The driver of a large truck that fatally struck an MIT scientist probably did not even see the 36-year-old when the vehicle collided with her bike near Kenmore Square Sunday afternoon, even though his truck dragged the bike for 75 feet, law enforcement officials said.
The driver, who has not been charged and whose name has not been released, kept driving after he hit Kanako Miura Sunday at Charlesgate West and Beacon Street, a confusing, busy intersection that funnels fast-moving traffic to Fenway and Storrow Drive and has been described by police as one of the most dangerous parts of the city for cyclists.
The collision remains under investigation, but the case underscored the tension between motorists, who are often loath to share the traffic-clogged streets, and cyclists, who say they are too often blamed for crashes.
“For a motorist to say, ‘I didn’t see them,’ that’s basically license to kill,” said David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a statewide bike advocacy organization. “Everybody at this point should know we need to share the roads. Everybody bears responsibility for the safety of the people around them.”
Miura’s death, the first among cyclists in the city this year, also comes as the city is attempting to encourage bicycling among residents and searching for ways to make it safer. Sunday marked the last day of Bay State Bike Week, an annual celebration that encourages cycling events; last week Mayor Thomas M. Menino vowed to cut the cyclist crash injury rate by 50 percent by 2020.
Miura, a visiting scientist from Japan, was an expert in robotics. She had been at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since fall 2012, working within the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT officials said.
Miura, who was wearing a helmet, was thrown from her bike and died at the scene, police said. The truck that hit her dragged her bike 75 feet before dislodging it on Bay State Road.
Potential charges against the driver could include motor vehicle homicide and leaving the scene, but on Monday police had not arrested the driver, who they said cooperated with investigators after they stopped him about a mile from the accident site in front of the Agganis Arena on Commonwealth Avenue.
The vehicle, which witnesses said resembled a garbage truck, belongs to Save That Stuff Inc., a Boston-based company that picks up paper and other scrap materials that can be recycled. Messages left for company officials were not immediately returned.
Bicyclists often use the intersection, which has a marked bike lane, but it is possible that in a vehicle that large, the driver would have had a difficult time seeing Miura, two law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to provide those details to the news media.
Watson said that should not absolve the driver of responsibility: “It should never be an excuse for drivers to say I didn’t see the bicyclist,” he said.
In December, Christopher Weigl, a graduate student at Boston University, was killed while riding his bike on Commonwealth Avenue at St. Paul Street, about a mile from where Miura was struck. Weigl collided with a tractor-trailer as it turned onto a side street near Boston University. No one has been charged in his death, but Suffolk district attorney office spokesman Jake Wark said Monday that the investigation is open as officials work on reconstructing the crash.
The corridor where Weigl and Miura were killed contains some of the city’s most dangerous intersections for cyclists, according to the city’s first Cyclist Safety Report, which contains statistics on crash locations and times, helmet use, and bicyclist and motorist behavior.
According to the report, the Boston Police Department recorded 1,446 bike crashes and nine fatalities between 2010 and 2012, with five fatalities in 2012. The report, commissioned by the mayor and released last week, also outlined recommendations to improve cyclists’ safety.
To that end, Boston police, Boston University police, and Brookline police for two days monitored the Boston University Bridge and the intersection of St. Paul Street and Commonwealth Avenue, watching for cyclists who ran red lights or were not wearing helmets.
Officers handed out 200 helmets and Boston police issued four citations and four warnings to cyclists who violated traffic rules, said Boston University police Captain Robert Molloy.
But many bike advocates have said that the city instead needs to work faster to create safer places for cyclists to ride.
“It’s fine to talk to people 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,” said Watson.
Nicole Freedman, director of bike programs for the city, said there are plans to create more cycle tracks, buffers between drivers and cyclists that can include temporary fences called bollards. Tracks are already planned for busy stretches such as Summer Street in South Boston and Harrison Avenue, Freedman said.
On Bay State Road Monday, mourners had left behind bouquets of lilies and a small pot of lilacs.
John McNamara, a freelance photographer from Rhode Island, and his daughter, a 19-year-old sophomore at BU, saw Miura’s mangled bicycle on the street Sunday. It served as a reminder to tell his daughter to steer clear of the intersection, McNamara said.
“On my way home, I thought to myself, I’m going to encourage her to go walking instead of using her bike,” he said. “And you know what? I don’t think I have to encourage her to do that. She saw what happened herself.”