Wellesley considers creating bike lanes after 2012 death of cyclist
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Less than a year after a 41-year-old man was struck by a truck and killed while riding his bicycle in Wellesley, the town is considering creating bike lanes and other ways to make its roads safer for cyclists.
“Every time somebody is injured on our roads — particularly when someone dies — the selectmen take it very seriously; obviously, the police take it very seriously,” said Hans Larsen, Wellesley’s executive director.
“It calls into question, you know, is there something else we need to do? Or is there something we should have done differently? We don’t want this to happen again, and what do we need to do to avoid that?”
Alexander Motsenigos, the father of a 6-year-old son, was riding his bike on Weston Road near the intersection of Linden Street just before 2 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2012, when he was hit by an 18-wheel truck. The driver left the scene.
Though Wellesley police sought to charge the truck driver with motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation, unsafe overtaking of a bicyclist, and failing to take precautions for the safety of other travelers, a grand jury declined to indict him.
The town will hold a public hearing on bicycle and pedestrian safety in Town Hall on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
“The idea of the bike lanes – it has real appeal,’’ said Larsen. “We’ll begin the discussion, see what level of interest there is in the community. There will be trade-offs. If we’re going to reserve space for bicycles, that’s going to come at the expense of motorists or somebody.”
Wellesley currently has no designated bike lanes, though the town’s traffic regulations allow cyclists to ride on sidewalks in some areas of town, said Wellesley Police Lieutenant Marie Cleary.
Robert S. Edwards, an advocate for people with head injuries and a former Town Meeting member, filed a citizens’ petition for the April 1 Town Meeting calling for the study and creation of bicycle lanes. However, since town officials are already considering the issue, the article may not go forward at Town Meeting.
Edwards wants the town to name the bike lanes after Motsenigos.
“It’s out of respect for the family,” he said. “That’s what I want to see happen.”
Town officials have not yet gotten that far, said Board of Selectmen chairwoman Terri Tsagaris. On Tuesday, a small group, including Tsagaris, Larsen, the chief and deputy chief of police, and the town’s traffic consultant, met for the first time to begin discussing their options, she said.
“We’ll take a good, hard look at it and see if it’s something the town could reasonably do,” said Wellesley Police Chief Terrence Cunningham. “We’re trying to gather all the information we need.”
Town officials had been thinking about addressing bike safety issues for a while, said Tsagaris, but the death of Motsenigos brought the issue to the forefront. “I think it made it more of a visible issue,” she said.
There is no timeline or budget attached to the project yet, said Tsagaris.
Statistics provided by the Wellesley police show that, by and large, Wellesley’s streets have been fairly safe for cyclists. In 2012, police recorded 784 car accidents, only five of which involved cyclists.
Still, as more and more cyclists take to the streets, communities across the state will have to address their safety, said David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a statewide bicyclist advocacy group.
“Communities need to reassess how all their streets work for people who are choosing different ways to get around,” said Watson. “The reality is that many of our roads were really only designed with cars in mind.”
The solution isn’t as simple as painting bike lanes on every street, he said.
“This is a hugely complex undertaking,” he said. “Each road has to be designed in context. You can talk about narrowing the lanes, removing lanes, changing the lane configuration, changing the width of the parking lanes, removing parking, changing where people park,” he said. “It’s a lot more than just bike lanes.”
And, he said, in addition to infrastructure changes, communities need to work on education and outreach.
Tsagaris said that the town will be looking at all its options.
Wellesley police recently applied for a grant from the state Highway Safety Division that would pay for more crosswalk enforcement and bicycle safety enforcement throughout the town, said Cleary.
“It often does take a fatality or a serious accident to be a catalyst for change,” said Watson. “And that kind of soul-searching is a good thing. Ultimately, this isn’t about bikes and cars, it’s about people. It’s about people on bikes, people in cars, people on transit, people who are walking. I think people really need to understand that they shouldn’t pigeonhole people based on their transportation choices. That we’re all just people trying to get somewhere safely.”
Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.