Mayor Walsh Wants ‘Truck Side Guards’ on All Vehicles Contracted by the City

The guards would keep cyclists from getting pulled under a vehicle's wheels in the event that a driver doesn't see them.

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

In late July, a Hubway cyclist traveling down Massachusetts Avenue in the South End was hit by a city-contracted trash truck as it went to make a right hand turn onto Columbus Avenue. The cyclist survived the accident, and it may have been due to just one detail: special safety guards that were installed on the sides of the vehicle as part of a pilot program launched by the city last year.

In 2013, through a collaboration between the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Public Works Department, officials said they undertook the largest municipal pilot program of truck side guards in the nation, testing three different types of guards on 16 active vehicles driving the streets, including trash collection trucks.

Officials also worked with researchers from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center in Kendall Square to sketch out the details for the proposed guard project, as well as City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, and members of the Boston Cyclists Union.

Now, a year later, Mayor Marty Walsh, based on the significant data compiled during pilot testing, has filed an ordinance that would require any large, city-owned trucks purchased after July 1, or trucks contracted out by departments, to be equipped with the safety rails running alongside the vehicles’ midsections, potentially saving the lives of other cyclists who make contact with them when navigating Boston’s narrow streets.

“They did their due diligence,” said Pete Stidman, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, a non-profit group that advocates for bike safety and urged the city to implement the ordinance. “It’s exciting to see the city take action on this.”

The ordinance, called an act to “Protect Vulnerable Road Users,” is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, and would mandate trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds to be outfitted with side guards to help protect cyclists, keeping them from being swept underneath the wheels in what’s known as a “right-hook” turn.

Since 2010, 11 cyclists in Boston have died as a result of crashes with motor vehicles. Seven of those incidents occurred between a cyclist and a large truck, according to city data. Adding the side guards would potentially help reduce that total.

“This ordinance will implement safety protections allowing drivers of large trucks to see in the areas in front of them where children and cyclists are invisible to the driver, and also to be able to see the sides better reducing the risk of incident involving cyclists, making Boston a safer place for all road users,” Walsh said in a statement.

An official from the Volpe Center, a federal agency that worked in coordination with the city, said based on two years worth of extensive research, guards have been proven to work. In England, mandated side guards on large trucks reduced cyclist and pedestrian deaths by 61 percent, and serious injuries by 13 percent, according to studies.

According to the details of Walsh’s proposal, which will go before the City Council Wednesday, the ordinance would impact all future contracts, and require companies to install convex mirrors, cross-over mirrors—the same as those found on school buses—and bright-colored blind-spot warning stickers on all vehicles.

Truck companies would have their vehicles inspected by the city and then be issued a permit, certifying the vehicle for two years. Safe guards typically last the lifetime of a vehicle, and only need to be installed once.

“Currently, the ordinance states the ISD will do vehicle inspection and BPD will assist with the enforcement,” said Kate Norton, a spokesperson from Walsh’s office. “The Transportation Department and Boston Bikes will assist with education, content expertise on best practices, and as the point of contact for constituent reporting.”

Those who don’t fall into compliance with the law would first face a $100 fine, and later a possible contract termination, she said. The ordinance will first be assigned to the appropriate City Council subcommittee, before officials take a vote. From there, if passed, the ordinance would go into effect 180 days later.

Stidman said not only was he pleased that the city moved fast to create the proposal, but also he was happy to see that it included extra safety measures as part of the overall plan.

“It’s very significant that this also includes blind spot mirrors. We had asked for this as well, but hadn’t known if the city would take that step,” he said. “It’s very positive and definitely positions Boston as a leader in truck safety through design. I’m going to be very happy to share this news with my colleagues.”

While other cities throughout the country have enacted laws that would require city-owned vehicles to be equipped with the guards, Boston is thought to be the first in the country to propose that it be mandatory for city-contracted vehicles as well.

Pressley, a driving force behind the plan, said the city can’t promote cycling without taking action, too. “I am happy to partner with Mayor Walsh and members of the Boston Cyclists Union on this first-in-the-country initiative, and call on the private companies operating large trucks on our city’s streets to follow suit,” she said.

You can read Walsh’s full proposal below:

Bike ordinance