Commonwealth Avenue

Commonwealth Avenue may well be one of the most dangerous streets for cyclists in Boston, particularly at locations near Boston University.

Sometimes referred to as “Comm Ave” by locals, it’s a major street in Boston and Newton, beginning near the Boston Public Garden and continuing west through Back Bay, Kenmore Square, Brighton, Allston and Chestnut Hill.

The stretch between Packard’s Corner and Kenmore Square is mostly within Boston University territory.

Police records from Boston University Police reveal that of the 121 bicycle crashes to which they responded over a five-year span, 75 percent of them were on Commonwealth Avenue. Those represent only a small portion of the bicycle accidents to which Boston EMS and the Boston Police Department respond, of which there are approximately 500 a year.

At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman and BikeAttorney.com, our experienced bicycle accident lawyers know this particular section of the city is fraught with problem traffic.

It is packed with pedestrians, crosswalks, railway lines, parking lanes and bicycle lanes.

The most dangerous intersection of Commonwealth Avenue is believed to be St. Paul Street. It was at this spot where a promising photojournalism graduate student at Boston University was struck and killed in 2013. He had been wearing a helmet and was traveling in the bike lane when a 16-wheel tractor trailer truck made a wide right turn and struck him.

At this single location, there were reportedly nine bicycle crashes in a span of just five years, according to Boston University Police.

Between 2010 and 2012, daily bike trips in Boston increased from 47,600 to 56,600, a nearly 19 percent uptick, according to the 2013 Cyclist Safety Report. Boston EMS officials reported a 9 percent increase in reported accidents during this same timeframe.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports the percentage of traffic fatalities that stem from bicycle accidents is growing. These accounted for 1.7 percent of all traffic deaths nationally in 2004. By 2013, they accounted for 2.3 percent.

Poor Roadway Design Cited

The $3 million reconstruction of the Boston University Bridge in 2012 was supposed to help ease traffic on Commonwealth Avenue. The design included two dedicated 5-foot bike lanes running adjacent to the sidewalks.

However, many bicyclists report it is still a dangerous swath of road, and fear not only being struck by a motorist but also “dooring.” This is when a person inside a motor vehicle either swings open a door into the path of a cyclist or a door is left ajar in the cyclist’s path.

Another problem area identified along the route is the clustered intersection of Commonwealth Avenue, Carlton Street and Storrow Drive. Traffic exiting Carlton street has to either travel straight onto University Road to enter Storrow Drive or turn left onto Commonwealth Avenue and then quickly get into the far right line to cross the BU Bridge. At the same time, the right-of-way is afforded the heavy pedestrian traffic crossing University Road. Cars and bicycles back up in the intersection, all of them jockeying for a few seconds to break through the pedestrian traffic. The problem is further exacerbated when there is a BU Football game or a Red Sox game.

Room for Improvement

After the student’s bicycle death in 2013, BU’s Bike Safety Committee gathered with the city to formulate a plan to improve bike safety. These included:

  • Better Bike Lane Markings. Painting over the five-year-old existing bike lane marks at intersections with skid-resistant, high-visibility green paint. Plus, white bike-shared-lane markings were to be added within the green paint at particularly busy intersections and those with long crossings. Bike lane edge widths were to be expanded from 4 inches to 6 inches.
  • More Warning Signs. New signage to indicate the area is a “High Bicycle and Pedestrian Activity Zone.” Additionally, speed limits would be reduced from 25 mph to 30 mph.
  • Highway Reflectors. These reflectors would be recessed into the pavement and installed outside of bike lanes and between intersections, and would become more slowly spaced prior to each intersection crossing.

It is good to see officials are taking action. However, it may not be enough. Others have suggested the city:

  • Construct a pedestrian tunnel underneath or a bridge above University Avenue;
  • Install a pedestrian light at the intersection of Commonwealth and University Avenue.

Our Boston bicycle accident lawyers know that when poor road design or roadway maintenance causes or contributes to a crash, the municipality that is responsible may be held liable for damages. This could be in addition to drivers or others who may also be held to account.

Contact the Boston Bicycle Accident Lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman and BikeAttorney.com at (888) 789-BIKE.