Every morning when I commute via bike to work I cross one of the most dangerous intersections in Boston: Commonwealth and St Paul. Commonwealth Avenue is a major street through Boston and nearly all of Boston University. There are many students and many cars and many bikes. St Paul is a much smaller road running perpendicular to Commonwealth.
Anatomy of an incident
At least once (and two years ago in 2012 there were five or six) a year the President of Boston University has to send out a mass email to faculty, staff and students giving his condolences to the families and friends of students who were killed by an automobile while riding a bike. I’m not kidding – this happens literally every year. At least once. Seriously.
The stretch along Commonwealth that crosses St Paul is a nice, straight, downhill stretch followed by a slight uphill. There happens to be a stoplight almost at the trough of the downhill. That stoplight is right where St Paul intersects.
Cyclists like to pick up speed to easily make it up the next hill with less effort. But out of all the places along Commonwealth, this is probably one of the worst places to make the attempt.
The green light for Commonwealth is fairly long. It’s green for probably close to 2 minutes. However the green light for St Paul is much shorter – probably closer to 30 seconds and that includes traffic turning right with a green arrow illuminated at the same time as the normal green light to cross Commonwealth.
If you mix the fact that Bostonian drivers tend to push the lights, often running red lights (sometimes blatantly) with cyclists who don’t follow the rules of the road, you get an intersection that has a lot of nasty vehicular on cyclist incidents, nearly all of which result in the cyclist getting killed.
Drivers in Boston are terrible. In fact, according to Allstate they’re the worst. Between talking, texting, (both at the same time), not paying attention, in a rush, double parking, or just being a dick, Boston drivers are pretty awful. Many of the roads are narrow and instead of being courteous to cyclists, pedestrians, and even other drivers, drivers just plow ahead like there ain’t nobody else in the world but them.
Last winter, one icy morning, I was riding to work. One particular stretch (Perkins St) is wide enough for a bicycle and a car to comfortably ride side-by-side. The street has a sidewalk, but it’s narrow and usually has pedestrians on it regularly so I tend to ride in the street. But I do so ensuring cars can pass. So this one woman purposely tries to run me off the road. No kidding – she was honking at me and moving her car dangerously close to me. When we got to the stoplight I knocked on her window and told her to be more careful, but the old grouch snarled and told me I shouldn’t be riding on the road.
That was the day I bought a camera for my helmet.
Many drivers just suck. But many cyclists only make it worse.
Some cyclists (I like to think of myself in this category) follow the rules. We stop at stoplights, stop signs, and yield to pedestrians (as required by law). We share the road and only take up the full lane when we need to; when we feel unsafe along the side.
Other cyclists – and by this I mean most cyclists (that I’ve seen) – tend to think the rules don’t apply to them. Every day I see cyclists run red lights, stop signs, weave in and out of traffic, or blow through crosswalks with people in them.
Not only is this a great way to infuriate the already terrible drivers, but it’s an excellent way to die. And I mean that with all sincerity and compassion. I’ve seen it happen, five, six, seven, maybe eight times in the past two years I’ve been working at Boston University.
Nobody has any respect for others anymore. Everything is about us – the individual, not the community. We live in a “me, me, me” world where the benefit of one far outweighs the benefits (or even the concern) of others.
Boston has this unspoken rule when driving: don’t make eye contact. In Boston, if you don’t make eye contact with other drivers or other people, they don’t exist. And it’s this way of thinking that compounds the problem.
I read a comment recently in which some woman said that Bostonians get their drivers licenses out of Cracker Jack boxes. I chuckled, but really I wonder how far from the truth that statement is. Surely if one can pass a driving test – both written and formal – one must have some knowledge of how to drive properly and respectfully. But that’s not really what I see on a day-to-day basis.
So what prompted this blog post, you ask? What’s my point?
On my ride in to work this morning I was stopped at the St Paul stoplight. I was two in line as there was a car in front of me making a right turn (thanks to whoever was using their ‘blinkah’). The traffic on Commonwealth stopped due to a red light and I heard the squealing brakes of a cyclist coming down Commonwealth who clearly didn’t intend to stop.
The light for my lane turned green, but the cyclist on Commonwealth decided he’d rather go instead, because I don’t know, the rules didn’t apply to him. As he proceeded to pedal – ultimately going the same direction as the car in front of me was turning – he was inches from being plowed over by the car in front of me. I mean, this was so close the car stopped and the cyclist stopped.
Had the driver been texting, or on the phone, the cyclist would’ve been severely injured or worse, all because he couldn’t wait the 30 seconds for a green light.
As I passed him I shouted, “You had a red light, man.” And he shouted back, “It was green.” Uh, okay dude.
Easiest solution ever
The answer, my friends, is respect. It’s patience. It’s putting down the phone while you drive, it’s taking notice of other people and drivers. It’s following the law. Cyclists need to follow the rules of the road as the law dictates, which may actually calm drivers down. Drivers need to pay attention, look when you merge or turn, and don’t try to run cyclists off the road (even if they aren’t following the rules).
Just respect the laws and one another and we’ll all get to where we’re going more efficiently and safely.