Mayor Thomas Menino declared “the car is no longer king in Boston” before an audience of about 200 at the city’s first-ever Bicycling Safety Summit held at Morse Auditorium on Wednesday.
“My administration has made it a priority to make the road safe for all travelers in our city,” Menino said. “We should have a shared, common respect for everyone who uses Boston’s roads . . . we all have the right to safe passage through our city streets.”
A panel of city and state transportation, police and public health leaders, including newly appointed Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority General Manager Richard Davey and Boston Police Department Commissioner Edward Davis, took questions from the audience made up mostly of cyclists.
The bike summit comes after a deadly bicycle crash involving an MBTA bus that killed 22-year-old Mission Hill native Eric Michael Hunt on April 7 at the intersection of Huntington Avenue and South Huntington. The bus was stopped in a bike lane picking up passengers &- Hunt tried to pass the bus but lost control of his bike and fell under the moving vehicle.
The crash highlights a call from the cycling community for better bike safety in Boston, which has historically been a dangerous place for cyclists. Bicycling Magazine has placed it on its list of “worst cities for cycling” three times.
In a speech before the question and answer session, Menino laid out some of his plans to improve conditions for bikers in the city. The mayor called for a lowering of the speed limit to 25 mph for all of Boston, bike safety classes at City Hall &- which Menino said begin today &- and the creation of 50 miles of bike lanes throughout the city.
He also proposed making it illegal for cars to be parked in bike lanes and installing 400 new bike racks across Boston.
Menino listed members of the panel who had personally ridden bikes to the summits, saying, “let’s lead by example and make Boston a safer city to bike in.”
Davey said that the MBTA is working on several safety procedures for bus drivers, including creating a simulator in which drivers are trained to deal with dangerous situations.
“My top priority is safety,” he said. “We have to have a balance between making sure the Green Line runs and ensuring bike safety.”
However, Davey also said driving a bus is one of the most difficult jobs in city government, and that bikers and MBTA riders could help by thanking drivers when they perform their jobs well.
“We understand that we need to make it clear to operators of vehicles that they need to respect your rights as bicyclists and that we need to make it clear to them that . . . this is the right thing to do for our city,” Davis said.
Davis also stated that there needed to be a greater emphasis on enforcing safety standards for cyclists who run stop signs and do not obey traffic control signals. He also made commitments to audience members who requested greater availability of data on cycling accidents in the city.
“We made a good-faith effort to improve [collecting bike accident data],” he said.
Many members of the both the audience and the panel stressed changes in driving culture along with the new infrastructure and laws.
Attendees said that as cyclists, they often felt hostility from Boston drivers.
“We’re not trying to get a share of the road, we’re trying to get a share of the mind,” said Richard Fries, a member of the Bikes Belong Foundation, to the panel.
Fries said that he has often personally felt hostility from motorists.
“In my 30 years of being a long-time cyclist, stuff that has been done to me, stuff that’s been thrown at me, you know, absolute assault and battery,” he said. “You end up feeling like a rape victim.”
Fries said that enforcing road laws for bikers is just as important as for motorists.
“Are there some wack-job cyclists? You betcha. The consensus is there &- ticket us. Please do. We would like you to enforce rules against renegade bikers. Because [actions of renegade bikers] is causing hostility for both [drivers and cyclists].”
Other audience members echoed that statement.
“People will continue to die so long as those rules are not enforced as seriously as they are on cars,” a man identifying himself as a Boston resident said to the panel.
Enforcement needs to step up all over Boston for both drivers and bikers said Andrew Steinhouse of Brookline.
“On 100 percent of days that I ride, I see a delivery truck parked in the bike lane in front of Warren Towers,” he said. “On 100 percent of day, I see one or two cars driving egregiously, but I see 40 to 50 cyclists running red lights and stop signs.”
Some questioned the panel’s emphasis on enforcing bike laws, saying that curbing dangerous driving should be the priority.
“The bike lanes are great, wearing helmets are great, but wearing a helmet won’t save me from getting run over by a car,” one a man in the audience said.
A man identifying himself only as “biker boy,” clad in a red mask, a cape and cycling gear, asked the panel what kind of things Boston was doing to educate adults about bike safety. He said he had been working in partnership with Bike.com to educate children about staying safe while riding bicycles, but wanted to see more safety education for older bikers.
“I was interested to hear that they’re using simulators for bus drivers, but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough for the long term,” the man said.
He also said that on his way to the summit he had nearly been pinned between two MBTA buses while riding his bike and that hostility from bus drivers is commonplace.
“The issue is that a bus will pass you and quickly take a stop instantly after passing you. That can be extremely dangerous,” he said.
Davey invited Biker Boy to “make an announcement on the T” about bicycle safety, an invitation made to raucous applause from the audience.