Connolly: Let’s Talk About Bike Infrastructure and Safety

The mayoral candidate is calling for a public hearing to discuss the future of city cycling.

Photo via Flickr.

Photo via Flickr.

As the warm weather slowly begins to creep back to Boston, more bikes will begin popping up along the roadways and paths connecting various city points, which makes it a perfect time to start discussing bike safety once again.

City Councilor and mayoral candidate John Connolly has filed a request to convene a public hearing to talk about Boston’s bike infrastructure and how it can be improved. According to Connolly, the purpose of the hearing will be to devise a long-term strategy for planning, funding, and implementing projects to expand the current cycling infrastructure. In a statement, he said that the city’s budget for bicycle infrastructure is “insufficient to fully implement all essential new projects,” including cycle tracks on Malcolm X Boulevard and around the Boston Public Garden.

Talks about cycle tracks in the city was a topic on the forefront of nearly every city officials’ mind last year, after five cyclists were killed traveling through Boston. Since then, figuring out how to make Boston a more bike-friendly city has landed in the hands of entrepreneurs, as well as students.

Last week, students from Harvard’s School of Public Health met with Connolly’s colleagues to pitch an idea that would help the city find the trouble spots on the roads where cyclists and cars can’t coexist easily. The group of four students, who won HSPH’s second annual Spring Challenge, a Harvard-wide policy writing competition, came up with “the development of a system to improve the way that bicycle safety data, such as ridership volume, crash reports, and injury severity is collected, shared, and used in the city,” according to a story posted on the university’s website.

During the students’ presentation with the city, they stepped outside of merely examining Boston’s current bike infrastructure and offered a way to improve safety standards in the future, claiming that “no comprehensive data exists to help city policy makers prioritize interventions or know whether or not those they try are effective.”

According to the group’s faculty adviser, David Hemenway, of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center:

“The first step in the public health approach is to get the data, so you know what to do, you can intervene, and then you can evaluate what you did. Without that, it’s very hard to succeed.”

If implemented by officials from Mayor Tom Menino’s office and city councilors, the system would compile a database of information based on independent reports currently controlled by the EMS, police and fire department officials. It would also call for the use of a new camera system in certain parts of the city, so that analysts could identify ridership volume and crash statistics.

Councilor Felix Arroyo, who was at the May 1 presentation, says the students reemphasized points that have come up before about examining existing data to know how successful changes need to be made. “The real big idea is to get all the big data reporting—just get it all together so we know exactly where the safest, and on the other side of that coin, the unsafest parts of city are for bikes,” says Arroyo. “What I’m hoping to do quickly is the data gathering part. The data is already there, and it exists.”

Arroyo, also a mayoral candidate, says using that data would allow the city to pinpoint exactly where the most accidents are and what type of accidents they are. He plans on continuing to work with the Harvard students and anyone else who has ideas on how Boston can make bicycling safer. “Government should really listen to the community and those ideas [the community has] on how to do things better. And when there is an agreement between the two … then we should do it.”