Boston struggles with string of bicycle fatalities

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Boston bicyclists are mourning the fifth traffic fatality among members of their growing community this week.

Christopher Weigl

On Thursday morning, a Boston University grad student was killed in a bicycle-truck collision when he got right-hooked by the driver of the truck.

The student, Christopher Weigl, was a photojournalism student and had written his own obituary this fall for a class assignment.

Boston has been undergoing a bicycling renaissance in recent years.

The many Colonial-era roads in Boston historically made the city dangerous for bicycling. In fact, Bicycle magazine named Boston on it’s “worst cities to bike” list a few years ago.

That all changed when Mayor Thomas M. Menino was said to get hooked on bicycling and saw it as a way to solve some of the city’s traffic congestion and pollution problems. He hired Nicole Freedman, a former Olympic cyclist, as the city’s “bike czar” in 2007 to improve that image.

The popularity of bicycle commuting was already on the rise in the city. The US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that people who considered themselves bicycle commuters rose 50% from 2005 to 2010. Then, in 2011, the League of American Bicyclists judged Boston as a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community.

In 2011, the city put more bicycles on the street — some 600 — when it launched its seasonal Hubway bicycle-sharing system.  The scheme logged 250,000 rides in the first 6 months.

Officials have been increasing efforts to protect cyclists, as reported in the Boston Herald.

Police said drivers are being bombarded with $100 tickets for veering into bike lanes, failing to yield and cutting off or “dooring” bikers. Cops also have doled out 210 warnings to cyclists over the past few weeks.

“We’ve literally given out thousands” of tickets to motorists, Boston Police Capt. John Danilecki, head of the department’s bike safety unit, told the Herald. Scofflaw cyclists, too, are being slapped with citations for blowing red lights, one-way violations or swerving in traffic. City rules allow for $20 fines but the penalties are currently unenforceable.

Some officials cite studies that the more bicycles on the road, the safer it is for everyone as motorists get accustomed to looking out for people on bikes.

The growth in bicycling in Boston, which the Herald reports has grown 120 percent over five years, is compared with a 5 percent increase in bicycle accidents the past year.

The head of the Boston Cyclists Union urged motorists to look out for bicyclists. Pete Stidman told the Herald:

“People tend to blame the cyclists. Not to say cyclists aren’t sometimes at fault, but we think the people driving the bigger, more dangerous vehicle should bear a little more responsibility.”

Bicyclists gathered at Marsh Chapel plaza on Thursday night for a candlelight vigil to remember Weigl. Let’s hope they don’t have to hold an observance like this ever again.

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