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Bicyclist dies after crash involving tractor-trailer in Harvard Square

Cambridge police and fire officials and the State Police were investigating at the site of Tuesday's fatality.
Cambridge police and fire officials and the State Police were investigating at the site of Tuesday's fatality.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE — A bicyclist who died in a collision with a tractor-trailer near Harvard Square Tuesday morning was a grim reminder for community activists and cycling advocates who have long called for safer streets to eliminate needless deaths.

“It happens time and again,” said Jan Devereux , a former Cambridge city councilor. “Harvard Square is old, narrow and congested; 18-wheelers were not designed to come through that space.”

The truck struck an older man on a bicycle about 9:42 a.m. near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Dunster Street, a short distance from the MBTA Red Line station in Harvard Square, Cambridge police said.

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The truck was traveling on Massachusetts Avenue away from Harvard Square toward Johnston Gate, an entrance to Harvard Yard, at the time of the crash, witnesses said.

The truck driver remained at the scene.

The cyclist’s name was not released pending notification of relatives, a spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said Tuesday evening.

A woman at the scene, Joanna Drafahl, said the man was her uncle and that he was homeless and went by the nickname Pikachu. She declined to give his legal name.

“My uncle was in the bike lane; he was trying to cross over to see us and the truck hit him,” Drafahl said.

She said she and the people she was gathered with on the sidewalk screamed out and rushed to her uncle’s side.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

State Police conducted a crash investigation where a bicyclist died after colliding with a tractor-trailer truck.
State Police conducted a crash investigation where a bicyclist died after colliding with a tractor-trailer truck. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Tuesday’s death was the sixth bicycle fatality in 2020, said Galen Mook, executive director of the nonprofit MassBike. In 2019, there were six bicycle fatalities for the whole year.

The increase partly has to do with changes in cycling habits during the pandemic, Mook said. But it also was because too many highways and streets force big trucks and bicyclists into the same lanes, he said.

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Statistics show that cycling deaths resulting from crashes with motor vehicles largely have been on the rise in Massachusetts since 2013, when there were six fatalities. The next year, 2014, saw a jump to eight deaths, 2015 went up to 12, and 2016 dipped down to 10, according to the Massachusetts Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

Tuesday’s tragedy took Devereux back to nearly a year ago, she said, when a pedestrian was hit and killed by a large truck in nearly the same spot.

A boom truck hit Sharon Hamer, 67, of Cambridge, early in the morning as she crossed the street in Harvard Square near Out of Town News. Hamer later died at a hospital.

A Cambridge motorcycle officer stood beside the body of the bicyclist who was killed Tuesday in Harvard Square.
A Cambridge motorcycle officer stood beside the body of the bicyclist who was killed Tuesday in Harvard Square. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“I don’t know how it can be any more clearer that something needs to be done,” Devereux said. “Two fatalities in less than 12 months within 50 yards of each other — both were trying to navigate an area that was not made for large trucks.”

Drafahl, the victim’s niece, alleged the truck driver was on his cellphone at the time of the crash. That could not be independently confirmed.

The investigation will include a reconstruction of the crash, said Meghan Kelly, spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney. “These are complex investigations” she said.



John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Jessica Rinaldi can be reached at jessica.rinaldi@globe.com. Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.