About 100 bicyclists crossing the intersection of Comm Ave and the BU Bridge got an unwelcome surprise yesterday: a $20 fine for running a red light.
Four Boston Police Department motorcycle policemen spent eight-plus hours on the sunny September day waving startled cyclists to the shoulder of the I-90 overpass. Officers told the scofflaws that the enforcement effort, the second in that spot since spring, followed the recent deaths of cyclists in Brighton and Jamaica Plain.
“As we work to make Boston more bike-friendly, one of the key components is getting everyone on the roads to respect each other,” says Nicole Freedman, director of Boston Bikes, a safety program run out of City Hall. “For cyclists, that’s following the rules of the road.” Freedman says Commonwealth Avenue lags behind only Massachusetts Avenue as Boston’s most bike-accident-plagued road.
Nabbed students seemed to have few objections.
“They wanted to enforce the laws for the safety of bikers,” says Eduardo Colon (CAS’12), who bikes the avenue at least four times a week. “It’s the law, so it’s fine.”
“I understand that they’re definitely trying to keep everyone safe, which is a good thing. It’s what they have to do,” says John Bourous (SMG’12). “I mean, it’s a $20 ticket; it’s nothing too hefty. It’s just kind of a nuisance.”
“We know it’s only a $20 fine. But public education is the main reason we’re doing this,” says Thomas Lee, Boston Police Department deputy superintendent. Lee says additional enforcement efforts will occur sporadically at the site, depending on officers’ availability. “It’s not meant to be a negative,” he says. “Our goal is to protect the cyclists.” He reports that several of the students stopped yesterday thanked the officers.
Many of the cyclists were not wearing helmets, a common (though legal) gamble among student riders, says Seth Pritikin (MET’06, GSM’10), a School of Social Work consultant and analyst who serves on BU’s bicycle safety committee and is a staff advisor to the student group BU Bikes. Pritikin calls the ticketing a “good safety step,” but says it should be coupled with enforcement of motorist and pedestrian rules as well.
“Everyone around here just pushes the boundaries—pedestrians, bicyclists, cars,” he says. “It’s a morass of ridiculousness.”
Pritikin says that students who bike without helmets or with headphones covering their ears “need a wakeup call.”
Amen, says Shane Jordan, education and outreach director for the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. “Bicycles are legally vehicles, and they are required to follow the same rules as other vehicles. We like the idea of enforcing traffic laws. What we don’t want is when they only go after bikers.”
Lee says yesterday’s crackdown also nabbed some motorists who had illegally encroached on the bicycle lane along Commonwealth Avenue.
The BU Bridge ambush, according to Boston Police, was driven in part by two recent tragedies: a 24-year-old woman was killed last month in Brighton when a car hit the bike she was riding. The woman, who was not wearing a helmet, was biking near the Commonwealth Avenue–Kelton Street intersection. Four months earlier, a 22-year-old Mission Hill man died in a crash with an MBTA bus on Huntington Avenue.
Despite the alleged negligence of both cyclists and drivers in Boston, Massachusetts has few cyclist fatalities compared to other states—just 10 in 2007, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—but safety experts say many accidents go unreported by cyclists. The cyclist mortality rate in 2007 in Florida, for instance, was four times that of Massachusetts.
As one ticketed student, who declined to give her name, shrugs, “You were bound to get caught eventually.”
Rich Barlow can be reached at email@example.com.