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Opinion | The Podium

Making Boston a safe place for bicyclists

Last week our cycling community, and the city, was rocked by the tragic death of Boston University student Christopher Weigl. By coincidence, a hearing on bicycle safety brought the community together at City Hall later that day. Both events have many left asking what’s being done to make our city safe for cyclists, and rightfully so. Personally, I have been inspired by the outpouring of concern, support, validation, and sense of togetherness in our efforts to make Boston a world-class caliber city for bicycling.

Over the past five years, our Boston Bikes program has grown tremendously. Bicycle infrastructure is popping up in every neighborhood. A few years ago, when I announced “the car is no longer king” in Boston, it was before we had 675,000 trips on Hubway and before 9,000 young people went through bicycle education classes in schools around the city. That vision has guided the rapid growth in cycling throughout Boston.

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It is the close-knit sense of community that impresses me most about bikers in Boston, and it is that community that came together last week. It is the collective force of that community and the unfortunate accidents of this summer and fall that are cemented in our minds today. Through our Boston Bikes program, we speak often about the six “E’s” of bicycle planning. And, it’s the six “E’s” that become the constant refrain when discussing solutions that can bring an end to these tragedies.

While there is certainly more work to be done, sometimes it is helpful to share some of the pieces already in action:

Education. Distribution of bicycle safety information has been underway for the past few years, and we’re upping our efforts by including the information in all parking violation mailings. On-bike education workshops piloted this fall, targeting women and communities in Roxbury. Our Youth Cycling Program instructs more than 4,000 young cyclists each year, and this number will again increase in 2013 thanks to support from TD Bank. It is critical we build the next generation of safe riders in Boston.

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Engineering. Boston Bikes, Boston Transportation Department and a committed group of advisers from the cycling community are nearing completion of a Bicycle Network Planning process. The public process evaluated every street in the City of Boston, and will make facility recommendations for a robust bicycle network. In addition to more miles of bike lanes, the City is testing new types of facilities, like priority-shared lanes, neighborways, and cycle tracks in 2013.

Enforcement. Transportation Department enforcement officers wrote more than 1,500 tickets to drivers parked in bicycle lanes this year. And, Boston Bikes is working on analyzing data from the Mayor’s Hotline to determine additional location patterns. The Boston Police have also stepped up traffic enforcement this fall.

Every road user in Boston needs to start taking more responsibility for their actions. It’s easy to shift blame when we see a car or a bike not following the rules, but we all must start taking the issue more seriously. One cyclist going through a red light hurts all cyclists in the court of public opinion. In addition to the work of Boston Police, cyclists must self-police.

Evaluation. Each year, Boston Bikes leads a volunteer-staffed bicycle count. Those volunteers rise at 6 a.m. on chilly September mornings to count fellow riders, and are the reason we can confidently say that ridership has increased significantly. Studying corridors and innovations in infrastructure has long been a part of the bicycle program. The evolving operations of the Hubway system and the current priority shared lane study for Brighton Avenue, which will be implemented this spring, are an example of that work. An analysis of police reports from every bicycle accident in the past three years is currently underway, and will continue to help us improve our streets.

Equity. Since the beginning, Boston Bikes has been about bicycles for all citizens – from every neighborhood and especially for low-income residents. The Roll it Forward initiative has collected, repaired, and distributed more than 1,600 bicycles in the past two years to Boston residents. Each bicycle comes with a helmet, a lock, and on-bike education. When Hubway launched it was critical to give membership access to all residents. So far the City has distributed more than 500 subsidized memberships in a multi-agency effort that has become a model for other cities. Equity is an important common thread through all bike programs, education, and infrastructure projects.

Encouragement. This week more than most, all cyclists need a little bit of encouragement to keep pedaling. The degree of separation from a bicycle accident is not too far for many of us. Take the time to say hello to your fellow cyclist at a red light this week. Thank them for riding. Thank them for cutting health care costs. For cleaning our air. For making our city vibrant. For being economical. For being part of Boston’s biking community.

Thomas M. Menino is the mayor of Boston.
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