Who wants to ride a bike in Boston? | Viewpoint

Bostonians hate a lot of things, that’s what I’ve learned since moving here. But no group has drawn the outright and unbridled anger of Massachusetts drivers quite as much as cyclists.

Drivers wonder why cyclists are so concerned about their safety. After all, they assert, there are now plenty of bike lanes painted green for cars to see clearly. If cyclists avoid these lanes and decide to cut into dangerous intersections, that’s their business.

But this reasoning obscures the reality of the car-bike relationship and how they tend to share the road.

The cyclists I saw around Harvard Square were very alert and alert. They ride here at the risk of their safety, with little infrastructure to protect them. Despite having separate bike lanes in some places, our campus streets are nowhere near as effective at protecting cyclists. They were traveling at 10 to 15 miles per hour, with cars on the left and right traveling twice as fast. Where bike lanes are on sidewalks are not graded separations, but flimsy barriers and paint markings.

Lack of these basic functions can be fatal. Unfortunately, it has.

In 2020, a truck killed a cyclist outside Harvard Station. Just this summer, two more cyclists were killed in our area. From Porter Square to Inman Square, a frustrating and predictable pattern emerged: Our poor cycling infrastructure has increased the number of reported crashes, injuries and deaths. Worst of all, it all happened within a few square miles.

I would know how dangerous painted bike paths are because I have ridden them. One night, my friends and I decided to cycle from Harvard Square to the new SEAS building in Allston. This takes us through the aforementioned Kennedy Street bike path. It’s hard to appreciate how fast a car is and how much bigger it is until you’re fully exposed three feet away from one. On campus, I witnessed drivers hit pedestrians on crosswalks, and cyclists swerved to avoid cars that were driving into unprotected bike lanes.

Boston and Cambridge have the highest bicycling fatalities in Massachusetts. These deaths are not anomalous accidents – they are policy mistakes.

We know how to prevent cycling injuries, and the solutions are simple and inexpensive. But when advocates tout these solutions at city council meetings or community events, they’re less sure what residents’ expectations are. Even though our area is one of the best places to ride a bike in America, bicycling is still polarized here.

Some organizations are working to change that sentiment. In Cambridge we have Cambridge Bike Safety, an organisation working to improve the local cycling infrastructure. CBS’ work and advocacy led the city to pass the country’s first bicycle safety ordinance in 2019. The ordinance guarantees protected bike lanes on many streets from Massachusetts Avenue to Cambridge Street for the next five years.

The group was formed in response to the death of Amanda Phillips in 2016. Phillips, a student at MGH’s Institute of Health Professions, was cycling in Inman Square when a jeep driver opened the door and hit her. She fell into the trail of a beautification truck. Her death, and that of another cyclist four months later, accelerated discussions around cycling infrastructure. As a result of these discussions and CBS’s advocacy efforts, the city of Cambridge installed protected bike lanes between Inman Square and Harvard Square, including the area where Amanda Phillips died.

Six years on, these improvements have helped reduce cycling injuries.

Opening the door to a bike lane is a small mistake that can put cyclists at risk. Such behavior is ingrained in our driving culture. Cars pull into bike lanes to pick up food; trucks do so to deliver supplies. These are not always conscious actions, but they can have serious consequences.

These serious consequences go beyond physical consequences. They tend to weaken public perceptions of bike safety, making it more difficult and stressful for people to get on the road and ride their bikes. Therefore, organize and support residents to get involved and promote bicycle infrastructure that protects public safety.

In Cambridge, cycleway projects under the Bike Safety Ordinance are usually initiated by council staff. They reached out to neighbors and residents and announced that a project was coming. Over time, outreach has improved, and more residents are paying attention to the changes to the street. I went to some project meetings, and employees listened to feedback and conducted surveys. Along the way, they’ll iterate on designs, show them to residents, and get additional feedback.

Residents seem optimistic. While online discussions around cycling have degenerated into stereotypes and accusations, real-world surveys show that people are happy to see streets become safer.

Unfortunately, the opposition is in the minority. This is understandable; people worry about what it means to change the status quo and often resort to knee-jerk reactions.

For example, many opponents of cycling infrastructure say it only works in warmer months, not when it’s snowing and cold. But many people cycle year-round, especially if they have access to bicycle facilities that are available. A protected bike network encourages dedicated maintenance; bike lanes should be considered essential infrastructure, not places to dump snow. These simple adjustments in other snow regions such as Scandinavia and Canada can significantly improve riding safety.

Bike lanes are also relatively inexpensive to build. Cambridge’s Complete Streets program costs $13.5 million a year. These funds generate huge investments and require less maintenance than roads. In addition, the long-term physical and social benefits of cycling reduce a range of costs.

Finally, accessibility is a major concern. Cities should ensure and meet the accessibility needs of people with disabilities. Thankfully, there is evidence that cycling infrastructure improves accessibility. With adaptive bikes, many people with disabilities ride in Boston. If safer lanes are provided, more people will do the same.

Taken together, progress over the past five years has made the Boston area one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. We have made a lot of changes. Boston’s slow and open streets plans and Bluebikes outside the Smith Center show that when a city has a good cycling infrastructure, people use it.

Safe, accessible bike paths are beginning to criss-cross our region. Thankfully, Cambridge and Boston seem committed to expanding our cycling culture.

However, that commitment will only emerge when advocacy groups, officials and residents come together to decide to prioritize people over cars and challenge the status quo. As students, we can and should continue to do so. After all, these will be our streets for four years.

Clyve Lawrence ’25 is the Government Concentrator at Adams House. His column “Our Traffic Crisis” appears on alternate Mondays.

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