The City of Boston is currently experiencing a rapid rise in bicycle use among residents and visitors. While the accident rate is generally decreasing per bicycle-miles travelled (following the “Safety in Numbers” theory), there is pressing need for improved and expanded bicycling facilities in the Greater Boston region to accommodate the growing number of cyclists on the roads.
The purpose of this investigation is to outline several policy initiatives across the city and state that can help to promote safety and convenience for bicyclists in Boston and for all road users in general. To address the growing trend, Mayor Menino established the Boston Bikes program. Since its inception in 2007, Boston Bikes has helped to establish a strong bicycling community by growing the supply of bicycling infrastructure, providing bike-related networking and resources, creating a clear reporting and feedback system, tracking accidents and identifying dangerous routes, and mapping current and future development plans with community input. As the supply of infrastructure grows and the costs (risks and travel times) of riding decreases, more individuals will begin to take a bicycle as a means of transportation for personal or work use.
There are several proposals outlined in the following sections that may prove beneficial to improving the safety and convenience of bicycling in the City. Some of the proposals include:
- Continued expansion of the Boston Bikes program and further collaboration with related City and State departments
- Continued expansion of the Hubway bike-share program and re-evaluation with community input on the placement of existing and future Hubway stations
- Continued participation in community programs, outreach, and safety advocacy especially among low-income communities and youth populations
- Collaboration with the MBTA on safe bus driving techniques for popular bicycle routes and bicycle racks on key underserved bus routes
- 25 MPH maximum speed limits on urban collector roads, down from the current 35 MPH rate
- Improved enforcement of traffic laws and violations on busy routes for bicyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles
- Standardized roadway infrastructure designs for future developments and “Follow the Paver” projects including bike boxes, bike lanes, striping through intersections, and traffic signal coordination and timing
Inevitably, a cultural shift in addition to the improvement in biking facilities and resources will ultimately lead to stronger bike-share rates and safer transportation for all. Communities must work to reclaim their streets from the auto-oriented environment to and encourage a healthy blend of all modes of transportation. Making our urban streets feel and act more like a social-community setting is essential in reducing the speeds of traffic and improving the safety for all. Through improved infrastructure and policies and a cultural shift towards sustainable transportation, the goals of improved safety, reduced congestion, and more efficient and effective city transportation are well within reach for the City. The following proposals serve to address the main hurdles in fostering a more sustainable system.
Overview of Bicycling in Boston
The rapid increase in bike share in the Greater Boston region over the past 5+ years presents a growing need for an in-depth investigation of how to best safely accommodate this means of transportation. The following report provides an overview of many of the available options for future infrastructure and policy development aimed at improving safety and reducing congestion for all modes of travel, and specifically by bicycle.
Boston has high rates of use for mass transit, walking and bicycling compared with other cities in the US. Nationally, about 5% of the US workforce use mass transit as their means of transport to work. In Boston this rate among residents was 33% in 2011 and 39% among those below the federal poverty standard (4). Similarly, car commuter share in the US in 2011 was 87% compared with just 45.5% car share in Boston (4).
In generally, residents of Boston are already more reliant on alternative means of transportation than citizens of similar cities around the nation. There are many potential factors for the high use of public transit and low percent of car share, namely: very high costs of living; strong bus and train access in most all surrounding communities; and high congestion rates and travel times by car. The availability of public transit and interconnected nature of the city make mass transit a widely-used means of travel for all demographic groups in the region and specifically for those living in low-income households. 23% of Boston residents at or below the poverty level chose to walk or ride a bicycle to work, compared to just 17% of total Boston residents walking or biking to work in 2011 (4). Census data show these values to be trending more towards bicycling and walking as all residents of the city move away from car use and towards mass transit, walking and bicycling.
Of the more than 38,000 trips being taken by bike every day in Boston, approximately 20% are commuter trips (5). The total bike share of all trips (personal and work related) is approximately 3%, yet more than 20% of traffic deaths from 2000-2001 were people on foot or on bike (6). This exacerbated discrepancy displays the overwhelming need for improved safety measures to protect the individuals traveling by these sustainable forms of transportation. Compared with many European nations, the US has a fraction of the bike ridership with a significantly higher rate of injury. Ridership rates are as high as 20% in Holland and Denmark compared to ~3% in Boston, while Boston has a ten-times higher rate of injury and three-times higher rate of death for travel by bike compared with countries such as Holland (2).
As the city works to improve bike facilities and safety measures and more people opt to ride bikes, it is likely that improved safety numbers will be experienced simply through the “safety in numbers” theory. Although bike traffic is highest on off-road paths, bike traffic is heavy on direct routes regardless of bike-friendliness (7). Key bicycling routes and destinations are the main factor in determining bicyclist behavior in the city. Many riders take the most direct path to their destinations, routes that are generally also main vehicle travel roads. The sections that follow aim to identify key corridors and areas of concerns for future infrastructure development in the City, in addition to investigating some policy initiatives currently being discussed in Boston and cities around the world.
In 2012 the city painted its 60th mile of new bike lanes. The City went from zero miles in 2007 to over 60 in just 5 years, and will continue to add new bike facilities in the coming years (7).
The City’s Network Plan for bike growth represents a blueprint for the next 10 years to connect every neighborhood with facilities for all ages and abilities. They also plan to continue adding new bike parking spaces at schools, community centers, libraries, and housing facilities. In 2011 Boston adopted LEED standards for bike facilities at all new developments.
Community bike programs in Boston are putting bikes into the hands of those in poverty, having distributed nearly 10,000 bikes in 2011 and 2012. The Roll it Forward program collected, repaired, and redistributed over 1,000 bikes to youth from 2011-12, while the Bike to Market program repaired thousands of bicycles at farmers markets around the city. The Youth Cycling program provided training, riding skill-building and safety lessons for over 7,500 youth while Bike Week and Bike Friday events encouraged new and inexperienced participants to begin riding. Subsidized helmet distribution efforts were effective at providing over 5,000 helmets to the community to improve safety (7). An improvement in police enforcement of compliance by bicyclists and drivers resulted in increased awareness from both types of road users and encouraged legal road use.
The need for safer bicycling infrastructure and policies is higher than ever as the rate of bicycle use continues to rise. Per trip, cyclists in the US have between a 7-70 times higher chance of being injured than car occupants (2). Research suggests that the perceived improvements in bicycle safety have elasticity greater than one, wherein an increase in safety yields an even greater increase in ridership (2) (9). Thus, if the residents perceive a 10% improvement in safety, the result will be a greater than 10% increase in ridership rates. Increases in safety are a result of Infrastructure and Policy initiatives, as detailed in the following sections.
Costs of Bicycling in Boston
The economic principles of bicycling are straightforward: lower the costs and more residents will use bikes as a means of transportation. The costs of riding can be lowered by increasing the supply (availability), safety and convenience of bike infrastructure. An increase in supply means one or more of the following: more available routes, safer travel conditions or shorter travel times. An improvement in any of these conditions will push the supply outward, lowering the costs to riders and thus increasing the number of trips taken by bike.
The cost of bicycling is generally a function of safety and time. As bicycling becomes safer in the City, more residents will take to the streets on bikes due to lower perceived costs of riding. With safer streets the rate of injuries and deaths will decrease and the risk of financial burden as a result of an injury will decrease, making it more affordable to bike. Apart from higher potential costs due to accidents, bicycling has significantly lower financial burdens than any other mode of travel aside from walking. Capital cost for bikes are low, maintenance costs are nominal, and there are no fuel or parking costs associated with riding. The cost of bicycling as a function of time is low for short distances (under 5 miles) but can be overwhelmingly high for longer distances.
In many cases, a 5-mile trip by bike can take an equal or less amount of time than travel by car (8). Convenience is also a perceived factor in the cost of cycling, wherein a higher rate of ridership will be experience where there is more accessible cycling infrastructure. This can be witnessed in comparing districts within Boston such as East Boston and Jamaica Plain. East Boston has virtually no bike facilities and no access to surrounding communities and in turn has very low bike share rates, whereas Jamaica Plain has very high ridership rates and is served by the Southwest Corridor and many roadways with built facilities (bike lanes, sharrows, bike shops, etc.).
Infrastructure improvements are population-based (all road users affected), require no active participation from road users, and are long-term single-action solutions. In as much, infrastructure improvements can be more effective long-term solutions for improving safety and ridership over policy changes such as increase in fines, restrictions, and laws such as fines for riding without a helmet.
The most significant factor in bicycle safety is the roadway design and utility (10). Severe injuries are associated with motor vehicle involvement, wider roads, poorly graded surfaces, and one-way streets where cyclists ride contra-flow. About one-third of all bike accidents and fatalities take place in intersections, with the highest rate of accidents from the “right hook” where a driver takes a right into a bicyclist going straight in a bike lane (2). On roadways with parked cars, “dooring” is another major cause of accidents wherein drivers open their doors into unsuspecting cyclists. Extensive research has been conducted to explain how roadway infrastructure affects the risk of injury to bicyclists, and the results display that deficiencies in infrastructure are the overwhelming cause of high accident and death rates as opposed to safety measures such as helmet use. By creating safer infrastructure, more cyclists will take to the roads with less risks of injury.
Bicycle infrastructure is generally divided into intersections and straightaways. A road with no bike infrastructure represents the baseline environment. Major streets with parked cars are the most dangerous biking environments, while those without parking are generally safer. The first level of infrastructure is a shared lane (sharrows) or a bike lane, providing a visible barrier for protection or signage indicating bikes are allowed use of the full lane. A physical barrier creates even better safety measures for cyclists as seen in bike-specific facilities such as a separated bike track (at sidewalk grade) or protected bike lane (with a buffer between traffic and/or parked cars). Countless studies have been conducted which reveal that bike lanes, paths, and markings increase ridership and either lower or do not change the number of crashes while supporting higher rates of ridership (11) (12). Multi-use paths are relatively uncommon in Boston and thus are not considered for the majority of the analysis (the Southwest Corridor and Emerald Necklace paths are the two most utilized multi-use paths).
Intersections are high-risk areas for cyclists and pedestrians alike. Intersection safety measures include both painted and physical changes to roadway elevations and traffic features. The addition of bike boxes (protected areas between car stop lines and ped crossings) and bike lane markings through intersections help to reduce accidents within intersections. Painting bike boxes and bike stripes through intersections helps to improve awareness and visibility and ultimately lower crash rates in the intersections. Physical changes such as bike light phases (in addition to car traffic lights), street lighting and raised cycle path crossings can result in increased ridership and improved safety rates compared to off-grade, unlit and unsignalized intersection crossings (13). Bike light phases allow cyclists to visually understand when it is safe to travel through an intersection. In many cases, bike lights are not necessary as standard traffic lights provide the visual signals that are appropriate for cyclists. Proper street lighting can also have significant safety benefits for cyclists and road users, decreasing rate of injury by 50% (2). Unlit roads have a higher percent of severe injuries as a result of accidents. A raised crossing allows a cyclist on a bike path to travel at-grade and forces drivers over a ‘speed-bump’ to give precedence to the cyclists. Intersections where cyclists are separated from traffic flow are safest, but require greater land use over marked bike paths within travel lanes.
Case studies of improvements on urban roadway infrastructure have increased ridership and generally decrease the accident rate (14) (12) (15). The addition of a dedicated cycle track or path also has the effect of lower sidewalk riding, which reduces risk of bike and pedestrian collisions. In a NYC study of a transition from no bike infrastructure to a separated cycle track, the sidewalk riding reduced three-fold down to fewer than 3% of riders. Ridership on the roadway increased more than 50% for weekday trips, and both delivery space and parking were preserved such that there was a decrease in double parking incidents (12).
Purpose-built bike-only facilities (paths, lanes, cycle tracks, etc.) reduce the risk of crashes and injuries compared with on-street or sidewalk cycling, and features such as lighting and proper paving further increase safety. The major benefit of dedicated infrastructure is the population-wide community which is affected. Infrastructure to support cyclists also leads to increase in business traffic and home values. The amount of road required by bicycle facilities is also dramatically lower, as cyclists can fit 2-10 times more people per car space and require less space for parking.
Hubway – Boston’s Bikeshare Program
In July of 2011, the City introduced the Hubway bike share program with 60 stations and 600 bikes which could be rented for a day ($5 + usage fees), three days ($12 + usage fees), or for a full year pass ($85 + usage fees). 600 subsidized memberships were given to low-income residents for just $5 for the year. In the first year of operation, the Hubway system achieved more than 140,000 trips and attracted 3,700 memberships. With the “safety in numbers” theory, the additional use of bikes on the city streets has promoted better bicycle awareness and safety. To date, no serious injuries have occurred with riders using the Hubway system, however there are serious community concerns around several of the Hubway stations which promote riding in difficult streets without proper bike facilities. It should also be noted that the Hubway users wear helmets an average of just 20% of the time, compared with the average 50% rate among riders who own a bicycle (16).
With over 1,150 trips taken each day at an average distance of more than one mile, the Hubway system has been by all accounts an overwhelming success (7). The growth of the program continued this past summer of 2012 with the addition of new stations and bikes in Cambridge, South Boston, and communities like Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Mattapan, and other disadvantaged areas. The City plans to expand to more than 300 stations and 3,000 bicycles over the next several years to connect the entire area along the Charles River (7).
Current laws for bicycling in Boston are fairly extensive and are considered progressive compared with many other cities around the nation. A bicyclist in Boston has the right to ride on any public roadway expect limited-access highways or where signs specifically prohibit cycling, and on any sidewalk outside of designated business districts. Bikes are allowed on MBTA trains during non-peak hours only and on buses with bike racks at any time. Cyclists are not required to wear a helmet unless under the age of 17, but must have a headlight and taillight if riding in the evening. The headlight must be visible from a distance of 500 feet, and the taillight a distance of 600 feet. Bicyclists are required to obey all standard traffic laws and regulations which vehicles are subjected to, must provide hand signals for turning or stopping, and must always give right-of-way to pedestrians. A cyclist must also have brakes able to stop the bike from a speed of 15 mph in a distance of 30 feet or less (5).
The full list of statutes pertaining to cyclists can be found on the City’s website, http://www.cityofboston.gov/bikes/bikesafety/laws.asp.
Since the City’s inception of Boston Bikes over 5 years ago, resources for bicyclists have become very readily accessible. The City of Boston’s website has made the laws easily available and comprehensive for riders to review and understand, and has also provided a list of advice for riding safely in the city. Additionally, the City of Boston website has links for requesting a bike map, requesting new bike parking racks or lane markings, and reporting a hazard. You are also able to register your bike online to help police track and identify it in the case of a theft. Links to biking events, info about the bike share program, statistics and resources are all made available through the website.
Proposals for Boston Bikes Department
It is important that Boston Bikes continues to grow and effectively incorporate biking access, resources and support, and collaboration with the community and related city and state departments. The first component of the program is the growth of the biking network as per the Bike Network Plan established by the city. A 10-year plan is currently being awaited to follow the 2001 ten-year plan that investigated projects and troublesome areas. The city is anticipated to release very progressive standards and plans to build upon the recent success and growth.
Since 2008, 60+ miles of bike lanes and 2,700+ bike parking facilities have been added. Although prior roadway infrastructure was non-existent and parking limited, this has been tremendous growth for the city. It is important that there is funding to continue the implementation of between 10-20 miles of bike lanes per year, installation of bicycle parking facilities near key community sites, and availability of resources and bicycling-related goods and services.
Boston Bikes should actively work to gather feedback from the community to integrate into the decision-making process. Little public involvement and awareness exists where there is potential for valued input. Online portals are available for citizens to report issues and request repairs and support, but involvement in more long-term planning is not widely accessible. Applications like “Citizens Connect” and “Street Bump” are only mildly effective if a small minority of residents use them. This is a good effort in the direction of identifying high-need streets, but should be expanded to reach a higher audience.
The Hubway system has been a very successful project since its start in 2010-2011 with 60 stations and 600 bikes. The system is currently up to 104 stations and over 1,000 bikes, with plans to expand to 300/3,000 by 2015. Significant effort should be taken to gather community input on the placement of Hubway stations, with an understanding of the limited capacity of the Hubway bikes. It is impossible to exceed 20 mph on the Hubway bikes, and in as much it is dangerous to ride them on roadways with 35 mph limits. Hubway stations should at no time be placed on a roadway or intersection with speed limits in excess of 25 mph, such as the station at Brigham Circle (the corner of Tremont Street and Huntington Ave). As a rule of thumb, no stations should be on “Advanced” streets only, as defined by the Boston Bike map. Riding on these streets at low speeds is dangerous, and encourages sidewalk riding and thus should not be promoted by easy access.
There is a need for a simple helmet system, such as the one developed by an MIT team dubbed “HelmetHub”. The system is a solar-powered rental helmet dispensing unit with the ability to sanitize and sort up to 36 helmets at a Hubway station. Currently, residents with their own bikes wear a helmet about 50% of the time, whereas Hubway users ride with a helmet just 20% of the time (6). Hubway riders are already less-experience than traditional owners, and thus it seems more necessary for these individuals to have helmets readily accessible. It may be in the best interest to provide a helmet within the package for the bicycle to increase its use, as opposed to a separate item which must be rented in addition to the bikes.
It is in the best interest of the city and communities to continue to support the programs and events offered through Boston Bikes such as:
- Roll it Forward
- Seeks to make cycling a more accessible transportation option for low-income communities. By distributing bicycles and providing proper bike safety education, the Roll it Forward program promotes a healthier lifestyle of increased physical activity and fewer trips by car.
- Bike to Market
- Bike to Market is an initiative to provide free or low-cost bike repairs in low-income neighborhoods where there are no local bike shops. The program is delivered by the Boston Cyclists Union as a way to serve the community, get to know the neighborhoods, and introduce their mission across the city. To date, 1,632 bikes have been repaired at over 80 farmer’s markets during the summer.
- Youth Cycling Program
- The Youth Cycling Program visits Boston schools with a fleet of bikes and helmets, a team of instructors, and an active curriculum that gets kids and teens riding bikes.
It is important to foster a community of bicycling-related facilities and resources that train individuals on maintenance, have equipment available for purchase, and events that raise awareness with the public. The use of the Constituent Services for reporting of issues is an effective way at gathering feedback from the community regarding roadway issues, and should be further promoted for accessibility and awareness. It would be helpful to include rights, laws, and accident/emergency information both on website portals and at key locations around the city and on Hubway stations. Pamphlets like those distributed by Bike Safe Boston can help promote understanding of the rules and accident procedures. Boston Bikes can help to provide these resources, such as having relevant information available on the website and providing information and outreach regarding available goods and services through active grassroots campaigns.
Proposals for Other City and State Departments
There are several initiatives at the city legislative level that can assist in promoting a healthy and safe bicycling community, starting with enhanced cross-collaboration between state and local departments such as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), Boston Transportation Department (BTD), the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and the Public Works Department of Boston and surrounding communities.
MassDOT and the MBTA
While MassDOT is primarily tasked with the operation of the state’s highways and airports, it has recently become under supervision of the Massachusetts Transit Bay Authority (MBTA) which plays a key role in facilitating and enabling bicycling in the Greater Boston region. The MBTA and MassDOT can collaborate with Boston Bikes on expanding bike rack service on all MBTA buses to ensure that more combined bike-transit trips are possible. Unlike many European nations, residents of Boston commonly own only one bicycle and in turn need to transport the bike with them for use on both ends of their commute or trip. By ensuring bike racks are equipped on all MBTA buses, more dual-mode trips will be taken for both commuting and pleasure purposes. The installation of bike racks on buses should focus first on routes that serve communities outside the ranges of the Orange, Red, and Blue MBTA trains, as these trains allow bikes to be brought on during non-peak hours. Such communities include for example East Boston and Mattapan, two areas that have low connectivity to surrounding communities by means other than autos.
The MBTA must also address the growing concerns of cyclists about the driving behaviors of bus drivers who tend to cut off or “leapfrog” cyclists on popular thoroughfares. Leapfrogging a cyclist creates an extremely dangerous interaction wherein the bus and cyclist are constantly battling for priority. Buses present an additional difficulty over cars as a result of constant stops, where a bus pulls all the way to the curb thus either not allowing a cyclist to pass or forcing the cyclist to pass on the left which pushes them into flowing traffic. Due to the frequency of stops and the low travel speeds on many popular bus and bike routes, bus drivers should be instructed to travel at or below a nearby cyclist’s speed in congested corridors. By reducing the ‘leapfrogging’, bus and bicycle interactions will be less frequent and will allow cyclists to maintain consistent behavior in not switching lanes or passing on the left of a bus.
Given that at least two of the several deaths of bicyclists in Boston in 2012 were as a result of an interaction with an MBTA bus, a thorough investigation into the timing and behavior of bus and bicycle interactions should be undertaken to provide a consistent set of guidelines for passing or giving right of way to cyclists.
Boston Transportation Department
BTD should investigate speed limit regulations on many of the main thoroughfares and collector roads such as Huntington Avenue, Commonwealth Avenue, and Massachusetts Avenue – three of the most dangerous and widely-used routes for all modes of transportation. Large stretches of these routes and others around the city lack clear speed limit signage, presenting drivers with the opportunity to travel at high rates of speed which creates unsafe conditions for all road users. Many of the most popular routes in Boston have varying speed limits, such as Huntington Avenue which has posted 35 mph limits on densely-populated stretches of the route from South Huntington to Massachusetts Avenue. Within the city limits, all city roads with the exception of highways and express routes (with limited or no bike access) should have posted 25 mph limits. With traffic signals at short intervals (under 1,000 feet apart), a 25 mph limit does not have any adverse effects on traffic congestion or travel times. During peak hours, travel speeds are generally below this rate due to congestion anyhow. During non-peak hours, drivers commonly speed through intersections and straightaways as a result of the 35 mph limit and poor traffic enforcement procedures.
Proper paving and roadway conditions should be ensured, especially on shoulders and with regard to drainage structures and manhole covers which bicyclists commonly are forced to ride over. Off-grade structures result in erratic behavior from cyclists – swerving to avoid deep potholes, low manhole covers, or other obstructions in the roadways and in the shoulders. If cyclists are expected to ride on the shoulder, proper roadway conditions must be ensured.
The last but most significant in improving bicycle, pedestrian and vehicle safety is the Complete Streets program which the City begun in 2009. This policy mandates any new roadway design and repaving project to be designed with accommodations for all forms of traffic – a policy issued by the U.S. DOT “Acocommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel”. Any new street design project is designed with bike facilities, with the knowledge that cyclists in the City will take the shortest route possible to their destination – often regardless of the bike-friendliness of any particular route. This should require that at least minimal infrastructure for cyclists such as sharrows or “Use of Full Lane” signs are posted in any roadway project. Exceptions to this standard can be taken when costs are excessive, or the roadway is not used for these purposes.
To build on Complete Streets, the “Follow the Paver” concept establishes that any time there is a new road slated for repaving or repainting, bike facilities should be painted in conjunction with the striping for travel lanes. This approach greatly reduces the capital costs of painting bike infrastructure by integrating the designs into existing and future projects. Minimal design details are required for the addition of bicycle infrastructure, as many roadways are often already large enough to accommodate a bike lane or a shared lane at the least. In this instance, the project is not a complete reconstruction as in the complete streets model, but a significantly cheaper improvement.
Roadway design standards Bicycle boxes should be standard at every intersection with a bike lane leading in to it. A bike box allows for safe queuing while waiting at a red light, and also encourages consistent behavior from both cyclists and motorists. Presently, Boston has a high rate of red-light running by bicyclists. Bike boxes can help promote safer behavior at intersection by providing a safe area for cyclists to stop. At intersections where no bike lanes precede or where there are sharrow markings indicated a “shared lane”, stop lines should be retracted 14 feet from the crosswalk, and the reclaimed space should have a sharrow marking within it to indicate it is an area meant for bicyclist queuing (1).
Intersections should also have bike markings painted through on popular routes to visually indicate to drivers that they should anticipate a cyclist traveling along the route. By striping lines through intersections, right-hook and left-hook accidents can be greatly reduced (2).
By implementing these standard practices on all current and future projects, BTD can standardize intersections and straightaways to make behavior of cyclists, motorists and pedestrians more predictable and safe.
Boston Police Department
The traffic enforcement on major thoroughfares should be addressed in collaboration with the Boston Police Department (BPD) to ensure proper behavior by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike in accordance with existing laws. BPD should also play a role in the awareness campaigns regarding legal behavior for road users to ensure that the laws and regulations are well-known to the public and can be easily accessed and understood.
Significant issues and dangers are experienced as a result of behaviors that have become commonplace and generally accepted by Bostonians such as double-parking, illegal turns, failures to yield or stop, jaywalking, and more. Main routes in the city are subject to erratic and unpredictable interactions between cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. Pedestrians are liable to cross streets at any point, jaywalk and cross between cars during non-walk phases. Drivers are consistently double-parking in bike lanes, opening doors into bike lanes without regard for oncoming traffic, turning in front of oncoming cyclists, speeding through intersections or blocking them entirely, and more. And bicyclists are subject to riding in uncontrolled manners, swerving in and out of traffic and consistently running red lights and disobeying pedestrians’ right-of-way at intersections and crosswalks. The result of the unchecked behaviors is unabated illegal and dangerous interactions that put all travels at risk and liability of an accident.
Boston has begun to crack down on these illegal actions, however a more pervasive campaign is required to reduce the dangerous behaviors that have become commonplace among City residents. BPD must exercise caution in targeting specific blocs, such as events where they ticket only cyclists or drivers for a specific illegal action. Rather, the enforcement must be consistent and thorough for all road users to ensure that the resulting effects permeate all demographic groups.
Don’t Block the Box campaigns have helped to reduce intersection blocking by vehicles, but so far have been addressed only in medical areas or where emergency vehicles travel most frequently. A wider implementation of this program may help to reduce the congestion caused by blocked intersections, which makes travel for all road users more convenient. Painting striped lines through the intersections, however, prevents striped bike-lane markings from being visible, which may present a difficulty in implementation past traditional signage.
Department of Conservation and Recreation
The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) manages many of the multi-use bike paths and networks around Greater Boston including the Emerald Necklace, the Southwest Corridor, and the Charles River paths. Many of these paths are highly-utilized for both personal and commuting trips, and offer an excellent means of safe travel for bicyclists due to complete separation from vehicle travel. Several of the paths, most notably the Southwest Corridor, have separated biking and walking paths which provide even further safety for pedestrians and cyclists alike. Multi-use paths such as the one along the Charles River place pedestrians and cyclists on the same surface which can present dangerous interactions. When possible, the DCR should work to separate all paths for the two means of travel.
The Southwest Corridor provides unparalleled access between Downtown Boston, Roxbury, the South End, and Jamaica Plain communities. After the cancellation of the Inner Belt highways, the Southwest Corridor became the path for the Orange Line MBTA train and a several-mile bicycle and walking path connecting these communities. As Boston’s foremost “bicycle superhighway”, the Southwest Corridor still leaves much to be desired.
Intersections along the route are of major concern to the corridor users; even minor roadway intersections give precedence to vehicle travel in perpendicular directions, and forces cyclists to stop at each intersection to ensure that it is safe to cross at the street-level. Instead, the corridor should implement raised crossings at all minor roadway intersections, thus giving precedent (right-of-way) to pedestrian and bicycle users. Raised crossings reduce the wear-and-tear on bicyclists and also provide faster, more convenient travel through the corridor. In addition, the vision lines should be improved to allow cyclists and drivers more visibility to oncoming traffic. Proper signage should accompany any raised intersections such that drivers approach with caution and are aware of crossing cyclists and pedestrians with right-of-way.
There are several potential adverse Effects and unintended consequences that may result with the implementation of some of the proposed policies.
As the number of cyclists increase, it is possible that there will be a higher number of overall accidents and deaths, even if the rate is decreasing overall. Unless the rate of injury decreases greater than the increase in ridership, the number of deaths and injuries may rise. The rate per bicycle-mile traveled should decrease, however, following the Safety in Numbers theory.
With a higher portion of commuters traveling by bike, inclement weather may cause higher rates of auto and public transit travel and force pressure on these already-exacerbated systems. Potential for higher bicycle-related deaths as rate of ridership increases
The need to redesign roadways with additional facilities involves greater design time and efforts and thus increases the costs of such projects. These increased costs may likely reduce the number of projects undertaken by the city if the additional design and construction costs are high as compared with the total project cost without the improved biking facilities. Projects will be more expensive in order to create bike striping, sharrows, and other roadway infrastructure such as bike boxes, signs, and lights.
By creating safer infrastructure for cyclists, it is likely that some riders will begin to take more risks with the increased feeling of safety. In turn, cyclists may begin traveling at higher speeds, behaving more dangerously at intersections or around cars and pedestrians, or being less aware of surroundings as a result of heightened sense of security. This phenomena was experienced when cars were made with more safety features and roadways constructed with more safety-related infrastructure (signage, curbs, paint, etc.). The Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 required new safety standards for automobiles, which had just a small effect in decreasing the death rates among occupants. Additionally, this requirement was followed by a long-term increase in pedestrian and bicyclist death rates by motor vehicle accidents. Both these facts can be explained by the theory of risk compensation, wherein making it safer to operate a car entices individuals to travel at faster speeds and drive more recklessly, since they have a heightened sense of safety. The faster travel has resulted in higher accident and severity rates among other road users while preserving the occupants. Such mandated safety features have shown to at times have the inverse effect on risk-taking than they are designed for, which is one argument against a legal requirement for helmets. Requiring the use of a helmet may or may not have an effect on ridership, however the built environment is perhaps the biggest factor in determining who will use bike transportation.
The effect of creating a safer bicycling environment may be that some riders take more risks, as experienced when drivers are provided safer conditions. These improvements will enable cyclists to feel more comfortable traveling at higher rates of speed, putting more risk into potential crashes and liability for anyone else involved in a crash. That bike riders already are less responsive to signage and lights suggests that a cyclists’ behavior would tend to travel as quickly as possible (18).
Building bike share also has the consequence of increasing variable peak loads at times when these systems are already subject to increased loads and congestion issues (rush hour, poor weather, city events). The result is lower average demands on the car and transit systems, but higher peaks during particular instances. A dynamic and responsive public transit system is required to overcome swings in travel share for such instances.
1. Bureau, US Census. 2011 American Community Survey. Boston : US Census Bureau, 2011.
2. Boston, City of. City of Boston Website – Access Boston 2000-2010. Transportation Fact Book and Neighborhood Profiles. [Online] 2012. www.cityofboston.gov/accesboston/transportation_fact.asp.
3. Walking, National Center for Biking and. Are We There Yet? Assessing the Performance of State Departments of Transportation on Accomodating Bicycles and Pedestrians. bikewalk.org. [Online] www.bikewalk.org/assets/pdf/AWTY031403.pdf.
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