The Hub has come a long way in the last decade in terms of cyclist safety, but bike enthusiasts and city officials agreed this week that a lot more work needs to be done in order to make Boston better for those on two-wheels.
During a more than two-hour hearing at City Hall on Thursday, constituents and city representatives testified that Boston should consider installing additional separated bike tracks and more-closely examine crash statistics and data to pinpoint where problem areas are for bicyclists.
“I know many of us are sad and outraged and frustrated, but we are all here because we are committed to doing better and getting it right,” said City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who filed for the hearing that brought together members of the Boston Public Health Commission, Boston Police Department and people from various bike advocacy groups.
The previously scheduled meeting came just hours after Boston University Graduate student Christopher Weigl was killed in a collision with a tractor-trailer Thursday morning on Commonwealth Avenue.
Weigl’s death was the second bike-related accident in one month at Boston University, and the fifth citywide in 2012.
“We are very concerned about the dangers faced by members of our community who must navigate the streets on and near our campus, especially bicyclists and pedestrians,” said BU President Robert Brown, in a letter sent to faculty and students following Weigl’s death.
A brief moment of silence was held for Weigl during Thursday’s hearing, prior to officials diving into hours of ideas and statistics, and allowing local riders to voice their concerns about bike safety in Boston.
“Biking has been growing rapidly, but most people in Boston are still too scared to bike,” said Jessica Robertson, Transportation Coordinator for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “The city must install more cycle tracks and bike lanes with physical separation from traffic.”
Robertson said the corridors where these are the most difficult to build are the corridors where “we need this the most.”
“Simple five-foot bike lanes are not good enough, the tragic and senseless tragedy this morning is ample proof [of that],” she said.
Roberston said the city should work together to find a way to fund these projects in order to prevent future fatalities.
“There is no such thing as a street without space for bikes, and there is no such thing as a budget without funds for bike infrastructure. They are just being used for something else,” she said. “The time has come for the city of Boston to truly get serious about making streets safe for everyone that wants to use them.”
While officials didn’t push blame on either cyclists or drivers for the spat of fatalities that have haunted the city this year, they did agree bike infrastructure and overall education need to be a top priority to prevent them from rising further.
According to Kris Carter, interim director for Mayor Thomas Menino’s “Boston Bikes” program, there have been 579 bike-incidents that have required Emergency Medical Services in Boston between January 1 and November 13 this year, up roughly 5-percent since last year.
During the meeting, Carter said the city has added more than 50-miles of bike lanes since 2007 and implemented an aggressive helmet program in conjunction with Boston Police and several universities in the area to educate and keep riders safe.
Carter told BostInno that Boston is looking to expand on its already well-developed biking infrastructure by introducing a “Master Plan,” too.
But Robertson said efforts shouldn’t stop there.
“It’s not enough to promote helmet use and consider the bike safety box checked off,” she said.
In “a few short years” bike ridership in Boston has more than doubled, officials said Thursday, and has increased by 31 percent from 2010 to 2012 alone.
“We went from one of the worst bike cities to one of the best in a few years,” said Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “This doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of work to do. I don’t want to sugar coat the issues. We need to move quickly to make the city safer. As everyone has noted there are improvements that remain needed and I think what we are here to say is we are united under the mayor in an effort to do that.”
City Councilor Felix Arroyo, who biked to the hearing Thursday morning to send a message about cyclist safety, said he had a hard time maneuvering on some of the city streets.
Arroyo, who co-sponsored the meeting with Pressley, said during parts of his trip to work “you really had to almost fight the car” to get on a designated bike path.
“It’s very clear that public education has to happen… to [inform] the driver and motorist to know that the cyclist has every right to that road that the motorist does,” he said.
While Arroyo said basic bike education should be started immediately, a longer-term discussion about funding new bike infrastructure, like separated lanes around the Public Garden, needs to happen.
“I don’t think we should be afraid of having that conversation,” he said. “When it’s a matter of life and death what are we willing to invest?”
City Councilor Tito Jackson agreed, saying in the city’s next budget cycle, although it “will be tough,” Boston should have proper funding dedicated for safer roadways.
“We need to implement best practices here in the city…[cyclists are] not going anywhere,” he said, noting the increase in Hubway use and bike use.
“It’s a population we need to make sure we continue to protect.”