Bicycle safety continues to draw the attention of city officials as the number of cyclists grows across the city. With increasing attention to the environmental and health advantages of opting for bicycles instead of motor vehicles and public transportation, and the advent of bike share programs like Hubway, the volume of bicyclists has increased dramatically. With this movement towards cycling, bicycle laws may need to be reconsidered to ensure that cycling remains an attractive option for Bostonians, while ensuring the safety of cyclists, pedestrians, and motor vehicle drivers.
Boston.com reported that on September 17th, the Brookline Police Department solicited comments via Twitter regarding the adoption of a new bicycle law commonly known as the Idaho Stop. The law would allow cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs, and treat stop signs as yield signs, thereby letting cyclists move more quickly and have more freedom on roadways. In Idaho, bicycle injuries declined by 14.5% in the year following the implementation of the law.
Existing bike laws in Brookline follow a “same roads, same rules” approach, which requires cyclists to adhere to the same road rules as drivers of motor vehicles. Steve Sidman, Executive Director of the Boston Cyclists Union criticized this approach, noting that the rules applicable to motor vehicles cannot logically be applied wholesale to bicycles. Stidman also recommended the construction of a separate bicycle path on Commonwealth Avenue to reduce bicycle accidents.
Brookline Police Lieutenant Philip Harrington noted that there are no definite plans to adopt the new rule and the department is merely opening the topic for discussion at this point.
Adoption of the Idaho Stop law could signal an important step in the city’s commitment to making Boston a bike-friendly city. The overall safety of the rule, however, is disputed. With cyclists following a different set of road rules, drivers will not be able to anticipate cyclist movements, which could result in increased accidents. In addition, motor vehicle drivers often have trouble spotting cyclists on the roads, especially at night. The Idaho Stop law could exacerbate that problem by giving cyclists the freedom to move against the flow of traffic at intersections, and to appear in spots where drivers would not expect them to be.
The Brookline Police Department received about 130 tweets in support of the Idaho Stop and 40 against the law. In general, cyclists favor the Idaho Stop while drivers oppose it.
New bicycle laws, however, should be considered in conjunction with other means of increasing bike safety. City officials can construct additional separate bike paths, require cyclists to wear helmets, use reflectors or lights at night, and prohibit cellphone use while cycling. In addition, as winter approaches and road conditions worsen, city officials can ensure that bike paths are plowed and salted, and can add streetlights to poorly lit roads.
The path to making Boston a bike-friendly city requires a balance between rules that make cycling an attractive and viable mode of transportation, and safety measures that protect all parties involved.
Attorneys at Altman and Altman constantly monitor bike safety and problems associated with increased bike traffic in the Commonwealth, and in particular in Boston and Cambridge. Unfortunately no law can completely eliminate bike accidents. If you or someone you know has been involved in a bike accident, contact us to discuss you rights and legal options. We are here to help.
Sources: No Changes to Boston Bicycle Laws in Sight Despite Flurry of Interest, Boston.com