Bikes and Motor Vehicles Can’t Co-exist on Boston Streets

Bikes and Motor Vehicles Can’t Co-exist on Boston Streets

© David Burton 2013

Bike Crash Map

     Over the past year or two, Boston (and some of its suburbs) has gone and painted white biking symbols on some streets to indicate that motor vehicle drivers are supposed to share the narrow roadways of the city with bicyclists. On other streets, they have painted narrow bike lanes adjacent to lanes in which vehicles can park. They have done this in a misguided attempt to make these heavily trafficked urban streets safe for the increasing number of bicycle users in the city. This is not a plan that will have a good outcome. Many of the streets in Boston simply cannot be safely shared by motor vehicles and bicycles. Injury and death are sure to result.

     “Officials say there are as many as 750,000 cars on the city’s roads daily that share the streets with as many as 6,000 cyclists, more than 500 MBTA buses, 130 duck boats and sightseeing trolleys, not to mention untold thousands of delivery vans, trucks and 18-wheelers.” (Ref. 1)

     We are constantly told that “Hub traffic gurus are scrambling for ways to relieve congestion on Boston’s notoriously narrow ‘cow path’ roadways, as Mayor Thomas Menino pushes ‘alternative transportation modes', including a commitment to bikes that has put thousands of cycles on roads already jammed with trucks, cars, duck boats, buses and trolleys.” (Ref. 1)

     The results have been less than outstanding with a number bicycle riders being struck and some killed. The 400-year old street pattern in Boston was never designed for 21st century transportation. Bikes and motor vehicles can’t co-exist on Boston’s 17th century streets. A bicycle is no match for a two-ton car, an 18-wheeler or a bus. The bicycle rider will always come out second best and that can mean dead.

     One intrepid newspaper reporter tried to determine if bicycles and motor vehicles could get along on Boston’s streets. Her report was less than encouraging. “we went yesterday in search of bikes and cars and T buses and tourist trolleys and duck boats and cabs and, oh yes, pedestrians – all cohabitating peacefully.
     “We found nothing of the sort. - - - {A construction worker on a bike said,} 'It’s safer on the construction site than to ride a bike around here.’ - - - {A wheelchair bound person trying to cross a major street} made it halfway before the light changed. He had to come back. {He reported that} he’s suffered near-death experiences on a regular basis.
         - - -
     “Bikes. Cars. Taxis, Old Town trolley tours. Harley-Davidsons. Pedicabs. Mothers with strollers. Blue-blood bankers in their cups. All battling for an inch of asphalt.
     "I’m here to report we barely got out alive.” (Ref. 2)

     A recent Boston Cyclist Safety Report contained some interesting information. The report showed that “cars are behind a lot of the accidents. That includes doorings . . . and drivers not seeing cyclists (8.7 percent). Bikers come off looking better than previously {indicated}, including only running red lights/stop signs in 6 percent of the cases and riding into oncoming traffic (also 6 percent). - - - {Also reported was the fact that} taxicabs . . . are causing a disproportionate share of crashes. - - - Drivers need to pay more attention. . . . 14 percent of crashes were caused by drivers not seeing the bicyclist, and another 11 percent were . . . a driver opening a car door directly in front of a bicyclist. Overall, 45 percent of crashes were caused by drivers. {The message from the report} is a pretty simple one: Both car drivers and bicyclists need to behave less recklessly on the road. Drivers can rail all they want about bikers acting like jerks on the road, but even when they’re involved in an accident, they’re surrounded by several tons of metal. In only 2 percent of crashes were vehicle drivers or passengers injured, while 98 percent of the time, it was the biker who was hurt. (Ref. 3)

     “Many accidents can be prevented with better infrastructure. The city should hasten efforts to build bicycle tracks that completely separate drivers and cyclists. Along with better public transit and more pedestrian-friendly streets, a safer environment for bikers must be a key goal for the city as it prepares for a future in which fewer residents own cars.” (Ref. 4)

     Some reports of bicycle accidents include the following:

     A “female, riding a bicycle was struck and killed by a vehicle Sunday afternoon in the Back Bay section of the city. Initial reports indicated the victim was struck by a truck, who then fled from the scene. (Ref. 5)

     “Police are investigating the fifth fatal bicycle accident in Boston this year after a 23-year-old Boston University graduate student and a tractor trailer collided at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and St. Paul Street Thursday morning. - - - The intersection where the crash occurred is busy with cars, buses, MBTA Green Line trolleys, students walking and many cyclists.” (Ref. 6)

     “On November 12, 2012 . . . officers . . . responded to a motor vehicle accident involving a bicyclist at Brighton Avenue and Harvard Avenues. - - - Upon arrival officers found a seriously injured male victim. EMS transported the 21 year old victim to Beth Israel Hospital where he was pronounced deceased. - - - Preliminary investigation suggests an MBTA bus did come in contact with the victim. There is no indication that the driver or any of the passengers on the bus knew anyone was struck.” (Ref. 7)

     “Last week, Ms. Tracy Milillo of Brookline crashed her bicycle after an incident with a car. It seems unclear whether or not the car actually struck her. She died of head injuries a few days later.” (Ref. 8)

     “Kirsten Anne Malone . . . died Tuesday in Boston as a result of injuries received when she was hit by a car while bicycling. . . . The Boston Globe reported that Malone was riding her bike near the intersection of Franklin and Lincoln streets in Allston last Saturday and was hit by a car. . . . The Boston Herald quoted witnesses as saying she didn’t appear to see the car and rode into its path. (Ref. 9)

     There is a solution to the impossibly crowded streets of Boston. Ban private cars from the most crowded sections of the city and allow only bicycles, emergency vehicles, mopeds, motor-scooters, buses, delivery vehicles, taxis and sight-seeing vehicles. At the same time, increase public transportation in these sections of the city and provide additional low-cost parking at public transportation stations outside the city.

     Simply painting a symbol on the street to urge drivers to share the road with bicyclists does not create a safe environment for bicycle riders. The only sure way to ensure safety for bicycle riders in and around the city of Boston is to provide them with their own lanes, bike paths and protected motor-vehicle crossings.


  1. Hub’s mean STREETS, Dave Wedge, Boston Herald, Page 8, 31 May 2013.
  2. Hey Boston: Give us some space, Margery Eagan, Boston Herald, Page 9, 31 May 2013.
  3. Bikers (and Drivers) in Boston: Stop Being So Reckless, Patrick Doyle, Boston Magazine, 15 May 2013.
  4. As crashes mount, city must get serious about bike safety, Editorial, The Boston Globe, 22 May 2013.
  5. MIT scientist riding bicycle struck, killed in crash,, 20 May 2013.
  6. Boston Cyclists Saddened, But Not Surprised By Fatal Accident, Deborah Becker and Kathleen McNerney,, 12 December 2012.
  7. Update: Boston Police Identify Victim in Deadly Bicycle Accident,, 15 November 2012.
  8. Brookline cyclist dies after accident without helmet,, 17 September 2009.
  9. Funeral Today for Westporter Killed in Boston Bicycle Accident,, 19 June 2004.


  6 June 2013 {Article 165; Undecided_28}    
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