Last week we had a great forum on bike safety at Suffolk University. Thanks to Suffolk and to all the organizations that participated in putting it together. See the event website for details on the event itself.
There was a huge volume of information exchanged during the two hours of the forum and it will take a few weeks to digest. We started with a plenary session with 6 speakers and roughly 200 in the audience. The audience seemed to consist mostly of people who cycle, but the speakers represented institutions — the trucker’s association, the MBTA, and the cities of Cambridge and Boston. That session offered a lot of information on things institutions are already doing to improve safety and seemed to set a positive tone.
Then we broke into groups focused on the different ideas currently pending in the legislature to improve bike safety. People could move freely from group to group. That’s where a lot of the information exchange happened. We’ll be convening the group leaders to try to extract as much as possible from those conversations. For the list of ideas considered, click here.
Finally, we reconvened for a summary discussion. Each of the groups reported back and the audience was asked to vote on which proposal they felt was most important. Almost 400 people voted (although it’s possible that some people came through more than once and we wouldn’t know that). You can view the results here.
The choice was a little artificial, but I think a few things emerged.
- Road design changes to create safety rose to the top of the list getting 32.6% of the vote. That makes sense — ultimately, safer roads are more important than any particular new rule.
- On the other hand, 2/3 of the people picked rule changes or education suggesting that many people feel behavior change is possible without road design changes.
- Perhaps not surprising, given that the audience consisted mostly of cyclists, the behavior modifications that garnered the highest votes applied to motorists, not cyclists:
- 14.8% picked increased fines for blocking bikelanes.
- 14.5% picked driver’s education as a priority, while only 1.3% picked cyclist education.
- 12% picked traffic enforcement, but this question was a little vague — not clear whether it applied to enforcement against drivers or against cyclists. Based on the split on education, it seems likely that people were urging driver enforcement.
- 8.4% picked a proposed rule that would require motorists to pass vulnerable road users (cyclists, pedestrians, road workers) at a safe distance.
- 8.1% picked lower automotive speed limits.
- 3.6% picked a clarification of the rights of cyclists in crosswalks.
- Perhaps surprising given all the attention to recent truck crashes, the bill requiring installation of truck sideguards only got 8 votes (2%).
- Better crash data got 9 votes (2.3%) and requiring better lighting/reflective gear got 2 votes (0.5%).
I’m a little relieved that the truck sideguard concept didn’t rise to the top. The more we study it, the more practical problems we identify in implementation, the biggest problem being that many trucks move in interstate commerce and our practical and legal ability as one state to regulate their design appears limited. Additionally, many kinds of trucks don’t easily accommodate the installation of sideguards, for example tanker trucks (with an oval cross-section) and dump trucks.
Moving forward over the last few months of the legislative session, we’ll absolutely ask how we can legislatively support safer road design and also try to move forward on the feasible rule changes that got the most votes. I do think we have to keep on the table a direction which didn’t draw support in the cyclists’ forum — increased enforcement capacity against cyclists who ignore road rules. Right or wrong, as a political matter, I don’t think we can get anything done if it is entirely one-sided and focused only on drivers.
Would welcome your further comments here!