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Boston looks to make city safer for bicycles

Police up patrols ahead of Hubway

Boston police plan to target 10 high-crash intersections where accidents between cars and bicycles are prone to occur. They will educate motorists and cyclists as well as hand out tickets, but they did not disclose which corners will be monitored. Boston police plan to target 10 high-crash intersections where accidents between cars and bicycles are prone to occur. They will educate motorists and cyclists as well as hand out tickets, but they did not disclose which corners will be monitored. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Martine Powers
Globe Correspondent / July 14, 2011

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With a bike-sharing program soon to roll into Boston, police are preparing to stand sentinel at intersections across the city known to be flashpoints for unfortunate encounters between bicycles and cars. They will educate cyclists and motorists about bicycle safety - with much of that education coming in the form of traffic citations.

The ramped-up police surveillance is part of Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s new campaign to educate Bostonians on avoiding situations dangerous for bicyclists.

The initiative is designed to prepare the city for New Balance Hubway, the bike-share program slated to launch by the end of this month.

“We wanted to really tackle the issue of bike safety in a significant way,’’ said Nicole Freedman, director of bicycle programs for Boston.

Officials used data from Boston Emergency Medical Services and the city’s Boston Bikes agency to identify about 10 key high-crash zones where accidents between cars and bicycles are prone to occur, Freedman said.

In coming weeks, officers will issue citations to cyclists and motorists at those intersections to discourage the most dangerous, and common, behaviors.

For drivers, that includes making turns or opening car doors without checking for oncoming bikes.

For bike riders, running red lights and riding against traffic are the chief violations.

Freedman and the Boston Police Department said they would not release the locations of the dangerous intersections because they want drivers and bikers to be vigilant at every intersection.

Scott Paré, deputy director of public safety at the Boston University Police Department, said that some of the sites will be along University Road, at intersections between Kenmore Square and the BU Bridge.

“It’s a big turnaround spot and crossover point,’’ Paré said.

BU officers will primarily target bicyclists who make unsafe maneuvers on the road or who do not wear helmets, Paré said. Initially, officers will simply remind bike riders to practice safer cycling habits. As the campaign goes on, police will hand out tickets.

“Our focus is on the cyclists right now,’’ Paré said. “They have to understand the rules of the road.’’

As part of the bike safety campaign, officials will pass out fliers to cyclists on proper bicycle etiquette.

The Boston Public Health Commission plans to distribute several hundred helmets to bike enthusiasts for free.

Encouraging safe practices among Boston cyclists is particularly important because of the impending launch of New Balance Hubway, said Mary McLaughlin, general manager of the local bike-share program.

Before the end of the month, Hubway will plant about 600 bicycles in downtown, Roxbury, the Seaport District, Allston, Back Bay, Fenway/Kenmore, Brighton, the South End, and the Longwood Medical Area.

The Hubway program was modeled on bike-share initiatives started in Paris and Washington.

Bikes will be available from 61 kiosks in the city and may be returned to any kiosk. Users can purchase a 24-hour or three-day casual membership, or they can become annual registered members and pay reduced hourly rental rates.

Rides under half an hour for members are free. An 80-minute ride for a registered member costs $4.50; for a casual rider, the fee is $6.

Locals have already begun registering, which can be done at thehubway.com.

There is also an app for smartphones that allows members to locate nearby Hubway kiosks and determine how many bikes are left at the nearest station.

“This is going to completely change the casual biking culture in Boston,’’ McLaughlin said.

David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, said he hopes the bike safety initiative will get Hubway riders up to speed quickly.

“People today just don’t know everything they need to know to get around safely and treat each other with respect,’’ Watson said.

The hazards of bike riding in Boston are legion, he said. The city’s skinny lanes, cobblestone roads, and unpredictable drivers can prove challenging to bikers. But the city has become more bike-friendly in the past few years, he said, due in large part to its efforts to increase awareness about driving alongside bicycles.

Still, he said, much needs to be done to change attitudes toward bicycles.

“This is part of a larger problem of civility on Boston streets,’’ Watson said.

“I think everybody - and I mean motorists, bicyclists, and sidewalk pedestrians - is too focused on themselves and getting where they’re going as fast as possible.’’

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com