Cycling In Boston: An Overview

Massachusetts has been deemed one of the most bike-friendly states in the country, with Boston and Cambridge considered the best places for cyclists in the Commonwealth in terms of biking commuter numbers, infrastructure and public safety. In cities with populations of 500,000 or more, Boston ranked No. 5 overall, behind San Francisco, Minneapolis, Denver and Portland.

It’s a reputation the city worked hard for by investing in updated infrastructure, building roads with bicycle tracts, founding one of the nation’s first public bike-sharing systems and implementing policies that hold motorists accountable for endangering cyclists.

This prioritizing of cycling safety by the city has emboldened more riders in the region to adopt biking as part of their lifestyle. The number of bike trips have been steadily increasing. Still, as the Boston bicycle accident attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com are aware, cycling still carries significant risk.

The Boston Cyclist Safety Report revealed nearly 1,500 bicycle accidents in the city over a recent three-year span, with 28 percent increase in ridership during that time and a 2 percent increase in serious biking accidents. There are an estimated 56,000 cycling trips taken in the city every day.

Given the substantial health, environmental and social benefits of biking in our community, it’s in the city’s best interest to continue prioritizing bicycle safety to encourage ridership and drive down the number of bicycle injuries and deaths.

Boston’s Cycling Safety History

About 1.2 million Massachusetts residents take to a bike at least once a year.

Boston in particular has a robust history of bicycle participation and activism. In fact, when bicycles first gained popularity in the U.S. in the late 1870s, the Pope Manufacturing Company that mass-produced bicycles was based in Boston. Its successor, Columbia Bicycles, is still around, though headquarters is now in Westfield. The original owner of the company, Civil War veteran Colonel Albert Pope, championed the League of American Wheelmen (now the League of American Bicyclists). He was also instrumental in the passage of policy to allow bicycles to use public roads and take bikes on the rail system as ordinary carry-on baggage.

Enthusiasm for the bicycle waned considerably at the turn-of-the-century with the introduction of the automobile. By 1950, it was rare to see an adult on a bike. It had been relegated mostly to the realm of children’s toys.

There was a resurgence of adult bicycle riding in the 1970s, and along with it came the formation of the Boston Area Bicycle Coalition (later MassBike) in 1977. Those advocates would work over the next four decades to host Bike Week events, publish local bike maps, push for more bike paths throughout the city and lobby for safer streets and laws that would promote the well-being of cyclists.

A city-led effort, the Boston Bicycle Advisory Committee, was founded in 1977. It was disbanded, but then later reconvened in 1999 by then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The group conducted periodic cyclist counts, and numbers grew particularly as car parking became increasingly scarce and expensive.

The BBAC, which now runs the site BostonBikes.org, worked to implement strategies to initiate road maintenance, construct more bicycle lanes and push for Hubway, one of the first public bike-sharing systems in the country. Offering some 1,300 bicycles for members to pick up and drop off at one of 140 locations throughout Boston, Cambridge, Brookline and Somerville.

Today, cyclists are seen commonly throughout Boston and surrounding suburbs. Still, there is little doubt we would see more of them if cyclists felt safer on city streets.

Boston Bike Safety Initiatives

There are a number of bike safety programs continuing through Boston Bikes, which is focusing efforts to improve bike safety through:

  • Equity
  • Engineering
  • Enforcement
  • Education
  • Encouragement
  • Evaluation

Specifically, these efforts have given way to:

  • Youth Cycling Program – Targets students in grades 2 to 12 and coordinates with principals and/or physical education teachers to conduct bicycle safety workshops in classrooms. Some 6,900 students participated in 2014.
  • Roll it Forward – A collaboration between Boston Bikes and the Boston Public Health Commission seeks to make cycling a more accessible option for transportation in low-income areas. Bicycle donation, distribution and education has been the core goal, with 4,800 bicycles donated as of 2016.
  • Women’s Program – Hosts a series of rides and workshops to promote bicycling among more women of all skill levels.
  • Get Biking School Challenge – A competition for National Bike Month in May that encourages students K-8th grade to rack up point with more ridership, with the chance to win free bikes, a bike field trip and other prizes.
  • Subsidized Hubway Memberships – Allows a $5 Hubway membership – which includes a helmet – to low-income Boston residents. Low-cost helmets are available for all for $9.

There are also programs that educate riders on urban cycling safety, offer easy access bike repair and secure bike parking. The city is also working to implement a total of 356 miles of on- and off-street biking networks by 2043. We were about one-third of the way there by 2013.

Further, new legal protections passed under Mass. Gen. Law Ch. 85, Section 11B with the Bicycle Safety Bill helps to further protect cyclists from “dooring,” grant riders the right to pass cars on the right and allow sidewalk riding outside business districts.

Protecting Boston Cyclists

All of these efforts have helped Boston to build a bike-friendly reputation. But that’s not the ends of the story.

There are still bicycle accidents in this city every day. To further protect themselves, the city recommends:

  • Beware of doors. Grant yourself at least a 3-foot berth from parked cars, even in traffic.
  • Yield to pedestrians and follow all other rules of the road, including stopping for stop signs and red lights.
  • Avoid vehicle blind spots, especially on large vehicles. Trucks, buses and other big vehicles have sizable blind spots. Make sure to stay visible to the driver by maintaining site of the mirrors.
  • Wear a helmet and use lights, reflectors and bright clothing to make sure drivers see you.

Contact the Boston Bicycle Accident Lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com.