Bicyclists always had the right, the Globe got it wrong

The Starts and Stops column in the Metro section of the Sunday, June 10 2012 Boston Globe, and in Boston.com, included a discussion of whether bicyclists are required to ride in bike lanes, under the subheading “Bikers get the right” and concluding that there is no such requirement in Massachusetts.

The article quotes Boston Bikes Interim Director Kris Carter:

Cyclists are not required to stay within marked bike lanes, Carter said via e-mail.

“This is for a variety of reasons – opening car doors, potholes, and utility covers, double parked vehicles – [that] sometimes prohibit safe travel in the bicycle lane,” he said.

Carter pointed me to the ­Bicyclist Safety Law enacted four years ago.

Among the law’s many provisions, it established fines for people who open car or truck doors into the path of bicyclists or other traffic (known as “dooring”) and made motorists liable for hitting bikes riding to their right.

The headline “Bikers get the right” is inaccurate. Both Carter and Globe columnist Eric Moskowitz convey the impression that the right to ride outside bike lanes is a novelty. In 1973, the late State Senator William Saltonstall (R, North Shore) introduced the previous major revision to Massachusetts bicycle laws. It included no requirement to stay in a bike lane, and no special “keep far right” provision, as exists in many other states. There was none before that either, and if you want to go into boring detail about that, go here.

Carter and the Globe convey a mixed message: bike lanes must be good, after all, they’re being striped all around the city. On the other hand, most of these are full of hazards — the opening car door, the right hook, the left cross, the pedestrian running out from between parked or stopped vehicles.

True, there’s generally somewhat more room for motorists to overtake bicyclists on bike lane streets, but still, whatever the law may say, bike lanes get motorists annoyed with cyclists who don’t stay out of “their” space, and encourage cyclists to ride into the hazards.

I’ve put a video online of a ride I took with a friend eastbound on Commonwealth Avenue, from Kenmore Square to and through the Massachusetts Avenue underpass. (See blog post with the embedded video and a description.). We choose our lane position to optimize safety and to keep moving. Sometimes we are riding in the bike lane. Often, we are not. When the bike lane is next to parked vehicles, we are at the very least riding on its left-side lane line to stay out of the door zone.

Here is a Google satellite view of where we rode. The salmon-colored marker is at the start of the ride. Hereford Street, where we finished, is at the right side of the image. Bostonbiker won’t let me embed the Google map, but you can view it here with all the Google bells and whistles — scrolling, zooming, etc.

During this ride, we also pass through the bike box at Charlesgate East. We reached it on a green light, so it did nothing for us. We merged out of the bike lane before we reached the bike box, and in the next block, we merged the rest of the way across to the left-side bike lane under the underpass.

That brings up another issue: the picture at the top of the article shows the bike box with the caption,

Cyclists stopped for a red light in the bike box on Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay. They provide the cyclist a safe space to wait ahead of cars at traffic signals. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)

Here’s the photo. This use is covered under the fair use provisions of copyright.

Photo from the Boston Globe Starts and Stops column, June 10, 2012

Photo from the Boston Globe Starts and Stops column, June 10, 2012

It’s clearly a posed photo. The bicyclists are all smiling for the camera. It’s unclear how they got to the positions where they wait, though that has to have been easier in light mid-morning traffic. The ones clser to the camera are headed for a forced merge where the lane they are in becomes a perking lane on the far side of the intersection.

I have a discussion of the bike box online, along with a video showing how other cyclists use it.

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