Our Boston bicycle injury lawyers have spent years advocating for safer communities for bicyclists that includes traffic infrastructure incorporating protected bicycle lanes. Just as sidewalks establish a safe mode of travel for pedestrians, protected bicycle lanes – those separated from motor vehicle traffic – are the ideal for safe cycling, especially in highly-congested urban areas.
According to Boston’s Bike Safety Report, there are currently more than 60 miles of bike lanes throughout the city. A bike lane is a designated route on a roadway for the exclusive use of bicycles and is often separated by a solid bright white line, pavement coloring or other symbol. Motorists should not drive in a designated bike lane unless they are turning. Drivers are also prohibited from stopping or parking in a bike lane, which is punishable by fine.
Although Boston officials have outlined a solid vision for how to proceed, the process is moving excruciatingly slow for those of us who cycle daily.
In the meantime, our suburban neighbor, Cambridge, is leading the charge. As reported by the StreetsBlog, Cambridge became the very first city in the U.S. to make protected bicycle lanes mandatory. The only other city with a similar policy is Portland, OR, and that community requires bicycles lanes only on major streets.
Cambridge passed the “Cycling Safety Ordinance” bill in April, requiring all city streets to be equipped with protected bicycle lanes. When that vision is fully realized, it will mean an expansive network of 20 miles of urban protected bicycle lanes.
Although Cambridge is a suburb of Boston, it’s a major cycling thoroughfare back-and-forth, as riders commute to-and-from downtown Boston, across the Longfellow Bridge to Harvard University, Mt. Auburn Hospital, Hubspot and a number of research facilities. Cambridge has a higher-than-average percentage of people who bike to work, which is part of what made this a significant priority for city council there.
How Protected Bicycle Lanes Can Prevent Boston Bicycle Accidents
Bicycling on its own can be an inherently dangerous activity. However, the risk grows exponentially when a bicycle and motor vehicle traffic intersect, mostly thanks to the wide disparity of size and speed between the two vehicles.
However, unlike motor vehicle crashes, which increase the more motor vehicle crashes there are, the collective number of bicycle crashes declines the more bicyclists there are in a community. What’s more, cities that prioritize safer bicycling also have lower rates of overall crashes.
Intersections are one of the most dangerous places for cyclists. Vehicles are more likely to be turning and not watching for bicycles in bike lanes. In fact, nearly 60% of bicycle crashes in Boston are reported to happen at intersections.
In a study recently published in the Journal of Transport and Health, researchers with the College of Engineering, Design and Computing at CU Denver analyzed more than a dozen years of data in more than 12 different cities. During this time, there was a reported 50 percent increase in the number of people biking to work as well as the number of protected bicycle lanes. Over the course of the study period, there were 17,000 traffic deaths and 77,000 serious injuries.
Researchers theorized there would be a decline in serious bicycle accidents the higher the cyclist concentration, solely for the fact drivers would be more “trained” to watch for them and slow down.
As it turned out – there was a reduction in the overall number of reported bicycle crashes. However, it wasn’t so much that drivers altered their behavior behind the wheel because there were more bicyclists. Rather, the infrastructure build for cyclists – protected bicycle lanes in particular – are associated with fewer roadway deaths – and less severe bike crashes where they do occur.
Traffic engineers with the State of Massachusetts Department of Transportation noted how much more difficult it is for a driver in a car to see a bicyclist riding on the road just ahead to the right compared to one riding in a bicycle lane.
The big – rather unexpected – bonus gleaned from the research was that in those cities that had heavily invested in protected bicycle lanes, the road fatality rate for ALL motor vehicle crashes tumbled by as much as 75 percent.
Boston bicycle accident attorneys could present this as Exhibit A, B and C why the city and state should take swift action on this. Massachusetts has had more protected bicycle lanes in its sites for the last several years.
Protected Bicycle Lanes Increasingly on City Planning Agendas
Protected bicycling lanes along all streets in Cambridge have been part of the long-term plan for Cambridge city planners. This measure, passed in April, will ensure the cycling is factored as an inherent element of traffic infrastructure.
Now by law, the university town of 113,000 (noted for its larger-than-average number of bicycle commuters) will be required to set erect barriers between motor vehicles and bicyclists on any road that is reconfigured, rebuilt or expanded. The only way a roadway will be exempt is by an express, case-by-case basis of detailed physical and financial restraints.
That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see protected bicycle lanes will pop up immediately throughout Cambridge. In all likelihood, progress will be gradual, appearing as city plans and completes upgrades.
Some Massachusetts bicycle safety advocates argue swifter action is needed, particularly considering Cambridge’s stance as the No. 4 most dense city in the U.S. Having this alternate means of travel safe and available to any who wish to avail themselves is an imperative, not only for the environment and personal health, but for a boost in local business and a more efficient means of travel. Plus, the fewer cars on the road, the fewer crashes we have.
Still, in unanimously passing a measure that sets policy mandating bicyclist safety – not merely calling for it – the city council gives teeth to the objective.
Thus far, local reports are that the opposing “bikelash” sometimes seen when pro-bicycling measures are passed has been minimal.
Here in Boston, city officials have added roughly 6 miles of protected bicycle lanes total over the last five years. If we have any hope of meeting the Go Boston 2030 goals outlined in the mayor’s transportation plan, we should be constructing about 7 or 8 miles of protected bicycle lanes annually for the next three years.
At the current rate, that goal won’t be met. Officials say we can expect by the close of summer for projects along Commonwealth Avenue and Summer Street to be completed and ground to break on retrofitting parts of the Southwest Corridor with bicycle lanes.