Last night Mayor Menino and the leaders of MassDOT, the MBTA, the Boston Police Department (BPD), Boston EMS, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Boston Bikes program and the Boston Transportation Department held a long and winding discussion with a crowd of hundreds of bicyclists and cycling advocates at Morse Auditorium on the Boston University Campus.
In preparation for this meeting, as you know from our previous posts here, the Boston Cyclists Union was pressing BPD, the Mayor’s office, and the MBTA for important changes in policy and infrastructure to help prevent more tragic bicycle crashes like the one that took 22-year-old Eric Hunt’s life earlier this month.
The Boston Cyclists Union asked for the routine collection of bicycle crash data for analysis from the BPD, improvements to S. Huntington and Huntington avenues where Hunt’s crash occurred on April 7, and improved training for MBTA bus drivers regarding cyclists.
We are happy to announce that BPD, BTD and MBTA have agreed to significant progress on all three of those fronts! We also feel confident that this time around, this is not just talk but the beginning of a real cultural shift in these agencies toward more respect and support for Boston’s cycling community.
Perhaps the most encouraging step of all was a promise from BPD commissioner Ed Davis and Chief Superintendent of Field Services Daniel Linskey to vastly improve our ability to collect data on bicycle crashes all over the city. This has been BCU priority #1 because with better data, we can begin to determine where and how the worst bike crashes are occurring and begin discussions on how they could be prevented with traffic calming, better street design, and other solutions.
After the meeting, Linskey detailed how BPD will tackle this problem in a discussion with BCU members Pete Stidman and Paola Ferrer, both of whom have experienced being hit by a car first-hand. In the short term, Linskey said, a drop down list will be added to the BPD database that will allow a “bicycle-related” designation at the data entry stage—when police incident reports are entered into the computer. This will allow the easy collection of these reports at any later date.
Then, 18 months from now, a new generation of City of Boston incident report forms will be introduced—all with a little hard-fought-for “bicycle related” check box. This check box will ensure that all bike crashes are designated as such by the officer at the scene of the crash.
In response to a question from BCU member Charlotte Burger, Commissioner Davis also agreed to make the resulting bike crash data publicly available, and discussed the possibility of including bike crashes on the department’s interactive ‘crime maps’ that are already in use at bpdnews.com.
And out of nowhere, really showing that the city is thinking ahead, Boston EMS, our emergency ambulance service in the city, is proactively working to separate bicyclists and pedestrians struck by motor vehicles on their forms—which are made out for every ambulance run made for any bike crash in the city.
These changes are a huge win-win for the cycling community and the City of Boston and we thank the BPD, Boston EMS and Mayor Menino for their leadership on this issue.Intersection improvements
BTD Commissioner Tom Tinlin and Boston Bikes coordinator Nicole Freedman also spoke to the start of process that will improve bicycle access and safety on S. Huntington Avenue from Centre Street all the way to Huntington Avenue, including that last key intersection were Eric Hunt was tragically killed. The BCU asked that this area of improvements be expanded to include the intersection of Huntington and Parker Hill Avenue, which actually has a higher rate of pedestrians and cyclists hit by motor vehicles than Huntington and S. Huntington, according to Boston EMS ambulance run data.
We understand, through conversations with the city, that these improvements could include traffic calming measures, big yellow signs warning cyclists about the danger of trolley tracks, and significant road-striping improvements to help organize traffic at intersections. We await these comprehensive plans for the area, and also continue to encourage the city to focus equal attention on slowing car traffic and beginning a redesign process at the intersection at Charles and Beacon streets, where a second cyclist was severely injured on April 8.
MBTA bus driver training
MassDOT CEO Jeff Mullan and MBTA General Manager Rich Davey also announced the addition of bicycle scenarios to the MBTA’s bus driving simulator, which is used to train new bus drivers. This is an early result of a combined advocacy effort between the Boston Cyclists Union, MassBike and the Livable Street Alliance, in collaboration with the MBTA, the City of Boston and the City of Cambridge, that will look at comprehensive improvements not only with the training program for new bus drivers but also for an upcoming training and recertification of all MBTA bus drivers.
As nearly all cyclists know from personal experience, this is a very important issue. We at the BCU are very excited to be part of a process to improve bus driver/cyclist relations and encouraged by Mullan and Davey’s early support in the process.
The BCU is recommending that, as part of the research that would go into improving the training program, a series of bus driver/cyclist “safe space” discussions based on the successful model of the City Wide Dialogues used by the Boston Police Department’s to talk with youth as part of their citywide community policing effort.
Creating a place where drivers and cyclists can freely talk about their frustrations with each other could teach us a great deal about how we might be able to change behavior that endangers cyclists or angers bus drivers.
The city also discussed a new police “balanced enforcement” effort aimed at both cyclists and drivers. The details are still vague but as we understand it from the meeting, cyclists recklessly endangering themselves, pedestrians or drivers will be given stern warnings and possibly tickets when they break traffic laws. The BCU is recommending that all cyclists be on their best behavior out there, both as a way to avoid tickets and as a way to show faith in the city’s new direction.
The fewer infractions we pile up as a community, the more attention BPD can focus on auto traffic!
Several cyclists suggested lowering residential speed limits to 20 miles per hour (a speed that has only a 5% risk of mortality when a pedestrian or cyclist is hit), and the BCU is squarely behind that long-term goal. In the short term, we are encouraging the BPD to crack down on speeding in the city and to heavily enforce the Mayor’s new $100 fine for double-parking in a bike lane. Even when a driver is present in a vehicle that is idling, blocking a bike lane poses a tremendous hazard to cyclists and only strong and consistent enforcement can stop the practice.
Commissioner Davis agreed to enforce these laws, though it is still unclear how and under what circumstances the tickets will be handed out. The BCU is encouraging the cycling community to collectively monitor this by calling 911 when a motorist is stopped in a bike lane, to observe the action a responding officer takes when he or she arrives, and to report that action back to the BCU (see our contact information here.)
There were also a wide variety of other well-received comments at the meeting, including a proposal to vastly improve the bike path connections along the Emerald Necklace, ways to encourage helmet use, and slowing down the stoplight timing along Massachusetts Avenue (hands down the city’s most dangerous corridor) to reflect a 20 mile per hour traffic speed rather than a 30 mile per hour speed. The city was taking notes, and so were the BCU and other advocacy groups. With time, it is clear, the city of Boston can become a community well-known for embracing cycling as a safe, enjoyable and beneficial way of getting around town. These are still our first pedal-strokes down that road, but we are gaining speed.