Why Are So Many Cyclists Dying on the Street?

bike and carPhoto via Thinkstock

Something has shifted. All summer, cyclists and drivers got along pretty well. There was the occasional dust-up, but all in all, it wasn’t a horrible time to be a cyclist in Boston. Sometime recently—I’m going to say Thursday, Sept. 13—everything changed. Maybe it has something to do with drivers hurrying around in shorter days, or that twilight now tails the end of the evening commute and cyclists are less visible, or maybe it’s that the goodwill against cyclists has run out. Because it’s a battle out there again.

On Friday, a 63-year-old cyclist was struck and killed by an alleged drunkard at 12:30 a.m. on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester. It’s a wide, straight road that’s easy to exceed the 30 mph speed limit, and there’s often a statie there to enforce the law. Unfortunately for Doan Bui, the road wasn’t wide enough or straight enough to keep him safe from a driver in a pick-up truck. Bui was pronounced dead at the scene. No ghost bike went up, no nothing. And the cars continue to zoom by on Morrissey.

Yesterday, a young woman was hit and dragged to her death by a tractor trailer in Southie. There were tons of eyewitnesses. Read their accounts if you have the stomach for it.

And in Wellesley, motorists apparently are now free to mow down cyclists without legal consequence, after 41-year-old family man Alexander Motsenigos was killed by a driver who then left the scene. Police interviewed the driver, but no charges have been filed.

People die in cars every day, but those accidents are less frequent on city streets where it’s hard to get up enough of a head of steam to overwhelm airbags and crumple zones and the one million other safety features that cars have to keep us from killing each other. In cities, it’s the cyclists who get hurt, or killed, or sneered at, or cursed, or bluff rammed, or deliberately cornered against the curb at 3 mph, like happened to me this very morning.

But I’m just one guy. Others are probably starting to notice this shift, too. We can’t do much, but we can make sure a ghost bike for Doan Bui gets installed on Morrissey Boulevard at Malibu Beach. And maybe the advocacy groups can do some sort of guerrilla signage at Huntington Ave. and Forsyth Street, where grad student Kelsey Rennebohm was struck and killed back in June. She was the third cyclist to die in that intersection.

Because until cyclists stop quietly taking our hits on the street, nothing is ever going to change.

  • Vinnie X

    Exactly, Casey.

  • Christine

    I am a cyclist.
    I stop at red lights. I stop at stop signs. I never weave between cars and I would never dare ride between lanes of traffic and rows of moving cars. I am a vehicle, just like the rest of the cars and my rights don’t override the rights that cars have, except that they aren’t supposed to be in my 3 foot wide lane. By no means am I insinuating that any of the aforementioned tragedies were the fault of the cyclist, but what I am saying is that the same cyclists that b*tch about cars and motorists and their ‘rights’ are the same ones that blow through intersections, causing accidents among motorists…the same ones that ride between moving cars and wonder why they’re knocked on their asses…the same ones that break each and every law and disobey each and every traffic signal and when they’re hit, blame the person behind the wheel – even though the driver wasn’t the one at fault.
    Less ignorance and less entitlement breeds fewer accidents.
    Cycling is a pursuit of health. Fitness. Freedom. And is environmentally beneficial. It’s not license to be an ignorant jerk.

    • Casey Lyons

      Are you saying you’ve never had a close call? All this divisiveness is what always happens after a few tragedies. And then nothing ever changes because we’re dividing ourselves into “good” cyclists and “bad” cyclists, whereas any cyclist can have bad close calls no matter his/her riding style. This is not an endorsement of a-hole riding, which I’ve written against before, but rather an observation that nothing ever gets done to fix these problems.

    • http://dailygrind25.blogspot.com barbara

      you sound angry.

    • dulles

      Hi @Christine,

      I, too, cycle very carefully and try to obey traffic laws — right down to signaling with my hands, and stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks (even when cars don’t). I do it because it’s the right thing to do.

      But I also know that I can be the safest, most considerate cyclist in the world, in the end it’ll make little difference.

      All it takes is one inattentive (or inconsiderate) driver and about three seconds. I’ve had my share of close calls in 18 years of cycling. It’s skill and fate, but mostly fate, why I haven’t been seriously injured by a car yet.

      I agree the jerk cyclists should straighten out, there would be fewer accidents overall. But it seems like the serious injuries and deaths are happening disproportionately to cyclists who were just riding along, and didn’t behave at all like entitled jerks.

  • http://dailygrind25.blogspot.com barbara

    Hi I love your blog. I’ve been saying the same thing for months about how drivers hate, hate, hate bicyclists and that they deliberately squeeze us out. I want to get involved in putting up ghost bikes but I don’t know how. Check out my blog at dailygrind25.blogspot.com thanks.

  • Sarah

    I think Christine’s post is an example of the distancing mechanisms we all use when faced with something that frightens us, the same way people immediately ask “were they wearing a seatbelt?” after hearing about a car crash. “I wear seatbelts, therefore this won’t happen to me” is the logic. But while I understand the impulse, I think it’s wrong-headed in this case. I’m a middle-aged woman who bikes everyday on a 40-pound upright bike. I ride slowly and with caution; I wear a helmet;I signal; I’m well-lit at night. And yet I shudder to think about the number of close calls I have while riding, due in large part to inattentive or reckless drivers who just don’t want to acknowledge that I’m there. I do think the new bike infrastructure is helping in a huge way, but obviously it’s not everywhere and maybe it gives some cyclists inflated expectations about safety or driver awareness. I do wonder whether the number of accidents is just due in part to sheer numbers–there are more bikes on the streets than ever before. Hoping that the end continues but that more is done to increase the education of drivers and cyclists on safe sharing of the roads.

  • Graham

    Casey, what can we do to make sure a ghost bike goes up? Is this something that a cyclists family and friends usually do, is it done by a bike activism group in Boston, how does this even work?

  • Phil Lindsay

    Despite the recent spate of deaths one suspects more folks have died in the same time while riding in motor vehicles. Plus the accident numbers don’t account for the increase in riders, so it’s actually safer now to ride than it was a while back. But hey, that’s a statistic. One thing too is that cars better get used to bikes because there are more every day not less. We’re all scofflaws riders, drivers and pedestrians. How to change that culture is something beyond us all at this point. Just improve the infrastructure to get more riders and it will continue to be safer for all of us. Especially if you think that every bike you see ISN’T a car.

  • Oscar

    I am a keen cyclist and have been cycling for 20 years. I have seen the number of cyclists on the road increase dramatically and yet the number of bike lanes has barely changed. I have been advocating on our group rides that we need to obey the same rules as the cars. I do think though that we need a critical mass ride – get 5 to 10,000 cyclists showing up and let the world see our numbers. Otherwise we are just one on a bike. We need a stronger voice and more visibility. I will be donating some $’s to Massbike and encouraging them to a) grow b) raise more money and c)have a stronger voice

  • http://jenniferbruni.com Jennifer Bruni

    thank you for writing about this important topic. Please keep it up. I just wrote a (respectful) letter to Mayor Menino about the urgent need to do something to make it safer for women and families to ride. Check it out! http://jenniferbruni.com/2012/10/02/reflections-of-an-urban-cyclista-part-2/

  • Lee

    DotBike installed a ghost bike to memorialize Doan Bui:
    One was also installed for Tanya Connelly:

    They are both terribly sad memorials. Hopefully they will remind cyclists that we need to behave predictably, not cut through intersections, weave through traffic or sneak up on drivers’ blind spots, and we need to use turn signals. Similarly, more drivers need to use their signals. And drivers should remember that each cyclist means one more parking space, and one less car in the way. It’s much easier to pass a bike than a car. We should all be able to get where we’re going safely.

  • http://www.twitter.com/renjender Ren Jender

    I wrote an article on cyclist deaths this past year in Boston on XOJane which I thought you might want to read http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/it-happened-to-me-five-cyclists-in-my-city-are-dead-and-i-feel-like-i-could-be-next