The Realities of Biking in Boston

The Realities of Biking in Boston | Written by Riley Smith

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I am writing this two hours after I got into the worst bike accident I have been in since I started riding my bike around Boston. It is my third accident this year (also the third of my life), and the second one happened just yesterday.

The number of bikers on the roads in Boston have skyrocketed since 2007, according to the Boston Globe. With more bikes on the road and several terrible casualties hitting the news, Boston has been trying to make the roads safer for all of us. Harvard published a study that shows that the number of accidents has increased, but the percentage of bikers getting injured has decreased. This makes sense - more bikers on the road mean more individual chances of getting hit, but overall the trend has decreased as more drivers are getting used to sharing the road and more steps are being taken to protect bikers. These steps have included: educating new drivers about sharing the road; increasing signage drawing attention to bikers; painting bike lanes in roads; constructing barricaded bike lanes in heavily trafficked areas; and recently (after a death where a biker got swept under a city vehicle) adding side guards on large city vehicles.

These are wonderful decisions, and each year it feels safer to be on the roads. The challenges we face now, however, are super frustrating. Bike lanes only are effective if they are both open and consistent. Summertime in Boston (when most bikers are out riding) is when the majority of construction happens. Construction often happens on or near bike lanes, closing them off so bikers have to merge into traffic at random times. Additionally, there are many neighborhoods in Boston that have not adopted bike lanes, and so in the same stretch of road, a biker might go from being in a barricaded lane to merging into traffic to being in a lane just separated by paint, to merging into a lane again. Drivers are already unhappy that we don’t ride at the same speed they do, so they often cut us off when we try to merge or honk at us to try and go faster. We also have to deal with Uber and Lyft drivers as well as double-parkers - all who use the lanes to park in, do not indicate when they are coming into or leaving the bike lane, open doors into the bike lane without looking, and come to sudden stops without warning.

My three accidents involved the issues mentioned above. My first accident occurred when an Uber driver pulled into the lane I was riding in and came to a sudden stop. I slammed on my brakes and flipped over, breaking my bike and scraping myself up really badly. The second happened when a driver made a left turn in front of me when I had the green light, causing me to slam into his car. The third occurred when I turned right into a street where a driver was driving down the wrong side of the road. I slammed to a stop and swerved at the same time and flipped over my bike again. I am covered in dirt and cuts and bruises and my nose might be broken. In the two most recent accidents, there was no bike lane, and both drivers informed me that they had never seen bikes ride down those streets before - even though I and others ride them every day.

I feel as though these incidents highlight the necessity of the work we are doing at Be Zero and elsewhere. I bike because it is faster than public transportation, great for my body (when I am not getting injured), and is carbon neutral. I also bike because there is an amazing community of bikers in Boston and around the world. However, like every other change that needs to happen to fight climate change and protect the earth, we need a cultural shift. We need more people to be aware of the bikers around them. We need safer ways to bike. We also need to take more cars off the road. Not everyone can bike, nor is it practical for all types of transportation needs, but imagine if our public transportation was more reliable and reached more locations - that could take way more cars off the road. But we also need to rethink convenience. Cars may seem convenient in the short term, but carbon emissions are very inconvenient, as is being hit by a car.

Like we in the Be Zero Community have done around plastic, food waste, and thrifting, we need to have conversations with our loved ones, our co-workers, and our legislators about what a circular economy and a less waste world looks like - which includes many bikers on the road who are just trying to get from point A to point B.

I will be joining the World Naked Bike Ride in Boston this year. It is a very unique way of drawing drivers’ attention to the fact that there are bikers on the road, combined with a message of body positivity. Events like this, as well as organizing by awesome collectives and coalitions around the world, is moving us in the right direction to increase safety for bikers, which also makes more people feel comfortable switching to biking. I keep telling my concerned friends that I am not going to stop biking any time soon. I will, however, keep fighting for my right to be on the road safely.

If you are in the Boston area and want to get into the biking community, check out these awesome resources:

CommonWheels - “CommonWheels is a 501c3 non-profit collective based in Allston, MA. Our mission is to use the bicycle as a tool to empower all people to become more self-reliant, healthy, and connected to their community.

We provide free skill-sharing workshops, social rides, tools and guidance, multilingual resources, and community—and we encourage participation and support from all who share our vision for better bicycling, in Boston and beyond.”

Boston Cyclists Union - “We’re helping Bostonians lead healthier lives by promoting the everyday use of the bicycle for transportation. Among other things, we repair bikes, educate new riders, and organize neighborhood residents who would like to voice support for friendlier street designs, bike paths, and public spaces.”