Leading Boston bicycle advocates to study how to make city biking safer

Boston bicycle advocacy officials said they will study safety concerns as enthusiasts demanded action after six riders were killed locally in the past year and a half—including a woman last weekend.

The annual biking summit on Tuesday, dubbed “State of the Hub,” comes after visiting MIT scientist Kanako Miura, 36, was struck and killed by a truck driver as she was bicycling near the intersection of Beacon Street and Charlesgate West in the Fenway/Kenmore neighborhood on Sunday.

“This is the sixth fatality in 12 months – that’s six times as much as previous years,” said Brighton resident Ren Jender, 48, who noted that she also often cycles through that same intersection on her way home. “This to me is a crisis, and I do not understand why this whole meeting hasn’t been about it. To me, this is completely unacceptable.”

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The public outrage also comes after the city unveiled a number of recommendations to improve bike safety in Boston, prompted by a city-commissioned study that researched data on past bicycle collisions.

According to the statistics, the Boston Police Department recorded a total of 1,446 incidents and nine fatalities between 2010 and 2012.

The data seek to help Mayor Thomas M. Menino reach his goal of cutting the cyclist crash injury rate by 50 percent by 2020, and expand bicycling as a transportation mode to 10 percent by then—more than five times more than its current 1.7 percent.

Cycling advocacy leaders running the meeting did note that they knew most cycling fatalities occur when massive trucks or buses are involved.

Forum co-leaders Nicole Freedman, director of the city’s Boston Bikes program, and Steve Miller, a founder of the Livable Streets Alliance, announced a pilot program collaborating with Boston’s public works department to install guardrails on the under-sides of some city trucks to help keep cyclists from getting trapped and run over.

“Almost every bicyclist who has been killed here in the last year and a half is getting thrown under a truck,” Miller said. “It’s not fun to be hit by car – you do get some injuries – but it’s death to fall under the wheels of a truck.”

Freedman also outlined her organization’s vision to tweak street-level cycling lanes to make them safer by installing buffer lanes or physical barriers between bicyclists and moving cars – also known as cycle tracks.

Still, local residents at the meeting complained that drivers needed to change their habits, as the recently-released crash report showed that the vast majority of bicycle incidents resulting in injuries involved motor vehicles.

“With what happened this weekend and the continued car-dooring [of bicyclists] and drivers hanging immediate right turn lanes—drivers really need to be educated,” said Roslindale resident David Holzman, 58.

In reference to car passengers opening their car doors into oncoming bicyclists—which caused 22 percent of recent bike accidents, according to the city report—Freedman said the city is starting a pilot campaign putting awareness stickers in taxi cabs alerting customers to look twice before exiting.

Freedman also noted that Boston will begin installing “helmet vending machines.”

But as residents berated the safety of cycling in Boston, Miller said after the forum that there is only so much the city can do while leaders are still simply building infrastructure for bikers.

“The problem with accidents is they are a random result of mistakes,” Miller said. “All we can do is try to build an environment that is as safe as possible for as many people as possible. We can’t go from zero to 100 miles per hour outright—we have to start with baby steps.

“We’re going to try and put in cycle tracks and other state-of-the-art efforts – it can’t come too soon, but it also can’t come immediately.”

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