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YouSpeak: How Safe Is Bicycling at BU?

The pros and cons of getting around on two wheels


Two bicyclists were killed in one week last month in separate incidents in Boston neighborhoods, a grim reminder that despite efforts by Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01), including a network of bike lanes around the city and stepped-up education and enforcement, it’s a long, long ride to safe cycling. Boston police last year recorded 365 bike accidents, one for every day of the year—and those are just the mishaps that were reported to them.

Boston Bikes, the bike program run out of the mayor’s office, regards the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and the BU Bridge as one of the most dangerous in the city for those on two wheels.

And it’s not dangerous just for cyclists. Motorists and pedestrians on campus routinely complain about riders who refuse to obey the rules of the road.

So this week’s “YouSpeak” asks: “How safe is bicycling at BU?”

YouSpeak” typically appears each Monday.

If you have a suggestion for a question we should ask, post it in the comment section below.

Alan Wong

Alan Wong can be reached at alanwong@bu.edu.

24 Comments on YouSpeak: How Safe Is Bicycling at BU?

  • Graham Wilson on 10.01.2012 at 7:23 am

    I am dismayed by the repeated failure of BU Police to take action against drivers who park in bike lanes creating a dangerous need for cyclists to pull out into heavy traffic. Every year BU police target cyclists who run red lights. OK. But every morning trucks outside the Union block the bike lane and BY Police do nothing. Why are the Police biased against the cyclists? Why do they turn a blind eye to this hazard? When will they ticket drivers for doing this?

  • Cutler Cleveland on 10.01.2012 at 7:30 am

    Bicycling safety is a 2-way street. To be sure, motorists imperial bicyclists by consistent disregard for traffic laws. However, bicyclists are equal partners. disobeying traffic claws on at least as frequent a basis as motorists. An its not just the “newbies”-some of the biggest offenders are the most experienced riders. Bicyclists need to get there own house in order.

  • Dan Schwab on 10.01.2012 at 7:59 am

    “And it’s not dangerous just for cyclists. Motorists and pedestrians on campus routinely complain about riders who refuse to obey the rules of the road.”

    Are there a lot of drivers being hurt or killed by bikers?

    • Anon on 10.01.2012 at 9:43 am

      “Motorists and pedestrians on campus routinely complain about riders who refuse to obey the rules of the road.”

      • Kevin on 10.01.2012 at 12:35 pm

        complain = were not killed
        bikes don’t kill car drivers

  • Patrick Crawford on 10.01.2012 at 8:37 am

    “If you see a cab, assume they are going to hit you”

    Truth. I’ve been > this close < to writing down plate numbers on so many occasions.

  • Anon on 10.01.2012 at 8:54 am

    Many years ago, a friend who was working as a bike messenger was killed on her bike. It was tragic for all involved, including the driver.

    That said, I don’t feel much empathy for the bicyclists in Boston. Many of the bicyclists on Comm Ave, for example, along with far too many of the pedestrians, flagrantly diregard road rules. That bike lane on the right that runs up Comm Ave, from the Common? Cute, but not their thing. Combine that with the double parked cars on the left and you end up with a one-lane road in the center of Boston, and at rush hour. It gets worse, daily. Can’t tell you how many times I have had to brake for a bicyclist who pretends I am not there, or who insists I drive slowly behind them until they make it up the hill or to whatever destination. And of course, they don’t believe in red lights. That’s for the unhip in cars. Let’s also notice those students crossing streets against the light, on foot. What light?…What car?…Can’t you see I am on my phone? Bikes are fun (I have a motorcycle licence) and perhaps help with greening the city, but on my daily commute to my job, they are frequently a dangerous and disrespectful element. Boston isn’t an easy city for traffic; if they want to make it work, they need to participate fully, first by dropping the attitude that they don’t need to follow road rules.

  • NT on 10.01.2012 at 9:58 am

    I am alarmed by the comments above, blaming bicyclists for these tragedies. Just because cyclists don’t always obey road rules, they don’t deserve any sympathy for sometimes fatal accidents?! That’s absurd.

    This past July, I got into a bike accident because a driver pulled into the bike lane and slammed on their brakes. Did I deserve this accident because I sometimes cross intersections with the pedestrians? Did I deserve to go to the hospital and miss a week of work because I don’t always stop at stop signs if no cars are coming? I was in the bike lane, wearing a helmet, following the rules and a car came into my lane and caused a serious accident.

    I understand that if a cyclist is not obeying road rules they put themselves and everyone else at risk. But what if a cyclist IS following the rules, but drivers fail to do their part?

  • Tom on 10.01.2012 at 10:23 am

    Everyone behaves badly in Boston, drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. IMO, cyclists are the worst, and I’m one myself. A huge fraction of cyclists think traffic laws don’t apply to them. They go through red lights, ride the wrong way, ride fast on the sidewalk and jostle pedestrians. I really hate getting ready to cross a street, checking the traffic, stepping into the street, and seeing a wrong-way cyclist on top of me. I wish the police would do something that caused more pain than warnings.

    It’s too bad, because cycling is a great way to get exercise and keep CO2 out of the air and this behavior gives it a bad name.

    You want respect, give respect, which includes following the laws.

  • emily on 10.01.2012 at 10:59 am

    As a cyclist and driver, I constantly remind myself and others that a car is 2000 pounds of machine and the bike is about 1% of its mass. In the hands of someone taking unnecessary risks at the wheel, a car is a devastatingly effective killing machine. Everyone is safer, driver, cyclist and pedestrian, when the heaviest thing on the road is operated by someone who respects the basic physics of this paradigm. Using turn signals helps cyclists tremendously. If I see a blinker, I can react and protect myself. In turn, as a cyclist, I do my damnedest to be as easy to see and well protected on the road as possible. Blinky lights and helmets are cheap and may just be the simplest investment in your education you can make! They help you protect your noggin!

    Here’s to moving in the right direction, staying safe, having fun, and getting to your destination with a smile on your face.

    • EmJo on 10.01.2012 at 12:06 pm

      “Using turn signals helps cyclists tremendously. If I see a blinker, I can react and protect myself.”

      This. At what point do drivers decide their turn signals are unnecessary? We had to use them to pass our driving tests and get our licenses. They are an effective tool for communicating with cars, bikes, and pedestrians. No car manufacturer has phased out “the blinker” because humans have since gained the sixth sense to read each others’ minds and know which way someone plans on turning.

      I simply cannot understand the neglect of using such a simple and helpful device. Please use your turn signals, people. It’s so easy.

  • Barbara Brown on 10.01.2012 at 11:11 am

    I’ve been commuting by bike to BU for some 30 yrs. Given that thousands more are joining me, I’d like to hear loud & clear what office at BU is supporting bicycling and lobbying/working w/ local gov’ts to improve safety. I don’t recall hearing from a BU office that has clout to make some improvements. With the increased number of cars on the road, the texting and phoning by drivers, I may have to give up what I love so that I can be safe. This would be a damn shame.

    • Dan on 10.01.2012 at 12:50 pm

      Barbara, it’s great to know that you’ve been commuting to BU for 30 years, but I am very surprised that you don’t know that there in fact *is* a group at BU that has been working with local groups and governments for the past four years: BU Bike Safety, which is run by the BU Transportation Office, and includes various contingents on campus, including Sustainability, the BU Police, and BU Bikes. Visit the Bike Safety web site at bu dot edu slash bikesafety. The group has done some amazing things in recent years, including Bike Safety Day, and hosting on-bike and off-bike rider workshops at BU. And BU Bikes is a student-run club that has worked heavily on bike safety advocacy since 2008. See bubikes dot bostonbiker dot org .

  • Ben on 10.01.2012 at 11:12 am

    People are bad at statistics, I get that. I’m studying psychology and statistics, I understand. However, if you want to look at whether bicycling is safe or not, maybe we should look at a few statistics. For example, you’re about 5 times as likely to die playing football as cycling, and that’s not taking into account the great new research coming out of BU on subconcussive hits. Hour for hour, you’re 4 times likelier to die swimming than cycling. Where’s the outrage at Fitrec for having a pool? You’re twice as likely to die in a car accident as a bike accident (per hour “driven”). However, you’re far more likely to die of heart disease than either one. If only one of them could help us live a healthier, more active life…
    So, BU, let’s up the stats in future articles, huh? Here’s a great resource on these risks. CDC provides more as well: http://cyclehelmets.org/1026.html

    • Dan on 10.01.2012 at 12:40 pm

      Alan, thank you for posting these statistics. I have always argued that biking, even in Boston, is really quite safe in the scheme of things. It saddens me that this article doesn’t address that and that the text in the first paragraph implies that the two recent deaths imply that bicycling is inherently dangerous. How often do people from Boston get killed in cars? It happens so often, nobody even notices anymore!

  • Alan Meyers on 10.01.2012 at 11:55 am

    In my nearly 20 years of bicycle-commuting from Cambridge to the BU medical campus, I’ve been injured twice – both times, by getting doored. I’ve also had many near-misses. IMO, getting doored is the biggest, most likely danger for cyclists. And there appears to be no public recognition of this fact. A few signs warning motorists who are parked beside a bike lane to “watch for bikes when opening your doors” would help, maybe some painted in the parking spaces? Getting knocked under a bus by a driver opening their door into you is the surest way to die on a bike in Boston

    • Rob on 10.03.2012 at 8:41 am

      This is so very true. As a 10 year bike commuter, this is the only thing I worry about. I’ve been doored twice and since doors tend to knock you out into the lane of traffic, I could have died either time.

      There needs to be more signs posted about this. Bikers die regularly from getting doored, so just having a couple signs up could actually save lives.

  • Michael Zank on 10.01.2012 at 12:44 pm

    Bikers: Please wear helmets and slow down in heavy traffic. I am often scared of fellow bikers zooming by me unexpectedly.

    Drivers: Please slow down around campus. The sheer amount of pedestrian, bike, and car traffic requires all of us to be more cautious and forgiving. No roadrage, please. Think Zen!

    Pedestrians: Wait and look out for crossing and try not to cross against the light. It annoys bikers and makes them swerve around dangerously. I’ve had near and actual collisions with oblivious pedestrians. Please wait your turn. It’s safer and you’ll make it to class on time.

  • Nige on 10.01.2012 at 12:58 pm

    First, it would be nice if everyone stuck to the rules; it would make it safer for everyone. Unless it’s unsafe for me to do so, I stop at stop signs, go through lights only when green and safe to do so, etc.

    However, I do think comments that cyclists deserve little sympathy because *some* of them frequently disobey road rules is more than a little disingenuous. Almost all car drivers speed, do not use signals, don’t stop *properly* at stop signs, etc. That seems to be conveniently forgotten, so I have to assume there is some bias coming in here…. add in the question of who is more at risk and it gets even murkier IMHO.

    And to anon who posted “who insists I drive slowly behind them until they make it up the hill or to whatever destination.” The answer is yes, until it is safe to overtake (read Massachusetts road rules). Is it that really too difficult? Or are you in a rush to get to that next red light? Do you not realize cyclists have a right to be there as much as you? Or is it only your “rights” you are concerned about? There’s more than a dash of irony when you close out your post with “if they want to make it work, they need to participate fully, first by dropping the attitude that they don’t need to follow road rules.”

    Yes, indeed, everyone needs to participate and understand the road rules.

  • Caroline on 10.01.2012 at 9:30 pm

    Drivers in Boston are dangerous, period. There’s a reason the term “Masshole” came into existence, and it’s not because of those of us on foot. I regularly cross the street at Pleasant Street and St. Paul Street to take the T to class. More than once, I’ve made it halfway through the crosswalk WITH THE LIGHT and a driver pulling a U-turn from the other side of the street has swerved around the corner and made me run to make it across without getting hit. No slowing down, nothing. Again, this has happened to me on several occasions and I would expect it has happened to other people as well. I do wish people would look at the overall safety of drivers on campus and around Boston and do something about it. They endanger pedestrians, bikers, and other drivers alike.

    That being said, if you’re in the road in Boston (be it on foot, driving, on a bike, etc.) you know the risks. Take all necessary precautions to keep yourself safe. Respect right-of-way, regardless of what vehicle you drive (or none at all). If you’re biking or walking late at night, wear bright clothing. Nobody can stop for you if you can’t be seen. If you think it’s important enough to you that you ride a bike despite the risks, protect yourself as much as possible and wear a helmet. Even if you think that you’re a good enough rider not to crash into something, you can’t predict what others around you may do. Head injury doesn’t need to be fatal to destroy your life.

    If you’re a driver please be more cautious of those around you!! I hate feeling like I have to sprint to safely cross the street when I’m following the rules. If you’re a biker try to be more courteous to those around you (pedestrians or drivers). If you’re a pedestrian please walk safely. There are rules of the road that apply to us too, and people will not take our complaints seriously if we blow off these rules.

  • Dan Schwab on 10.02.2012 at 8:20 am

    If there were no bikes on the road, driving a car would be a little more convenient and maybe a little faster. If there were no cars on the road, there would be a lot fewer dead bikers. Drivers complaining about bikers makes no sense. Cars are the problem.

    • Anonymous on 10.02.2012 at 10:41 am

      If bikers are being reckless and not following the rules of the road, it makes perfect sense for drivers and pedestrians to complain about them. If drivers are not being cautious enough and not sharing the road, it makes perfect sense for bikers to complain about them. People are the problem.

  • Dan Schwab on 10.02.2012 at 3:13 pm

    There’s an important asymmetry because drivers can hurt and kill bikers but bikers don’t hurt or kill drivers (or at least very rarely). Sure, people on bikes should be careful, but they’re not putting drivers’ safety at risk (pedestrians are a different story).

    The subject for the email announcing this story was “The Perils of Biking on Campus.” It should have been “The Perils of Being Hit By a Car While Biking on Campus.” No cars = no perils.

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