Should Boston Overhaul Streets for Bikes?

After yet another bicyclist death, the city considers its infrastructure.

Are cycle tracks/protected bike lanes coming to Boston? (Photo via Wikimedia/Jim.henderson)

Last Thursday, Boston University student Christopher Weigl was killed due to an accident with a tractor trailer on Commonwealth Ave. It was the fifth traffic-related death of a bicyclist this year, and sadly, occurred on the same day that City Council was holding a public hearing on bike safety.

That public hearing resulted in a commitment from Kris Carter, interim head of the city’s “Boston Bikes” program, to release three years of bike-crash data from the police. Believe it or not, we don’t know why bikers are getting into road accidents in Boston, despite that fact that there were nearly 600 bike-related accidents that required medical services between January 1 and November 13. This new information will allow the Boston Cyclists Union and transportation planners to study the causes of road crashes: Are cars hitting bikes during right turns? Doorings? Bicyclists running red lights? Cars illegally parked in bike lanes?

That data will be incredibly helpful, and it may provide biking advocates with strong evidence that the city needs to make some big changes. As in: Overhauling our current street infrastructure.

So far, Boston has mostly relied on bike lanes, of which we’ve painted 50 new miles over the past few years. Bike lanes are pretty helpful when it comes to safety: As Casey Lyons pointed out in October, a study by the American Journal of Public Health found that bikers using bike lanes are 50 percent less likely to have a hospital-worthy injury. But bike lanes, as city councilor Felix Arroyo told NECN, are really just paint on the street.

The best way to curtail injuries would be placing “cycle tracks,” which are physically separated, bike-only paths, on major streets like Commonwealth Ave. Cycle tracks protect bikers from the main flow of traffic, and were found by that same American Journal of Public Health study to reduce injuries by a stunning 90 percent.

Of course, construction of cycle tracks would require the removal of either traffic lanes or parking, which would spark a major political fight from drivers. Still, they have some powerful advocates, including Arroyo and City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley, who told Back Bay Patch last week that she’d like to learn more about the option: “I would like to explore measures to increase the safety of bicycle riders while simultaneously limiting the negative impacts on parking and traffic. Specifically, I want to discuss the feasibility of real infrastructure improvements, such as bike lane barriers.”

Granted: We can’t build cycle tracks everywhere. But a select few, on streets like Commonwealth Ave, would go a long way to cutting down on injuries—and deaths.

  • Mark

    No let’s keep it as dangerous as possible
    for bikes so that more people will choose to drive. That way there will be more death and pollution. And it will encourage the sedentary lifestyles that result in increased health care costs. Everyone in Boston should have two cars, since it is the easiest city in the world to drive in, and bikes should be outlawed. Why would anyone want to get everywhere faster than they can in a car in the first place? It doesn’t male sense. Much better to drive and deal with traffic and be late for everything and destroy civilization and text about it while you mow down pedestrians. I like that plan.

  • http://BostonMagazine Susan Carter

    Absolutely NOT!!!! They made “bike lanes” in my town and I have yet to see a bike in them. Waste of time and money!!!! Cars rule!

    • greenlife

      I disagree with you. Cars pollute the environment, increase the obesity rate, and take up more space than bikes on the road. Also, there tends to be more car accidents than bike accidents, so the better choice is obviously to convert all car lanes to bike lanes + walking paths. Why don’t you give biking a try and encourage your town to do so?

  • Boston Rider

    Correction. Bike lanes do not require the removal of a “traffic lane.” Bicycles are traffic, so the number of traffic lanes remain the same. Only the number of motor vehicle lanes are reduced. Small point, but words matter. Bicycles are transportation.

    • Mary

      Grenlufe, as biking is the cause of a third or more of all accidents in Boston Proper, You cyclist are a menace to the road. You cyclist should be banned from the road. Unless you obtain a license, pay a road tax, and insurance!
      Bostonrider, They do reduce traffic lanes cyclists are not traffic. They also reduce parking for the city in some locations with more to come. People drive and should continue to do so. Bicycles are a danger to everyone but mostly to themselves.
      Stephanie, actually almost all statistic prove that the cyclist is at fault in around 85% of the accidents in this city and 99% when death is involved.

  • Beatrice Nessen

    It would help decrease bicycle accidents if bicyclists obeyed the rules of the road, such as stopping at red lights, abiding by one way directgions. Pedestrians also get injured when bicyclists travel the wrong way on one way streets, don’t come to a full stop at traffic lights, and keep off the sidewalks.

    • Stephanie

      This comment gets me all the time, and exemplifies the major divide between cyclists and drivers…cars are CONSTANTLY going through red lights, speeding up when they see a yellow, going on red when it clearly states, “No turn on red”, etc. While I think both parties are just as guilty as the other, this isn’t a solution to preventing further accidents. It seems that all too often, the cyclist is blamed for their own death, when in reality they were not in the wrong. I shake my head when I see cyclists ignoring the rules of the road, but I do just the same when I see a car ignoring the rules too.

  • Boston Traveler

    Perhaps we should look at other older north american cities? Montreal has amazing bike lanes through out the city. Some of them take up more room than others, but they don’t have to take up too much space at all or take away motor vehicle traffic or parking!

  • Joshua decosta

    Bike lanes will promote and create more opportunity to bike safely in town. Cycle tracks like Montreal and the ones in Europe will increase safety. Drivers in Boston are aggressive and feel like they own the road. As nice as having bike lanes on mass ave its still dangerous with people swinging their doors open (WHY DO PEOPLE SWING THEIR DOORS OPEN SO VIOLENTLY!)

  • Matt

    Cycle tracks are better than bike lanes for the same reasons that sidewalks are better than having people walk in the street, among cars. Please build more.

  • Mary

    Bike lanes, or “cycle tracks” are a complete waste of time and money. What Boston needs to do is actually send BPD out in force to ticket every single cyclist driving through the city! The cyclist cause 99% of all their own accidents by not obeying road rules. They mow pedestrians down, blow red lights, stop signs, pedestrian lights, they jump across all lanes of traffic no matter how many lanes are on the road, wrong way down one ways the list could go on and on. They are a danger to themselves as well as everyone else. They have no respect for the rules of the road. As Mark stated of course they can get to where they need to faster because they disobey all road laws. They should be required some kind of licensing, and insurance should be mandatory as well. And there needs to be a way for the fines they receive to be enforced so they are paid!

    • Stephanie

      Mary, they can’t/don’t do that for drivers, how would you like them to do that for cyclists? And I know the cyclists you’re talking about, but don’t put all of us in that category. I stop at every red light, crosswalk, etc. Even following all of the rules, I have been hit a couple of times because drivers (not all) are not looking for cyclists, or could care less if they hit us…especially those that are in a hurry to run the next red light.

      • Mary

        Stephanie, I beg to differ with you especially downtown. Yes the police do ticket offenders when they catch them in the act. The problem is the police have no legal standing to actually ticket a cyclist. The problem with cyclist and no not all but the majority of them is that they have no regard for anyone around them, they believe that it is with in their rights to not obey road laws. I drive Comm Ave almost every day I can count on two hands in the past 6 months how many cyclist I have seen stop at any of the lights along that stretch of road. In my commute down Comm Ave on any given weekday I see 60 to 70 different cyclist in 20 minutes during rush hour drive time. Just last week I saw three auto accidents caused by these cyclist who blew red lights and caused cars smash into one another to avoid running the cyclist over. You know what the cyclist does flips the bird says Foff and keeps on driving.