids any nastiness.

    • Steven

      Any fatalities, auto, bicycle, or pedestrian should be investigated and if a re-design can help avoid it then it should be done Your comments about cars being out of control is valid, but I also have issue with bicyclists who do not obey traffic laws too. I’ve been almost run over by bicyclists who seem to forget that when they are on the bicycle they are not pedistrians anymore, but part of the vehicle driving population, and need to be careful on how they drive or people, including themself, will be hurt. Same goes for pedestrians. If we are asking for safety by better police enforcement, then we need more police willing to not just stop autos, but also bicycles and pedestrians who cross every which way, whenever they want.

  • Mark G

    Another bicyclist was killed at that same intersection in 2000. Ruth Michler, a visiting professor at Northeastern University was hit from behind by a construction vehicle turning on to Huntington from Forsyth. There have also been countless non-fatal accidents at this intersection.

  • dan

    Your statistic is a bit misleading: while cyclists and pedestrians combined make up about 12 percent of trips, bicycle trips only account for 2 percent, while walking trips account for 10 percent. So yeah, the safety disparity is even worse…

    • Christine

      Huh. I’ve read other statistics that purported that cycling was, in terms of fatalities, actually safer than driving—wondering if Mass is just that much worse.

  • Rick in Duxbury

    Big picture, we don’t care much for traffic laws around here. Vicious cycle of cops with better things to do and people who break the law because, well, they can. If people start getting jaywalking tickets at the same time moving violations are issued for stop signs, crosswalks and red lights, everyone would reach their destination faster and more safely. By not enforcing the existing laws, we trivialize the deaths and injuries of people like Kelsey.

    • Christine

      As a cyclist, motorist, and pedestrian, I absolutely agree.

  • Ben

    This issue is always viewed by commentators as drivers = 100% evil and cyclists = angels. I don’t know how many cyclists I’ve seen who want to use the road just like a car but not obey orderly warnings like red lights and stop signs. A biker’s smarmy entitlement to the road is why, many times, there are accidents.

    • William Furr

      Ben, have you ever actually read the comments section of any Boston-area article that mentions cyclists? Half of the comments are extremely rude drivers and the other half are downright murderous.

      How about any of the columns in the Boston Globe or Herald about cyclists? http://bostonbiker.org/2011/07/15/boston-globe-places-foot-in-mouth-to-much-yawning/

      PS – It’s the drivers, not the cyclists, who are killing people. So yeah, I think as a cyclist I’m entitled just a tiny bit because I’ve never killed anyone, and extremely few people who share my mode of transportation (what the hell kind of a weird tribe is that?) have ever killed anyone with it.

    • Remy Dubois

      I have almost been run down by entitled speeding cyclists who yell at me when I am in the bike lane trying not to get run over in the street, They will not slow down or stop for pedestrians who also use the road.

  • MJ

    Wow, this article isn’t one-sided at all. As someone who drives and bikes, I can say that you’re 10 times more likely to encounter a cyclist who violates the rules of the road than a driver who does the same. Disagree? How many cyclists do you know who actually stop at red lights? How many cars routinely travel on the wrong side of the road? I want to support my fellow cyclists here, but frankly, a lot of them are jerks. I’m surprised that more cyclists aren’t killed every day.

    • Remy Dubois

      As both a cyclist and driver, I totally agree. Boston is known for the worst drivers in the US – and the cyclists are even worse. Drivers do not drive the wrong way or drive at night with no lights, or drive through red lights as they will get stopped, arrested and fined.

  • Brian

    sad all around, especially the bickering that ensues after someone brings up this topic. there is no unity between cyclists and other cyclists. there is no respect between motorists and cyclists. until people start respecting each other as a human life and stand accountable for their own actions, this will never stop. some really hard headed people in boston.

    gordon riker was a dear friend of mine and his death was nothing short of devastating and tragic to his friends and family.

    bad scene, everyone’s fault.

    be safe friends, be smart. stay positive +

  • Mike

    The issue with the Huntington Avenue corridor is the lack of bicycle facilities. Anywhere. The closest parallel route is on Columbus Avenue, with a bike lane/separated path, but it’s difficult to access via Northeastern because of the Orange Line.

    Regarding the people who write it off and ask if she was wearing a helmet or lights: and even the smallest clip can send the cyclist down into the roadway, where no helmet or flashing rear light will save you from being run over. Helmets are great for if you get thrown from the bike, but if you end up in the traveled way, then the rest of your body is completely vulnerable. This is not a helmet problem. this is a safety issue, which would be resolved immediately if these were vehicle crashes.

  • Kristine K

    The article is one-sided? No shit, a 28 year girl DIED while riding her bike by a motorized vehicle. Would you like it to include some anecdotal evidence that “some” undetermined number of cyclists ignore red lights to make drivers feel better about young girls getting mowed down in the streets?

    Cars are killing cyclists in these situations not the other way around. You can say all you want about cyclists not following the rules of the road, 9 out of 10 is completely ridiculous. There’s 5 people just in our apartment and I can tell you that at most we treat lights as stop signs (which Mike mentioned) which is completely reasonable. I bike every single day of the year to work, you want to talk about people not following the rules of the road, I cannot possibly tell you how many drivers use no signals (all you have to do is flick a switch), run red lights in a 2 ton metal vehicle, speed like its a racetrack in the middle of downtown Boston, double park in bike lanes and all over congested roads, stop their cars in the middle of travel lanes and get out of the passenger side which no one expects, swings their doors open without looking, I could go on….) All of these ways that drives blatantly do not follow the rules of the road disproportionally puts pedestrians and cyclists in danger, I don’t get what people do not understand about that. We will get seriously injured/die if you do these things, if we ignore certain rules you’re talking about, WE get hurt and/or drives get annoyed, not even on the same level as DYING.

    It’s time to stop blaming cyclists for poorly designed roads, reckless & oblivious drives, high speed limits, double parked cars, little political will for change, and people that are stuck in the past of the car being the end all be all of transportation planning and funding. You’re not the only ones who use the road, cyclists and pedestrians have every right to be on the road whether drivers like it or not (and I can tell you from experience, they don’t). If cars don’t like dealing with cyclists in the road, then those same drivers should be advocating for off-road facilities. Cyclists need to follow road rules and we need safe facilities, what we don’t need is people blaming cyclists for buses, dump trucks, and cabs running them over.

    • http://disc|separating Clifford Denoon

      Larry is a eunuch cripple. He’d suck his own dick but it is a permanently flaccid thumb sized piece of garbage.

  • http://www.bicycledriving.com Paul Schimek

    Folks, please get the facts about these cases. If you want to prevent them, the most important thing is to get the word out to cyclists about what THEY can do to be safe (as well as to get the word to motorists to respect the right of bicyclists to use AS MUCH of the road that is needed)
    See: http://bicycledriving.org/roads/lessons-from-tragedies

  • KillMoto

    Breaking the law is neither a right nor a privilege, though many motorists drive as if it is. Its time to put 21st century technologies into cars, limiting speed and acceleration on city streets and near vulnerable road users (pedestrian downloads a “slow zone” app for their smart phone that transmits a “slow down”: signal to all nearby cars).

    Black boxes need to be mandatory in cars, and the info on them posted to the Internet for every car in a crash. It’s a public road, vehicle telemetry is public data. Want your movements private? Walk or take a bus.

    • Remy Dubois

      You are right – and it applies equally to cyclists (of which I am one too), But each week I almost hit one cyclists at least who flouts the law, rides against traffic, speak on cell phones, do not have lights or reflectors at night, ride in heavy traffic fast traffic where there are no bike lanes. We will install black boxes when we impose a tax on bikers who pay no license fees un(like in many other countries), After all it is for their own safety.

  • David G

    Sadly, while it seems that most bike accidents are the fault of errant drivers, statistically it is bicyclists who are more often at fault. As a daily commuter I get discouraged seeing so many irresponsible bicyclists. For every responsbible rider, I see at least one irresponsible rider. Unforturtunately, the public only sees the irresponsible riders who create much ill will.

    My prize for irresponsibility goes to an anonymous mother riding up Tremont Street in Boston near Gov’t Ctr, against the traffic during rush hour, no helmet, and AN INFANT in a bike seat on the back.

    Yes, bicyclist are vulnerable and we need to strive to educate motorists, but let’s not forget we have a responsibility to obey traffic laws, wear helmets, and use lights!

  • Amy

    Boston is a terrible city in which to ride a bicycle in the street. The city is congested enough as it is, and the addition of bike lanes has only made matters worse. And YES, many bicyclists are rude; they drive too fast and they act as if everyone else should look out for them. Here’s a novel idea: save your biking for the weekends on a nice, safe biking trail. Take the bus or walk if you want to do something nice for the environment. Most incidents involve trucks (doing their job) or buses (again, doing their job). Common sense is the best tool to prevent more bicycle deaths.