The installation of a separated bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, leading from the Harvard Bridge to Beacon Street, forces motorists to turn right from the left lane — and establishes as the norm, bicyclists’ overtaking on the right, just as in the crash which killed 38 year-old medical researcher Anita Kurmann at that location and which led to the installation.
The fundamental assumptions behind this installation are, clearly enough:
- that the most important car-bicycle collision type on Boston streets is the rear-end collision, and so we should take every opportunity to avoid riding in line with motor traffic (not true — overtaking collisions are rare; right hooks are common, and deadly);
- that we bicyclists can do nothing to protect themselves from being struck by motor vehicles: that is entirely up to the motorists — vulnerability equals defenselessness, and we bicyclists are brainless and unteachable, so don’t even bother trying;
- that the same motorists we fear will run us down if we are riding where visible, directly in line with them, will have an easier time avoiding us if we are overtaking in their right rear blindspot.
It is, however legal, possible and safer to avoid the separated bikeway and the door-zone bike lane which follows it: please see this: https://vimeo.com/141463263
I’m not the only cyclist concerned about this installation. Dave Stevens said, in an e-mail:
I live about 1/2 block away from the Beacon Street/Mass Ave intersection and have biked through it hundreds of times. While I appreciate the effort, the intersection feels much less safe than before the separated bike lane was installed. In the past, non-18 wheeled vehicles turning right would get all the way to the right, allowing bicyclists the opportunity to merge into the middle lane and pass the vehicles on the left. This is not possible anymore because of the bike lane. Cars turning right also have less visibility of the bikers because of the separation and often accidentally cut off bikers. I’ve also seen many bikers cut off right turning vehicles because they have momentum coming down the slight decline of the bridge.
The day the flowers were put on the road to create the separation, I stood at the intersection and observed the traffic flow for a few cycles of the lights. At least once during each cycle of the lights an accident almost occurred between cars turning right and bikers going straight.
In this context, I like to quote the great Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman:
“Never treat anyone in the public realm like and idiot. If you treat him like an idiot, he will act like an idiot.”