BU Introduces New Cycling Safety Measures Along Comm. Ave

BOSTON — More warning signs, better bike lane markings and highway reflectors will be added to the mile-and-a-half strip along Commonwealth Avenue through Boston University to improve safety in the wake of the death of a student cyclist in December.

Those improvements, recommended by a joint BU-city working group, will be made by the city of Boston. Safety advocates, including Craig Hill, chairman of BU’s Bike Safety Committee, commended the measures, while cautioning that additional improvements may be necessary in the future.

“I’m hopeful that these changes will help protect bicyclists and pedestrians traveling along this very busy stretch of Commonwealth Avenue,” says BU President Robert A. Brown. “I am also extremely grateful for the city’s continued support of bike safety initiatives that safeguard all people who use the city streets that pass through our campus.”

Warning signs to improve safety will be installed on Commonwealth Avenue. (Courtesy of Tetra Tech)

Warning signs to improve safety will be installed on Commonwealth Avenue. (Courtesy of Tetra Tech)

The improvements will include:

  • Signs: New signage will designate a “High bicycle and pedestrian activity zone,” and instruct drivers to “Share the road” and “Yield to bicycles when turning right.” Other signs will post a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. Part of the stretch had been posted for 30 mph.
  • Pavement markings: The existing bike lanes, installed five years ago, will be painted at intersection crossings with skid-resistant, high-visibility green paint, and white bike-shared-lane markings will be added within the green paint at busy intersections and at long crossings. The width of the bike lanes’ edges will be increased to six inches, from the present four inches.
  • Reflectors: Highway reflectors, recessed into the pavement, will be installed along the outside of bike lanes between intersections, and more closely spaced before each intersection crossing.

Hill, associate vice president for auxiliary services, says the improvements “will result in more clearly defined bike lanes, especially at night, and raise the awareness of motorists that this corridor is a high pedestrian and bicycle area.

“The ultimate solution for bicyclists would be separated cycle tracks,” says Hill, “where bicyclists have some sort of a protection barrier from moving and parked vehicles. This solution is not feasible in the near term.” (Boston has such a lane on Western Avenue, where cars park by the lane, not the sidewalk; the parked cars buffer cyclists from the auto travel lane.)

Hill says his committee is studying other possible improvements, including the removal of metered parking spaces “that are too close to busy intersections.”

David Watson, a Metropolitan College lecturer on city planning and director of the advocacy and safety group MassBike.org, also touts cycle tracks as a possible project for a “major redesign” of Commonwealth Avenue. Meanwhile, he says, the agreed-to improvements “sound like they will help remind motorists to look carefully for bicyclists along Comm Ave. If the city is actually reducing the speed limit from 30 to 25, that will increase safety for everyone by giving drivers more time to look around and react to the people around them, and will help reduce the severity of injuries” in crashes.”

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino says the partnership with BU on the new Comm Ave improvements “will result in keeping BU’s cycling community safe on this busy roadway.”

Two students died last fall in cycling accidents. Christopher Weigl collided with a tractor-trailer at Comm Ave’s intersection with St. Paul Street, and Chung Wei Yang was hit and killed by an MBTA bus at the intersection of Harvard and Brighton Avenues in Allston.

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  • X-Ray

    I got my driver’s license many years ago and there weren’t many bike lanes. But even though there has been a proliferation of lanes and markings, there have been no education programs known to me explaining what the rights and responsibilities are for drivers and cyclists as to how to use these lanes and markings. For example, to make some turns in a car I have to cross a bike lane. Besides using care, what do I have to do in this situation? Do I have to yield the right-of-way to a biker, how far away, and what is the biker’s duty?

    • Johan

      Try to get in the habit of looking back before you turn and assume the bike will come through (as it IS their right of way in this instance.) A defensive cyclist will stay off your side so you shouldn’t turn into them, but it’s ALWAYS best to check. I really appreciate your calm, curious approach to your ignorance (not in a bad way) rather than just being angry at cyclists. I wish the state did more to educate drivers of the rules and responsibilities of sharing the roadway. Cheers!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Lindsay/703987 Robert Lindsay

      You make a really excellent point. I have no idea if they are now teaching updated rules in driving classes, but you (and me) are among millions of people who have never been formally introduced to sharing the road with cyclists. I bike and drive all over Boston, and I really don’t have a good answer to your question. As a cyclist, I generally assume that it is my responsibility to watch for turning cars and slow down, and as a driver I feel it is my responsibility to indicate well in advance and check my mirrors. But, I have no idea what the law says about this common occurrence and I imagine no one else does either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.kernan.77 Laura Kernan

    Hi X-Ray,

    You might find this resource useful. It’s an easy to read guide to Mass. Bike Law, including the responsibilities of both cyclist and motorist. There is also a link to the actual Mass. Bike Law on the state website if you are interested in more detail.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.kernan.77 Laura Kernan
  • David F

    None of this will stop some bicyclists from running red lights, cutting across oncoming traffic, passing on the right, and going the wrong way down one way streets and all of the other extremely dangerous things they do.

    • dulles1969

      @fordag:disqus you’re right. Also true is that none of these safety measures would’ve
      prevented Christopher Weigl’s death, being T-Boned from an 18-wheeler cutting a fast, tight right turn from Comm. Ave’s center lane. We can paint all the lines, put up all
      the signs and reflectors in the world, it won’t protect against a
      careless driver.
      To the point of X-Ray’s comment below, many drivers (and more cyclists) don’t know what the law is with bicycles. Bicycles are allowed to pass on the right. BTW, that’s why there are the green, road-wide “bicycle boxes” at the front of some intersections in Boston — to show that’s where bicycles are *supposed* to move up to if the light is red (granted, they’re not then supposed to run the light).

      • Johan

        I ride through that intersection where Weigl died almost daily and for the life of me can’t figure out how it was anything but responsibility on both parties in that instance. There’s no way that truck could have moved so quickly from the left lane across to the right for Weigl not to have seen it. Then again, the driver should have check and rechecked and gone slowly. Terrible tragedy nonetheless. Thoughts?

        • dulles1969

          Here’s how I think it went down. St. Paul street is a tight entry, so the truck moved to Comm. Ave.’s center (travel) lane, probably swung a little to the left to prepare to thread the needle (turning the right-turn directional off). Cyclist is in bike lane watching the green light, the (empty) right turn lane, looking ahead to avoid being doored, or hitting debris or other road hazards. Truck picks up momentum from the left drift, scans the right-hand turn lane for cars and St. Paul for pedestrians. Seeing neither, he cuts hard right and ROMPS on the gas to clear the intersection. Weigl was never looking to his direct left. IF this is how it happened, it’s absolutely, positively the truck driver’s fault.

          • Craig

            Have you ever actually seen a truck turn in the city? They don’t “ROMP” on the gas to turn, they slow to nearly a stop and make the turn. I saw the accident, it was tragic and difficult, but lets not try to paint this into a biker vs driver battle.

          • dulles1969

            @Craig, first, I am very sorry that you saw the accident. No one should have to witness that.

            I am describing the accident how it could happen without Weigl having a chance to react. When I say “ROMP”, I mean surge forward in low gear. The driver punches it (a) to swing the cab over and “close” the right-hand turn lane, so cars don’t squeeze right and cut him off; and (b) get the cab’s nose over the St. Paul pedestrian cross-walk, so that peds don’t cut him off. You’re right, once the front of the cab’s nose is in St. Paul street, the truck threads the trailer in slowly. But the goal is to line up and start the turn as fast as possible. Weigl was in the way.

            It ain’t bike vs. driver, it’s common sense. If one vehicle is going straight in its lane through a green light, and is struck by a vehicle to its left that turns right, the turning vehicle operator is at fault. If a cyclist had been in that center lane and suddenly turned, and an 18-wheeler was (legally) going straight to his right, you’d have a very different opinion, wouldn’t you?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zen-Cycle/1124493388 Zen Cycle

      David, none of this will prevent some motorists from running red lights, cutting across on-coming traffic, passing on the right, and going the wrong way down one-way streets either. FWIW – it’s completely legal for a cyclist to pass a motorist on the right. You’re quite right though, scofflaws do neither party any good. Drivers and riders need to start respecting each other as individuals with the same right to the roads.

  • rogger2

    Thank you for trying to improve the cycling conditions on comm ave. I think the above improvements are a step in the right direction. I hope they will add signs both on comm ave but also on the major roads that intersect it.

    Last week I was hit while riding my bike just a couple blocks from where Chris Weigl was killed. I was passing across comm ave after crossing the BU bridge from Cambridge and a driver struck me while made an illegal right onto comm ave from the traffic light. Luckily both the driver and I were going slow so I had only minor injuries. The driver probably would have still made the illegal turn even if there were more signs but I guess more signs can’t hurt!

  • Eric Herot

    The signs alongside Boston’s roads are already far too numerous for
    any reasonable person to read all of them. That and traffic engineers
    around the world have already widely discredited their usefulness
    (precisely because drivers do not read them at the times when they are
    most needed). Doing ANYTHING to separate the bike lane from the driving
    lane (such as putting up barricades between the driving and bike lanes
    along the VAST stretches of Comm Ave where there is already no parking) is really the only thing that’s ever going to make any difference here. I just wish city planners didn’t have such an “all or nothing” approach to this problem.
    E.g. why do we not put some kind of small, possibly temporary barrier
    between the bike lane and the driving lane on the BU bridge? No parking
    would have to be removed. Such a thing already exists to protect the
    pedestrians from the drivers (and, inexplicably, bicyclists). Obviously
    this stuff is going to cost a little money, but if it gets a few more
    people out of their cars and onto a bike, it’s more than worth it.

    • Johan

      I see what you’re getting at, but the times you need protection are when car are coming across the bike lane, but those are the places where it’s near impossible to put up a physical barrier. One place that bridge COULD use something like that is the Cambridge side entrance. I have seen at least three cyclists side swiped when drivers assume there’s two travel lanes. The bike lane on that right on to the bridge needs to be marked.

  • Tory

    You do realize that cycle tracks don’t really do anything to prevent the right hook which killed Weigl, right? Research shows they can actually make right hooks way more frequent.

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