Update: June 28, 2016
We recieved the following response from District Attorney Marian Ryan's office:
Tragically, in the past month we have had two fatal collisions involving motor vehicles and bicyclists in Middlesex County. While we understand the concerning nature of these incidents as it pertains to the safety of both bicyclists and motor vehicle operators who share our roadways, we must conduct a complete and thorough investigation before making charging decisions in these cases. As with all fatal motor vehicle collisions, this investigation could take several months to conclude.
The preliminary investigation into the fatal collision that resulted in the death of Amanda Phillips indicates that Phillips was riding on the sidewalk in Inman Square when she traveled over the curb to merge with traffic on Cambridge Street. According to preliminary witness statements it appears that she struck the driver's side door of a parked car in the roadway that was open before Phillips entered the roadway, that contact caused Phillips to be thrown from her bicycle into the path of a landscaping truck that was also traveling down Cambridge Street.
This investigation is being conducted by the Middlesex District Attorney's Office, State Police Collision Analysis & Reconstruction Section and the Cambridge Police Department.
In the wake of the tragic loss of Amanda Phillips in Cambridge last week, MassBike has sent the following letter to Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan. While we continue to work diligently to improve our roadways and pass new laws, we cannot expect to see change unless we enforce existing laws. Copied on our letter to Ms. Ryan, we have reached out to Cambridge Acting Police Commissioner Christopher Burke, Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Attorney General Maura Healey, State Rep. David M. Rogers, State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, State Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen, State Rep. Timothy J. Toomey, State Rep. Marjorie C. Decker, and State Rep. Jonathan Hecht to ensure that charges are filed against the motorists involved.
June 27, 2016
Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan
15 Commonwealth Avenue
Woburn, MA 01801
I write to you today on behalf of thousands of bicycle riders in Massachusetts. At MassBike we work tirelessly to make our streetscapes safer and healthier for all users. Without enforcement of the existing laws, however, we can never succeed.
For this reason we are asking that your office bring charges of vehicular manslaughter or negligent homicide against both drivers, whose actions led to the tragic and unnecessary death last week of Amanda Phillips in Cambridge, only the most recent death of a cyclist by a reckless motorist in Middlesex County. We seek more information regarding the June 16 collision that killed Eugene Thornberg in Lincoln.
In both instances no charges were filed.
Opening a car door into a cyclist without first looking is negligent and a violation of law. [See MGL c. 90 sec. 14, near the end of the very long first paragraph] When a driver does so and the victim dies, that is negligent homicide or manslaughter. Likewise, when a driver runs into a cyclist and hits her from behind, if the cyclist dies, that is negligent homicide or manslaughter. These are the facts that lead to the death of Amanda Phillips.
In our work to improve safety we often refer to the “Five E’s”. The first four are education, engineering, encouragement, and evaluation. But the critical fifth “E” is enforcement. For too long there has been little or no enforcement in such circumstances involving bicycles. This failure to enforce such laws leads to institutionally blaming the victim.
Without enforcement, motorists will continue to operate with the same negligent and reckless disregard for the safety of bicyclists that has led most recently to the death of Amanda Phillips, a 27-year-old graduate student. We believe to use the term “accident” in this circumstance is both harmful and wrong. With enforcement, these crashes can be prevented. But we need enforcement to do so.
We can think of nowhere else than Massachusetts - which serves as the world’s college town - where such enforcement is appropriate and overdue.
I await your comments.
Thank you for giving the consideration it deserves.
Richard Fries, Executive Director
We encourage you to attend the Vigil for Amanda Philips this Wednesday at 7pm. Ride safe.
Update 4/21/2016: This week on Beacon Hill the House Ways and Means Committee will shake down its financial allocations for Fiscal Year 2017. We urge our members to call or email their lawmakers this week asking them co-sponsor specific budget amendments that are crucial to bicycle safety.
There are eight amendments on the table that could greatly improve conditions for bicyclists across the Bay State, and one in particular, could fund a MassBike study of the return on investment in linking bicycle infrastructure to transit in small- to mid-size cities. Others include a means of utilizing municipal parking revenues to fund bicycle accommodations, and another that would require every person tested for a learner’s permit to receive a question regarding driving around bicycles and pedestrians.
Here is a sample letter to send to your representatives or to refer to on a phone call. Feel free to add in your own personal story and make it your own!
I hope this note finds you well. I am writing to urge you to co-sponsor the following budget amendments that would impact the bicycling community in your district by providing safer roadways through education as well as improved street design and infrastructure.
- Amendment 35, filed by Rep. Brendan Crighton, which would fund a study on the positive impacts bicycle connectivity could have in such cities as Pittsfield, Brockton, Worcester and Lynn. There are 24 such Gateway Cities.
- Amendment 309, filed by Rep. Daniel Cullinane, which would permit municipalities to set parking meter rates for managing parking supply and allows parking meter revenue to be used for improvement to public property, roads and transportation; and permits municipalities to establish parking benefit districts, from which all or a portion of parking revenue may be designated for use in improving bicycle accommodations.
- Amendment 402, filed by Rep. William Straus, which would give MassDOT greater leeway to encourage municipalities to include complete streets design elements and infrastructure on locally-funded roads.
- Amendments 1088 and 1242, filed by Reps. Angelo Scaccia and Paul Schmid III respectively, would fund an increase of funds for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which is seeking to construct several bicycle trails and improve conditions on its parkways for bicyclists.
- Amendment 684, filed by Rep. Jonathan Hecht, would require that the written examination for learner's permits given by the Registry of Motor Vehicles include at least one question that tests knowledge of how to interact safely with cyclists and pedestrians.
- Thank you for the respect and consideration.
MassBike is currently following the process on four bills to protect bicyclists and pedestrians. MassBike staff helped to coordinate key testimony when the bills were in committee and rallied support being these issues. Filed in January 2015, MassBike’s bills are the “Act To Protect Vulnerable Road Users” and the “Act To Protect Bicyclists In Bicycle Lanes.” Thanks to Senator Will Brownsberger and Representative Dave Rogers, the bills have been filed in both the House and the Senate to get maximum exposure on Beacon Hill. Also crucial are the bike lane bill and the truck side guard bill which MassBike also supports.
The Vulnerable Road Users Bill (pdf) (SD273 in the Senate and HD2137 in the House) defines “vulnerable users” to include pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, motorcyclists, road workers, emergency responders, horseback riders, and others who are at greater risk on our roads. Beyond giving vulnerable users legal status, the bill sets minimum safe distances for passing vulnerable users, starting at three feet and increasing with speed. The bill also emphasizes that motorists can and should use other lanes to pass vulnerable users safely.
The Bike Lane Protection Bill (pdf) (SD284 in the Senate and HD2130 in the House) addresses a common problem: It makes it a ticketable violation statewide for a motorist to park or stand in a marked bicycle lane or other on-street bicycle facility. When a motorist parks or stands in a bike lane, it endangers bicyclists by causing them to merge into traffic or squeeze between the parked vehicle and the curb or other parked cars. In most communities in Massachusetts, it is not currently a violation to park in a bike lane, but others are adopting their own rules (notably Boston). We run the risk of a patchwork of inconsistent and confusing local laws if we do not act statewide.
See a fact sheet on these bills here (pdf).
Once these bills go to vote in the full House and Senate, we will need your help!
How You Can Help
- Get contact information for your state legislators here. Enter your home address, then click on the name of your State Senator and State Representative to get their email address or phone number.
- Email or call your State Senator, and ask her or him to support legislation protecting pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable road users.
- Email or call your State Representative, and ask her or him to support legislation protecting pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable road users.
Not sure who your legislators are? Visit this page to find out.
We will put out a call to action on these bills via email and social media when we need your support to ensure the passage of these key bills! Stay tuned!