Monday, 2 May 2011

More bikes jostling with cars means more safety challenges

FROM MILES of new bike lanes to the ambitious bike-sharing program he announced late last month, Mayor Menino and his administration are taking big, tangible steps to make cycling a real transportation option in Boston. These efforts are heartening to cycling buffs, environmentalists, health advocates, and all those who believe that too many cars threaten the quality of life in crowded urban urban neighborhoods.

And yet the tangible steps aren’t enough; the city must also work to cultivate the good habits, among bicyclists as well as motorists, that will allow both types of vehicles to coexist.

Unlike cities in Europe with more bike commuters and fewer cars, and unlike Minneapolis and some other US cities, Boston isn’t entirely safe for riders. Boston’s roads weren’t built with bikers in mind, and the city has its fair share of aggressive drivers. That’s why Menino should accompany his biking efforts with a city-wide education program. It should promote vigilance among motorists, who need to be prepared for more bikers on already busy streets. The campaign must also teach cyclists where they can go safely, how to navigate around cars, and why they need bells, reflective clothing, and well-fitting helmets.

More than a casual safety check, such education is necessary if the city is to encourage more inexperienced cyclists to take to the roads. The US Department of Transportation reports that there were 630 bicycle-related deaths and 51,000 injuries nationwide in 2009. And Boston has had its own string of high-profile crashes, including the death of a 74-year-old commuter earlier this year, and two deaths last year.

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