MassBike's Response To Decision Not To Indict Driver In Wellesley Fatality

Earlier this week, we learned that a grand jury decided not to indict the driver of the truck that stuck and killed bicyclist Alexander Motsenigos in Wellesley last August. We are outraged at this result, and our hearts go out to the Motsenigos family who must suffer this injustice on top of their loss. We are trying to understand how this happened, in what would appear to be a clear case of motor vehicle homicide. Here is what we know:

  • The Wellesley Police Department performed a thorough investigation beginning immediately following the crash. They interviewed witnesses, collected evidence at the scene, reviewed traffic camera video, executed a search warrant at the company that owns the truck, impounded the truck, and performed extensive forensic analysis on the truck. Police tracked down the driver and interviewed him at his home the next day, and concluded that he was not being truthful in his account of the incident. They performed a simulation of the crash using the truck, a bicycle, and an officer the same size as the driver to determine what the driver could have seen. You can read the entire report of the investigation here, but be warned that it is graphic and disturbing.

  • The police filed a variety of charges against the driver, including motor vehicle homicide. The driver was also charged for Unsafe Overtaking of a Bicyclist, a law passed as part of MassBike's 2009 Bicyclist Safety Act.

  • Prosecutors presented the case to a grand jury, which, in December, declined to indict the driver, effectively bringing an end to the investigation. Grand juries are county-wide, and closed to public view, so we will never know who was on the jury, what evidence was presented, or what was said in jury deliberations. The grand jury would have been composed of citizens from multiple communities in Norfolk County.

  • The Motsenigos family has filed a civil lawsuit against the driver and the companies that own and operate the truck.


So what went wrong? Based on the information available to us, it appears that the police and prosecutors took this case very seriously, and performed a thorough and professional investigation. Ultimately, the decision was in the hands of the grand jury and we cannot know what was in their minds. We can and should assume that the grand jurors took their job seriously - they are constantly reminded of the gravity of their decisions. But we can assume that many of them, perhaps all of them, are not cyclists - we represent a growing, but still small proportion of the population. We can be certain that most of the jurors, probably all of them, are drivers - most people, including most bicyclists, are.

I will speculate that some, perhaps all, of the jurors put themselves in the place of the truck driver and asked themselves the question "should I face felony criminal charges if I accidentally hit a bicyclist?" And in the world as it exists today, with bicyclists forced to mix with cars and trucks on roads that were not designed to be shared, and inadequate education of both motorists and bicyclists, those jurors might have decided it would not be fair to hold the truck driver accountable. The system did not fail us, but our fellow citizens did.

This is a cultural issue, where most people still view bicyclists (if they think about us at all) as daredevils and people on the fringe of society. They do not yet see us as vulnerable individuals sharing the road, people like them who deserve greater protection and vigilance. We need to get past this cultural divide, get more rapidly to the point where bicyclists are as accepted and respected as any other person on the road. We are working on this culture shift at MassBike, and we are thinking hard about how to accelerate it. We need your help, first with your ideas, and later with your participation as we move forward.

Please give us your thoughts in the comments.

MassBike Gets To Work With The New Legislature

Last week, two bills written by MassBike were filed in the Legislature, and we are strongly supporting two other bills to make biking and walking safer.

MassBike's bills are the "Act To Protect Vulnerable Road Users", S.D. 723, and the "Act To Protect Bicyclists In Bicycle Lanes", S.D. 731. Many thanks to Senator William Brownsberger, who sponsored and filed the bills on our behalf.

YOU CAN HELP

We are actively seeking co-sponsors for all these bills, but the deadline is February 1, so there isn't much time! Please email your own state senator and state representative and ask them to co-sponsor these bills. If you're not sure who they are or how to email them, enter your address here.


This marks the second time we have filed the Vulnerable Road Users Bill. In the last session, it got stuck in committee, but we succeeded in raising awareness of the risks posed by motor vehicles to bicyclists, walkers, and other vulnerable users.  The bill will strongly encourage motorists to exercise more caution when operating around vulnerable road users, will educate motorists to operate more safely, and will provide law enforcement with additional tools to protect vulnerable road users. The bill:

  • Defines “vulnerable users” to include pedestrians, bicyclists, and others including wheelchair users, all non-motorized users, and horseback riders (an even more inclusive list than last time!)

  • Enhances the fines applicable to motorists who kill or seriously injure vulnerable users

  • Requires traffic safety education

  • Requires community service


And, new for the VRU Bill: We have added protection that makes it illegal to physically harass a vulnerable user with a motor vehicle, and enables you to sue motorists for a wide range of harassing behavior.

The Bicycle Lane Bill is very straight-forward and addresses a common problem: It makes it a violation statewide for the driver of a motor vehicle to park or stand in a marked bicycle lane or other on-street bicycle facility. When a motor vehicle parks or stands in a bike lane, it endangers bicyclists by causing them to move out of the bike lane into traffic to avoid the parked vehicle, or squeeze between the parked vehicle and the curb or other parked cars. In most communities in Massachusetts, it is not clearly a violation to park in a bike lane. While the City of Boston has recognized the problem and adopted its own ordinance, we run the risk of a patchwork of inconsistent and confusing local laws if we do not act statewide.

MassBike also strongly supports bills filed by our partners:

The "Act Relative To Active Streets And Healthy Communities", S.D. 676/H.D. 1917, will create a program that encourages cities and towns across Massachusetts to routinely include Complete Streets design elements in locally funded road projects, making streets that are safer and more convenient for bicyclists, pedestrians, and all users - not just cars.

The "Act Relative To Speed Limits", H.D. 3991, would reduce the prevailing speed limit (the default when there is no sign) from 30mph to 25mph. Even a small reduction in speed limits can dramatically increase the chances of a bicyclist or pedestrian surviving a collision with a motor vehicle.

Finally, the Transportation for Massachusetts coalition (MassBike is a member) has filed three bills aimed at increasing revenue for transportation and accountability for transportation decisions. These bills support the very progressive transportation plan recently proposed by the Governor, including increased funding for biking and walking.

 

 

MassDOT Biking Toward Sustainability

We were glad to see more evidence that the state gets it when it comes to bicycling. Back in August, we made extensive comments on MassDOT's GreenDOT Draft Implementation Plan. GreenDOT is MassDOT's sustainability initiative, and the implementation plan is the document laying out the path to achieving the goals contained within it. The final draft, which was recently released, reflects our suggested changes and represents a bold vision for moving our transportation system in a more sustainable, bike-friendly direction.

We highly encourage you to take a look at the plan. Of particular interest is the "Policy/Planning" section, which describes the ways in which MassDOT intends to expand multimodal options, support livable communities, and triple the mode share of bicycling, walking and transit use by 2030. Contained within this section are goals to increase the creation of Complete Streets projects, expand bicycle parking and transit access, and continue expanding the length and connections of biking and walking facilities. And that's just a start.

There is still a lot of work to do to make sure that these high-level policies are reflected in the projects and operations on the ground. In an organization with 6,000 employees, changing culture can be a tall order. However, this document is a major step in the right direction with far-reaching implications, and we were glad that we could be a part of the development process.

Save The Date: Bike/Walk Summit On Beacon Hill


This year is going to be HUGE for transportation funding. The governor recently announced that he is seeking to pump $1 billion more annually into the transportation system, and MassDOT intends to devote a nice slice of that to bike/ped projects. However, negotiations are going to be tough with the Legislature, and we can't let biking and walking become a bargaining chip in the process.

Join us on April 11 at the State House to say with one united voice: Pass the Governor's transportation plan!

We will also be educating legislators on the following topics:

  • Safer street design

  • Senior Safety Zones

  • Lowering speed limits on neighborhood streets

  • Vulnerable Road Users

  • Prohibiting cars parking in bicycle lanes.

  • Snow Removal


Mark your calendars, Thursday, April 11th from 10am-1pm in Nurses Hall at the State House for your opportunity to meet legislators and fellow Bay State advocates. Find more details at the event page (it will be updated as we learn more about the legislation and work out the event logistics). This event is free and open to the public. Last year, biking and walking advocates came from around the state and this year it is crucial that we have an even more powerful showing on Beacon Hill from people who value livable communities, who want safer roads, or just people who bike and walk for fun, fitness or transportation.

If you have any questions, please email Events@MassBike.org. More details to come soon!

State Transportation Funding Plan Is Big On Biking

Governor Patrick is finally taking on the state's transportation crisis in the upcoming legislative session. With the state's ambitious mode shift goals and GreenDOT Implementation Plan both strongly supportive of biking and walking, we were anxiously waiting to see if the Governor's funding proposal reflected these priorities. In other words, would the state put its money where its mouth was? Well, it appears that Governor Patrick is trying to do exactly that:

The funding plan proposed by Governor Patrick includes a significant increase in funding for biking and walking, dedicating $430 million over the next ten years. Click here for the full plan.

We like the Governor's bold move to fix our broken transportation system, and think it will provide better transportation for everyone in Massachusetts, whether you bike, walk, drive, or take transit. There is going to be much wrangling between the Legislature and the Governor about where the revenue will come from. Governor Patrick has proposed a 1% income tax increase (softened by a 0.75% sales tax decrease). It is likely that the funding plan and the revenue proposals will change as the Legislature considers the whole package.

We will work hard with the Legislature and our allies at Transportation for Massachusetts to make sure that funding for bicycling actually does increase to meet the state's (and our) ambitious goals to get more people on bikes. However, a strong, unified voice from people across Massachusetts will be needed to see this plan become reality.

Here is how you and your friends can help:

  • Read the plan or the summary.

  • Email your legislators (look them up here) as well as House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray (see below for sample text).

  • Express your support on Facebook and Twitter. Forward this message to your friends and family.

  • Receive bulletins from MassBike and Transportation for Massachusetts by signing up for our email lists.

  • Submit a letter to your local paper, comment on articles on-line, or call in to talk radio. There will be people who do not see the value of investing in biking and walking, and they need to hear from you!

  • Email us at action@massbike.org to let us know who you've contacted.


Support this work by joining or donating to MassBike today!

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Sample text of email to your legislator:
Dear [NAME]:

I support investing in our transportation system and I am writing to ask you to do the same.

Massachusetts needs a long-term strategy that will fix what’s broken, reduce delays and congestion, and make our cities and towns healthier and more prosperous.

I use the transportation system every day. I want to know that it will work when I need it—that roads and bridges will stay open, that the trains will run on time, that the roads will be safe for bicycling, and that we can build the walking and bicycling trails that my community wants.

We have some hard choices, but you can make sure that we get a fair blend of revenues and modernizations that add up to the $1 billion investment that we need.

Thank you for your attention, and your action.
Sincerely,
[NAME/ADDRESS]

Get A Bicycle Advisory Committee In Your Community

Having an active Bicycle Advisory Committee can make the difference between a town that's OK to bike in and one that is fantastic. Looking across the state, the communities with Bicycle Advisory Committees are the ones that stand out for their safer riding conditions, support of bicycle education programs, and strong bicycle culture. Northampton is a great example of a community with a Committee that is working hard to improve the on-road facilities, upgrade and expand off-road trails and paths, and every year plans a set of events for Bay State Bike Week.

For those communities in Middlesex County, there is now funding available to support the creation of a Bicycle Advisory Committee. The application can be found here, and it's due by January 11.

This funding is available through the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. If you have any questions about this application, feel free to email me at Price@MassBike.org or give me a call at (617) 542-2453. This is a great opportunity, I hope it can help your community take a big step toward making biking a safe, fun option for transportation and recreation.

MassBike Annual Meeting at Flat Top Johnny's - December 19th

The board and staff of MassBike invite you to our Annual Meeting on  Wednesday, December 19th, from 5:30-8:00pm at Flat Top Johnny's, 1 Kendall Sq,  Cambridge, MA.

Starting at 5:30, the MassBike Board of Directors will hold a brief business meeting where Executive Director David Watson will report on MassBike's 2012 accomplishments and preview our 2013 plans, followed by Q&A. We'll conclude the evening with a relaxed opportunity for people to get to know their fellow bike advocates. Be sure to stick around and play some pool, because Flat Top Johnny's has generously donated four tables for our members. This is a great opportunity for you to meet others in the bicycling community working to make our rides safer and even more fun.

The event is free and open to the public, but a $5 donation is recommended. Not a member yet? Join at the event and save $5! You can RSVP to events@massbike.org so we can tell Flat Top Johnny's how many people to expect. Even if you don't RSVP, please come anyway!

Light appetizers will be provided, and we will have drink and/or meal specials for those who want dinner.

Year-End Recap: 2012 Was Huge

We had big plans for 2012, and we made them happen, but 2012 turned out to be an even bigger year for MassBike than we had imagined. We led the state in bicyclist advocacy on Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill, celebrated our 35th year of advocacy, supported dozens of bicycle events around the state, and kicked off our Bikeable Communities Program. MassBike has grown from a small group of volunteers in 1977 (then the Boston Area Bicycle Coalition), to a staff of four full-time professionals, four part-time instructors, a half-time intern, and dozens of volunteers. How far we've come!

We started 2012 by welcoming our new Membership and Office Coordinator, Austin Rand. He quickly revamped our member benefits and improved our social media and communications. He played a major role in organizing Bike Night: Beyond the Spandex, a gala featuring a bike fashion show, and the Summer Century & Family Fun Ride. Austin continues to develop new events and membership programs to make them even more fun and generate more support for our advocacy work.

[caption id="attachment_20107" align="alignright" width="300"] Advocates at the National Bike Summit[/caption]

2012 was a rollercoaster of a year for federal transportation funding and policy. When our Program Manager, Price, and I went to DC in March for the National Bike Summit, no one knew exactly what was going to happen with funding for bicycling. The House had just passed a bill essentially eliminating non-highway spending, and the Senate passed a bill that more or less maintained the status quo. We led Massachusetts advocates visiting our Representatives and our Senators, and our entire delegation was very supportive for our cause, truly "bike-partisan". In the end, we didn't get everything we wanted, but most bicycle funding was left intact. And now we're leading the efforts here in Massachusetts to ensure that this money actually gets spent on biking and walking.

[caption id="attachment_19147" align="aligncenter" width="600"] MA Bike/Walk Summit Keynote[/caption]

Returning home from Washington, we co-hosted the first Massachusetts Bike/Walk Summit at the State House on Beacon Hill with WalkBoston. The purpose of the event was to educate our state legislators about three safety-related bills that would benefit bicyclists and pedestrians. It was a very successful first-time event, featuring Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek giving the keynote presentation at lunch. Unfortunately, we didn't get our Vulnerable Road Users Bill passed, but it was the first try for this bill, and we are confident that we have positioned it much better for passage because of the Summit.

[caption id="attachment_20108" align="alignleft" width="300"] Bay State Bike Week Bike Friday[/caption]

The Summit was a highlight of Bay State Bike Week, the third year that we partnered with MassDOT to celebrate bicycling statewide. There were over 150 events from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, making Massachusetts the only state in the nation to have a truly statewide Bike Week. Thousands of bicyclists across the Commonwealth welcomed the riding season, celebrating bicycling and promoting bicycle safety at rides, breakfasts, screenings, classes, and more. Thanks to MassBike's partnership with MassDOT, we were able to provide t-shirts, reflective ankle straps, bells and stickers to partner events. We are already in the planning stages for 2013, so stay tuned for details.
[caption id="attachment_20109" align="alignright" width="300"] Bikeability Assessment in Franklin County[/caption]
We also established a new partnership with the Department of Public Health through their Mass in Motion Program. Thanks to that partnership, we were able to launch our statewide Bikeable Communities Program, which expands local capacity for improving bicycling through education, technical support, and public engagement. This partnership also allowed us to bring on our fourth staff member, Samantha Markovitz. (PS - this is the most staff MassBike has ever had!) Thanks to this extra support, we have delivered four Bikeable Communities Trainings, undertaken three Bikeability Assessments, provided Bicycle Planning Support in three communities, and supported the establishment of a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. We have even more projects lined up for next year, from the Berkshires to Boston and from Cape Ann to Cape Cod!

[caption id="attachment_20112" align="alignleft" width="300"] Instructor Galen Mook in Revere[/caption]

Our Education Program had its biggest year yet. We delivered bicycle safety education to thousands of children and adults through our Safe Routes to School Program, On-Bike Skills Classes, and Biking for Everyone Workshops. In fact, if you check our calendar right now, we are even holding some end-of-year Winter Bicycling Workshops around the City of Boston to help people stay safe and comfortable on the roads. These classes are made possible with the generous support of the Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness, which also sponsored our free valet bike parking at Circle The City and other events.



The best part of our work in 2012 is that it has set us up for an even better 2013. We are putting together a bigger, better legislative agenda to build off of the awareness raised at the Bike/Walk Summit; we are already planning the next Bay State Bike Week with MassDOT; we are excited to be a partner organization in Transportation for Massachusetts, a coalition of advocacy groups seeking to increase state support for biking, walking and transit; and we have plans to expand our Bikeable Communities Program. The bottom line, though, is that we couldn't do any of this work without the support of our members from around the state. It is only through the membership and donations of thousands of bicyclists around the state that we can be your voice to local, state and federal leaders. So I thank you for your support, and promise to continue our success in 2013.

Mark Your Calendar - Bay State Bike Week Is Coming

[caption id="attachment_20111" align="alignright" width="300"] Bike Breakfast in the Pioneer Valley[/caption]

It's really impressive - we've already gotten some emails and phone calls from Bay State Bike Week organizers asking what the dates are for 2013, because they have already started planning their events.

This year, Bay State Bike Week will take place from May 11 - 19. And for the first time includes both weekends to extend the fun even more!


Last year, there were over 150 events around the state, ranging from bike breakfasts to bike rides to bike festivals - basically, if it was bike-related, it was on the calendar. On our end, we have already started meeting with our partners at MassDOT and MassRIDES to plan website updates, what kinds of goodies we will have for partner organizations, and how to support even more events in more communities.

The state has made two announcements this past year which make Bay State Bike Week even more relevant. First, the state released its draft GreenDOT Implementation Plan, MassDOT's Sustainability Policy. Second, the state recently announced mode shift goals which centered on tripling biking, walking and transit by 2030. Events like Bay State Bike Week will be crucial in raising the profile of bicycling as a safe, fun, and convenient way to get around.

Whether you're an event organizer, past event attendee, or just someone who likes to bike, be sure to mark your calendars. See you in May!

Two Major Victories For Bikes On The MBTA

MassBike has a long history of working with the MBTA to expand bicycle access on their vehicles. Biking and transit are natural complements: if transit agencies provide bike access, they expand the number of potential passengers, while bicyclists gain access to economic, educational, recreational and other opportunities further from home. The MBTA understands this, and our advocacy resulted in two major milestones:


  • The Blue Line Pilot Program of expanded bicycle access has been made permanent

  • All MBTA buses are now equipped with bike racks (excluding electric buses)



Back in May of 2011, MassBike Executive Director stood next to then-MBTA General Manager (now Secretary of Transportation) Rich Davey as he announced the establishment of a pilot program to expand bicycle access on the Blue Line. The purpose of the program was to expand bicycle connections between East Boston and downtown, which is separated by Boston Harbor. The program added an hour of bicycle access on the Blue Line in the peak direction, and eliminated the restrictions entirely in the non-peak direction.

[caption id="attachment_20114" align="alignright" width="300"] Press Conference on Blue Line Pilot Program[/caption]

This effort was driven by youth in East Boston who wanted to be able to take their bikes downtown. We served as advisors, assisting the youth with the development of their proposal, and helping them with messaging and data collection. This project is a great example of how MassBike likes to operate - expanding local capacity to help communities achieve their own priorities. Today we can see the results of that strategy. After the successful completion of the pilot program late last year, the MBTA made the Blue Line changes permanent, with no fanfare.

Another major victory is the recent completion of equipping all buses in the MBTA fleet with a bike rack. 95% of MBTA buses can now carry bikes  (buses that use overhead electrical lines are not included due to safety concerns). This is a major milestone for the agency, which seven years ago began equipping their vehicles with bike racks at MassBike's urging. Finally, bicyclists can rely on buses having a bike rack when they need it!

You can find out more about taking your bike on the T here.

While these are major steps forward, we are by no means finished. We are still working toward expanded bicycle access on the other transit lines and commuter rail, the elimination of all bicycle restrictions on the T, and bike racks on all buses operated by the other transit agencies around the state. We thank the MBTA for continuing to make the transportation system more accessible to bicyclists, and we will continue working with them to improve access and safety for bicyclists.


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