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Charlestown Bicycle Accident Proves Need for Upped Safety Measures

The death of a bicyclist last Thursday near Sullivan Square in Charlestown has only fueled the urgency of the city of Boston’s efforts to enhance biker safety. City officials have made creating a safer environment for the hundreds of thousands of cyclists who regularly bike the roads a top priority, since Mayor Menino launched his biking initiative 7 years ago.

According to Boston Police, the cyclist was struck by a garbage truck. The driver of the truck left the scene because he “thought he hit a pothole;” a likely scenario according to officials because bicyclists can be hit by vehicles so big that the drivers never see or feel the impact.

Creating more bike-friendly roads and encouraging more people to ride bikes has been an important mission in the Hub. Most recently, Mayor Walsh announced the nation’s first program for doctors at Boston Medical Center to prescribe $5 Hubway bike-sharing memberships to low-income patients struggling with obesity. Already the city offers $5 Hubway memberships to nearly 900 low-income residents.

Boston was recently named a “Green Lane Project” city by PeopleForBikes, a national advocacy group for cyclists. And currently the city is working with the group to help lay the groundwork and prepare for major changes to roadways including a network of European-style cycle tracks that are protected from vehicle traffic for bicyclists and pedestrians. The goal is to have 10% of city commuters using bicycles by 2020.

Though many residents and Boston officials have shown serious enthusiasm for creating a more bike-friendly city (Cambridge was even named a Gold-level bike community last year), there is still a tremendous amount of work ahead for this goal to come to fruition. With more than three times the amount of bicycles on the road today in Cambridge and in Boston, than only a decade ago according to city officials more work needs to be done outside of infrastructural changes to enhance the safety of all cyclists.

In fact, cycling advocacy groups and the National Transportation Safety Board have called for other protections so riders would essentially “bounce off” collisions, as opposed to being swept underneath the motor vehicles that hit them. Safeguards, which have been implemented on many large commercial vehicles throughout European cities, are one such way. These guards cost a mere $850, and have been found to decrease the likelihood of fatalities by 61% in certain types of accidents. Last year, the city of Boston implemented safeguards on 18 of its public works trucks as a pilot project, and has since asked for safeguards in new contractor bids for trash removal trucks.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 39 cyclists were killed and 2,100 people sustained non-fatal injuries between 2007 and 2011 in Massachusetts. One of the leading causes of accidents between bikers and motor vehicle operators is a failure to share the road. Many vehicle operators also fail to remember that bikers are vulnerable entities. According to state law, all bikers have the right to public ways in the Commonwealth. Additionally, many bikers are unaware of their legal responsibilities to follow the rules of the road. Like motor vehicle operators, cyclists are obligated to follow and subject to most of the same traffic laws as cars and trucks, including obeying traffic signals and signs.

As the weather continues to get warmer and more cyclists join the roadways, we’d like to remind you that whether you’re a driver of a car or a bicycle, you are responsible for adhering to the rules of the road. Though bike riding is a popular mode of transportation, especially in the city, it is extremely dangerous. However, these accidents are always preventable. Here are some simple tips that all bikers should observe when on the roadways.

1. Always, always, always wear a helmet. While it seems to be a phrase engrained in everyone’s head, so many individuals do not understand how important helmets are in preventing serious head injuries. Some people dismiss the idea of wearing a helmet because of atheistic reasons, or because they feel their short commute doesn’t warrant wearing one. But wearing a helmet could make all the difference, and could even save a life.

2. Travel with the traffic, not against it. Always ride on the right side of the road, and go with the flow of traffic. Remember that bicycles are considered vehicles too, and cyclists are responsible for adhering to the same rules of the road as drivers. If you come to a stop sign or red light, you are legally bound to stop. In addition, you are responsible for yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks, just as motorists are.

3. Ride in designated bike lanes whenever possible. Ride in bike lanes when you are able to. If you feel unsafe traveling on a road because of traffic, you may also ride on the sidewalk, however it is important to always yield to pedestrians.

4. Wear bright clothing. Always wear bright clothing or reflective clothing and avoid wearing dark clothing when traveling at nighttime, to ensure that motorists are able to see you.

5. Stay vigilant. Be aware of your surroundings and be prepared for unexpected situations or actions by motorists. Also, minimize your distractions-while riding with your iPod may be fun, it can also be incredibly dangerous.

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