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Is Bicycling's Success in Boston a Danger to Pedestrians?

More bicyclists are on the streets of Boston. That's good for a lot of reasons. But will we start to see more bicyclists running into pedestrians?

Most of the recent news about bicycling in Boston is positive: More people are bicycling and the city is becoming an easier place to bike.

But when you put more pedestrians and two-wheelers crossing the same streets and intersections, bad things could happen. Especially when one or both parties are flouting traffic rules. Boston pedestrians don't seem to pay much attention to whether the crossing light is red or green. And we've all seen bicyclists zoom through red lights.

A recent infamous case comes out of San Francisco, where a bicyclist ran a red light and slammed into a pedestrian. The man fell and hit his head. He died a few days later.

Atlantic Cities recently posted a round-up of cyclist-on-pedestrian incidents. They conclude it's hard to say whether such collisions are on the rise or not. Data from a Hunter College study shows that while there are more bike-pedestrian accidents than people thought, the number is actually declining.

Of course, pedestrians and bicyclists are in more danger from cars than they are from each other.

[Editor's note: The attached poll has been updated to include a new option.]

Deb Beatty Mel July 25, 2012 at 03:07 PM
It just comes down to courtesy and paying attention to one's surroundings. I've seen cyclists fly through areas recklessly and I've seen pedestrians saunter down the middle of the bike path with earphones in. I've seen dog-walkers oblivious to the fact that their dog's leash has created a tripwire across the width of the bike path. A little common courtesy would solve a lot of problems.
Marc near the Park July 25, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Sorry, cyclists can most certainly make it more dangerous. Cyclists, at least a third of them, in my experience, ride their bikes with an entitelment to the best of both worlds. They act like a car when convenient, and a pedestrian when convenient. That's not to say that pedestrians and drivers aren't inconsiderate a lot of time too, but cyclists put themselves into a bad situation at times, and then get mad at others as if it is someone else's fault.
Phil Lindsay July 25, 2012 at 06:16 PM
There is only one thing worse than a Boston driver and that's a Boston Pedestrian! Jeesh Patch why not foment more hate and ignorance against cycling by bringing up this canard of an issue? Just realize this Patch, from here going forward there will only be more bicyclists not less. Now how about some real journalism instead of this? There wasn't one fact presented in your piece. Where are more pedestrians getting hurt by cyclists? I think you have a non-issue here. Go back to my first statement and realize our streets are governed by a Scofflaw culture that is led by our fine Police force that probably violates more traffic and parking laws than the average Bostonian, but that's another issue. If this piece included the paltry educational efforts by Mayor Menino's Boston Bikes, you might have had something.
Todd Consentino July 25, 2012 at 07:16 PM
I notice you found 1 incident of a pedestrian being killed by a bicyclist...in CA. Kudos! Journalism at it's best. Would you mind printing how many pedestrians have been killed by cyclists in MA? Better yet, how many pedestrians have been killed by motor vehicles in MA? Lastly, how many cyclists have been killed by motor vehicles in MA? The statistics will speak for themselves.
Jonathan Bruno July 25, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Pedestrians, willingly ignorant of traffic laws and courtesy, are the biggest danger to themselves. Cyclists are likely the most aware of all users of the streets. Their lives depend on it. With increased cycling in the city we will likely see more pedestrian interactions, just as you would see more more cats raining from heaven if they were all tied to 99 balloons. A better headline would be, "Journalist foments fear and hatred of cyclist by implying they are the greatest danger to humans; then takes a job at Newscorp."
Chris Helms (Editor) July 25, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Hi bicyclists, thanks for the comments. If you read the text, I hope you'll notice I was careful to say that cars are by far the greatest dangers to both bicyclists and pedestrians. I also say in the first sentence that the news about bicycling in Boston is overwhelmingly positive.
Sandie July 25, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Not only we have to be aware of cars, but of byciclist too. I don't know, it doesn't really bother me, but sometimes they can be on the way.
cher July 25, 2012 at 09:23 PM
here's a general request to bikes and cars: when pedestrians are following the rules (not jay-walking, not running out when the don't walk signal is flashing) could you please stop at crosswalks, particularly those without signals? it blows my my mind how many people just zip past the crosswalk at South at St. Rose. Not to mention lights and stop signs. -Resident, walker, cyclist, driver.
Matt July 25, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Ditto.
Matt July 25, 2012 at 11:04 PM
"...Especially when one or both parties are flouting traffic rules." Motorists don't flout traffic rules? I appreciate your efforts at objectivity but you're not quite there yet.
Matt July 25, 2012 at 11:05 PM
I agree. Cars are often "in my way."
Chris July 26, 2012 at 12:32 AM
"There is only one thing worse than a Boston driver and that's a Boston pedestrian." "Wasn't one fact presented in your piece." Well Phil, the piece, factually, pointed to three studies. Where are the facts for your rant that Boston pedestrians are the one thing that's worse than Boston drivers?
Robyn G. July 26, 2012 at 02:28 AM
Robyn G. 10:26 pm on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 Let me tell you a little story. Everyday I make the commute to work by bike, from East Somerville to East Cambridge. And everyday, I have to decide what sort of asshole cyclist I want to be: I can be the one who rides in the road (which contains plenty of potholes but no bike lanes) sometimes inadvertently "taking the lane" I.e. blocking cars to avoid potholes but also because the road is narrow. Cars zoom past honking to show their disdain at my presense. If they're really feeling aggressive, they might swerve close towards me to intimidate me. It works. Or, I can be the asshole that worries about my safety, rather than following the rules, and take to the sidewalk. No matter how loudly or how much advance I give to the pedestrians on the sidewalk that I am "on your left!" 75% of the time they don't hear me because their listening to their headphones, talking on their cell phones or just in general have their head in the clouds. The other 25 % of the time, it's a toss up between whether they just glare at me or thank me. I make cycling sound awful, it isn't really. In fact, it's great, much better than sitting in a car stuck in traffic or a pedestrian waiting around for public transport. I just wish everybody was a little nicer/safer to one another. And, I especially with this area was a little more bike friendly.
Derryl July 26, 2012 at 11:05 AM
Closer to home, I have a request of cyclists who use the orange line bike path. Please slow down around Stonybrook T stop. The exit stairs to Lamartine is a blind corner for pedestrians. My husband who likes to bike taught me to look before crossing the bike path. One bike ended up an inch from my ankle and she saw me and wasn't speeding. It's a dangerous spot. There should be a slow/caution sign to cyclists.
Chris Helms (Editor) July 26, 2012 at 11:07 AM
Thanks so much, Jerry. Your comments and historical context I think always add to the discussions here. I was trying to look up the incident you mention — I can find a high-profile case where a bike messenger hit Back Bay banker (and School Committee member) William Spring. Spring didn't die from the accident, but his injuries were serious. Is that the incident you're referring to? Here's a link about the Spring incident: http://www.bostonphoenix.com/archive/features/97/11/20/MOVING_TARGETS.html
Nancy Azar July 26, 2012 at 11:17 AM
As a rider, I agree some cyclists ride "in the best of both worlds", but it may be out of ignorance and not out of malice. Some of us may have taken a bike safety course as children, but what we learned may be forgotten and the rules may have changed. Similarly, pedestrians may not realizethat they, too, should abide by some general safety principles An educational campaign that addresses both cycling and walking may be a solution.
John Sullivan July 26, 2012 at 11:38 AM
Derryl -- This is an excellent point. Heading into the city, cyclists have a downhill stretch that allows them to put on some speed, and many of those hurrying to catch a train aren't aware enough to stop and look both ways before they cross to the steps to the Stony Brook station. I've seen (and had) some near misses, and I often think it is only a matter of time until there is a collision.
gretchen van ness July 26, 2012 at 01:25 PM
I'm so glad Derryl posted this coment. I cross the Southwest Corridor bike path every day walking to and from the Stonybrook station. I look out for bikes, but people unfamiliar with the area have no idea that they are about to step onto a busy bike path. Also, the bushes and shrubs at that spot can block the view. Who do we talk to about getting a crosswalk painted on the bike path at this spot and some signage to alert cyclists and pedestrians that they are about to cross paths?
Chris Helms (Editor) July 26, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Hi Gretchen, Michael Reiskind is in pretty close contact with the crosswalk-striping folks. He was on vacation last I heard, but maybe reach out to him.
Phil Lindsay July 26, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Yo Chris! Touche from you a bit, BUT there was no DATA from any of the studies sited only wishy washy conclusions. "it's hard to say" is one of those studies conclusions? My rant stands and you're right it was a rant as I'm tired of it. My point is that Patch should do more reporting and look forward not foment old arguments. My old saw about Boston pedestrians needs to be updated. I've only lived, driven, gone by T and ridden a bike in Boston since 1981 so I've seen a lot of things change over the years. One thing that hasn't changed is the scofflaw culture that permeates drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists alike. How do we address that? Anyone?
Phil Lindsay July 26, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Amen Nancy!
Phil Lindsay July 26, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Think it was the headline that we all reacted too...
Chris Helms (Editor) July 26, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Hi Phil, thanks. We'll certainly keep reporting on these and other transportation issues. Here's a suggestion to all the informed, passionate people in this thread: Please consider blogging on Patch about bikes, pedestrians, cars, etc. A blog post gives you a chance to flesh out your arguments better than you can in a comment. It's easy to do. Here's how: http://jamaicaplain.patch.com/blog/apply Your posts go up on the site as soon as you submit them. I do check them over for libel, but it's your voice 100 percent.
gretchen van ness July 26, 2012 at 02:34 PM
What do you propose, Phil? You've got decades of experience and obviously have thought long and hard about these issues. Tell what you think will work to change the culture you describe!
Phil Lindsay July 26, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Wow! How do we change the scofflaw culture in Boston? I guess I was asking because I don't have a clue. Here's some lame thoughts... Direct the cops to actually get out on the street and enforce traffic laws? Ramp up state and city educational efforts? Continue pouring money into improving the street scape by introducing traffic calming not traffic promoting designs. Give more incentives for folks not to drive as much and instead use the T, walk or ride a bike. Take the terrible financial burden off the T and get them more money. Increase the gas tax so those using the roads (and wearing them out) pay their fair share. Then take that money and plow it into improving the T and non-motorized transportation accommodations. Set up a task force with Walk Boston, AAA, Boston Cyclists both state and city designers etc. The Metropolitan Planning Council might get on this instead of saddling us with Hubway which only upped the ante and the tension before we had the infrastructure.
gretchen van ness July 26, 2012 at 07:06 PM
I think you've got a lot of great ideas! How do we turn them into action and get your task force going?
Rhea Becker July 26, 2012 at 09:42 PM
At times I'm a driver. At other times I'm a pedestrian. And at other times I'm a cyclist. Share the roads! That goes for everyone!
fernando July 27, 2012 at 08:40 PM
I cant stand them, they constantly remind me of the gentrification and the take over by student of the Jackson Hyde square area. why dont they take over the pond area>
Chris Helms (Editor) August 06, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Here's a very interesting, well-informed take on this debate, arguing that bikes running red lights is illegal but ethical. Bonus points because it uses the Categorical Imperative: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/opinion/sunday/if-kant-were-a-new-york-cyclist.html?_r=1

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