BCU thanks Mayor Menino, urges caution on enforcement plan

Deputy Superintendent Nora Baston

Deputy Superintendent Nora Baston became the first Boston Police Department representative appointed to the Boston Bikes Advisory Group earlier this week, thanks to the advocacy of the Boston Cyclists' Union.

The BCU commends Mayor Thomas Menino, Boston Police Department Commissioner Ed Davis, and all BPD officers and staff for taking a positive step toward routinely compiling police incident reports of bicyclists hit by motor vehicles, and for adding BPD deputy superintendent Nora Baston to the Boston Bikes Advisory Group. Thank you for granting our requests and paying attention to this important issue.

The more we know about how and where bicycle accidents occur, the more we can do to prevent them by improving road designs, calming traffic, or crafting other solutions. In our opinion, the lack of a comprehensive database of motor vehicle/cyclist accidents that includes where and how they occur is one of the most formidable obstacles to improving bicycle safety in our city today.

We must also urge caution in the city’s new “focused enforcement effort.” While well intentioned, enforcement against cyclists may miss the mark.

More important steps for safety are driver’s education, better road design, and traffic calming to bring motor vehicle speeds down to levels that are less likely to kill when accidents do occur.

We remind our city officials that traffic laws are most often written exclusively for cars and do not and should not always apply to bicycles. More vulnerable vehicles call for different rules.

We urge our Boston Police Officers to use judgment when they enforce the rules of the road.

If a cyclist is obviously endangering themselves or others, their behavior needs to be reprimanded. But if a cyclist has technically broken a law in such a fashion as to be completely safe to him or her self and all other road users, consider the fact that they may be acting in the interest of their own safety over the letter of the law, which has not yet adjusted to our increased cycling rate.

Stronger enforcement of motorists behavior toward cyclists would make sense, but there are only a few clear examples of this that could easily be enforced more than it is presently—such as delivering $100 tickets to anyone idling or double-parking, if even for moment, in a marked bike lane. This problem is rampant and endangers the lives of cyclists who must make last-minute maneuvers to avoid these scofflaws.

Enforcement on cars is key because studies have shown that motor vehicles are far more often at fault than cyclists when the two collide.

One way that enforcement on cyclists may backfire derives from the fact that vehicles making right hand turns and suddenly opening car doors are the most frequent causes of accidents involving bicycles. Cyclists routinely avoid these hazards by carefully crossing against a red light and getting ahead of traffic, so they can ride outside of the door zone and away from potential right-turning cars. Thus, somewhat counter intuitively, ticketing these safe riders could cause a change in behavior that would be hazardous.

“Female bicyclists in England are being killed at a higher rate than males because females wait for the green light to proceed and then are hit by turning trucks,” said Anne Lusk, a Research Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and active supporter of the BCU. She suggests that the majority of car drivers and bicyclists are conscientious and that warnings, instead of tickets, would improve safety, increase bicycling, and foster good will.

The greatest danger in taking the enforcement route is that it could jeopardize the progress the city has made in increasing Boston’s cycling rate. The quickest route to cyclist safety is the “Safety in Numbers” effect. Every city and country that has seen an increased cycling rate has also seen a corresponding reduction in the rate of fatal accidents or injuries from motor vehicle/bicycle accidents. We do not want to stunt the modest growth in cycling the city has been influenced already with an overzealous enforcement effort.

We look forward to discussing this further at the Mayor’s safety summit on April 21, 5:30 p.m.. at Boston University’s Morse Auditorium and we appreciate that opportunity to speak being offered to all cyclists.


  1. […] Anne Lusk made an interesting comment on red lights: (quote is here): Female bicyclists in England are being killed at a higher rate than males because females wait […]

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