When the City’s Boston Bikes program released its much-anticipated safety report last month, reports immediately focused on an unbelievable finding: cyclists running red lights were the most common cause of crashes in Boston. No doubt guilt-ridden drivers were relieved to learn that scofflaw cyclists were the problem all along.
So what happened? The Boston Cyclist Safety Report combines two crash data research efforts: one summarizing police reports and one revealing EMS data. These studies make up the second and third chapters, respectively, of the Report. Chapter 1 is essentially an executive report written by the city’s Bicycle Director, Nicole Freedman.
Freedman is responsible for erroneously reporting that red-light running was the most common crash contributor, despite that the claim is contradicted within the same report. And despite the fact that it flies in the face of every other bicycle safety study. Transportation professionals are well aware that right-hook crashes and “doorings” are far and away the most common bicycle crash types. How our city’s Bike Director could have overlooked this is truly puzzling.
But the research does point to some useful findings:
- Crash data are woefully inadequate – police are not trained on reporting bicycle crashes and only indicated a “potentially influential behavioral factors” about a quarter of the time. Even then, “Driver did not see bicyclist” does not provide useful insight. Better training, updated technology, and more robust data collection measures can help improve our ability to understand and address safety issues.
- Specific locations in Boston are dangerous for bicyclists – Commonwealth Avenue in Allston had a disproportionate number of bicycle crashes. So, too, did portions of Brighton Ave, Beacon Street, and Mass Ave in Brighton, Fenway, and Back Bay. Let’s focus on building safer infrastructure where crashes are occurring.
- Too many people are being killed and injured – on average, three people are killed and 450 injured every year. That’s more than one Boston Marathon Bombing a year, but we continue to carry on business as usual. Let’s take some important next steps to save lives and reduce injuries.
This article is the first in a series studying the Boston Cyclist Safety Report. Next, we explore the city’s recommendations for improving bicycle safety in Boston.