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Who taught you to drive? A look at the state's new bike safety law

Posted by Your Town  July 24, 2009 06:01 AM

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Who Taught You to Drive?

Passed a couple of bicyclists the other day who were pedaling side-by-side on the street — a no-no according to my last article on biking laws. ‘‘They should be riding single file,’’ I preached to my passenger.

Well, even driving columnists sometimes have to eat their words. With the passage of the state’s new bicycle safety bill, riders can indeed travel two abreast down the street. And drivers can get a $100 ticket for failing to move over for them. (Clarification below)

The law, which took effect in April, includes several other fines for motorists whose actions put bikers in danger. It also evens the playing field, allowing officers to issue standard tickets to bicyclists who foolishly run red lights or zip the wrong way down streets.

Trouble is, hardly anyone knows about the new rules. The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group that fought eight years for the passage of the safety bill, won’t be launching a publicity campaign until late summer. Most police departments remain relatively unaware of the new bicycling code, and it appears just a handful are enforcing it. The state Registry of Motor Vehicles hasn’t made a big announcement, either, though it is promoting the new law through bicycle education classes and various notices.

Part of the problem is that the safety bill’s passage was a bit of a surprise to everyone. It had been rejected three times previously, so when it actually won approval on Beacon Hill in January, ‘‘It caught us a little bit off guard,’’ said David Watson, MassBike’s executive director.

It’s taken his group this long to put together training materials for police departments and to build a soon-to-be-launched website for the public, he said.

The other big sticking point is that police can’t begin ticketing bicyclists for moving violations until the Registry updates its computer system to keep track of the citations, and that’s not expected to happen until 2011 because of the complexities involved, said agency spokeswoman Ann Dufresne.

Lastly, the law gives plenty of discretion to local police departments in terms of educating officers about the changes. Due to lack of funds, or lack of interest, that education doesn’t appear to be happening, though the law will be taught to new recruits at municipal police academies starting this month.

That said, at some point — be it now, next summer, or 2011 — Massachusetts drivers and bicyclists alike will need to start following the new law. Cambridge was the only city I found that is actively enforcing it, so I asked Lieutenant Jack Albert, head of its Police Department’s traffic division, for a quick primer.

As its name implies, the bicycle safety bill was passed primarily to protect cyclists against their aggressive motoring brethren, Albert said. No matter where you drive in the state, you should be obeying certain provisions of the law right now.

For instance, it’s now illegal to open your car door into a bicycle lane with a biker approaching ($35 fine). If you’re on a one-lane road, you cannot squeeze a bicyclist to the curb while passing ($100 fine). Instead, you must wait until you can pass with a safe amount of separation, crossing a double yellow line if need be.

You can also be fined for making an abrupt right turn and cutting off a bicyclist (in bike parlance, a ‘‘right hook’’); for zipping in front of a bicyclist after passing him; and for failing to yield to a bicyclist as you would an approaching motor vehicle when making a left turn.

‘‘Even if a car stops and allows you to make the turn, if there’s a bicyclist oncoming, you have to stop for him, whether he’s in a bicycle lane or not,’’ Albert said.

The new laws aren’t exactly revolutionary. Drivers have never had the right to cut off bicyclists or push them to the curb, according to Massachusetts General Laws. But, well, it happens, and probably too often, so some legal reinforcement was deemed necessary.

‘‘There’s a lack of respect for bicyclists,’’ said Georgetown Police Chief James Mulligan, a cyclist himself. ‘‘Occasionally I’ll go on the sidewalk because the roads are so narrow, it scares you. You can actually get hit.’’

The other half of the law, the part that allows police to ticket bicyclists, isn’t exactly new, either. Until now, though, police could only issue municipal citations based on local bylaws or ordinances, a hassle few bothered with. Starting in 2011, police across the state will be able to use the same tickets for bicyclists as they do for motorists, copies of which will be sent to the Registry.

Some of the law is bound to be a work in progress, officials said. For instance, it’s unclear whether the ticket you get for riding your bike through a red light will appear on your motor vehicle driving record, or affect your car insurance rates.

Albert said he likes the changes except for the new rule that allows bikers to ride side-by-side. ‘‘In 5 p.m. rush-hour traffic that’s not going to work,’’ he said.

Still, even with its bumpy implementation, the law eventually should create safer roadways for cyclists statewide, Watson said.

‘‘The motorist should always make the choice to protect the bicyclist’s safety,’’ Watson said. ‘‘But bicyclists also endanger themselves — you see people running red lights, for instance. That’s something that we would like to see changed. If people want to peacefully coexist, then everybody needs to act in a predictable manner.’’

Clarification: Last week’s “Who taught YOU to drive?” column about the state’s new bicyclist safety law should have said that while bikers can ride side by side in most cases, they still can not “unnecessarily obstruct” a motorist waiting to pass. An example of this could be when two bikers are riding side by side on a narrow road that lacks an additional passing lane. The statute also says that moving violations issued to bicyclists can not affect their car insurance rates. For more on the law, see Massbike.org.

Peter DeMarco writes about drivers and highways throughout Greater Boston. He can be reached at demarco@globe.com. For updates, you can follow "Who taught you to drive?" on Facebook.

Your Town is our expanding network of local websites focused on communities around Boston. We have 10 sites so far, and more coming. Check out the main page at boston.com/yourtown.

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69 comments so far...
  1. I applaud the progress and am dismayed implimentation and most importantly education is slow coming. BTW some states have already evolved "red light" rules so cyclists regard them as "yield". The truth is bikes are not cars. Asking bikers to be held to car rules except sometimes (can't ride in the middle of the road, ride on highways, ride on sidewalk or not, can be passed in no passing) makes it clear bikes get different rules. Cities are different than rural and over simplifying traffic rules is unfortunate. As we become more cycle aware and cycle friendly these laws will evolve.

    Posted by John Higley July 25, 09 09:17 PM
  1. The red light rule is a long time coming. If there is one thing that ticks me off about bikers it is their abuse of red lights. I will take my time to find the right spot to safely pass them in busy traffic. Then I will come up to a red light and watch that biker zoom past me and through the light and I have to go through the process of safely passing them again!

    Posted by JimK July 26, 09 10:48 AM
  1. Yes since bicycles have only been around for 190+ years (indecently some time before the automobile) we need to become more "cycle aware". I was a bike messenger for a few years back in the early 90's. I rode like an idiot and should have been killed a few times due to my recklessness. I still see the same things going on today and most of the time it is not messengers but the average cyclist. I hope that they can become more "car aware" because a lot of them think that they are untouchable from injury or police.

    Posted by HootUSMC75 July 26, 09 10:49 AM
  1. Riding two abreast is obnoxious and dangerous.

    On a busy road with on-street parking it is impossible to safely pass bikers riding two by two. City drivers are going to get POed at being stuck behind those elitist bikers exercising their rights just because they can and you're going to see assaults and worse. I am happy to share the road with the 80% of bikers who use good sense, but that 20% who do not test the limits of my patience.

    I'm not sure we should encourage testing the patience of drivers. In a battle between a cyclist and an enraged car driver, my money is not on that cyclist coming out on top.

    Posted by BG July 26, 09 10:58 AM
  1. Now that bicyclists are riding 2 abreast & holding up traffic (which they've been doing for years on the north shore), the excise tax on bicycle riders - accompanied with a reduction in automotive excise taxes - is urgently needed.

    Posted by Mac July 26, 09 10:59 AM
  1. I hope Police Chief James Mulligan would receive a ticket for riding on the sidewalk (unless he was walking his bike which I'm sure he was). Only pre-teens should be allowed to ride on the sidewalk except in business districts where all sidewalk riding should be banned. Okay, now for skateboards...

    Posted by Michael July 26, 09 11:01 AM
  1. That's a very good point JimK.
    Put another way, ('process of safely passing them again')
    having to pass bikes more than once raises the risk for the biker of getting hit. It often is a line of cars they pass when they go through a red light.
    Meaning, that line of cars will have to pass them again, endangering the biker and of course the cars having to cross lanes to safely pass.

    Being a rider of both bicycle and motorcycle, my best offense is impeccable defense while riding. Stopping at red lights and stop signs, for bikes, is a no brainer.

    Posted by pete c. July 26, 09 11:12 AM
  1. Glad to see the new protections for bikers.

    They need these new protections - they risk their safety by riding around among aggressive drivers of multi-ton machines for the health, environmental, and recreational benefits of cycling.

    I don't like it when cyclists run red lights, but when you get down to it, it's generally the cyclist's own safety that he is risking when he runs a red light. When a car runs a red light, he can kill several other people in the resulting accident - when a bike runs a red light, he's only risking his own safety, so I'm more ambivalent about that.

    Biking is more dangerous in the city than driving - I'm glad to see people are trying to protect those who make our air cleaner by riding rather than spewing fumes in traffic.

    Posted by j July 26, 09 11:14 AM
  1. We don't stop anyone from running red lights, so what's really changing? Stand at any intersection in Boston, and you can see cars and bikes blatantly flout the law, often to the detriment of traffic flow. What will it take to get law and order on the streets?

    Posted by Dan Ari July 26, 09 11:25 AM
  1. Even if it's 'legal', riding 2 abreast is still not a wise decision if the cyclists value their health. Just because it's 'legal' doesn't make it safe.

    Posted by DJ July 26, 09 11:30 AM
  1. Why not an excise tax for bikers? ALL bikes should be registered...unregistered bikes should be confiscated. Select groups..Elderly, children, handicapped, etc...Should be exempt. WE, the drivers, are footing the bill for bike lanes (which reduce the number of lanes and parking spaces for those of us paying to use the roads), footing the bill for police, fire and ems responses due the accidents involving bikes, medical costs, enforcement costs, head injuries for those w/o helmets, etc. etc. etc. WHY IS BIKING FREE?????????????? Why are THEY not paying their fair share of taxes???

    Drivers need to afford bikers great courtesy, need to keep aware of them at all times, need to allow special consideration for them…waah waaah waaah..Cough up some dough…you are on the roads for which owners of car PAY.

    Posted by JoeDogs July 26, 09 11:41 AM
  1. No one in this country is required to carry identification except in limited circumstances and for authorization for some activity (e.g., passport to enter a country, driver's license to operate a vehicle). Bicyclists certainly aren't obligated to carry ID. What is to stop a rider from providing false information? And having citations tracked by the RMV is a waste of time. Why should one's cycling infractions affect one's motor vehicle driving rights and insurance status? What if one doesn't own a car, only a bike? We'll need to start registering bicycles and licensing cyclists; and then, of course, insuring them.

    Posted by John McPherson July 26, 09 11:42 AM
  1. Legal to ride side by side? The lawmakers are nuts. Foolish. Out here in MV the spandexed talking rectums who ride side by side and sometimes 4 wide thinking that they are in the Tour de France get right pissed off at you ,who pays road taxes, to try to get past them and spoil their "Draft". Roads around here are too narrow for that kind of biking. Our parents told us to ride single file and we managed to survive without laws to protect the foolish who love to argue with a 5000 pound vehicle. The car or truck might be in the wrong but the bikers won't be around to say I told you so. I think that I should try to make a law that states if you are within 100 feet of a legal bike path, which exist here but are never used by "the professional bikers", they get a 500.00 ticket for being dangerous to themselves and the general public.If the lawmakers are dumb enough to pass this last bill, maybe they will pass mine.
    Maybe we'll make them carry the same coverage as their cars or a 1 million dollar libility rider if they cause an accdident to themselves or others by not riding single file....
    It's just another example of flawed libral thinking that doesn't take into account common sense, the same common sense that your parents told you to use.

    Posted by Bill July 26, 09 11:44 AM
  1. The new rules sound like common sense. Unfortunately, too many bikers and car drivers refuse to use common sense. Riding two abreast is fine, but when a car approaches, common sense should make you ride single-file if you can do so safely until the car has passed. And when you are driving and see a bicyclist ahead of you, slow down until you can safely pass. And some bicyclists should remember to obey the rules of the road; yesterday in Hampton Falls, NH, I saw a biker run a stop sign onto Route 88. If I hadn't seen him coming and slowed, there could have been an accident. People need to be much more courteous and realize we all share the road.

    Posted by Kathy G July 26, 09 11:45 AM
  1. i think bikes should be banned from the roads. we have taken this too far. it was okay back in the horse and buggy days, but times have changed far too much.

    Posted by selah July 26, 09 11:52 AM
  1. What about pedestrians? I'm glad that motorists and cyclists are working towards being more conscious of each other in the name of safety and peace on the roads, but I can't help but notice there's no mention of pedestrians here. I walk to work every day, and I have always been far more fearful of the boston bikers than boston drivers. The drivers (somewhat) stay on the right side of the road and follow the traffic lights. Bikes come out of nowhere, riding on the wrong side of the street or flying through red lights. Recently I was hit by a bike while crossing a street in downtown Boston. I had the right of way, and the biker blatantly ran the red light (and then kept going after hitting me). I'm all for accepting cyclists, and encouraging safety for cyclists on the road, but I think these laws should also be considered in terms of pedestrian safety as well. A biker may be at the mercy of a car in event of an accident, but pedestrians don't fare very well against either.

    Posted by m July 26, 09 11:54 AM
  1. Re comment 10 - "if the cyclists value their health" they won't ride 2 abreast?

    If you're in a car, you're in a multi-ton weapon. Act like it, and don't think it's ok to threaten or harm bikes because they're in your way.

    Riding two abreast is only dangerous if people in cars choose to threaten and endanger the cyclists. You're used to not riding up on sidewalks to hit pedestrians - give bikers the same courtesy of not hitting them.

    We're all road users, just on different vehicles, not combatants in a war. Sheesh.

    Posted by j July 26, 09 12:07 PM
  1. If I had a nickel for every vehicle I pass while riding that is parked in a bike lane, blocking my passage, I would be a very very wealthy man. I would be very grateful for the police to start ticketing these offenders who would never dream of parking in front of a hydrant or double parking on a major road, cutting off all traffic. On my daily commute the worst offenders are in front of Warren Towers on Comm Ave at BU (usually BU vehicles as well).

    Posted by frank July 26, 09 12:10 PM
  1. My understanding of the two-abreast change is somewhat different, and limited it to roads with multiple travel lanes in a the direction of travel. Was that stipulation lost in one of the many edits the bill underwent?

    WRT the red light runners, it's no better for fast cyclists. I'm a has-been racer who stops for red lights, so every block I get to pass the same schmucks who sail blithely through traffic signals, too busy talking on their cell phones to free up a hand for their brakes (and usually too worried about their hair to put on a helmet).

    Posted by scott July 26, 09 12:12 PM
  1. I am an avid cyclist and a driving enthusiast. I think a little courtesy and common sense will go a long way to smoothing the road out for cyclists and motorists.

    Cyclists: Just because the law is on your side when riding 2 abreast doesn't mean we should. On narrow/winding roads or busy city streets, single file is the way to go, for our own safety and for the benefit of the motorists who share the road.

    Drivers: Pedaling through a red light after slowing down to make sure the way is clear should be permissible and should not incite anger. Having to stop and wait for every red light, even when it's clearly safe to proceed, eliminates much of the benefit of commuting by bike. Allowing cyclists to yeild at reds rather than having to wait them out makes sense for everyone. After all, the sooner cyclists get to their destinations, the less time they're on the road alongside you.

    Posted by Slash July 26, 09 12:13 PM
  1. John Higley states that bikes are not cars. You are right and therefore should not be allowed in the road. If you drive in the road you follow ALL the rules of the road. Red lights should mean stop for ALL road traffic, not "yield" for bikes. And people wonder why motorists like me hate bicyclists

    Posted by aj July 26, 09 12:14 PM
  1. J,
    What a foolish remark. "it's generally the cyclist's own safety that he is risking when he runs a red light. When a car runs a red light, he can kill several other people in the resulting accident - when a bike runs a red light, he's only risking his own safety, "
    Do you seriously believe that a speeding bicycle could not injure or kill pedestrians or people in a car by running a red light? Your ignorance is startling.

    Posted by gretchen July 26, 09 12:18 PM
  1. In 19 years of living at the top of a hilly one-way street marked by stoplights, I have watched countless bicyclists run red lights, turn the wrong way onto my street, and continue the wrong way down the hill at full speed. Many of these wrong-way riders aren't wearing helmets, and at night many of them have no lights on their cycles--especially lights facing the direction of the cars coming at them up the hill.
    To back out of our driveway is a constant nightmare that a cyclist will swoop around the corner or run a red light and charge the wrong way down our hill as our car emerges--the right way--onto the road.
    Never once have I seen any attempt by the local police to warn or ticket these heedless cyclists. I doubt very much that any change in legislation will change the cyclists' behavior, or the police's practice of ignoring their violations of ordinary vehicle law.

    Posted by CSF July 26, 09 12:20 PM
  1. i pause for red lights and am careful about it but i rarely stop for them on my bike because it is actually in my mind safer to be traveling before the rest of the traffic does - i think drivers just want you out of the way and I try to stay as much to the right hand side as possible and to be as predictable as possible but when you follow all traffic signs for cars you are more in the way than not , when i just blow a red light i can easily move into a left hand land and make a left turn ahead , than if i wait for the red light and then have to wait for all the traffic to flow by me if it actually ever does - one has to negotiate buses and trucks etc - for bikes it's a matter of survival and if you are fast all the power to riding as crazy as possible as long as no one else is adversely affected so you can spare yourself the being on the road too long

    Posted by paul365 July 26, 09 12:39 PM
  1. There is nothing worse than getting stuck behind an arrogant group of bike riders who insist on riding two abreast on narrow roads. I have seen 40 to 50 car back ups where I live because some asshat Lance Armstrong wannabe in spandex thinks that he owns the entire road. Thank god NH does not have the same stupid law. In fact many towns have ordinances that prohibit 2 abreast riding on certain roads.

    Posted by Cujo July 26, 09 12:42 PM
  1. Two abreast is a defensive position that makes cyclists more visible and allows them to control the lane at necessary times, such as when preparing for a left-hand turn.

    Part of the issue is that while most cyclists are also drivers, few drivers are also cyclists so really have no idea of the myriad ways that drivers endanger cyclists or why cyclists ride in certain ways. Despite what many people want to thing, most of the thoughts of a cyclist when they're on the road is how not to get themselves killed. Maybe not couriers, lol. But most of us do value our lives.

    Yeah, there are obnoxious and unsafe riders out there, just as there are obnoxious and unsafe drivers out there. The difference is that the cyclists actually have skin in the game. The worst a driver an complain about is being inconvenienced, and I'm hardly sympathetic with that.

    BG: In a battle between a fit cyclist and a car driver, my money is not on that driver coming out on top. As a cyclist, I'm happy to share the road with the 80% of drivers who use good sense, but that 20% who do not test the limits of my life.

    Posted by AM July 26, 09 01:02 PM
  1. Since we are not a police state forcing everyone to carry their identification papers with them at all times, it is going to be tough giving citations to cyclists. Plus it makes no sense to even consider citations received while biking going on your driving record and affecting your car insurance, that's just absurd.

    As for some of these new laws for motorists, they sound a little vague.

    I'm wondering what distances should be considered for opening a car door into a bike like with a cyclist approaching? 1/10 of a mile? 1/4 of a mile? Similarly for moving back into your lane after passing a cyclist.

    The way I approach it today (w/o even considering the laws) is that I look at opening the car door into the bike lane similarly to pulling out of the parking space into traffic, ie forcing someone to stop or slow down is unacceptable. I use a similar rule when returning to my lane after passing a cyclist or turning in front of one.

    Posted by Mike July 26, 09 01:05 PM
  1. Bycylist be ware. The problem is you are on crowded roadways and it is a dangerous situation. These laws are another example of why we need to remove our current representitives. I am all for biking and make it safe. Putting bikes on the road with cars is dangerous and irresponsible and making laws which encourage it only furthers andalready bad situation. Bike owners should have to receive plates, register thier vehicles and pay insurance. This is a dangerous situation and people will be hurt.

    Posted by FP July 26, 09 01:09 PM
  1. "'There’s a lack of respect for bicyclists,’' said Georgetown Police Chief James Mulligan, a cyclist himself. ‘'Occasionally I’ll go on the sidewalk because the roads are so narrow, it scares you....'" Well, that's illegal, because it's dangerous to pedestrians.

    "...it's generally the cyclist's own safety that he is risking when he runs a red light." Not in my experience of nearly being run down in crosswalks by bicyclists repeatedly (i.e., at least once a week). Bicyclists are not safety masters, they are lazy fools who ignore the law not because it's wise but because they can get away with it.

    There's a lack of respect for pedestrians, who are at risk from all types of vehicles. A bike on a sidewalk is illegal for a reason. I'm sick of pedestrians being the victims of the perceived "safety" (more usually, the convenience) of both bicyclists and drivers, who collectively all operate their vehicles like sociopaths.

    True bike safety is not going to come from any operating law (let alone an unannounced and literally unenforceable one). It needs a comprehensive social strategy, including a rationalization of our Colonial street designs. One truly useful and equitable law would be to require licensing and registration of bicyclists who use the public streets so they can actually be educated and held accountable.

    Posted by jk July 26, 09 01:13 PM
  1. so glad our lawmakers are right on top of the non-issues of the day

    Posted by ally33 July 26, 09 01:29 PM
  1. I think if we have to tolerate cyclists in the lane of traffic, they should be required to obey the rules of the lane re: passing. The "right hook" should be a non issue in cases where there's no bike lane. A driver stopped in traffic with a right blinker on should not be at fault if a rogue cyclist decides to driver between his car and those parked on the driver's right.

    Posted by eastie girl July 26, 09 01:42 PM
  1. You know and I know that when a light turns green, it becomes a drag race for the cars waiting at the light. That is not a safe place for a bicycle to be. It is much safer for the bicyclist to get a ways ahead of that. I think a bicyclist should treat a read light as if it were a stop sign. STOP, and proceed only if safe to do so.

    Posted by Andy from Boston July 26, 09 01:47 PM
  1. Can we please address the real danger of cyclists running red lights: hitting pedestrians? I cannot tell you how many times I have been crossing the street with the "Walk" sign, looked both ways just to make sure no cars were running the red light, only to have a cyclist zoom out of nowhere and nearly take me down. I have also nearly been struck while coming out of the front door of my apartment building by a cyclist riding on the sidewalk. Bikes are vehicles and cyclists need to act accordingly.

    Posted by AMT July 26, 09 01:54 PM
  1. Cyclists can be a hazard on the road, what would happen if cars decided to start driving the wrong way down a street, I see cyclists do it all the time and rarely see them using lights at night or stopping at red lights. Then we can start requiring them to get licensed and insured. They use the roads too and while needing laws to help them also need laws to regulate the menaces they currently are. Make them stop behind traffic when there isn't a full area for them to travel safely.
    Safety and regulations for BOTH sides.

    Posted by JM July 26, 09 02:54 PM
  1. So when are the bicyclists going to pay excise taxes. If you are going to get equal rights on the roads then you should have to pay for upkeep as well. Plus, I think you should have to purchase a bicycle license just like the rest of us who have to pay every 5 years for our drivers license. How about registering your bike like we register cars? Plus, you should have insurance to protect yourself.

    Not sure how this stuff goes under the radar screen but having bicyclists riding side by side is a nuisance and impedes those vehicles that pay taxes for use of the roadway. The politicians just keep kissing these specialty group butts.

    Posted by Tom July 26, 09 03:32 PM
  1. There should be a law that bans bikers from major roads. They are a danger to themselves and car drivers.

    Posted by mm July 26, 09 03:40 PM
  1. I think this is insane. Bikers shouldn't be getting these laws passed, they should get off the roads!

    Posted by roads are for motorvehicles July 26, 09 04:37 PM
  1. JimK, I could not disagree with you more about bicyclists "running" red lights. I ride to work in busy city traffic every day, and about the most dangerous thing I can do is wait at a red light of a busy intersection. First, I have to deal with the idiots running the light from the perpendicular road when my light turns green. If they hit a car it's just a fender-bender, but if they hit me I'm hamburger. Worse are the idiots in the oncoming traffic who try to cut a left turn in front of me (and the oncoming traffic). They are a nuisance for other drivers, but they are potentially deadly for me, and these morons are almost completely oblivious to bikes. I will cross the intersection only when it is safe to cross, period. The safest time to cross is often when the light is red but there is a break in perpendicular traffic. That way I don't have to worry about getting cut off. So until the police start rigorously enforcing jumped lights and illegal left turns by cars, I'll continue to protect my safety as I judge best. The police can write me as many tickets as they want, but I would rather pay a few tickets than die on my back in some intersection with a "clean" bicycling record.

    Posted by sia July 26, 09 04:40 PM
  1. Personally, I ride facing trafic so I can watch the cars coming towards me. I have been run off the road many times and know that if I hadn't seen them coming towards me I would have been hit on several occasions. With the advent of cell phones, drivers here in the Bay State are more dangerous than ever. I know from experience that pedestrians will walk in front of a cyclist without even thinking. I normally don't go through red lights unless there is no traffic. I do make sure to stop and look both ways first. Safety first.

    Posted by DM July 26, 09 04:54 PM
  1. Why would they announce the new laws? All they want to do is raise money to line their pockets by issuing fines. They couldn't care less about safety.

    Posted by L valentine July 26, 09 04:59 PM
  1. Good intentions, but like most laws it's slightly messed up. Even if the authors did have a clue it's difficult to write laws that apply well to all situations. Reality isn't as simple as paper.

    One thing that's going to be agreed on is that riding 2 abreast should only be allowed when there's no traffic behind. As someone who formerly cycle commuted and rode century rides, I gotta say courtesy and common sense go both ways. There are, or at least were, back roads where it was appropriate to ride side-by-side on Sunday *until* you hear/see in your helmet mirror a sign of car traffic. It doesn't make sense in most other situations. That proviso might have been put there to deal with anti-cycling bias which has existed up till now, but if it actually says "ride side by side whenever you please" it's a mistake. When an a-hole driver gets on his/her bike, they're still an a-hole and like to aggravate other people.

    Cyclists must stop for red lights, and all serious riders do. You can get kicked off an organized ride for blowing through one. But in commuter traffic they also need to get across the intersection *before* the light goes green - jumping the light, but only at *some* intersections. If they go strictly by the rules they block traffic and risk getting hit.
    In reality you have to adapt the rules to the situation. It's nearly impossible to write common sense into law; people need to use adult judgment. 10% of people refuse to do that and it screws everyone else.

    Posted by Joe Bloggs July 26, 09 05:16 PM
  1. A few weeks ago I was crossing Atlantic Ave with my 9 mo old in a stroller. We were crossing at a crossing witha police officer alslo in attendance (Tall Ships wer ein Boston). As I stepped off the sidewalk with stroller in front of me 2 idiots on bikes zoomed past me barely missing the stroller and giving me one huge fright. The cop did nothing and the bikers totally ignored my shouts at them to be more careful. Not sure who was worse here - the bikers who nearly took me and my son out or the cop who ignored it like it never happened.

    Cyclists need to learn that biking is not a novelty sport where you make up your own rules - you share the road and obey the rules.

    Posted by brendan July 26, 09 05:19 PM
  1. "There should be a law that bans bikers from major roads. They are a danger to themselves and car drivers."

    I agree. In civilized countries, as in Europe, bicycles have their own separate lanes and paths (as well as, in many cases, their own system of traffic lights and signs). It doesn't take much intelligence to recognize that cars and bikes don't mix, so it's pretty obvious that communities can solve the problem by developing separate auto and bike traffic infrastructures. But as is now well-known around the world, Americans aren't too bright with such planning (we euphemistically call it "democracy" here), as visiting Europeans witness every day in the ridiculously chaotic road conditions in Boston. For them it's bizarre to try to understand how a city like Cambridge can have not one, but two, world-class universities, while at the same time accepting the community anarchy that exists between the two campuses. Perhaps these two universities aren't as world-class as we think...

    Posted by blumenbach July 26, 09 05:31 PM
  1. Bikers, at worst, cause delay or inconvenience for drivers. Drivers, at worst, can maim or kill cyclists. The driver's lament: the cyclist got in my way. The cyclist's lament: I was sent to the hospital. It is clear who needs protection. Safety should have precedence over convenience.

    And for all those who say cyclists should pay road use fees: great idea!!! But given the relative weight of a bike and road wear and tear it creates, how do expect to collect that $1.38 economically?

    Posted by kilndown flimwell July 26, 09 07:01 PM
  1. These laws are written as if the roads were made for bicycles, not cars.
    No wonder this state is losing population.
    Besides, many bicyclists are obnoxious people, who think the world revolves around them.

    Posted by ReasonableNow July 26, 09 08:06 PM
  1. Legalizing two abreast riding is a horrible idea. I guess if a lobbying group hangs around long enough, they'll eventually get what they want. Congratulations, guys. You just upped the level of biker vs. motorist road rage by 100%.

    Posted by tippytop July 26, 09 08:08 PM
  1. I agree with the cyclist who said he/she stops at red lights but sometimes goes through them if there's no oncoming traffic, just to get away from other cars. It's a lot safer for a car to pass me while moving on a street, even multiple times, than for me to risk being cut off by an oblivious right-turning vehicle who doesn't signal. Every intersection is a risk of that happening. So if there's a red light, I've come to a stop, the cross-street is small and quiet, sometimes I do just go on through. And half the time the car behind me turns right after all, and would have cut me off if I'd stayed back. And the drivers get to accelerate normally at their green light instead of waiting for little slow me chugging to a reasonable speed up that hill. I'm through the light before them and safely in the middle of a block, acting very predictably, when they come to pass me again. Doesn't everybody win in that scenario? I know drivers hate to see someone go through a light that they can't go through -- I'm a Boston driver too -- but do they really want me to sit there in front of them, holding them up with my slow human-powered acceleration when that light turns green?

    Washington state, where I used to live, has a great law that should be in effect everywhere. It applies to all vehicles, from bicycles to slow tractors to tourist horse-and-buggies. You can ride two abreast, but it's also illegal for any moving vehicle to delay a line of 5 or more vehicles. Whether you're riding a bike or a tractor, if you're going at a slow speed and there are 5 or more vehicles in line behind you, you're supposed to pull over and let them pass. I think that law helps traffic flow and makes everyone safer, and Massachusetts should copy it.

    Posted by Jeremy Sher July 26, 09 08:12 PM
  1. Will be interested to see MBTA buses get ticketed as they cut off bicyclists almost everytime they stop at a bus stop to the point of making a game of it. They are by far the worst of the bunch when it comes to watching out for cyclists. I never thought a bicyclist, however, would be tailgating me in my car as I drove down a hill. How about handing out tickets if cyclists exhibit such aggressive behavior. Most cyclists have cars and pay all of the taxes and such that folks mention. They choose to get some exercise and reduce a few carbon emissions in the process so the whining about bike lanes, etc. is ridiculous.

    Posted by dw July 26, 09 08:30 PM
  1. First of all, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is NOT illegal. Those who think so must want children to ride in the street. And then explain it to the motor vehicle bullies who think bikes don’t belong on the street. Since when have ONLY driver’s taxes paid for roads? Arguing for banning bikes from sidewalks and streets reflects a self-serving sense of entitlement. It’s not going to happen. Bicycles are NOT going away.
    The problem is rude, arrogant and impatient people. Examples of their behavior are reflected in the comments in this list. Be it drivers, bicyclists or pedestrians, it is a “game of chicken” out there, ignored by law enforcement. Since even the appearance of a police state is anathema in liberal Massachusetts, where tolerance is gospel, the answer is driving, biking and walking safely and extending courtesy to fellow users of the public right of ways.

    Posted by theoldhorse July 26, 09 08:34 PM
  1. @ ""They need these new protections - they risk their safety by riding around among aggressive drivers of multi-ton machines for the health, environmental, and recreational benefits of cycling."

    These are not new protections at all--they always existed.

    As both an avid cyclist and a motor vehicle operator I do not, and have not ever, felt that the average motor vehicle operator is aggressive at all, or have I felt like I risk my life when I take my bike on the road. And I have bicycled in Downtown Boston and on Commonwealth and Mass Ave, although I don't currently live in Boston.. A lot of this perception pans out to the insecurity of some cyclists who really don't know that much about how to maneuver on the road as a vehicle. Of course, there is the occasional aggressive driver--I ran across one 24 years ago when I was 16--he threw a beer bottle at me (!) and missed.

    As to the red light law, it always has bothered me when cyclists go through red lights. I feel like it reflects on me poorly as a cyclist when other cyuclists do this, because it's as if the cyclist is saying that the rules don't apply to him or her. Whereas I believe, and prefer, that they do.

    Posted by Anonymous July 26, 09 08:52 PM
  1. One in ten drivers cause 99% of the problems for bicyclists and they are present in this forum. You know who you are!

    Posted by alan July 26, 09 09:06 PM
  1. If we're going to start ticketing cyclists for running red lights and for going the wrong way down a one way, how about when they break cycling laws that already exist? In MA, riders 16 and under are required to wear helmets when on a bike, skateboard, scooter, or inline skates. Here in Salem, that law is rarely obeyed. In fact, I regularly observe young cyclists on busy pot-holed roads, helmetless, while talking on cell phones, or texting. It's like we're grooming the next gen of bad drivers...only they're not even old enough to drive yet.

    Posted by JustMe July 26, 09 09:15 PM
  1. Instead of fines for the divers in this law, I suggest we impound their car and give them a bike for a week. After a few times through the process these more educated violators would be more sympathetic and healthier.

    To the person who said cyclists act like the roads were made for bicycles... guess what, they were! Bicycles were here long before cars and so were prepared roads.

    "Cyclists should be licensed?" We are. and if any of you drivers paid attention in drivers ed you would know this. Its the same class. Go read the book and learn something!!!

    Posted by john prefers cycling July 26, 09 09:42 PM
  1. Herein we see why we need new laws to protect cyclists - arrogant drivers who hate bikers as posted here.
    I'm no fan of the race wannabies who ride in packs in their Spandex underwear. Most of them are idiots. But, there are plenty of riders who are cautious and careful. I've been out there: there are few motorists who return the favor

    Posted by light biker July 26, 09 09:44 PM
  1. eastie girl:
    The "right hook" problem is not with cars stopped in traffic with their blinker on. The problem is with cars that are moving and pass bikers that are moving, then turn right abruptly infront of them. The biker can't stop and usually crashes into the car.

    Trust me, I know. A driver did it to me. $13,000 in medical bills later, I'm mostly back together. I will be physically scared for life and will have bone issues later on. All because some motorist thought it was OK to cut off a biker without concern.

    Posted by light biker July 26, 09 09:52 PM
  1. The other issue is on bike trails: you get groups of 5 or more racing morons zipping down the Cape Cod trail, Minuteman trail, and other bike trails. Again: no respect for people walking or roller-blading, or families withe young children learning how to ride.
    I actually yelled at a group of racing riders on the Cape Cod trail about a week ago for almost forcing my son and two other children off the trail. They circled back and thought they could intimidate me. It's amazing how fast they changed their minds when the pepper spray came out ... suddenly, they weren't so tough. It's too bad it had to come to that, but some of these bicycle nazis are complete idiots and need to be taken down a peg or two.

    Posted by Dave C. July 26, 09 09:53 PM
  1. When I was in college we used to ride in a group on rural roads sometimes 2,3, or 4 abreast when there was no traffic. As soon as the farthest person back saw a vehicle approaching he'd yell "Car"! and we'd immediately fall into single file until the traffic passed. To ride 2 abreast in traffic is as dangerous as it is rude.
    As for red lights, I think cyclists should be allowed to treat them as flashing red lights or stop signs: come to a complete stop, yield to traffic with the right of way, vehicular or pedestrian, and continue on your way.
    The problem with "bike trails" is that they are often filled with joggers, people pushing strollers, or people riding bikes just fast enough to keep them from falling over. They are usually to narrow and often intended to be multi-use. You generally can't ride at any speed on them.
    We all need to actually share the road.

    Posted by EMurph July 26, 09 09:58 PM
  1. Looks like there are a bunch of road-ragers on here. Many seem to fail to realize that drivers break traffic laws just as much as cyclists, so that's a moot point. Further, people who cycle generally own cars as well, so a "health tax" is one of the stupidest things of which I've heard. I think cycling should be encouraged (promotes good health) and that cyclists need to be protected. But this also goes for pedestrians as well. I'm not from a bigger city, so usually I can find a road without a ton of traffic to ride on, so I sympathize for those driving, riding, and walking in the city. What it all comes down to is consideration. People need to be more considerate and understanding of one another, regardless of how they choose to travel. If you've been slowed down by 5 seconds or a minute, so what?

    Posted by AirunJae July 26, 09 10:14 PM
  1. As a regular cyclist and driver in the city, this is a long time coming. I have been hit and seriously injured from a car door opening in the bike lane and from someone cutting me off making a right turn. As a cyclist, it seems that the only way to stay safe is to assume that I am invisible when riding. Based on the number of pedestrians I read about that are being killed when struck by cars, it seems that pedestrians need to follow the same rules. Despite the new rules, they do not address the heart of the matter. First, cyclists will never obey the same rules as drivers of cars becasue they do not make sense for cyclists. Second, driver in this state are simply horrible. Laws can address the first and I like the ideas the cyclists can read "red" lights as yield signs. It is realistic. However, to address the driving issue is more complex. Most drivers on the road do not know the rules around cyclists, pedestrians, or even rotories. Common sense seems gone as I see people texting while driving. The real problem is that drivers are not required to do any continuing education to keep their license. Every professional license (real estate, hair cutting, etc.) requires license holders to continue their education to be aware of the latest laws. Why not drivers? I think this would not only reduce accidents with cyclists, but pedestrians and other drivers as well.

    Posted by Dave J July 26, 09 10:27 PM
  1. What's stupid is is a law that says it's ok to ride side by side on any street anywhere. perhaps on a lonely quiet country road would be fine but to see this on busy city streets is ridiculous . Who makes these laws? Where is the common sense? When are the police gonna start ticketing those noisy motor cycles???

    Posted by joe July 26, 09 10:32 PM
  1. Youd get a lot more efficient use of the roads if the drivers would pick up and ride a bike instead. Thats for the idiots on here saying that bikes are taking up car space.

    Most local streets are paid for with either state dollars (some gas taxes, some sales taxes) and local general funds (property taxes mostly). Last time I checked we all paid for the roads, NOT just drivers. If anything, cars should be taxed even more to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and walk, bike or T so our air will be cleaner, our roads less congested, and our dependence on foreign oil reduced. Bicyclists and pedestrians should be celebrated.

    Posted by Anonymous July 26, 09 10:55 PM
  1. Isn't it true cycling improves health, improves crowded roads, is a great sport for all ages, costs less, reduces pollution and increases access to urban business?

    No wonder we debate!
    We've a long way to become bicycle friendly: in the US 84% of trips are by car, 3% by public transport and 1% by bike. In Europe 40% by car, 14% by public transport and 10% by bike.

    Posted by John H July 26, 09 11:28 PM
  1. Opening the door into bike lanes ? like how many bike lanes are there except a for a few miles in Cambridge and near BU ? This law is meaningless in protecting bicyclists and its really unenforceable - one of the most phenomenally dangerous acts by a car is the opening of the passenger side door while in a traffic lane yet that is not covered in the law and even if it were i doubt it would stop any one from doing it - bikes should at least treat red lights as stop signs and should grant crossing pedestrians the right of way - the problem with biking is that coming to a full stop is very hard on the body if one has to then start up again very quickly. Another factor is exhaust , i often am trying to escape a plume of exhaust when am racing past trucks or buses or taxis. There are already all kinds of strict laws governing bike messengers downtown , and essentially the laws are evidently unenforceable - in the city as long as no one is harmed by what the bike does on the road it should be allowed - but the injury of any pedestrian should be punished severely and perhaps there should be a required "bike insurance" which will punish those who do not wear helmets etc.

    Posted by Roshi July 27, 09 12:47 AM
  1. I'm a little confused about this whole tax the cyclists as if they were motorists argument being circulated here. Besides excise tax, which is a property tax and applies to boats as well, what car-specific taxes exist? You probable can't collect too much excise tax on a $300 bike. Oh, their depreciation is awful!!!

    Posted by Sean July 27, 09 05:56 AM
  1. I'm a driver and cyclist. I have been hit by a car three times while riding in Cambridge. In all three incidents, the car driver was at fault. Yet, I am not deterred. We live in a congested world, an obese world, and a stressed out world. Most people commuting by car could actually ride their bike to work, reduce traffic, alleviate some oil dependency, save themselves money and get in shape. So for all of you saying that we should just accept that we're in a car-dominated world and give cars top priority, you're clearly missing the message. Get off your ass and get on a bike.

    Posted by Pete July 27, 09 09:01 AM
  1. I don't oppose excise taxes for bikes. I'd gladly pay my annual $0.09 on my $35 bike to get those dittoheads to shut up. Maybe we could go ahead and add a penny every 5 years for wear-and-tear on the roads. We'll have to wait till the state budget has more room to invest in collecting these pennies from cyclists, however.

    One thing I really despise is wrong-way cyclists. They all say they think it's safer, but they're not thinking of the law-abiding right-way cyclists they're running headlong into in a 3-foot-wide bike lane on Mass Ave. What if a truck were to pass? Riding the wrong way in a marked bike lane should actually be a misdemeanor. It's a LOT worse than riding down a quiet one-way street (which I think is a bad idea too, but not nearly as bad). It's even worse than a *car* driving the wrong way down a side street, because at least the car has headlights and takes up the whole street (and sometimes people make mistakes and don't see signs -- I'm not excusing wrong-way cars at all, just pointing out that wrong-way cyclists in marked bike lanes are even worse). The wrong-way cyclist is creating a serious danger of multiple people getting run over if there should be an accident in a tiny, narrow bike lane. Wrong-way cyclists should get a criminal record. Their behavior should count as reckless driving, if anything does.

    Posted by Jeremy Sher July 27, 09 09:14 AM
  1. Here's an idea about bikes going through red lights. I don't support allowing bikes to treat red lights as a stop sign, because I think drivers (which I also am) need the security of knowing that a green light means there is no cross-traffic to worry about. I think Mass. should allow cities to post signs on individual red lights that say cyclists may proceed after coming to a complete stop. The light for cross-traffic should be a flashing green, not a solid green, to let drivers know they have the right of way but to look out for cross-traffic who may not have seen them. Then cities could choose which intersections to post these signs, or just try one or two as a pilot project. Cities who don't want to do this wouldn't have to; different things might be appropriate in different places.

    Posted by Jeremy Sher July 27, 09 12:14 PM
  1. I am a recent victim of a car cutting off my bicycle by making a left turn. The accident destroyed my bike and cause serious injuries to myself including a broken collar bone, two broken ribs, broken thumb, and significant road rash.
    My biggest struggle is that in Massachusetts the law considers me a "pedestrian" and therefore the personal injury insurance from the driver is limited to a maximum of $8000 to cover all of my medical bills and any lost wages! The hospital bill alone is $26,000!! Additionally, there are no clear rules requiring them to replace my bicycle with a reasonably equivalent model.
    All of this seems to be pushing me into suing the driver and/or his insurance and I really feel that addressing the issues involved when a vehicle actually injures a rider should be addressed by the law too. If nothing else, it might make a great article to promote public awareness!
    In my case, and adding insult to injury, the driver was only issued a warning, for failure to yield. Apparently the police in my town have been instructed not to issue citations unless they actually view the accident happen!

    Posted by Mark E. July 27, 09 12:24 PM
  1. I've seen a number of comments above about how the excise tax on cars is paying for the roads. Hardly! The vast majority of road funding comes from income taxes and property taxes. We bicyclists are paying those taxes just like the car drivers. And we are using a much smaller portion of the road and wearing it out much more slowly (road wear is a function of weight).

    I do agree that double file riding is often unwise. However, in some circumstances there is either plenty of space for doing so without impeding cars, few cars to be impeded or no possibility of a car passing a single file safely either. Making it possible to choose single or double file based on the circumstances without violating the law is appropriate.

    Finally, I would love to see bicyclist who run lights, ride the wrong way on one way streets and endanger pedestrians by their approach to riding on the sidewalks have their bikes impounded for a while. However, except in Cambridge, the police seem to think that they have more important things to do.

    Posted by Richard Schoeller July 29, 09 11:26 AM