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derrick z. jackson

To get respect, cyclists need to show some, too

Louisa Bertman for the Boston Globe

Dear Boston Bicyclists: You want love? Show some respect.

I want Boston to be a vibrant cycling city. But too many cyclists are jeopardizing that vision by running red lights and blasting through pedestrian crossings, scaring slow-moving seniors and nearly nailing children.

Riders need to understand how dangerous their feigned illiteracy of street signs is. Many times I’ve turned onto one-way streets and nearly slammed into cyclists riding in the wrong direction. I’ve seen many oblivious cyclists slice through four-way stops, as vehicles patiently wait their turn.

Then there are those cyclists who believe we all must have been born on Krypton and blessed with superpowers. These are the ones who ride at night with no lights or reflective gear. They obviously consider themselves invulnerable and assume drivers possess X-ray night vision.


Make no mistake: I want stronger enforcement against drivers who crowd cyclists and block their lanes, and I’ve long advocated for segregated cycle tracks. But if cyclists want broad political support for enforcement and funding for cycle tracks, they could help themselves by calming the rude riding that remains much too prevalent.

When the city last month corrected an error in its bike safety report that overestimated the percentage of collisions caused by cyclists, Pete Stidman, director of the Boston Cyclists Union, voiced relief. He told the Globe he was worried that the original estimate indicated “there needs to be some kind of crackdown, but that’s not the case.”

Actually, it is the case. Motorist behavior was cited in 55 percent of crashes as a potentially influencing factor by the Boston Police Department. That still leaves 45 percent of crashes due to the behavior of the cyclist. The most prominent were cyclists running red lights and stop signs and riding into oncoming traffic.

While many cyclists observe traffic rules, those who don’t are making a negative impression. Every time riders whiz in front of or weave between pedestrians who have the right of way, those acts are witnessed by many people. Multiplied many times over across the Boston area, each act poisons the onlookers against further investments in cycling infrastructure. Cycle tracks ask drivers to give up traffic lanes or parking spaces — and require pedestrians and joggers to steer clear. Cyclists will not get those concessions if they continue to behave like a law unto themselves.


Boston is at an exciting moment. Once ranked among the least-friendly bike cities in the United States, its bike-sharing system and its efforts to raise awareness of cyclists are now highly regarded. But we still remain far from ready to welcome seniors, children, and most middle-age people to bike the streets, and less than 2 percent of Bostonians commute by bike.

Any new boost in biking will require cycling leaders to resist righteousness about their “green” mode of transportation and stop intimating that cyclists are blameless in accidents. For instance, David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, recently told the Globe, “It should never be an excuse for drivers to say I didn’t see the cyclist.” But when talk turns to bicycle helmet laws or traffic fines for cyclists, leaders often deflect responsibility. Watson said, “It’s fine to talk about helmets and it’s fine to do enforcement, but I think in terms of actually preventing these accidents and these tragedies we have to continue to build the infrastructure.”


That ignores that fact that only 43 percent of men in Boston’s cycling accidents were wearing a helmet, according to city data. That makes it fair to ask: Why should society invest in cycling safety when cyclists often do not themselves? The best answer is for cyclists to challenge their peers in a campaign for safe, respectful riding. If they don’t build the advocacy beyond the cycling community, the safe cycle tracks may never come.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.