Great Thread from Cleveland Circle Google Group on Urban Cycling — Republished with Permission.

Note: My response in the thread appears below as a comment to this post.

On Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 6:43 AM, Eva Websterwrote:

“Fifteen years ago Bicycling Magazine named Toronto North America’s best city for cycling. Now, Toronto is the bike collision capital of Canada, with more accidents per capita than any other major Canadian city.”

The above is a quote from the article below (see link):

War on the streets of Toronto: Motorists vs. Cyclists. | PRI’s The World

Note: the article has a number of additional links embedded in the text that are interesting.

I was driving near/through Cleveland Circle in the evening a few weeks ago, when I saw a man passing me on a bike who unmistakably “flipped the bird” in my direction — but I was perplexed; I couldn’t tell if it was directed at me or the driver behind me. Either way, I had no idea what the reason was, because seeing his obscene gesture was the very first time I saw that biker.

Then all the cars came to a stop on a red light — but he darted ahead, going right through the red light, as if the traffic lights didn’t apply to him. I thought to myself, “How can you think of yourself as a legitimate user of the road, when you don’t respect the rules that apply to all other users?”

That incident refreshed a secret fear I harbor that one day, I may, god-forbid, injure or kill a bicyclist. It started years ago, after my husband (who at that time rode his bike to work at Harvard Medical School), came very close to being killed when a motorist suddenly turned right in front of him — probably unaware of his presence on the road.

Fortunately, that close call was so scary and sobering that it made my husband quit biking in the city. We enjoy riding bicycles in right places, while away for the weekend or on vacation — in small towns, on country roads, or in nature preserves – but honestly, when I see bikers on major, congested streets in Boston, I think to myself “you guys must have a latent death wish”.

Every year, you hear about a bicyclist getting killed or seriously injured. Sometimes I see those little sad street memorials marking the place of a fatal bike accident. I remember at least two on Comm. Ave. And last summer, there was one behind Trader Joes’s in Coolidge Corner — a white-painted lady’s bike with a basket of fresh flowers that someone kept bringing every other day, in honor of a young woman. It’s almost always a young person, often a student. Once it was an extremely gifted doctor, a cancer specialist, killed on Beacon Street while bicycling to work in the Longwood area — like my husband used to years ago.

I know personally at least 3 individuals who were in serious bicycle accidents resulting in life-changing injury — and yet I don’t know personally even a single person who sustained comparable injuries as a driver or passenger in a car. The conclusion is clear: bicycling in the city is inherently dangerous; much more than driving or walking, not to mention using public transportation.

The prevailing wisdom is that installing bike lanes increases safety for bicyclists. Since we all like to feel virtuous by being supportive of safety measures, hardly anyone stops to think if that argument actually always holds true. Maybe, maybe not.

Bike lanes on major, congested streets, create — in my opinion — a false sense of security. Their presence might be encouraging more people to bike — people who are not necessarily in the best of shape, or with the sharpest senses (eyesight, hearing, ability to react fast). Some bicyclists are by nature dare-devils, and having them on the road is not at all conducive to safety. Anyone actually can hop on a bike and endanger themselves and other people — no driving license required (and no danger of losing a license, even if you happen to be a nuisance on the road).

More and more bike lanes get installed on busy streets — sometimes by removing a car lane (leading to greater vehicular congestion), or at the expense of badly needed on-street parking spaces — and yet bikers continue to die/get injured just the same, or even in greater numbers; plus countless close calls and minor accidents don’t even get reported.

When biking enthusiasts tell the rest of us not to drive, and bicycle instead, it ignores the reality that most people simply can’t do it — because of the distances they need to travel, because of their attire or age, because of various things they have to transport (groceries, children, yard or home improvement supplies, etc.), because biking in inclement weather is hard or impossible — and so on.

I do not mean to imply that bicyclists should not be accommodated. There will always be some folks who are willing to take the risk of bicycling in the city, or they do it for financial reasons (cost-free means of transportation). No one can stop them from using city roads. But how the City accommodates bicyclists should be perhaps subject to some more analytical thinking than is the case right now.

Most areas of the city desperately need on-street parking — for residents, visitors, and patrons of local businesses. Sacrificing parking for a bike lane is not necessarily a good idea.

Removing traffic lanes to accommodate bicycle lanes on important arterial streets that carry a lot of vehicular traffic (including emergency vehicles), inevitably worsens traffic congestion and contributes to aggravation and countless collective loss of time/productivity among many people who drive — many more than those who use a bike lane.

At the same time, in certain areas there are some quieter side streets where bicyclists would be safer and not interfere with the flow of traffic. But as long as the city provides them with bike lanes on major arteries, bicyclists have no incentive to seek/choose alternative routes on quieter streets.

If I am not mistaken, a bike lane is proposed on Market Street, and perhaps Chestnut Hill Ave. as well. I am not at all convinced that this would be an improvement. These are arterial roads that are already congested and need to be able to move traffic efficiently.

Just my 5 cents. If someone thinks I am wrong, feel free tell me why.

Rollin Crittendon Wrote

About two years ago, around Coolidge Corner on Harvard St I saw a guy do a bike maneuver that still “amazes” me. He was riding a fixed gear bike, no brakes, no helmet, and basically ran a red light. He did a speed-up break-skid, speed-up that was to-the-second on the money. Any more, any less and that guy would have been hit by a car. The man has the reflexes of a pro-athelete if you ask me.

My impression is in this country we want a lot of things in other countries but do not want to make the full sacrifice for them. As a result we have things that sometimes look or sound nice but are not the full deal. For example about 25 years ago I was in Amsterdam, a city that is about as bike-centric as it gets. They have dedicated lanes, as I recall many are curbed. As a pedestrian I learned to stay out of the bike lane!

Is the US ready to allocated even 3% of the federal funds used on highways etc for dedicated bike infrastructure? I recall that is sort of the figure given that would be needed for that to be a comprehensive system.
Alex Burke Wrote:

I disagree (I tend to only respond when I disagree with something). Biking in the city is very dangerous yet also a great perk of city living. I enjoy biking to get groceries when I’m not in the mood to walk or feel wasteful about making the short drive. If I have to bike downtown I know I can generally be faster than the T without worry of traffic. Sometimes, however, biking can be scary. A few weeks ago, while biking downtown Boston, a taxi pulled right in front of me, cutting me off, and stopped in my bike lane to make a pickup. As I swerved into a car lane, I punched the taxi on my way by to express my anger. In hindsight, I wish I’d punched through his windshield to make him think twice about doing it again.

So I could argue for more bike lanes (which I’d like), but this was a comfortably sized bike lane bordered only by green space. The problem is that cars think they own the road and don’t see bikes as legitimate transportation. I have had similar run-ins before and learned that a bike rider must be much 10 times as sharp as a car driver. I strongly disagree that we should give preference to car parking rather than make streets bike accessible. I have always had a theory about pockets, the bigger pockets you have, the more crap you will fill them with (also applies to pocket books, wallets, etc). By catering streets to cars, we will get… more cars, more noise pollution, more regular pollution, wear and tear. The city, by nature, should be easily accessible and should give preference to buses, bikes, zipcar,… taxi’s. Needing a car in a city should be a last resort and a failure of a city’s infrastructure.

. . . .

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

12 replies on “Urban Cycling Discussion”

  1. Great thread here.

    As a daily bicycle commuter, I pains me to confess that I agree with Eva — city cycling is very dangerous. Like her, I know too many people who have died or been seriously injured cycling to believe otherwise.

    I do believe that safe cycling practices can reduce the risks and also reduce motorist aggravation. Many cyclists do crazy things, but I think the right way to think of those cyclists is as inexperienced drivers — they are kids who would be doing crazy things if they were driving a car too.

    The law is that cyclists need to obey 100% of the same rules that cars follow. Sometimes that jusn’t isn’t practical — for example, a cyclist probably shouldn’t stand in the middle of a high-traffic travel lane waiting to turn left. But mostly it’s right and we need to work hard on educating cyclists about road safety issues. As a legislator, I’ve worked to make it easier logistically for police to ticket cyclists who violate the law. This will save cyclists lives.

    I also feel that we need to make more truly separate travel paths available. Dedicated bike trails protect cyclists from inhaling exhaust fumes as well as reducing collision risks.

  2. A rant, not original to me, is that people are attributing the danger incorrectly. Running red lights can be dangerous, but much of the danger (getting doored or right-hooked) involves careless operation of cars, not bicycles. Car danger may be the status quo, but it is a human-behavior status quo that we tolerate, and not the same as “standing in a field during a lightning storm is dangerous”. We could change it, if we cared to.

    All my near misses (which, fortunately, have not been very near or very frequent) have involved potential right hooks — the danger came from the cars, not me. It’s hard to say whether this is more or less safe than running red lights, because I tend not to do that, but it is often clear that there is zero cross traffic, and running the red light would be safe as houses.

    I think 100% compliance by auto drivers should come first. It would save far more lives and avoid far more injuries, and as long as cyclists observe frequent (in some cases, continuous) law-breaking by people driving fast, heavy, automobiles, I don’t think they’re going to take calls for 100% compliance very seriously — after all, cars kill over 3000 pedestrians per year, and bicycles kill about 1. Why focus on the vehicle that is clearly (measured) to be so much safer?

    Laws I’d like to see enforced (that I see frequently broken — far more often than I see cyclists break the law) include speeding, failing to stop before turning right on red, turning right on red where it is prohibited, failing to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk (kinda scary, when I stop on the bike and the car “darts” through the intersection next to me), failing to stop at a stop line, creeping past a stop line for a red light, failing to come to a complete stop, failing to signal turns when it affects other traffic (if I am in the right-hand gutter on my bike, a right turn affects me), failing to stop for “orange” lights. I frequently see drivers with poor lane discipline, who wobble back and forth of the solid line marking the edge of the travel lane; perhaps they should be tested for DUI.

      1. Well thanks, but I still think that a lot of it stands. You really aren’t going to get that much traction preaching to anyone but the bicycle safety choir if you don’t also deal with driver behavior. Partly this is because everyone overestimates their own skill (till they have an educational crash), and partly this is because it really is a bigger deal when a driver breaks the law, because cars do more damage in a crash. If cyclists only hear about bikes breaking the law, they’re going to assume it is selective enforcement or just a PR campaign to placate the sort of people who complain about those unruly darting cyclists.

        If you break it down into the four reasons (that I know) for following traffic laws, to people on bicycles (including me) it looks like car drivers only care about #4. Bicycles, by construction (small, slow, light), excel at #1 whether they follow the law or not — it’s rare for them to hurt anyone but themselves in a crash. Neither group cares that much about #3 (we can observe behavior, actions speak much louder than words).

        1) safe for others
        2) safe for you
        3) respect for the law
        4) better traffic flow

        And everyone loves to lecture “the other side” on how they are getting #2 wrong. Cyclists break the law, don’t wear helmets, they “dart”, that’s why they crash, it’s so unsafe. People who don’t ride bicycles (to work, etc) are killing themselves in a somewhat more civilized fashion through lack of exercise, but that’s far more deadly than what we see on the road. It’s been measured, non-cyclists die a couple of years earlier, and as a group have a mortality rate that is 39% higher (Denmark, big study, thousands of people, multi-year, adjusted for risk factors). So people may think that #2 is important and a strong argument against bad biking, but they may also be unaware of the actual risks.

        It’s pretty clear to me that if we care about #2 and want to be all nanny-state (and we actually do — seat belt laws, air-bags, right?), we need to worry a lot less about cyclists breaking laws, and a lot more about simply getting people out of cars and onto bikes or their own two feet. This ought to improve the perception of cyclist behavior, too — the “new cyclists” tend to be more conservative in their behavior, the larger number of cyclists will tend to push for infrastructure changes that give them less cause to break the laws (separate, safer), and once you’ve been on a bike for a while you will have a better understanding of what the heck is going on when you see someone “darting” (did I mention that I really hate that word?) through traffic — usually, they’re just in a hurry to get where they’re going, same as a driver, and there’s variations in cyclist politeness, same as there’s variations in driver politeness (and in the road-rage limit, I’d much rather have an angry cyclist try to run me off the road, than an angry driver).

        And all that said, in my non-statistical anecdotal experience here in/near Belmont, the greatest risk to most people seems to be potholes. I know at least two, maybe three people who ended up in the ER slightly concussed after tangling with a pothole. I don’t know anyone who was similarly harmed by a car. I advise people to ride bikes with fat (slick) tires, and if they are so inclined, to actually practice dealing with potholes and bumps.

        1. I agree with your observation about potholes (and other road imperfections) — more than half of the serious injury/death cases that I am personally familiar with did not involve a car. Your advice about riding fat tires is very very good.

          There is a lot of emotion in every conversation about these issues. I am both a cyclist and a driver. My bottom line as a cyclist, unprotected by any shell, is that I do wish to ride as safely as possible. My bottom line as a driver, belted in and surrounded by metal, is that I wish to endanger others as little as possible. I think that most cyclists and drivers feel the same way. As a legislator, I feel comfortable supporting measures to encourage outliers among cyclists and drivers to change their behavior.

          I also strongly support separated bike paths — it’s just very hard to keep cyclists — especially young cyclists — safe when they are in the same space as cars.

  3. I, too, am a daily bicycle commuter, and bicycling is or can be dangerous. I have bicycled in Boston for over 50 years, and have had very few problems, but I have had a few. I reduce the issues by going slow, and being ready to brake for pedestrians – who continue to have the right of way over bikes OR cars.

    When you obey the rules of the road – you greatly reduce the danger.

    Most of the rules for bicycling are the same as for cars, but there are a few differences. For example – you CAN ride your bike on a sidewalk, but you are obliged to slow to the pace of the pedestrians. Can you do that with a truck? No!

    Not for me to lecture here, others smarter than me continue to work on it at: sponsored by MASSBIKE.ORG – See

    We should all give ourselves time to get where we are going so we are less likely to need to cut corners, and then be ready with more patience.

    There is room enough for all of us – courtesy is contagious. I would hate to see the polarization of our country extend further into bikes vs cars – especially at a time when we could all benefit from fewer cars on the road, shorter commutes to work, and better regular exercise for all.

    Happy riding,
    Daniel O’Donnell

    1. I used to be pretty much a sameroadssamerules sort of guy, but given the lower social impact of bicycles (quieter, less dangerous to others, require less room for parking, health benefits, don’t need a supply of oil, etc), I think they should receive privileged status, not just equal status. Idaho rules for stop signs and lights would be a good start.

      And the rules aren’t really the same anyhow — are children in cars required to wear safety helmets? Why not? Says the CDC: “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among those age 5-34 in the U.S.” And: ” Motor vehicle–traffic injury is the leading cause of TBI-related death.”

      So, yeah, I know, like heck is that ever going to happen, but if we’re going to talk about safety, I’m going to point to statistics. Bikes are extremely safe compared to the alternatives, especially if the definition of “safety” includes everyone (not just the driver) and all causes of death and disability (not just crashes).

  4. I have read opinions on bikes and bike lanes for too many years and my opinion has not changed. Inner city streets are for everyone, motor vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles. Our streets should be shared equally. I believe a simple solution is to slow motorized traffic down, tame it. If everyone drives slower we all win. Traveling more than 25 mph in the city is not necessary

  5. I’m a sixty year old cyclist and I haven’t commuted to work in a couple of years because it seems to have gotten too dangerous. I have always been a courteous cyclist and I never try to assert my right to be on the road because the consequences of being hit are serious. Just a few years ago I was hit on Mt. Auburn St. in Watertown. It was just a brush with a mirror. The nice lady was very apologetic, but she said that she didn’t see me. I’m not small and I was as far to the right as I could comfortably ride. Many years ago I was nearly killed by somebody going very fast in a huge black SUV who missed me by a few inches. I caught up with the driver at the light at the Star Market at Mt. Auburn and confronted her. She was also very nice and said that she didn’t see me. In a era when more drivers are talking on cell phones and texting and there is often little in the way of dedicated lanes for cyclists I can’t see risking my life to commuted daily as I used to. I don’t like this battle that cyclists and motorists are involved in and I won’t ride with jackasses that assert their “right to be on the road” because it’s foolish and dangerous. I would like to expect that motorists be responsible as well and I would encourage any driver to consider that a person on a bike (whether or not that person is a craphead) is one less driver, making their commute a little easier.
    My long held wish is that cell phone use by anybody on the roads be outlawed. There is no convincing reason to allow anybody to drive or cycle while talking on the phone. Anybody who needs to make or take a call can pull over. I just have never understood how people justify driving with half a brain. For years people drove while drunk and nobody took it seriously until a nationwide campaign by groups like MADD changed people’s thinking about it. It’s time to outlaw cell phone use while driving or cycling..period.

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