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Cycling Deaths: Who's to Blame?

A Boston University grad student was the fifth Boston cyclist to die in a crash this year. What must change to improve cycling safety?

Boston University Graduate School of Communication student Christopher Weigl was killed yesterday after he was hit by a tractor trailer on Commonwealth Avenue. 

The tragedy marks the fifth time a cyclist has been killed on a Boston roadway in 2011. According to boston.com, there was a 5 percent increase in cycling-related injuries from 2011 to 2012. While that seems like an increase, you have to consider there was an estimated 31 percent increase in overall cycling in the city for the same period.

Is anyone to blame for the fatalities and increased cycling accidents? Drivers and cyclists have spent years blaming each other for run-ins, with drivers complaining the the cyclists run red lights and are erratic on the roadway, and cyclists arguing the drivers also run reds (especially when turning) and are not aware of their surroundings. But most folks agree both drivers and cyclists must respect the rules of the road.

Does Boston or the state deserve blame for the current roadway infrastructure, where bike lanes mysteriously end and sharrows are painted and never explained? Should the city consider separated lanes, like the cycle tracks Somerville's installing on Beacon Street? Or does the government deserve some credit for actively and aggressively adding bike infrastructure to promote cycling?

Share your views about culpability and ways to fix the problem in the comments below.

Will Crosby December 07, 2012 at 10:54 AM
Your headline is focused on "blame." Why fuel fingerpointing? Take a cue from your subhead: "What must change?" That will yield a much more productive discussion.
Matt Clarke December 07, 2012 at 10:59 AM
The city if Boston is to blame, for lagging behind with its decidedly non multi modal infrastructure. Bike lanes in congested areas such as this are insufficient. Protected cyclotracks are what's needed. Yesterday's (ironically scheduled) hearing was a step in the right direction. Please, Patch. Don't attempt to do what the rest of the local media have done and try to present this as a cyclists vs. Motorists "war."
SM_bos December 07, 2012 at 11:36 AM
Question: what are the rules of the road regarding bike lanes? In a car, when you turn right, you DO NOT expect anyone to be approaching on your right while you make the turn. However with the addition of bike lanes on the right, I've witnessed and participated in near-misses as cars slow to make a right, may or may not see the bike approaching in the bike lane. Cyclist does not slow down, and it's potential for a bad situation. But like I said, drivers have been making right turns their entire lives without expecting a vehicle to 'sneak' up from the right-rear. We threw in these new lanes with no communication or training regarding any rules. I support more cycling and don't know who's to "blame" for the accidents. But I do see an opportunity for the registry, the police, the bike czar, or whomever to launch an education blitz on how we deal with these new road features.
yogasong December 07, 2012 at 11:58 AM
SM_bos - I totally agree with you and had been thinking about that yesterday after the accident. A cyclist to a driver's right could very well be in the driver's blind spot in addition to the driver not being used to someone coming up on their right side. When I cycle I try to be extra aware if what the cars around me are doing but I'm an infrequent cyclist so I'm probably more paranoid than the daily bike commuter. As a car driver just yesterday evening a middle aged man riding a bike dark clothing without lights, ran a red light and I missed hitting him with my car by just a few feet. His casual wave to me just infuriated me further. In Boston I have had a cousin die in a motorcycle accident and a friend killed in a bike accident so yes, I have an axe to grind, but please dear bicyclists, at least follow the traffic laws. Thanks for the space to vent.
SteveMac December 07, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Unless there's some actual protection in place, guard rails or something like that, there are some streets in Boston that bikes just don't belong. Quick examples would be Comm Ave from Packard's corner to Kenmore (min), Huntington Ave, the JWay and I'm sure a bunch more that I'm not on every day. Just stand on any corner for 5 minutes around the BU campus and see what goes on between bikes, cars and pedestrians. You will understand that there is a major problem and I don't think is unique to this area. What happens when we get snow piles in the bike lanes? The city and others encouraged this new bike use concept with bike lanes that in many cases make no sense..just look at some of them and where they take you!!! I was ecstatic to read the other day that those bike rental racks/areas were closed on December 1st for the winter. The city isn't ready for this increase of bike traffic and should rethink the plan before opening them up again on March 1st.
Boz December 07, 2012 at 01:32 PM
I am a bike commuter, so I certainly intend no disrespect to anyone involved in this accident when I say I'm not sure we need to do a lot of soul searching every time there's a vehicle accident. The most recent statistics I could find showed 244 deaths in car accidents in Greater Boston. (Which makes us one of the safest cities in the country, despite popular opinion.) http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6128a2.htm Most of these accidents don't even make the news. When people do things, they make mistakes, and so as long as humans are operating vehicles, there are going to be accidents. We should strive to minimize them, of course, but society can never completely correct for human error. Putting bike accidents in the headlines only helps reinforce the misconception that biking is inherently unsafe.
JMc December 07, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Maybe it's time to require bikes to have flashing headlights at all times, not just at night. Give more visibility for right hand turn type of scenarios.
steve dudley December 07, 2012 at 02:47 PM
I absolutely agrre with you. I've had many near misses in this scenario. Stopped or slowed to make a right nturn in my car , and a bike zooms up on my right to cross the intersection and i can't see him/her. There is a blind spot on the right side, and i also have to watch on coming traffic turning left in front of me and traffic going straight across the intersection. i think a cyclist was killed this way on Mass ave at MIT last year. Don't know the answer, but when on my bike. i yield to let the car turn right .
Owen December 07, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Roberto Scalese, The fact that you wrote "Who's to Blame" shows that you have a fundamental lack of understanding of the issues facing motorists and cyclists in urban environments. All you are doing is inviting people to point fingers and stoop to childish levels of arguing. I will not participate in any discussion that is predicated on blame. Please consider revising this article to reflect a tone that invites civil discussion.
Brookline Symphony Orchestra December 07, 2012 at 03:43 PM
The law says that it's the car driver's responsibility to check on their right. Here is an excerpt from http://massbike.org/resourcesnew/bike-law/ "Motorists are prohibited from making abrupt right turns (“right hooks”) at intersections and driveways after passing a cyclist." Whether this law makes sense is a different story but it is there.
Brookline Symphony Orchestra December 07, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Here is my two cents as a year round daily commuter who does respect all traffic laws. I've had 0 accidents in the past 10 years. We are missing three critical components: Education of cyclists and drivers about the new rules of the road (massbike.org does a great job at this but we need more). Enforcement of these rules (all greater boston communities do a poor job at this. Give tickets to cyclists!!). Build infrastructure. Painted lanes are a start, but Boston can do a lot better.
richard field December 07, 2012 at 04:07 PM
The comment that bikes dont belong on a road shows the misunderstanding that many drivers have concerning bicycles. Bicycles are entitled to one full lane on surface streets. We ride on the right side of most lanes as a courtesy to motor vehicle drivers. However, if there is no room to pass the driver has to acknowledge our right to take up the entire lane.
yogasong December 07, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Training for both drivers and cyclists would be really helpful. I'm also in favor of ticketing unlawful cyclists and drivers showing car aggression towards cyclists.
Mark Angney December 07, 2012 at 09:07 PM
I'm a resident of JP --and use a walker-- and find cyclists anathema: Usually (day and night) sporting no helmets/lights/orange jackets; ignoring traffic signals and/or crosswalks with pedestrians waiting; cruising wrong way on one-ways; swooping on and off sidewalks; balancing kids (even Fido!) on handlebars . . . and flipping you the rigid digit when you give'em an oral (ahem) "observation." And--oh yes--tatterdamelion skateboarders are even worse: Last month I even dialed 911 when I saw one ear-budded dude* doin' some groovin'/movin' while clutching the rear bumper of a truck on Centre Street. *and AWOL from high school, I assumed . . . but, hey, that's another problem, right?
Michael Halle December 07, 2012 at 09:47 PM
If the picture above and the preliminary on-the-scene reports are accurate, the truck driver was turning right from the left lane in order to make the turn onto the side street. Forget about cyclists for a second: this kind of turn would have been surprising to an automobile driver operating in the right lane as well. I'm not assigning blame to anyone -- that should wait for official investigation. And ideally, each of us moves through life completely undistracted and ready to react to even the most unusual of occurrences. But for the drivers reading this comment, can you really say that you'd be prepared to react if an 18-wheeler turned from the left lane in front of you across your path? That you'd act coolly and calmly, not shocked, surprised, or even terrified? Ready or not, you have the advantage of being more visible, wrapped by a cage of steel, and equipped with a loud car horn. The cyclist involved in this tragedy did not. Whatever we might feel about the larger issues about safety and co-existing on our public ways, perhaps we can grant him the final respect of at least the smallest amount of empathy.
walter December 08, 2012 at 05:10 AM
I am surprised that the death toll isn't higher. Machine vs. Cyclist.machine always win.also who cares.nobody cares anymore.cars and trucks keep going faster.everybody wants to be first.a poor old lady was mowed down in Milton tonite killed by a hit and run driver. Nothing will change.
John D December 08, 2012 at 05:16 AM
fools on bikes are at fault. the roads are for cars first, bikes second, live with it and be careful. bikes are to follow the rules of the road as if they were cars or motorcycles, and they do not. ride at your own risk.
cher December 08, 2012 at 12:10 PM
The two bike accidents I have been in have involved drivers who were not aware of their surroundings. The first involved a driver peeling out of his driveway in Oak Sq., who said he hadn't even realized he'd hit me until he heard me scream. The second occurred on Mass. Ave. at Vassar, when, similarly to this recent tragedy, the driver was turning right, I had the foresight to fall into the turn, avoiding physical harm, unlike my first accident, but the psychological affects have lasted to this day. At that time, I didn't own a vehicle and needed to commute to work. In the first instance, there was no public transit that would get me to my destination. In the second, it was such a short distance from home, I never thought twice... Cyclists and motorists need to be more aware and abide by the law. I agree with the comment by Mr. Angney, I observe all of the behaviors he outlined. I think riding in the dark, in dark clothing without any lights is absolutely asinine if not suicidal. I'm not quite sure what the mentality is- maybe they feel they can see just fine, not realizing that they are virtually invisible to cars, pedestrians and other bikes. It's a recipe for disaster. I see reckless behaviors from drivers and cyclists every day. people on phones, speeding, tailgating, running lights, taking turns when there's no turn on red, not stopping at crosswalks and nearly rear ending those who do, blowing stop signs, not using signals, just being jerks. They're all at fault.
Owen December 08, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Motorists like you are a huge part of the reason that cyclists get hurt and killed: hostile, smug, and just plain mean. In an urban environment, cars should never come first. In fact, it was a huge mistake for urban developers to think that what worked in the boring old suburbs would work in cities. Why should a bike, which might weigh fifteen pounds, have to go by the same rule book as a multi ton vehicle? It makes no sense. Cycling laws are nothing more than vindictive motorists, most of whom are fat and sloppy, and couldn't pedal two city blocks without getting winded. Is what I just said out of line? Then how does it feel? Until motorists lose their hostile and threatening attitudes (like yours), there will be no positive progress.
Owen December 08, 2012 at 02:15 PM
To the motorists who like to lecture cyclists about following traffic laws: only those of you who have never rolled through a stop sign, changed lanes without signaling, gunned it to make a yellow and then ran a red light can say anything to a cyclists. That means that none of you can because we all do that at some point. Urban environments should be pedestrians first, bicycles second, and anything with an engine third.
Brian Ristuccia December 08, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Lots of folks have blamed this accident on a lack of cycle infrastructure. Please, do tell me how a separated cycle track would have prevented this accident. A truck turning onto St. Paul Street would still have to cross paths with a cyclist traveling straight along Commonwealth Ave. in such a cycle track. Worse still, if the cycle track were between parking and the curb, both the cyclist and the truck driver would have their views blocked by parked cars and be even less able to see each other.
Brookline Symphony Orchestra December 08, 2012 at 06:27 PM
In some cities, bike lanes come with their own traffic lights and are timed so that bikes can;t cross when cars are tunring right...
frankly mr.shankly December 08, 2012 at 07:08 PM
it seems like whenever we hear about a cyclist death it usually involves a large truck or a bus. maybe 18-wheelers do not belong on city streets during rush hour...
Owen December 08, 2012 at 09:30 PM
A. (whatever that means), You are proving my point. Thank you. You are proving that the underlying mentality among motorists is that cyclists are fair game and if someone on a bike is killed, then it's no big loss. Do you even live in the city? Or are you just another suburbanite who could easily take public transit to work, but instead decides to clog our city streets with your ridiculous car (or SUV...you seem like that type). I don't just take "bike rides". You obviously don't live in the city, otherwise you would know that many of us use our bikes to commute. They're clean, efficient, they promote healthy activity, and, when motorists behave, they are safe. Sure, there are idiot cyclists, just like there are idiots behind the wheel, jumping lanes without signaling, running stop signs, generally acting hostile, feeling like you're in a rush as soon as you're behind the wheel, etc. Here is why you are wrong: look at the disgucting traffic during rush hour in Boston. So many of you motorists could take public transit into the city, yet you CHOOSE to clog our city streets and create dangerous conditions for pedestrians and cyclists alike. I hope you get stuck behind me on a narrow city street. You'll find who dominates these streets (without making direct threats as you did toward me).
Brian Ristuccia December 10, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Even if Boston employed a Dutch style cycletrack system with dedicated signal phases at major intersections with cross traffic, minor intersections like Commonwealth and St Paul would still be uncontrolled except for a sign that says "LET OP" (roughly: look out).
karen harris December 10, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Agree
karen harris December 10, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Another good point!
karen harris December 10, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Great views! Training for cyclists and motorist sounds like a good starting point. Any one on the roadways needs to respect the rules of the road, even cyclists. Another idea may be to require licenses and insurance for cyclist to cover themselves and other.

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