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On Biking: remembering a fallen bicyclist

Posted by Your Town  January 28, 2011 08:16 AM

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Monday morning was cold but there wasn’t too much snow on the ground. I figured my bicycle ride to work would be chilly but unremarkable.

Later that morning my colleague Laurie called me: “I’m so glad you answered the phone,” she said. “I was worried about you, especially because I didn’t see you in your office this morning. I was afraid…” her voice trailed off. “Did you hear what happened?” she asked. I hadn’t.

As soon as my meeting ended I checked on line and there it was, the thing that had “happened”: a 74-year old man riding his bike had been killed at Arlington and Tremont streets. The details were scant: no name, no explanation.

I wondered if he were the elderly gentleman on the black bicycle who I see between the Mass Ave Bridge and the Hatch Shell most mornings at about the time this accident occurred. Eventually I found a photograph of the bike at the scene of the crash. It was blue, not black, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

Like most people I know who bike a lot, I ride defensively: I avoid busy intersections whenever possible, I use flashing lights and bright reflective clothing at all times, and I walk or take the MBTA downtown when the roads are narrowed by snowstorm after snowstorm. Still, one little flick of a driver’s steering wheel or an inattentive motorist and all of my precautions would be for naught.

The intersection where this man died is challenging. There are many lanes of traffic coming together, and in the morning the glare from the sun can be blinding. Maybe this accident had nothing to do with the traffic, the sun, or the way the road is configured. But maybe it did.

That “maybe it did” means we need to talk about prevention. It’s easy to throw up your hands and say, “but there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes accidents just happen.” True, but sometimes what we think of as an accident is actually something that could have been avoided (think car crashes before there were seatbelts).

As to prevention, I’m talking about bike lanes, enforcement of the rules of the road for everyone, and building the kind of infrastructure that will make it safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, too. The kinds of changes that Livable Streets, MassBike, and Boston Bikes all support.

As I started to leave for home that night my boss asked me, “Did you hear what happened?” I told her I had. “It scares me to think about you riding,” she said. “Me, too,” I admitted.

For the past few days I haven’t stopped thinking about that blue bike and its owner. I didn’t know him and he wasn’t my regular. But he was somebody’s regular, and perhaps he was somebody’s father, partner, and friend.

My heart goes out to all who loved and cared for him. Let’s honor his memory by supporting the kinds of changes that will make this kind of tragedy less likely to happen, the kinds of changes that will make our streets safer for everyone. Anything less means accepting more of the same.

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