An Inaugural Bike Adventure: Montreal to Boston!

The Boston Cyclists Union is very lucky to have members and volunteers who are so dedicated to our work.  At the start of 2016, a few Bike Union volunteers got together, with Community Organizer Doug Johnson, to hatch a plan to host the Boston Cyclists Union’s very first ride – and not just another fun day trip, a multi-day fundraising bike ride!

On Wednesday May 25th, Team Bike Union will begin an exciting 400 mile journey from Montreal to Boston in an attempt raise $15,000 for the Boston Cyclists Union! The first annual MB400 will take our riders from the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Montreal across Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains before they arrive back at Christopher Columbus Park in Boston on Memorial Day. That evening, there will be an after party celebrating Team Bike Union’s return at long time Bike Union supporter Flat Top Johnny’s. Please come and join us!


Funds raised by the ride will go to support the BCU’s three key strategic priorities, which are:

  • Our Bikeways for Everybody Campaign, which is to create connected, cross-region, low stress bike routes that are either protected bike lanes or off-street paths, so that people of all ages and abilities can be comfortable riding a bike as a sustainable & healthy mode of transportation;
  • Vision Zero, to make the streets safer for people biking and for all road users. The goal is to reduce traffic fatalities to zero through policy changes and designing safer roadway infrastructure;
  • Bike to Market and our indoor Bike Workshop, which allow us to teach bike repair skills and fix bikes for free in neighborhoods without bike shops and in communities that otherwise may not be able to afford to pay for work to be done on their bikes.

Do you want to support the 14 riders as they go on their journey and the work of the Boston Cyclists Union? You can meet each of the riders and contribute to the ride’s general fund by clicking here. Thank you for your support and for helping us make Boston a world class city for living and biking!

Last chance to Save the Green Line Extension and Community Path!

This is it.  With the Green Line Extension (GLX) Project facing a steep budgetary shortfall, MassDOT has been looking for ways to trim costs, including eliminating part or all of the proposed Somerville Community Path Extension (CPX) between Lowell St and Lechmere.

THANK YOU to those of you who have attended and spoken out at meetings, written to elected officials, and fought hard to preserve the Green Line Extension (GLX) and Community Path Extension (CPX).GLX

However, the fight is not over.

There will be a meeting this Monday, May 9 at 1:00 PM of the MassDOT Board of Directors and MBTA Fiscal & Management Control Board (key decision makers on the GLX) at the State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza in Boston.

At this meeting, the Mass DOT / MBTA Boards will consider recommendations for GLX & CPX cost reductions, budget and schedule.  We need you to express continued support to ensure that the whole project is built – both GLX branches, to Union Square and Route 16 – and the Community Path Extension is completed in its entirety.  This is a project that the community has been fighting for for decades.  The Green Line Extension and Community Path Extension will address a lack of transit access for East Somerville and Medford and air quality issues affecting the region.  We need this project to make biking as a means of transportation more accessible, not less.  The community path must be kept off of the street, to bring people biking further away from exposure to highway pollution.  The volume of people who bike to Alewife and Davis Square T stations is evidence that the Community Path will bring value added to the entire project – value that is jeopardized if the Path design is degraded to a form that is not safe or comfortable for people to ride.

The Friends of the Community Path have come up with an alternative CPX design that is within the budget for the path and meets the most important desired criteria.  DEMAND that the state to listen to the voices of the community.

 The Mayors of Somerville and Cambridge are pledging $75 million to help ensure the project continues, though they should not have had to and it still might not be enough.  Let your voice be heard.

MBTA and MassDOT Board Meeting
Monday, May 9th, 1pm
State Transportation Building,
10 Park Plaza, Boston

Public Comment will begin at 1pm

You can read more about the meeting and project by going to the Somerville STEP website.  

Duck boats - Unsafe for our city streets?

By Peter Furth

Duck boat on motor scooter_1462036950440_4058869_ver1.0_640_360

The motor scooter underneath the front wheel of Duck Boat involved in Saturday’s collision. Source: Fox 25

On April 30, a duck boat ran over a scooter that was right in front of it, killing the scooter’s operator, Allison Warmuth. Both she and the duck boat were at a red light on Charles Street at a corner of Boston Common, with scooter lined up directly ahead of duck boat, waiting in a right-turn-only lane to turn onto Beacon Street. When the light turned green, both vehicles started to move, but the duck boat accelerated faster than the scooter and ran it over. 

People are calling it a “terrible tragedy.” Those sympathetic words usually come from a feeling of helplessness, a feeling that nobody could have done anything to prevent it. Considering it a freak accident, unpredictable and therefore essentially unavoidable, is a story that fits in well with the old way of thinking. We wring our hands and lament the loss, but then things continue without any change.

Another side of the old way of thinking is to wait for statistical evidence before making a conclusion. This is the first serious crash of this type from a duck boat in Boston, so how could we conclude that duck boats operating on city streets are inherently unsafe?

This old way of thinking stands in stark opposition to Vision Zero, the “safe system approach” to traffic that originated in Europe and that Boston adopted in 2015. Vision Zero is premised on the ideas that society should not put up with a traffic system in which human errors lead to death and serious injury, that nearly all serious crashes are manifestation of safety risks that can be identified and neutralized, and that it is the responsibility of the traffic system to neutralize those risks.

DUKWblindNobody imagines that the duck boat operator intended to run somebody over; it is obvious that the operator didn’t see the scooter ahead of it. And even a casual look at a duck boat makes it obvious how that could happen – the operator is positioned high above the ground, with the deck of the duck boat extending 10 ft beyond the windshield, creating a large blind spot directly ahead of the vehicle. And because the operator sits on the left side of the vehicle, the blind spot is particularly large at the right front corner.
Is a blind spot directly ahead of a tall vehicle always a safety risk? Not while a vehicle is moving forward at a good speed – at 15 miles per hour, the area that would be its blind spot now would have been clearly visible only 1 second ago, and in 1 second it’s hard to imagine anybody entering that blind spot unnoticed. But when a tall vehicle is stopped, it’s easy for somebody to enter that blind spot – or for a person who was already there to be forgotten and then go unnoticed. That’s what happened on Nov 11, 2000, to Ruth Michler, a math professor who was a visiting scholar at Northeastern University. She was at the curb waiting at a red light for Forsyth Street where it meets Huntington Avenue, when a construction vehicle known as a cherry picker turned right on red and just ran her over. And now that’s what happened to Allison Warmuth.

Duck boats also have two of the factors that makes trucks so deadly in right turn crashes with bicycles –heavy weight and exposed wheels that allow them to run over a person and kill them even a low speed. Even more striking, duck boats lack the front bumper that nearly all other vehicles have that will push somebody out of the way before running them over. Combine those well-understood safety factors with a large blind spot, and there is strong and clear safety risk when duck boats are starting to move and when they are turning right.  There have been other, similar scenarios, where a duck boat started from a stop and the driver’s ability to see a motorcyclist or other car was compromised, resulting in a fatal or serious crash.

So should duck boats be banned? Temporarily, yes – they are a clear and present danger to public health. But as a permanent solution, we shouldn’t have to choose between safety and duck boats, which are a part of Boston’s culture and tourism draw, something that reminds us that we’re a city linked to the water. We want both culture and safety, and we can have both. If the City insists that the duck boats neutralize their well-understood safety risks, does anybody doubt that technology and creative engineering can meet that challenge? Blind spot cameras have become routine on some vehicles. Bumpers and side guards can be added. And who knows what other creative solutions people might find? Solutions will cost something, to be sure, which will increase the cost of duck boat tours, but not enough to force the duck boats out of business. And if we care about safety, that means we’re willing to pay a little more for safety. Whether on foot, on a bike, on a scooter, or in a car, people have a right to a safe road system, and our government regulators should protect that right.


After a fatal crash in Seattle with a duck boat that killed 5 people, in September of 2015, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray grounded the duck boats temporarily and called for them to be taken off the streets.  City leaders also pressed for them to be required to be staffed by two people – so the driver was not also the “entertainer.”  When we stick to the policy that one life is too many, it doesn’t seem like too high a cost to ask the duck boat companies to come up with an engineered solution – some combination of mirrors / cameras / audio alerts / side guards – to exist on our city streets more safely.  You should write to City Councilors and the Mayor’s office to ask them to demand duck boat safety improved before they’re allowed to roam our streets.

You can listen to Peter Furth speak more on the topic of vision zero and duck boat safety – and the idea that we should not have to choose one or the other – in this WBUR interview.  




The Bike Union welcomes Becca Wolfson to permanently serve as Executive Director!

Dear Members and Friends,
The Boston Cyclists Union’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Rebecca Wolfson, who has served as Interim Executive Director of the Union since fall of 2015, has been named as the Union’s next Executive Director effective immediately.  Since assuming the role of interim ED, Becca has proven herself an able and passionate steward for the Union, establishing herself as a leader in the Boston cycling community, working actively as a member of Boston’s Vision Zero Task Force, building relationships at the city and state level, and leading advocacy initiatives across Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville.
The Board has expressed its full support for Becca as she leads the Union into its fifth exciting and eventful summer season. The agenda this year includes: rollout of our Bikeways for Everybody campaign, expansion of our Bike to Market program, continued efforts to create safer and more welcoming bicycle facilities on our city streets, and major progress on the aforementioned Vision Zero campaign, in which we have been engaged with municipal and advocacy partners.
Becca Climate Ride
Becca on the Bike Union’s Climate Ride team
Becca describes her vision for herwork as BCU’s ED as follows: “As a year-round bike commuter, I know the joy of getting around on two wheels.  I also know firsthand of the dangers and discomfort faced by many of the region’s residents who bike or who would bike if road conditions were safer.  It’s my goal to work hard to continue to advocate so those two realities can be reconciled, and residents across the region have safe, connected facilities for biking as a means of transportation.  I am also constantly inspired by the people who make up the area’s bike community.  The advocacy and promotion of bike culture here are strong, and I want the Boston Cyclists Union to continue to play a role in helping both to grow and thrive even more. To build community, we must continue to bring together a broad range of partners, and I am excited to be taking that on.”
Prior to joining the Union, Becca worked with the Massachusetts Service Alliance and Americorps Cape Cod, where she was closely involved in environmental initiatives, community outreach, program development and grant management.  A graduate of the University of Rochester, she is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Urban Policy & Planning at Tufts University.  She has served on the board of the Bike Union since 2013, participated in the Climate Ride twice on Team Bike Union, and has been bicycling the streets of Greater Boston since 2012.  While many of you know Becca already, she looks forward to meeting many more of you, including at our annual Spring Kickoff event (and 5-Year Anniversary!) on May 17th.

Cycle on,

Steven Bercu
Board President