Biking and driving on the streets of Boston
Cyclists are some of the most passionate advocates that the Bay State’s transportation sector has ever seen. Thanks to the pressure of bike advocates, bike lanes have been carved out along major thoroughfares such as metro Boston’s Massachusetts Avenue and major transportation projects like the Green Line Extension include considerations for cyclists.
Yet the mix of cars and bikes is a combustible one given the driving habits of Homo sapiens in Boston, frequently rated among the country’s worst. Combine people in four-wheeled vehicles who don’t respect each other with people pushing pedals and you have the perfect recipe for conflict.
So it is not surprising that when Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby proposed that cyclists keep to bucolic landscapes such as the Arnold Arboretum, the full fury of the biking world would rain down upon him in the comments section. “Utter drivel, Jacoby,” noted one poster.
Indeed, what’s at work is not some ephemeral trend, but a monumental cultural shift in the way large numbers of people get around cities. Many drivers likely share Jacoby’s sentiments, but bicycles continue to gain in popularity as a commuting alternative to cars and the MBTA in Boston. The likelihood that transportation officials and political leaders will discourage cyclists is nil.
Boston officials responded to the death of cyclist Anita Kurmann, at the notorious intersection of Mass. Ave. and Beacon Street where the fatal accident occurred, by implementing new traffic measures, such as no right turn on red. The MBTA’s Harvard-Dudley 1 bus and MASCO’s Harvard Square-Cambridge shuttle bus stops are also being moved a short distance away.
Avi Ofsevit, a transportation management specialist who blogs at The Amateur Planner, noted that further modifications such as flexi-posts should be installed along the route to further protect cyclists.
How to change Boston’s driving culture is a bigger lift. Transportation and public safety officials will have to consider the effects on driver behavior of the increases in the numbers of cyclists and decreases in the size of driving lanes to accommodate them.
Similarly, enforcement of current bicycle regulations may need to be stepped up and other regs revisited. There are cyclists who ignore basic road rules, such as red lights mean full stop; wait for green to proceed.
Then there is the cringe-worthy spectacle of helmetless cyclists studying their smartphones, or, better yet, texting while cruising on Mass. Ave. at rush hour. Texting while driving is prohibited in Massachusetts and subject to fines; the law does not specify bicycling. As for helmets, only cyclists 16-years-old and under and motorcyclists are required to wear them.
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