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New Cycling Safety Measures on Comm Ave

University, city plan improvements

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More warning signs, better bike lane markings, and highway reflectors will be added to the campus’ mile-and-a-half strip along Commonwealth Avenue to improve safety in the wake of the death of a student cyclist in December.

Those improvements, recommended by a joint BU-city working group, will be made by the city. Safety advocates, including Craig Hill, chairman of BU’s Bike Safety Committee, commended the measures, while cautioning that additional improvements may be necessary in the future.

“I’m hopeful that these changes will help protect bicyclists and pedestrians traveling along this very busy stretch of Commonwealth Avenue,” says BU President Robert A. Brown. “I am also extremely grateful for the city’s continued support of bike safety initiatives that safeguard all people who use the city streets that pass through our campus.”

The improvements will include:

  • Signs. New signage will designate a “High bicycle and pedestrian activity zone,” and instruct drivers to “Share the road” and “Yield to bicycles when turning right.” Other signs will post a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. Part of the stretch had been posted for 30 mph.
  • Pavement markings:. The existing bike lanes, installed five years ago, will be painted at intersection crossings with skid-resistant, high-visibility green paint, and white bike-shared-lane markings will be added within the green paint at busy intersections and at long crossings. The width of the bike lanes’ edges will be increased to six inches, from the present four inches.
  • Reflectors. Highway reflectors, recessed into the pavement, will be installed along the outside of bike lanes between intersections, and more closely spaced before each intersection crossing.
Boston University BU, bike safety, new charles river campus street signage

Warning signs to improve safety will be installed on Commonwealth Avenue. Photo courtesy of Tetra Tech

Hill, associate vice president for auxiliary services, says the improvements “will result in more clearly defined bike lanes, especially at night, and raise the awareness of motorists that this corridor is a high pedestrian and bicycle area.”

The ultimate solution for bicyclists would be separated cycle tracks,” says Hill, “where bicyclists have some sort of a protection barrier from moving and parked vehicles. This solution is not feasible in the near term.” (Boston has such a lane on Western Avenue, where cars park by the lane, not the sidewalk; the parked cars buffer cyclists from the auto travel lane.)

Hill says his committee is studying other possible improvements, including the removal of metered parking spaces “that are too close to busy intersections.”

David Watson, a Metropolitan College lecturer on city planning and director of the advocacy and safety group MassBike.org, also touts cycle tracks as a possible project for a “major redesign” of Commonwealth Avenue. Meanwhile, he says, the agreed-to improvements “sound like they will help remind motorists to look carefully for bicyclists along Comm Ave. If the city is actually reducing the speed limit from 30 to 25, that will increase safety for everyone by giving drivers more time to look around and react to the people around them, and will help reduce the severity of injuries” in crashes.

Jonathan Simmons (GRS’91), boston.com’s On Biking columnist and author of the book Here for the Ride: A Tale of Obsession on Two Wheels, says additional changes should be made. The improvements will be “helpful but in no way sufficient,” says Simmons, who believes that lowering the speed limit further, to 20 miles per hour, “won’t appreciably slow people’s commute, and it will make it significantly safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers, too.”

Boston University BU, bike safety, new charles river campus street signage

Pavement reflectors and enhanced bike lanes are part of the city's planned safety improvements. Photo courtesy of Tetra Tech

Steve Miller, a Harvard School of Public Health administrator who blogs about transportation, credits the city for agreeing to “real improvement over current conditions, a creative way of bringing the bike lanes to the next level without having to do expensive construction.…Better still would be protected bike lanes, created either by installing rubber posts, removable during snow season…or by a curb separation.” He also suggests special traffic lights for cyclists only, synchronized with those for cars, Green Line trolleys, and pedestrians.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) says the improvements expand the city’s effort to boost cycling and make it safe. Previous work includes the installation of 58 miles of bike lanes citywide and the 2011 launch of Hubway, which rents curbside bikes to riders at several locations around the city. As a result, he says, the number of bike commuters jumped 82 percent between 2007 and 2011, “and ensuring safety for all of these cyclists is a top priority in the city.”

The mayor says the partnership with BU on the new Comm Ave improvements “will result in keeping BU’s cycling community safe on this busy roadway.”

Two students died last fall in cycling accidents. Christopher Weigl (COM’13) collided with a tractor-trailer at Comm Ave’s intersection with St. Paul Street, and Chung Wei Yang (CAS’15) was hit and killed by an MBTA bus at the intersection of Harvard and Brighton Avenues in Allston.

39 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

39 Comments on New Cycling Safety Measures on Comm Ave

  • Barbara on 03.18.2013 at 5:33 am

    An integral component of implementing modified bike infrastructure projects is changing behavior. Painting portions of the roadways green and introducing signage is only part of the solution. What will be done to motorists who double-park and use bike lanes as loading zones? Will tickets be issued?

    Additionally, what about the many dangerous intersections on Comm Ave that already have strips of green paint implemented on the pavement? A truly bold move would be to implement cycletracks. Behaviors would change all around, from pedestrians to motorists. Comm Ave is so linear that cycletracks with bike turn lanes is a viable option to consider, fix the whole system rather than do it in parts.

    Barbara Jacobson, M.C.P. 2015

  • EM on 03.18.2013 at 6:31 am

    I think they are only tackling one side of the problem with this. It seems some people fail to realize that some of these accidents or near ones also occur because cyclists dont know how to share the street with cars. As a pedestrian and as a cyclist I’ve been hit by a bicycle running a red light on comm ave at night, the worst being while going through a green light on a bicycle myself. Last year they implemented police at intersections and handed out citations/warned over 100 cyclists in one day for running red lights and so it’s clearly an issue. Perhaps they should also be developing bike safety programs so that cyclists know how to ride on the street. Accidents will continue to occur if cyclists don’t follow basic driving laws.

    • tomandsarah on 03.18.2013 at 10:39 am

      I too am a cyclist and have had near misses both walking and biking with bikes blowing through red lights. I am a bike commuter and agree 100% that cyclist share the blame in the safety problem. Part of the issue is those who think they are still in elementary school riding their bike around the block. These are cities streets, if bikes are valid transport options(they are) then they need to obey the rules of the road.

  • Neighbor on 03.18.2013 at 7:04 am

    The sign that says turning vehicles yield to bicycles on first glance looks like it’s opposite: bold turn arrow indicating cars are good to turn. That sign is too busy. Otherwise the signs are good, but as a daily bike commuter I still avoid comm ave by riding through adjacent neighborhoods bc comm ave is a death trap. I wish they’d give bikes a portion of the enormous sidewalks there.

  • Ashley on 03.18.2013 at 8:06 am

    I’m happy to see that they’re making progress, and most of the potential future improvements sound helpful. Hopefully this will cut down on the number/severity of accidents.

  • JLC on 03.18.2013 at 8:16 am

    Why is there no mention of the Masssachusetts LAW that requires ALL vehicles on the road to follow the same rules? Meaning 1) yield on turns and 2)stop at ALL stop signs & traffic lights?

    I cannot count the number of times I have almost killed a cyclist while minding my own business, proceeding straight through a green light while the cyclist speeds through a red light perpendicular to traffic.

    • John on 03.18.2013 at 10:33 am

      This is correct. People on bikes need to follow the rules. Where’s the sign that says that?

      • Will on 03.18.2013 at 12:05 pm

        The sign that says that is on Comm Ave at Packards Corner, and has been for a few weeks now. It also reminds bikers to wear bright colors.

        • Neighbor on 03.19.2013 at 12:25 pm

          The biker killed on comm ave had the right of way and was proceeding through a green light. Cars don’t appreciate when they turn right that they are cutting across a lane that has a right to head straight. A car turned right across the biker’s lane as the biker was going through the intersection on green. Of course bikers need to follow the law but the hostility to them is both depressing and dangerous.

  • LarryO on 03.18.2013 at 8:39 am

    Green paint? Who had that not-so-bright idea? Why is the original bad color idea (green) being repeated? What does green mean? Go!
    The painted bike path areas of the intersections should be YELLOW, the universal color for caution! What color are existing warning signs and the proposed ones? Yellow. Yellow paint in the intersection crossings would serve as cautionary warnings to both cyclists and drivers. Green made no sense 5 years ago, and that mistake should not be repeated.

    • Amy on 03.18.2013 at 9:46 am

      Very good points!!!

    • Freddie on 03.19.2013 at 5:53 am

      Actually, green paint has been proven to attract a driver’s attention, hence the green lane bike project: http://greenlaneproject.org/

      • LarryO on 03.20.2013 at 8:34 am

        I took a quick look at the website you provided and ‘green’ mostly refers to special separate cycling lanes or cycle tracks, “some of which are actually painted green” My point stands. Yellow, red, blue, purple, pink … *any* color other than green would be better

  • Albert Ma on 03.18.2013 at 9:28 am

    I thought that your front, top picture was giving exactly the wrong message. A fast-riding bike, with biker riding almost standing up, zooming by…hardly a sign of safety or caution. Kal is a wonderful photographer; the editor just picked the wrong pic and put it in the wrong place.

    How about showing a picture of a bike stopped in front of a STOP sign or a traffic light in red?

  • Andrew on 03.18.2013 at 9:31 am

    As someone who wants to begin bike riding this summer these improvements definitely are important steps.

    Two additional steps would be to have a free defensive riding course for students, faculty, and staff and also enforcement of bike riding laws. I often see bikes running through red lights. Defensive bike riding like defensive driving can prevent accidents.

  • Anon on 03.18.2013 at 10:09 am

    I’m pretty sure signs aren’t going to do anything. Drivers don’t yield to the “Yield to Pedestrians, State Law” signs around here, and they probably won’t bother to read them on Comm Ave.

    • Freddie on 03.19.2013 at 5:59 am

      Yeah, signs are not really effective when you consider “do not litter” signs…but, I’m all for any kind of improvements though!

      I think the major thing we need to do is to educate through the Motor Vehicle Depts…it would go a long way if the rmv would run a simple campaign educating both drivers and bicyclists…

  • Zvi Bodie on 03.18.2013 at 10:10 am

    Changes like these should be implemented on Beacon Street too. There seem to be a lot of BU bike commuters who take Beacon Street to and from BU.

  • Tom on 03.18.2013 at 10:14 am

    Comm ave already has intersections where cars can turn right while pedestrians have a walk light for the cross street. There are signs saying “yield to pedestrians on right turn”. The cars ignore them. It’s a very dangerous arrangement. What makes anyone think it will be different for bicycles?

    The best way to improve bike safety is for cyclists to obey traffic laws! Stopping at red lights would be a good start. If we’re gonna discuss lowering the speed limit for cars, I wonder if cyclists think it applies to them? If we’re gonna say “share the road”, I wonder if cyclists will start looking out for pedestrians?

    • Neighbor on 03.19.2013 at 12:28 pm

      The biker who died on comm ave had the right of way and was going through a green light when the truck turned into the bikers lane to make a right turn. There’s so much hostility toward bikers re following traffic rules but cars don’t even know what the rules are.

  • Court Watcher on 03.18.2013 at 10:46 am

    How about when Students/faculty register their bikes with BU, they take a course on Bike Safety first before given a bike permit to ride on BU property?? I do see a lot ignorant bike riders (going through red lights/riding between two lanes of cars stopped , or not giving pedestrians right of way)..Bikers need to know they are required to follow rules similar to autos (a lot bikers do NOT know that!)..

    • Anonymous on 03.18.2013 at 1:42 pm

      Streets, intersections, and sidewalks are public ways, not BU property.

  • kurisu on 03.18.2013 at 10:56 am

    The cycle tracks on Western Blvd are awesome. They need to be longer. I always breathe a sigh of relief when I get to them. They would help a lot on Commonwealth Avenue and Brighten Avenue where cars double-park in the bike lanes all the time and buses pull in and out of the bike lanes all the time. With the new system and signage, will they instruct the MBTA buses to load and unload from the driving lanes instead of pulling into the bike lanes? Even if bikers have to stop for the passengers, it would be better than trying to pull around the bus into traffic and then pull back in front of the bus.

  • Safetygirl on 03.18.2013 at 11:18 am

    Can we get the city to change the green right-hand turn signal for cars westbound at Comm. Ave and Babcock? – (a high volume pedestrian walk-way) There’s no walk signal for pedestrians there.

  • Daniel on 03.18.2013 at 11:29 am

    If you agree with the above, then and only then does your bike safety course requirement make any sense at all. There in fact ARE bike safety courses that MassBike runs at BU, and BU Bikes runs regular classes and group rides. (FYI, your requirement would actually cause FEWER cyclists to be on the roads, making cycling MORE dangerous because in cycling, there is safety in numbers!) Drivers are already required to take driving license tests, yet you are FAR more likely to be killed in a car accident than a bike accident. And only a car is a deadly weapon — a bike is NOT.

    • Tom on 03.18.2013 at 12:03 pm

      Sorry, a bike is a deadly weapon to a pedestrian. This is not just about bikes and cars, there are three elements in the mix.

      It is a joke to compare cyclists and drivers re compliance with the laws. 99.99% of cars stop at red lights, I’d be surprised if 50% of cyclists do.

      To get respect, give respect.

      • Jared on 03.18.2013 at 9:34 pm

        Yeah and 1% of pedestrians wait for the walk signal to cross the street. I love watching self entitled brats think they can walk out in front of cars and bikes anytime they like. Pedestrians are the worst when it comes to compliance with any traffic laws.

        • Neighbor on 03.19.2013 at 12:34 pm

          Tom this reform is to deal with the death of a biker who had the right of way through a green light and a truck who cut across the bikers lane to make a right turn. Your misunderstanding of the right of way dynamics on comm ave is exactly why it’s so dangerous–the car stops at a red, but it turns across the bike lane on a green when it does not have the right of way. That happens every day on comm ave, cars not complying with the yield laws and turning across the bike lane without looking. Your beliefs about car compliance don’t change that, but they do show why comm ave is a death trap for cyclists–drivers don’t even know the law of right of way in that context.

      • dorian K on 03.19.2013 at 2:41 pm

        How many pedestrians have been killed by cyclists in Boston in the 140 years people have been riding bikes around here?

        ZERO. NONE.

  • Daniel on 03.18.2013 at 11:29 am

    Court Watcher, how about students/faculty need to register their cars at BU, and they need take a course on Car Safety first before being given a car permit to drive on BU property?? I do see a lot of ignorant car drivers (driving way over the speed limit/not stopping for stop signs/going through red lights/driving in the bike lane/not giving pedestrians or cyclists the right of way).. Drivers need to know they are required to follow rules (a lot of drivers do NOT know that).

    • Sam on 03.18.2013 at 8:38 pm

      Drivers are held accountable for their driving actions by traffic laws, insurance cost implications, licensing regulation, etc. Bikers are not. What you’ll find, as a result, is that a far smaller proportion of truly “bad” or “unsafe” drivers who ignore stop signs, lights, and traffic laws than there are bikers. There is no incentive or accountability for bikers, because reckless riding results in no repercussions. A safe driving test would be far less effective, because the majority of drivers are competent at least enough to obey traffic laws because they do have those repercussions.

  • Tom on 03.18.2013 at 2:15 pm

    I am a bicyclist in Boston. Both motorists and bicycles alike must “Share the Road” and keep each other safe. I see more bicyclists breaking rules than motorists.
    From one bicyclist to another: Please, …
    - Follow the same rules as cars. This is the law.
    - Don’t run red lights. It’s really NOT faster.
    - Don’t run green lights because someone is always running the red.
    - Don’t ride on the sidewalk. You can seriously hurt pedestrians.
    - Wear a helmet. There are worse hair styles than helmet head.
    - Wear lights. Cars can’t avoid you if they can’t see you.
    - Stay out of a car’s blind spots. It’s called a blind spot because they can’t see you there.
    - Give cars a little space. It keeps drivers comfortable.
    Dear motorists: Please,…
    - Hang up and drive.
    - Don’t park in the bike lane. It’s all we’ve got.
    - Cabbies, don’t pull in front of bicyclist and slam on the brakes to pick up a passenger.
    - Don’t drive backwards the wrong way down a one way street.
    - Give bicyclists some space. Six inches is not enough when you don’t have one ton of steel surrounding you.

    • Well on 03.19.2013 at 1:08 am

      I came here to say this, but you covered it 100%.

      +1

  • N on 03.18.2013 at 3:46 pm

    1. Should go for cycling tracks with parked cars as a buffer instead.
    2. Stop putting up signs with more than 2 words on it!!! Use pictogram or nothing. Why is this thing in the US to write so many things on signs?

  • Ben on 03.19.2013 at 8:52 am

    Much of the bike lanes on Comm. Ave encourage people to ride in the most dangerous place on the road: Sandwiched between opening car doors and motor vehicles passing closely and quickly. This is especially dangerous on the downhill sections. How about making it more comfortable for cyclists to ride further from the parked cars? Perhaps sharrows in the first travel lanes in addition to the bike lane. Riding further out also always cyclists and motor vehicles to merge before turns, reducing the danger of a right hook.

  • anon on 03.20.2013 at 1:00 pm

    Nothing about enforcement, ticketing, fines for drivers or for cyclists. So it seems that everyone can and will continue to behave as they wish with no consequences. Nothing will ever change until enforcement of existing laws take place, and right now there is none.

  • Carol on 03.20.2013 at 8:30 pm

    I am motorist and I am constantly in the lookout for cyclist because once I was one! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!! wear helmets and lights and follow the road rules. I cant tell you how many people i see without helmets on and just weaving in between cars. This is a city and there are accidents between cars and bikes and people. Please ride responsibly and protect yourself. I think Tom really summarized quite well. I think the safety messages needs to be directed towards motorists, cyclists and pedestrian…not just one party because we all have the responsibility of sharing the road.

  • brad4d on 03.21.2013 at 11:29 pm

    Carol,
    Education, lights and the ability to truly see significant road hazards are far more important than helmets. Ask any of the 5 helmeted bike fatalities in Boston last year.

    Could classmates and professors of Christopher Weigl take it upon themselves to photograph and make a record of the distortion in the pavement of the downhill doorzone bike lane 100 yards before St. Paul St. intersection?

    I think those photographs (and measurements) will prove that the worst distortion is about 25 yards before the intersection.

    A photo essay of other bike lanes in Boston (found at BostonBiker.com) recommends that cyclists who ride on the extreme left side of a door zone bike lane can do so safely. Christopher Weigls experience on his last ride was probably not on the extreme left side of the Comm Av ebike lane because it was and is so distorted. (Hitting a 3in rise in pavement is highly disruptive to steering)

    Because of the distortion for 100 yards before the intersection , It is highly likely that Christopher by choosing to ride in the “safety of a bike lane” would probably have then chosen to ride further to the right side and closer to the danger of a quick series of potential door openings in his face.

    It is my contention that Christopher was so preoccupied with being door’d, that he did not have sufficient awareness to see a truck taking an illegal turn.

    Why is there no mention in the above article of restricting trucks taking right turn on to St. Paul and rerouting truck traffic to a street where it could be accomplished more safely?

    Why is there no mention of the importance of bike lane maintenance? Within the hard core bike community it is well known that inexperienced cyclists will probably exceed their safe speed(think reaction time to an opening door) as they travel downhill within doorzone. A less experienced cyclist would focus more on the danger of being door’d than on reading the signals and signs of what other road users are doing.

    It has been over 3 months since the fatality and I have often thought why can’t Boston’s current bicycle advocacy groups see clearly and do something more than superficial signage?

    The distortion of the pavement on the left side of the bike lane is not likely caused by bicycles but by trucks and buss traffic as they brake hard for the traffic light. I reported this condition to a city official 2 months ago and
    has anyone even seen the distortions painted bright yellow to warn cyclists of the danger?

    I hope that someone who lives and bicycles on that road will take it upon them selves to tamp down those humps on what should be the safer side of the door- zone-bike-lane . It does not seem like BU safety committee or city officials understand.

  • John S. Allen on 04.25.2013 at 10:07 pm

    The BU campus — a stip mall with classrooms and now the plan is to try once again to improve the speedway down the middle.

    Please see my article here about how some real safety improvments might be made through other connections which would provide alternate routes:

    The most common fatal bicycle crash type in the Boston area is the “right hook” — motorist turning right across the path of the bicyclist. The illustration with the article shows institutionalization of that maneuver. Instead, motorists should be merging across the bike lane into the space after the last parked car. That is also what the traffic law requires.

    I agree with bradd’s comment about riding at the left side of the bike lane being necessary to avoid the dooring hazard. I read also that reflectorized pavement markers are to be placed on the lane line to the left of the bike lane. Here’s a little video which shows what happens when a highly-skilled bicyclist hits a reflectorized lane marker: https://vimeo.com/23377374.

    Are the people designing this project completely out of their minds?

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