MassBike Wants Officers to Be More Informed About Bike Laws

A new video gives police a lesson in what to look out for on the roads.

A new video produced by members of MassBike, the Department of Public Health’s Mass in Motion Program, and the Boston Police could become the standard tool for training officers across the state in how to handle the behavior of cyclists and drivers on the roads.

The 11-minute video, titled “Shifting Gears: Bicyclists and Public Safety,” is meant to educate police officials in both Boston and across Massachusetts about the rules of the streets, and how to identify scofflaws that may impede a cyclists right-of-way.

The video is also a small component of a larger project launched by the state on May 1, called the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Awareness and Enforcement Program. That plan, spearheaded by MassDOT, the Department of Public Health, WalkBoston, and MassBike, pumps nearly $500,000 of federal resources into strengthening education safety and awareness platforms in 12 communities statewide, to reduce the number of crashes involving bicycles and pedestrians.

The video, released Wednesday, teaches police about avoidable incidents such as “dooring,” where drivers swing open a car door without looking to see if a cyclist is traveling down a bike lane, the legalities of parking within bike lanes, and how drivers should yield to riders when taking a sharp left or right turn to avoid accidents.

It’s also geared toward cyclists, however. The video shows police that riders need to abide by strict laws as well, including having lights on at night, yielding to pedestrians, and not blowing red lights or traveling on busy sidewalks.

Officers from the BPD have welcomed the new tutorial. “With many more bicyclists using our roadways than ever before, and with numbers expected to continue growing, our duty as public safety officers is to promote safety for all road users,” said Boston Police Commissioner William Evans. “It is important for police departments to have the knowledge needed to correctly enforce laws for both motorists and bicycle riders. We think this video will be an effective tool to that end.”

According to officials from MassBike, the aim of the video is to knock all of this information into the heads of officers on patrol, to help keep cyclists from harm’s way. “It is intended for local police departments to use as training for officers to become familiar with or enhance their knowledge of bicyclist behavior and applicable laws, and motorist interactions with bicyclists and applicable laws,” a statement said.

David Watson, MassBike’s executive director, told Boston that the video is one part of a larger effort to call attention to the increase in biking interest in the Bay State, especially the Boston area. “There’s no better time to do it, this is when people’s attention is starting to get focused on biking. We all know a lot more people are out there when the weather is nice,” he said.

Watson said the video is important because it addresses a knowledge gap when it comes to practical information and new laws. “I think bringing this level of focus and investment to safety is a new thing, and I know everyone is going to be looking closely as we do this to see what is effective and not effective,” he said.

The video was released just days ahead of Bay State Bike Week, an initiative launched by Governor Deval Patrick and MassDOT to get people out of their cars, and onto two wheels.

Last year, MassBike officials joined State Sen. William Brownsberger and State Rep. Denise Provost on Beacon Hill to push for new laws that would slap drivers with stricter penalties if they’re caught idling in bike lanes on the sides of streets, blocking the right-of-way for cyclists, which is one of the issues covered in the video release.