MassBike is in its first year of working with the MassDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Awareness and Enforcement Program to make cities and towns across Massachusetts safer for cycling. This initiative is part of the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) developed to reduce serious injuries and fatalities. The program requires collecting and using data about safety on public roads. In Massachusetts, 12 communities have been selected for 13 studies (two in Quincy) based on the rate of bicycling and collisions in each city or town.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, WalkBoston, and MassBike are working together to increase bicyclist and pedestrian safety in these communities. The goal is to reduce injuries and fatalities by 20 percent over five years, and the plan to do so involves three basic elements: enforcement, education/awareness, and preparation.
The enforcement component involves educating local police on the laws and challenges specific to bicyclists and pedestrians. To facilitate this, MassBike’s police training video has been shown to police officers in the 12 communities. With a firm understanding of bicycling laws in Massachusetts as well as best practices, police officers can educate residents about the legal, safest ways to get to their destination, no matter the mode. Walk audits highlight safety issues in each community and will help prepare the communities for infrastructure and other safety changes.
Although the basic plan – enforce, educate, prepare – is the same for every community, how it plays out in practice varies from place to place. Each of the communities has its own set of opportunities, as we discover after each visit.
Some communities see improved bicycling facilities and safety as a way to revitalize a downtown area. Cities where a downtown core has been overlooked in favor of suburban development – such as Brockton, Lynn, Haverhill, and Fall River – want to attract cyclists as part of a plan for economic development. Other places with higher rates of cycling – such as Cambridge, Somerville, Newton, and Watertown – are looking to improve safety for their cyclists and attract even more commuters. Salem and Pittsfield are looking for slightly different help. In Salem, a city with an already robust cycling culture, bringing businesses out in support of increased cycling is a way to help make improvements for bicyclist safety. Pittsfield represents a town just starting out to think about cycling infrastructure, and there are a lot of opportunities there to increase safety and attract more cyclists.
With MassBike and our partners out there on the street, we get to both learn about the challenges of bicyclists in specific communities throughout Massachusetts and help those communities learn how to make cyclists safer on the road. Next year will we will continue to work with these communities, build off of what we learned in 2014, and meet the needs of each city or town to ensure that whoever is bicycling through or around them will have a safe, enjoyable experience.
To see a full list of the towns and cities that are participating in the safety program, visit the MassDOT website.
[caption id="attachment_23469" align="alignleft" width="300"] Massapoag Ave before repaving.
Photo Courtesy of Christine Madore[/caption]
The grant is part of the South Coast Rail project. According to the website, this project will link South Station with the south coast of Massachusetts by restoring rail transportation along this corridor, which is expected to activate up to half a billion dollars in economic development yearly. Christine Madore, associate planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, says that most communities awarded this grant focus on expanding businesses downtown, green infrastructure, and housing. In other words, it is not usual for the grant to focus on the safety of cyclists.
But in Sharon a priority mapping study showed that the attraction of the town for outdoor enthusiasts, especially cyclists, represented a viable economic opportunity. Making the already-popular roads safer and more attractive for cyclists is an important part of the plan.
Initially it was hard to narrow down where in Sharon the study would focus. “The heat map showed that almost every road is biked on,” said Madore. After a close look at the town’s resources, safe biking and walking along one of the most popular routes – the loop around Lake Massapoag – was singled out as a priority.
The town was already planning to re-pave Massapoag Ave, which meant that it was, according to Madore, the most "imminent opportunity to implement on-road bike facilities." Public meetings were held to learn what residents and other users needed and wanted on the road. This process and the Lake Massapoag Bicycling Network website allowed the public to comment on the best way make the lake accessible to cyclists and pedestrians and get more people walking and biking around points of interest in Sharon.
Sharon resident Dana Carne has been an active voice in the process of making Massapoag Ave safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Members of her family are “constantly cycling on [Massapoag Ave], and [she is] extremely concerned about safety in general for pedestrians and cyclists here.” Carne frequently crosses the road with her toddler to access the lake and says crossing the road is dangerous due to the fast cars, wide lanes, lack of sidewalks on the lake side, few crossings, and curves. “After many discussions with the neighbors, we were very worried about the plans for the new road,” Carne said. Many residents who lived near the lake wanted the new road to include bike lanes, which would provide an extra level of safety when crossing the street as well as help cyclists. When the town held public meetings, Carne and her neighbors were there to advocate for the road being rebuilt with all users in mind. The changes on Massapoag Ave have begun, and Carne has become concerned because the road has been narrowed – enough, she thinks, to limit the width of a bike lane.
It will be some time before the changes are complete. Town Engineer Peter O’Cain told us that “a final decision on the striping configuration for the bike trail has not been made yet and may not be until the spring given the weather.” As far as traffic calming on the busy road, O'Cain says the town will include “striping, signage, and the installation of LED speed limit signs that provide real-time speed feedback to motorists."
Madore adds "it is important to note that in order for a meaningful product to come out of this process, bike facility improvements should be considered for the entire bike network, not just focused on a small section." Massapoag Ave is currently a focus because the paving project allowed for nearly immediate changes. Madore also believes that "promoting safe biking around the lake should involve a holistic approach to the streets and roads that were chosen for this project."
To further encourage visitors on two wheels to explore the town, Madore is also recommending using wayfinding signs and maps at strategic locations, especially at the train station and town center, and the next phase of the project will help develop an ecotourism guide. Madore envisions cyclists “getting off the train, using the maps to learn they can ride to the town center for a cup of coffee or lunch, and then enjoying a bike ride around the lake or other parts of town.”
Sharon is a small town where bicycling is a big part of a vision for economic development. Like Sharon, a lot of cities and towns across Massachusetts are making bicyclist-friendly decisions. What’s happening in your town? If you would like to share stories about cycling advocacy or infrastructure changes, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know. Your story might be featured on the MassBike website and newsletter!
Now there is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would repeal the bike benefits entirely. We would like you to contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives asking them to
- Prevent the bicycle commuter benefit from being repealed
- Increase the bicycle commuter benefit from $20 to $35 a month
- Make bike share memberships eligible for either the bicycle commuter benefit or the transit benefit, which supports combining biking and transit for your commute
Tell your elected federal officials today that you want them to co-sponsor HR 2288: The Commuter Parity Act and S.1116: The Commuter Benefits Equity Act. These bills will address the current benefit disparities.
S.1116: The Commuter Benefits Equity Act is the Senate companion bill that will keep bike benefits and balance the transit and parking benefits.
We want these bills passed during the Lame Duck session and ready for 2015, so please take action today.
In the last few weeks, we have seen a lot of news focused on Boston-area public transit. In addition to the West Station announcement, reports about weekend Commuter Rail options, a new Silver Line route, and updated Green Line Extension dates have all come out.
Here's the roundup:
- Weekend Commuter Rail service is returning on three lines. The Kingston/Plymouth and Greenbush lines will all be available on Saturdays and Sundays, while the Needham line will become available on Saturdays starting on December 27. In his statement about the increased Commuter Rail service, MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey indicated that the added trains were a result of transit users wanting more options.
- A contract for the Silver Line Extension was approved. The extended Silver Line will link East Boston and Chelsea with three new stations. All stations will have bike racks, and a Shared Use Path is planned from Eastern Avenue into downtown Chelsea.
- The dates for the Green Line Extension project have moved out, but Phase 2 design is almost done. The completion dates are now delayed by a year, but Lechmere, Washington St, and Union Square station designs are "approved to proceed." You may remember when we reported on the successful campaign for the Somerville Community Path Extension as part of this project. To learn about how you can be involved, visit the Green Line Extension website.
- Allston will get West Station as part of the I-90 Interchange Improvement Project. As with the Somerville Community Path Extension, this is a project that MassBike supported.
You’ve probably heard a lot about the Question 1 ballot measure in the upcoming election. We want to tell you about what Question 1 would do, what that would mean for you, and why we are supporting a NO vote on Question 1.
Question 1 would eliminate the gas tax indexing law and put at least $1 billion in transportation investments in jeopardy over the next decade. Indexing the gas tax helps this dedicated transportation revenue source maintain its value and was a vital part of the 2013 law that reversed years of under-investment in transportation.
Question 1 is bad news for cyclists and pedestrians. Safe biking and walking require good planning and investments, and Massachusetts has a long way to go to design and build streets, bikeways, trails, and walkways that are safe for everyone.
After years of neglect, roads and bridges in Massachusetts are now a major public safety crisis. This is something we can no longer ignore. Passage of Question 1 would mean our roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate, threatening the safety of Massachusetts cyclists and all residents.
For all of these reasons, MassBike supports a NO on Question 1 vote on November 4.
Say NO to sacrificing new infrastructure.
- Question 1 threatens to cut $1 billion in transportation investments over the next decade.
- Question 1 would reduce or eliminate new walking and biking paths.
- Question 1 would reduce or eliminate road / bridge projects with new bike facilities.
Say NO to unsafe bridges.
- Today there are 28 bridges in Massachusetts that have been closed because they are unsafe and another 447 that can only carry reduced traffic loads.
- The ten busiest structurally deficient bridges in the state carry more than 1 million cars every day.
Say NO to traffic fatalities.
- Massachusetts roads are unsafe for too many cyclists.
- Roadways conditions are a significant factor in one-third of all traffic fatalities in Massachusetts.
- Motor vehicle crashes cost Massachusetts $6.3 billion a year in medical and other costs.
Say NO to cutting public transit improvements.
- Indexing the gas tax helps to improve our public transit system.
- Question 1 risks investments in aging subways, rail, and buses.
- Question 1 risks improvements in the MBTA and Regional Transit Authorities.
Say NO to risking environmental benefits.
- Question 1 will hurt our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Question 1 will limit our ability to invest in low- and non-polluting transportation projects such as biking, walking, and public transit.
Say NO to Question 1.
If you are eager to help stop Question 1, please spread the word and follow the campaign on Twitter or like it on Facebook.
Click here to read the full ballot question.
Today Governor Deval Patrick, MassDOT Secretary Richard Davey, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced that West Station construction will be part of the Allston I-90 Interchange Improvement Project. This new Commuter Rail station in Allston will be partially funded by Harvard, which owns the surrounding land.
Also at the announcement were Senator William Brownsberger, sponsor of the recent bicycle-friendly Act to Protect Vulnerable Road Users and Act to Protect Bicyclists in Bicycle Lanes, and Representative Kevin Honan. Both spoke about the planned West Station.
If you've been following (and supporting!) the People's Pike campaign, you'll know that construction of this new Commuter Rail station was a topic of concern that many local groups, including MassBike, cited in the letter to Patricia Leavenworth of MassDOT.
MassBike's David Watson, who attended the announcement, called the plan to build West Station an "important step forward for this project and the neighborhood." Of course there is more work to be done. "Now," Watson added, "we just need to ensure that the bicyclist and pedestrian aspects of the project will be top notch!"
But one of the best reasons to help more school-aged children ride is that we are building the next generation of cyclists. Every single kid who rides to school at age ten won't be a road racer or a mountain biker, but he or she is more likely to use a bike to get somewhere nearby. By showing children that bicycles are a great (fun and fit!) method of transportation, we increase the odds that their generation will, as adults, ride a bike to run an errand or get to work or have fun.
Cyclists can relate to these reasons for encouraging young bicyclists. Caregivers for young children, however, often have safety concerns when it comes to riding bikes. That’s where Safe Routes to School comes in. Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is a federally-funded program that provides children safety training and information about biking and walking to school. In Massachusetts, MassDOT manages MassRIDES, the state Safe Routes to School program. MassBike offers the bicycling education component here, while WalkBoston works with the walking side. MassBike has educated over 11,000 kids about bike safety and using bikes for transportation. This year, MassBike will increase that number by educating kids at 100 schools through Safe Routes to School.
The SRTS partner schools come in all shapes, sizes, and locations throughout the state. Communities from Worcester to Brockton to Easthampton participate in this program. Urban, suburban, and rural schools can all benefit from SRTS. In a typical Safe Routes to School class focused on biking, kids spend 45 minutes with one of our instructors learning
• Why to ride: Fun, health, and the environment
• Helmet safety: How and why to wear a helmet
• Proper attire: The right clothes for safe, comfortable biking
• Basic maintenance: Age-appropriate bike care, such as putting air in tires
• Road rules: The right way to ride in their neighborhood
Recently, Kali Paine, one of MassBike's Safe Routes to School instructors, taught fourth and fifth graders at the Marion E. Zeh School in Northborough. There she found that although only a few kids told her they currently bike to school, they became increasingly excited about riding for transportation during her classes. She was encouraged because, as opposed to her usual 60 to 70 percent, "When asked how many liked to bike at the beginning of each class, nearly every student rose [his or her] hand." At the Zeh school the students also had an especially enthusiastic response to safety elements in the class. According to Paine, they even became interested in wearing helmets after she spoke about helmet safety and proper fit.
Paine was especially thrilled that "The teachers at [the Zeh] school were also pretty engaged in the content." She added that it will be helpful if "the parents...take a good look at the handouts that were sent home and encourage their kids to bike more!"
Laura Smeaton, another Safe Routes to School instructor with MassBike, agrees that "Parent and teacher engagement is key, because these are the adults kids look up to every day." Smeaton also found recently that an emphasis on fun is important in her classes. At her visit last week to the fifth graders of Claypit Hill School in Wayland, kids told her that they enjoy riding, which helped Smeaton to show them that this fun activity could be used to get places. Once introduced to the idea, the fifth graders especially liked that they could achieve increased independence on their bikes.
The challenge in a community like Wayland is the lack of sidewalks. Smeaton noted that safety concerns on big roads with no bike paths or sidewalks make parents less likely to allow their kids to ride to school on their own. In fact, only one student had ridden to school the day she was there, although many of them already loved and knew a lot about their bikes. When the opportunity for riding for transportation is a bigger leap, as in Wayland, Smeaton recommends a bikepool. "You can have eight to ten kids with one or two adults," she said, "and you help the kids ride safely." Having a bikepool also shows a need for infrastructure improvements in communities without good bicycling and pedestrian options.
As seen in Northborough and Wayland, the opportunities and challenges are different in every community. Kids in urban areas might need help learning how to deal with heavy traffic, while those in rural or suburban communities might need, as in Wayland, to start a bikepool for safe riding.
Any SRTS partner school can request this free class about bicycling safety. To become a Safe Routes to School partner school, or to help your child’s school become one, apply on the MassRIDES website here (pdf).
If your school is already a Safe Routes to School partner and you want to request a class, contact Erin Reed with MassDOT. You can find a list of partner schools on the MassRIDES site as well.
If you are a parent looking for more information on helping your child safely ride his or her bike, see the Safe Routes to School resources on our website.