MassBike's New-And-Improved Partnership With The MBTA

As is often the case when someone calls something "new-and-improved", there was nothing really wrong with our relationship with the MBTA before - MassBike has worked closely with the T for years (decades really) and have made continuing progress on better integrating bikes into the transit system.

We've really come a long way from having no access at all to having pretty good access today (yes, we've still got more work to do on that). But our collaboration with the T recently took an unexpected turn toward an even closer working partnership, stemming, as these things often do, from a tragedy - the death of Eric Hunt in April in a crash involving an MBTA bus.

Immediately following that crash, MBTA General Manager Rich Davey reached out to me to discuss bicyclist and bus safety. Mr. Davey brought me together with key MBTA staff responsible for bus driver training and operations, as well as the Executive Director of MARTA, the association of regional transit agencies across Massachusetts. We began what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about safety (and access) statewide.

We had a great meeting, focusing primarily on bus/bicyclist safety. Here are the high points:

  • Rich Davey is committed to safety above all else.

  • The training people presented an overview of bus operator training: Up until recently, drivers were trained when hired and never retrained unless they were involved in at-fault or multiple accidents. They now have a plan to retrain every driver on a regular basis, using a bus simulator, although it will take 2-3 years for each complete training cycle because they can only train a handful of drivers per day. They are especially interested in interactive training ideas to supplement classroom sessions or printed materials. (They committed to involve the advocacy community in developing new simulator scenarios and printed materials, and they have already begun working with us on this, as Shane previously reported.)

  • The T is planning to use the great Chicago training video, but agree it would be better to have a video featuring T personnel and equipment. They want our help to get bicyclists to watch the video too.

  • I told them about the very common experiences of buses passing bikers too closely and passing just before pulling into a bus stop. They said that drivers are specifically instructed not to do those things, and seemed skeptical that the problem is as common as I claimed (based on my own experience and other reports to MassBike), but were open to finding new ways to convey this message to drivers.

  • I suggested that it is important for drivers to understand the cyclist's point of view, and that perhaps we could work with them on videos or even rides to give drivers that experience.

Mr. Davey also gave me the opportunity to talk about other issues unrelated to the recent bus incident, so I talked about the need to provide a better forum for public participation than the old "Bikes and the T" committee, continuing the collaborative working relationship with the advocates, completing bike rack installation on the bus fleet, and relaxing the peak hour restrictions (and specifically doing a pilot on the Blue Line).

The next day, Mr. Davey spoke at Mayor Menino's Boston Bike Safety Summit, reiterating many of the points he and I discussed at our meeting and committing to working with the advocacy community to improve safety. As we already reported, Mr. Davey also met "Biker Boy" at the summit, which led to Biker Boy and I recording the public service announcements you may have heard on the T lately.

Following the safety summit, we participated in the meeting we previously reported with the bus driver training staff, together with representatives from the Boston Cyclists Union, Cambridge Bicycle Committee, and the City of Boston. This meeting led directly to MassBike jointly submitting, with BCU and LivableStreets Alliance, a proposal for major revisions to the information provided to bus drivers about interacting with bicyclists. The next step is to work with the T to finalize these revisions, then move on to helping them design better simulator scenarios for their ongoing training program.

We continue working with the T to improve access for bicyclists. I am now the poster child for taking folding bikes on the T! (For real, check out my picture in the new T brochure and on the newly-spiffed-up "Bikes on the T" webpage.)

During Bay State Bike Week last month, I had the honor of speaking at the opening of the newest "Pedal & Park" facility at South Station, part of the MBTA's $4.8 million federal stimulus-funded bike parking expansion project. I thanked the T for spending real dollars to improve bicycle access, but I held their feet to the fire just a little to do more to ensure that all MBTA employees treat bicyclists with respect and take bicyclist safety seriously. I know that Rich Davey does take us seriously, and we have a great opportunity to make some major positive changes with our newly-strengthened relationship with the T.

Your support of MassBike makes this work possible, so please join or renew, and tell your friends.

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