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In the video above, Katie Koch (CAS’09, COM’09) navigates campus by bicycle during rush-hour insanity.
Getting around campus and the city on a bicycle may be cheap and environmentally virtuous, but along Commonwealth Avenue it can turn into a white-knuckled, nausea-inducing experience. At the intersection of Comm Ave and the BU Bridge, for example, cyclists routinely pedal in and around gridlocked traffic, swerving buses, and oncoming B-line trains, to say nothing of the potholes that arrive each winter and remain for months.
These obstacles are enough to make even the most seasoned cyclist extra vigilant. But for freshmen hailing from the suburbs or rural areas, they are especially daunting. Even William Maness (CAS’14), who grew up in South Boston, finds cycling in Kenmore Square a challenge. “You have to be constantly aware. It’s more than just the high volume of traffic,” he says. “It’s more the parked cars and doors opening and people crossing the street.”
“There’s a dramatic difference between cycling around your cul-de-sac and cycling down Commonwealth Avenue,” says Webb Lancaster, director of operations for Auxiliary Services and a member of the University’s Bicycle Safety Committee. “Students don’t know what being doored is, what it’s like to experience a right cross or a left jab.”
Adding to the danger are the distractions of cell phones, texting, and headphones.
While the addition of bicycle lanes along Commonwealth Avenue two years ago and this summer’s new bike lanes from the BU Bridge to Brighton Avenue has made it safer for cyclists, the lanes can also provide a sense of false security. “Bike lanes aren’t 100 percent foolproof,” warns Seth Pritikin (MET’06, GSM’10), a School of Social Work IT analyst and staff advisor to the student-run group BU Bikes. “Even though they’re five feet wide, you still have a ‘door zone,’ where a driver parked at the curb can open a door and hit a cyclist.”
In 2009, there were more than 700 bike-related accidents reported in the city and 4 fatalities.
To ensure that new and returning students, faculty, and staff are well versed on bike safety, the University is sponsoring its third annual Bicycle Safety Day today, September 7, at Marsh Plaza, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The purpose of the event, says Lancaster, is to make pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists more aware and respectful of one another.
Representatives from a number of local bike shops (including Landry’s, Back Bay Bicycle, REI, City Sports, and International Bicycle) will be on hand during the event to offer free tire pressure testing, seat height adjustments, and brake accuracy assessments. They’ll offer advice about bike maintenance and suggestions for those looking to buy new or used bicycles.
Students, staff, and faculty will have an opportunity to register their bikes with the University. Registration improves the odds of recovering a bike if it’s stolen and also provides access to indoor bicycle parking at the University.
And if all that weren’t enough, there’s the free stuff to consider. In addition to ice cream and kettle corn, there will be other giveaways, including reflectors and repair tools. Two bicycles will be raffled off as well, including a popular Felt road bike.
“We expect a huge turnout,” says Lancaster. “We think it’s going to be a lot of fun. We think the outcome is going to be very productive for everyone: pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.”
Bicycle Safety Day is Tuesday, September 7, at Marsh Plaza, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a rain date of Thursday, September 9, at the Granby Street parking lot, 665 Commonwealth Ave., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Additional reporting by Dan Mercurio.