This is a letter I wish I did not have to write. How many ghost bikes must it take? How many lives need to be lost on our streets and memorialized? What will it take to move our elected leaders to take their citizens’ safety seriously?
In the wake of Friday’s fatal crash, which took the life of Cambridge resident, beloved children’s librarian, and long-time peace and environmental activist Paula Sharaga, I, and the Boston Cyclists Union team, share your pain, anguish and anger. We too are deeply saddened by this loss of life, and distressed by the tragedy that befalls families and communities when our elected leaders do too little, too late, to protect the most vulnerable people on our streets. While we grieve for any loss of life on our roads, this death has had a particularly acute impact on us as Paula was a longtime member of the Boston Cyclists Union (she joined in 2011) who touched the lives of so many through her work and activism, including many of our members who knew her well. Our hearts go out to her family and those close to her.
In this time of mourning, it is essential that we come together to honor a life lost, and to provide each other, and those who loved Paula, with solace and support. That’s why I want to invite you to join the bike community on Sunday, Feb. 24, for a Ghost Bike Ceremony where we will memorialize Paula, bring visibility to our collective loss, and call on our public officials to take urgent action to prevent future deaths and grievous injuries on our streets. All are welcome to attend, whether or not you knew Paula personally. We are fortunate to have a caring and compassionate community of cyclists, and banding together in times of sadness serves as a welcome reminder that we are not alone when riding in Boston.
Ghost Bike Ceremony for Paula Sharaga
Sunday, Feb. 24, 2-4 p.m.
Intersection of Brookline Avenue and Park Drive
I also want to take this time to update you on how we are responding to this deadly crash, and what steps we are asking legislators and officials to take.
Paula was killed in a crash with a cement truck while biking at the intersection of Brookline Ave. and Park Drive, a notoriously troublesome area with a high volume of heavy traffic and confusing entrances/exits, but zero bike facilities. This was also the third deadly bike crash in the last year and a half in Metro Boston — all of which involved impacts with large trucks — yet state and local officials with the power to effect change have yet to take the kind of immediate, bold action necessary to prevent future deaths on our roads.
In the immediate aftermath of this incident, we are pressing the Department of Conservation and Recreation (which manages the roadway at this crash site) and the Boston Transportation Department to work together to immediately assess how they can and will improve this dangerous, untenable intersection as well as the roads leading into it.
We are also calling on Mayor Walsh, in conjunction with the Boston delegation at the State House, to bring more urgency to bear behind statewide legislation to prevent traffic fatalities. There are multiple bills in this newly begun legislative session aimed at improving road safety, including measures to mandate higher safety standards for large trucks.
In addition, we are inviting Mayor Walsh, state legislators and agency leaders, and all local elected leaders to attend the Ghost Bike ceremony to feel the pain road violence inflicts on their constituents, and to witness the community and camaraderie we reaffirm in the face of tragedy.
At a time when it is easy to feel helpless and hopeless, joining us in these actions will demonstrate our strength and raise our collective voice to show our leaders that inaction is not an option. Here’s how you can help.
- Urge state lawmakers to pass truck safety legislation — Call or write your state reps (contact info here) and tell them to make An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities (SD847/HD1653) a priority. Please also CC us (email@example.com) so we can gauge our impact. Here’s a sample script:
- “Dear XXXX, as a constituent of yours who is deeply troubled by road violence and the state’s inaction on this issue, I am writing to urge you to press for passage of SD847/HD1653, An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities. This bill includes several key components, including mandates for higher safety standards for large trucks. Of the 18 cyclist fatalities in Boston and Cambridge over the past few years, 12 involved collisions with trucks, including this month’s fatal crash that killed Cambridge resident Paula Sharaga. In the UK, a side guard requirement resulted in a 61% drop in cyclist fatalities and a 20% drop in pedestrian fatalities. There is no excuse to not adopt this life-saving package of road safety improvements.”
- Invite Mayor Walsh and Boston City Councilors to attend the Ghost Bike ceremony and to increase Vision Zero funding — Please join us in emailing, calling and tweeting at Mayor Walsh (617-635-4500 / MAYOR@BOSTON.GOV) and your elected officials (contact info here) so they hear how deadly incidents like these deeply impact our community. Please also CC us (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can gauge our impact. With the city’s FY20 budget process underway, now is an opportune time to urge for increased funding for Vision Zero projects/policies and the strategic bike network. Here’s a sample script:
- “Dear Mayor Walsh/Councillor XXXX, Boston’s bike fatality rate outpaces the rate in comparable cities, a point tragically driven home by last week’s fatal crash that killed Paula Sharaga. I ask that you join Paula’s family, her loved ones, and the bike community this Sunday for a Ghost Bike Ceremony honoring Paula so you can see firsthand the trauma preventable road violence inflicts on your community. I also ask that you make a stronger commitment to funding Vision Zero projects and the strategic bike network as you finalize next year’s budget. We need real action — not more ghost bikes.”
- Sign the petition for a safer Brookline Ave. / Park Drive — The Longwood Area Cyclists have drafted a petition calling on the city to add protected bike lanes to this intersection, among other immediate steps to improve safety. You can add your signature here.
This tragedy underscored, yet again, the need for urgent action to make our streets safer for everyone, whether they drive, walk, bike or ride transit. We will continue to demand that lawmakers act now before the next preventable death, and we hope that you will continue to stand with us to show our strength in numbers.
Executive Director, Boston Cyclists Union