Cambridge Is Also Looking at Installing ‘Side Guards’ on Large Trucks

Could Boston set the wheels in motion to make biking on city streets safer throughout the state? Cambridge officials hope so.

Photo by Steve Annear

In July, a Hubway cyclist was hit by a truck in the South End. / Photo by Steve Annear

Cambridge officials are following Mayor Marty Walsh’s lead in calling for all city-owned trucks, and trucks contracted out to perform certain services on the roads, to be outfitted with safety “side guards” to prevent bikers from being pulled under a vehicle’s wheels in the event of a collision.

During a City Council meeting on Monday night, elected officials referred a policy order to the Transportation Committee, asking that a public hearing be held to “confer with all relevant staff to determine if efforts to implement truck side guards could be deployed more broadly” on all large vehicles passing through Cambridge.

The proposal, which was presented by Councilor Dennis Carlone, would ideally expand upon the city’s current pilot program by teaming up with researchers from MIT and the United States Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center in Kendall Square to design a more advanced method of insuring the safety of pedestrians and cyclists who come into contact with trucks.

“This was on our list of things to do this year, and all of this just came together,” said Carlone. “In the mornings, all the bikes on the streets—especially going toward Kendall—outnumber cars. The city is doing a good job, but we need to do more.”

Carlone said his wish to make it mandatory for vehicles to be equipped with the safety guards was spurred by a number of recent accidents, including one in Cambridge where a cyclist sustained a leg injury after being hit by a truck, and another in Boston’s South End where a cyclist walked away with minor injuries after being hit by a truck with side guards. Carlone said he was also inspired by Boston’s recent push to make it a requirement for vehicles to have the guards in place.

Earlier this month, Walsh, with the help of Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, filed a first-of-its-kind ordinance that, if passed, 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 midsection. Walsh’s ordinance would also require trucks to be equipped with special mirrors.

“I give Boston a lot of credit for this. We are using it as a springboard for pedestrian and bicyclist safety throughout [Cambridge],” said Carlone. “I think there is interest in this. The time has come, and Boston’s stance has certainly helped push it to the forefront.”

Researchers have said that side guards on trucks have helped prevent cyclist fatalities because they push riders away from the vehicle, rather than pull them under a truck’s tires. Alex Epstein, a veteran of truck safety design who works out of the Volpe Center, attended the meeting Monday night and advocated for Carlone’s proposal. Epstein was essential in working with Boston officials to roll out a pilot program where 16 vehicles were equipped with safety guards last year.

Carlone hopes that his ordinance, as well as Walsh’s proposal, puts the ball in motion for similar street-safety standards to be adopted in other cities and towns statewide.

“I would hope so. That would be the goal,” he said.

With his ordinance heading to Cambridge’s Transportation Committee, a spokesman from Carlone’s office said it’s a productive step in the right direction that will allow city staff, local advocates, residents, and safety experts to come to the table and discuss ways to expand and accelerate these efforts.


Update, September 17, 9 a.m.: Adjusted details in the fifth paragraph and added a photo caption, both which help to clarify the two Cambridge and South End bike accidents described in this story.