THE TRAGIC collision of an 18-wheeler and a bicyclist that killed 23-year-old MIT graduate Phyo N. Kyaw in late December was the latest in a series of accidents at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street in Cambridge. According to Cambridge police, those cross-streets have been the site of 55 collisions in the past four years, with 27 in the past two years. Of those accidents, 18 involved bicycles, and four involved pedestrians. The numbers are such that transportation officials must explore every possible option for more signs, lighting, or redirection of traffic.
The intersection sits near the heart of MIT’s campus, and along a major traffic artery connecting Boston’s Back Bay to Cambridge’s Central Square. Its danger stems from its heavy use: Six automobile lanes, four bike lanes, and heavy pedestrian traffic flow through it. The activity coming from all directions can be distracting - especially in the evenings, when visibility decreases.
Although it is unclear who or what was at fault in this latest accident, it is clear that the intersection should be modified to make it safer for the thousands of people who pass through it every day. More visible traffic lights, for example, or signs cautioning drivers and bikers alike, would be a good addition. Limiting cars’ ability to make right-hand turns off Massachusetts Avenue - a particularly dangerous maneuver for passing pedestrians and bicyclists - might be a longer-term solution.
As Cambridge, Boston, and other nearby municipalities seek to increase the number of bicyclists on their roads, they must also act quickly to identify problem spots where high numbers of accidents are occurring. That means collecting statistics and making changes to roads when necessary. It’s one thing to invite bikers to share the pavement, and another to make it safe for everyone to be there.