BU bicycle crash victim is remembered
Christopher Weigl was ready to submit his final project of the semester Wednesday for a multimedia class at Boston University when a technical glitch stole all his editing work.
It was the kind of thing that makes the average first-year graduate student crumble. Not Weigl.
He stayed up late Wednesday, finished the project, and sent it electronically to his professor, whose class he was scheduled to attend at 9 a.m. Thursday, said Peter Southwick, director of photojournalism at BU's College of Communication.
Weigl never made that class. The 23-year-old photojournalism grad student was killed on Commonwealth Avenue at 8:36 a.m. Thursday after his bicycle collided with a tractor-trailer turning onto St. Paul Street. The crash, which shut down the 900 block of Commonwealth Avenue through the afternoon, is being investigated by Boston police. No charges or citations have been issued.
Weigl was the fifth bicyclist killed in a crash in Boston this year, an issue addressed at a previously scheduled City Council meeting on bicycle safety just hours after the latest fatality. Councilors observed a moment of silence for Weigl at the start of the meeting.
Boston police said Weigl, who was riding in a marked bike lane, was wearing a helmet Thursday.
"He was a calm hand on the wheel, had tons of common sense, very aware of the risks of riding a bike," said Charlie Maher, one of his three roommates. "He was smart. He wasn't some reckless kid on a bike without a helmet. That's not the way he is at all."
The professor in Weigl's multimedia class, Peter Smith, canceled regular class affairs Thursday, opting to honor Weigl's memory by showing his final project and another student's project, which happened to be a video profile of Weigl.
Dan Herard, Weigl's roommate and friend since grade school, said Weigl was the glue that kept friendships together. A "goofy" guy who always had a smile on his face, Weigl enjoyed the outdoors, dancing to techno music, and seemed to befriend everyone he met, Herard said.
"He always kept a positive attitude," Herard said. "He was one of those people. Drove some people nuts because he was always happy. He was just Chris; there's so much that encapsulates that."
Kuan Liu was aboard the Green Line's B train Thursday morning when she came upon the chaotic scene on Commonwealth Avenue: a body covered in a white sheet under a tractor-trailer. A devastated Liu later learned the person under that sheet was the very first friend she made at BU, where she is enrolled as an international student. He was her assigned ambassador at the school, helping her navigate a new school and country.
Weigl would invite Liu to his Brighton apartment, as he did all his friends, to watch television. When Liu could not understand what was being said, Weigl would patiently explain it all.
"He would always help me. He would walk me home when I was by myself to make sure I'm safe," Liu said. "I can't imagine this person in my life is the person under the white cloth."
Hours after the collision, more than 60 bicycling advocates gathered in City Hall's council chambers for a bike safety meeting sponsored by Councilors at Large Ayanna Pressley and Felix Arroyo.
While councilors and bike advocates acknowledged that the quality of cycling in Boston had improved drastically in recent years — more than 50 miles of bike lanes have been added since 2007 — they agreed the city urgently needs to take a closer look at safety.
From Jan. 1 to Nov. 13, there have been 579 bicycle-related incidents in the city that required response by Emergency Medical Services, said Kristopher Carter, interim director at Boston Bikes, the city's cycling initiative. In that same period in 2011, there were 548 bicycle-related incidents requiring EMS response, he said.
Although the number of accidents has increased about 5 percent from last year, Carter said it is difficult to say whether the statistics point to a decline in cyclist safety or reflect more bicyclists taking to the road. From 2011 to 2012, the city saw a 31 percent increase in bicyclists on the streets, he said.
Pete Stidman, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, called on officials to move beyond the who-was-at-fault blame game after bike fatalities, and to talk about ways to rethink the city's transportation infrastructure.
"What you hear a lot is, 'What are we doing about these scofflaw cyclists?' I'm not saying that cyclists don't cause accidents; they do," said Stidman, citing one study that found bicyclists at fault in one-quarter of bike accidents. "But that is not the key problem."
Councilor Matt O'Malley agreed. "Helmets are so important, but it's not just about helmets," he said. "It's not just about blaming the victims that way. It's about having serious conversations about what we need to do."
Much of the discussion focused on cycle tracks, lanes for bicycles that are physically protected from vehicular traffic with medians, plastic posts, or an aisle of parked cars. They have been successful in cities such as Montreal, but require more money and road space than regular bike lanes.
Advocates also stressed the importance of obtaining comprehensive data on accidents, rather than piecemeal data from various city agencies that often lack crucial details about the nature of a bike accident. Until recently, some police and EMS reports did not differentiate between collisions involving pedestrians or a bicyclist.
Carter said city officials are working to publish a more thorough report by year's end.
Stanley Brown, who works at the CVS pharmacy at the intersection where Weigl collided with the truck, said that he noticed the tractor-trailer making a right turn onto St. Paul Street from the far left lane that the bicycle "was just going too fast to react to the truck."
"When I saw him get hit, I knew there's nothing really that could be done," Brown said. "There was no way he could have survived that."
He said the truck driver got out of his vehicle, looked briefly at the bicyclist, and then returned to his cab. He appeared shaken but showed no obvious sign of intoxication or impairment, Brown said.
Carter, of Boston Bikes, said Commonwealth Avenue is often clogged with pedestrians, bicyclists, motor vehicles, and MBTA Green Line trolleys.
The dean of BU's communications college, Tom Fiedler, said grief counselors and university chaplains are being made available to students, faculty, and staff.
Southwick, director of the college's photojournalism program, described Weigl as "one of the best students I've ever had in the program."
"What stood out the most was his sensitivity, his ability to connect with people so that you saw emotional power in the photographs. They weren't posed, they weren't self-conscious, they were genuine. The kind of moments that allow a viewer to share the experience and get into the life of his subjects."