A lot of ink has been spilt in the Boston Herald lately in an apparent attempt to generate a “war” between cyclists and motorists. The reporter is tapping into a curious resentment some drivers feel when they see cyclists doing things they’re not allowed to do themselves, and then running across the aisle to tap into the resentment many cyclists feel when they are forced to navigate cars double parked in their bike lanes.
In the froth he is irresponsibly creating by tying together fringe opinions on these disparate issues, someone could very well get hurt. And the truth of the situation is already lying mangled in the street…
A few times a year the union’s phone rings and on the other end of the line is someone calling from a local hospital, asking what they should do after one of their loved ones has been hit by a car. My heart jumps every time, because after 11 years getting to know as many people in Boston’s cycling community as I can, I have also had friends who have been injured and worse. I know how that feels. So when I turn around and see “Road Warriors” on the front page of the Herald and “Battle Rages on City Streets,” my first thought is: “How could they?”
And after a day of enjoying the sunshine and nodding to pedestrian and motorist alike as I pass by peacefully on my old ten speed, I think back to the article and think, “What Boston do they live in?” Sure, occasionally someone doesn’t see me or does something unpredictable and scary, but generally they didn’t mean to, and they usually mime “Sorry!” at me through the window
And then as I ponder what the reporter is trying to press in this mockery of enterprise journalism, fathoming his grossly malfunctioning logic, I think: “Nobody is really buying this, are they?”
I mean, one of the running themes in these articles is an implication that if cars are going to be ticketed for double parking, bicycles should then be subject to the same kind of moving violation tickets as cars are.
First of all, double parking and moving violations are clearly separate issues. Secondly, ticketing bikes the same as cars is akin to putting a bunny and a grizzly bear in the same cage for safe keeping.
Any five-year-old can tell you why this is a bad idea: The grizzly is a killer, the bunny is not. The bear would most likely turn his nose up at the steak and eat the bunny. The two animals clearly need different treatment, and in a similar way, so do bikes and cars.
While it is always a good idea for cyclists to take more care around pedestrians–give them a wide berth, ring a bell as a warning and so forth–data from Boston Emergency Medical Services show that bicycles rarely injure pedestrians. In fact, in a recent 10-month period cyclists injured only two pedestrians in the City of Boston in a grand total of eight bike vs. pedestrian crashes. (The cyclist was the one injured in the other six). Motor vehicles on the other hand were implicated in over 190 bike crashes and an estimated 600 pedestrian strikes.
Given those figures, is it so wrong for the BPD to be handing out helmets while smacking cyclists on the wrist for infractions? In the interest of “serve and protect” I think it fits in, as does ticketing cars that double park in the bike lane–which is really there to give cyclists a safe haven from them.
I applaud the Boston Police Department for their careful study of the situation on the ground and for crafting an appropriate response to it. If you do too, consider letting the mayor know at 617-635-4500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And this astute police behavior is no accident. The BPD has been particularly proactive in addressing bicycle safety since the Union helped identify Capt. Jack Danilecki, former head of the bike patrol, as a potential bike liaison for the department last year with the support of Supt. Daniel Linskey. Lt. Mike Santry in Jamaica Plain’s district E-13 has also stepped forward to help the cause.
Capt. Danilecki, myself, and representatives from a handful of other agencies as well as WalkBoston have lately been discussing ways to improve bike and pedestrian crash data collection and general safety. The union’s latest goal in this discussion, incidentally, is to help find a way the department can spare a few hours each month to redact personal information from the narrative reports on each bike crash’s incident report–thus allowing other city departments, such as the Boston Transportation Department and the Boston Public Health Commission as well as the Boston Cyclists Union’s own research team, to analyze and learn from it. With this key ingredient and other data available from EMS and emergency rooms , the City of Boston could become one of the best sources of information in the country on what factors are causing bike accidents and how we might prevent them.
All of this is part of the idea the Boston Cyclists Union and Mayor Thomas Menino seem to have in common lately: not to take sides against anyone in any “war,” but to work with constituents to make it safer on our city’s streets–whether we ride in a car, wheelchair, on bike, train or bus, or walk on our own two feet.