No Changes to Brookline Bicycle Laws in Sight Despite Flurry of Interest

A cyclist walks her bike across Beacon Street in Coolidge Corner.
A cyclist walks her bike across Beacon Street in Coolidge Corner. –LANE TURNER/BOSTON GLOBE

Pedestrians hate cyclists, cyclists hate drivers, drivers hate pedestrians — so goes the never-ending cycle of mutual animosity in a city filled with risky drivers, reckless walkers, and oblivious cyclists. Will we ever have peace?

One suggestion for cyclists has gotten plenty of traction recently: the Idaho Stop, named for a law first passed in Idaho in 1982 that allows cyclists to treat red lights like stop signs and stop signs like yield signs. Cyclists are big fans, but drivers and pedestrians bristle at the idea. Most recently, the Brookline Police Department floated the idea of tweaking road rules for cyclists on Twitter, causing a renewed flurry of commentary on cyclist conduct.


The department received about 130 tweets in support of the Idaho Stop or similar adjustments to the law and just 40 against.

But hold your horses: Brookline Police Lieutenant Philip Harrington emphasized that the Idaho Stop is far from becoming law in Brookline. Many neighboring city officials have also told their primary concerns are safety education and enforcement of current laws.

“We were very pleased with all the information we got,’’ Harrington said. “But there’s no definite time frame on this; it’s just a matter of discussion. We are still aggressively enforcing existing bike laws.’’

But existing laws promote a “same roads, same rules’’ attitude with regard to cyclists, an attitude members of the cycling community find dangerous for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers alike.

“It’s good that we’re starting to talk more about looking at actual cycling behavior and adapting laws so that they will make sense to cyclists,’’ said Pete Stidman, Executive Director of the Boston Cyclists Union. “The whole idea of ‘same road, same rules’ doesn’t make sense when one vehicle weighs 20 pounds and one weighs two tons.’’

The data on bicycle injuries suggest that Idaho’s law has indeed made streets safer for its cyclists: researchers found that bicycle injuries declined by 14.5 percent the year after the law was implemented. According to the most recent Boston Cyclist Safety Report, bike crashes have increased slightly between 2010-2012, with the majority of accidents involving motor vehicles. The overall volume of cyclists, however, has also spiked.


While the interest from city officials in revised laws for cyclists is a good sign, designing a bike-friendly infrastructure is a much more effective but still underexplored way to curb these accidents, according to Stidman.

“They don’t consider the Idaho Stop in Denmark or the Netherlands where they already have infrastructure that makes bikers safe,’’ Stidman said.

Stidman would like to see some of that infrastructure in Boston — specifically, a separate cycle track on Commonwealth Avenue when it is overhauled beginning in 2016. The street has been the site of dozens of bike collisions in the city over the years.

“Our bike community is watching the Marty Walsh administration: is he going to be someone who doesn’t pay attention to crash data?’’

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