Tag Archives: death

Latest fatality of a bicyclist because of ‘dooring’ brings reminders of the lifesaving Dutch Reach

23 Aug

Bike Safety Measures Needed

By Tom Meek, Tuesday, August 23, 2022

A mobile traffic sign in Somerville promotes the “Dutch Reach” technique for bicyclist safety. (Photo: The Dutch Reach Project via Twitter)

Bicyclists are calling urgently for Somerville to install more protected bike lanes since the Aug. 12 death of Stephen Conley, 72, from a dooring on Broadway near Teele Square.

“Protected bike lanes prevent this kind of crash,” said George Schneeloch, a member of the Somerville Bike Safety group. “The city must work urgently to prevent future fatal crashes like this one by installing protected bike lanes in both directions on Broadway, so that bicyclists are kept clear of car doors.”

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne has committed to immediate safety changes, but not to a timeline for bike lanes, Schneeloch said. The commitment was reported Aug. 16 by StreetsblogMass.

There’s another solution that could have prevented the Conley crash, though, and doesn’t rely on potentially expensive infrastructure changes: the Dutch Reach, a method of opening a car door using the farthest hand from it.

The Dutch Reach prevents swinging a car door open fully and forces drivers’ heads to turn and see more of the surrounding conditions, said Michael Charney on Monday.

Michael Charney in a screen capture from “All Things Bike with Fred Thomas” in October 2019.

Charney, 76 and still getting around mostly by bike, is a retired physician and bicycling safety advocate who lives in Cambridge just outside Somerville’s Union Square – and credited as the originator of the term “Dutch Reach” and vital in getting adopted worldwide.

A dooring is when a driver opens a car door without looking and a cyclist crashes into it, often getting thrown into traffic. Massachusetts law says, “No person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians.” The fine for such a violation is up to $100.

Doorings account for 20 percent of bike crashes in Cambridge, according to city development officials. Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police, noted in a Tuesday email that July saw three doorings in Cambridge, and a severe dooring in Kendall Square in April that led to riders on a tandem bike being taken to a hospital after first aid was applied by officers on site.

The number of Cambridge bicycle crashes involving a “dooring” in 2020 was six, or 9 percent of the 66 total bicycle crashes reported to Cambridge police, but the number of citations issued for opening a door when unsafe that year was 58, Warnick said. In 2021, those figures were nine (or 12 percent of the 76 total bicycle crashes reported to police) and 50, respectively. Police see the pandemic as a cause for the drop from the typical 20 percent, Warnick said.

But data collection is complicated for doorings, said Charney and Galen Mock, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. There are arguably accidents where near-doorings result in a fatality when the rider swerves into a traffic lane and is hit by a passing motor vehicle, but a dooring would likely not be recorded as a factor in the crash. A pending state Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities would standardize how bike crash data is captured and categorized, Mock said in a Monday email.

Coining a term, starting a movement

The Dutch Reach, while an invention of the Netherlands, was introduced in this country by Charney after he was shaken by the dooring death of cyclist Amanda Phillips in Inman Square in June 2016. Charney launched the Dutch Reach Project by sending a series of “Dutch Reach haikus” to the Cambridge and Somerville police departments – and it was Somerville that took the haikus to heart and placed mobile traffic signs with Charney’s poems flashing on them. Charney’s work helped convince Massachusetts to include the Dutch Reach in its driver’s ed programs starting in 2017. Charney said he has gone on to speak via Zoom with cycling safety organizations as far away as Malaysia and India.

“I practically fell off the chair realizing that this is such a simple solution,” Charney said on the Maine-based “All Things Bike with Fred Thomas” in October 2019. “Dutch reach was my coinage, and it worked out very well for various reasons – one is ‘teach the reach,’ ‘preach the reach.’ What wasn’t appreciated by me at the time that I coined it was that there’s a whole string of [other phrases such as] ‘Dutch treat,’ ‘Dutch uncle,’ also there’s a thing ‘Dutch ding-dong’ that have outré connotations and create a buzz among millennials … Though there’s nothing dirty about the Dutch Reach. It just saves lives.”

Other paths to safety

Charney also endorsed the concept of a “road hierarchy” that places less legal onus on the most vulnerable on the road, starting with pedestrians, then cyclists, motorcycles and scooters, cars, SUVs and vans and, as the most dangerous, trucks and buses.

Another safety measure Charney suggested where there are “door zone bike lanes,” meaning those separated from parked cars only by paint on the road: Cyclists can “take the lane.” Riding in front of cars can be intimidating for cyclists, as motorists tend to get frustrated with slower-moving traffic and might honk or harass them, especially if there’s a bike lane available. But in Massachusetts a cyclist has the right to assume a full traffic lane on nearly all municipally maintained streets, Charney said.

Charney calls his solutions no-cost but partial, as he feels there’s no single cure-all for road safety, but many baby steps to safer roads – including that  “motor vehicle technology, sensors, cameras and computers, keep getting smarter and will be another partial solution to greater road safety.” But always check your mirrors, use the Dutch Reach and slowly, and look for fellow road users, he said.

Bike death at the Museum of Scince

10 Nov

 

A bicyclist died Friday after being hit by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, near the Museum of Science. (Image: Google)

A ripple of rage went through the bike community Friday when it was learned a 24-year-old cyclist and Cambridge resident was struck and killed by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, near the Museum of Science.

The truck was reportedly trying to make a turn onto Museum Way shortly before 8:15 a.m., with the cyclist on the right waiting to make the same turn. “When both the truck and bicyclist began to make their right turn, the bicyclist was struck by a tire of the truck,” according to state police.

The bicyclist was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead from injuries from the incident, police said. The crash is under investigation and police are withholding the name of the victim until next of kin is notified. Boston student media identified the victim as Meng Jin, of Shanghai, who expected a graduate degree in economics next year.

The name of the truck driver, a 50-year-old man from Leicester, will not be released until the investigation determines if charges will be filed.

Last month dump truck driver Daniel Desroche, 54, of Methuen, was charged with negligent operation in connection with the crash that killed Cambridge’s Jie Zhao, 27, who was walking at Magazine Street and Putnam Avenue in the Cambridgeport neighborhood.

“This has to stop,” city councillor Quintin Zondervan said. “It is inexcusable that we continue to allow these dangerous trucks to operate on our city streets without requiring them to have guardrails, sensors, automatic braking, collision avoidance, backup cameras and all other technical and other safeguards to maximally reduce the chances of them running us over.” 

Heather Allen, a Cambridge mother of four children who ride, pointed to the dicey nature of the stretch of road, where cars exceed the speed limit regularly and bicyclists are intimidated from taking the full lane, despite being allowed by traffic signs. “It is unconscionable that the Charles River Dam road still lacks bicycle lanes,” Allen said. 

Bike advocate Jon Ramos of Somerville and Steve Bercu of Cambridge, who serves on the board of the Boston Cyclists Union, were more critical of state Department of Transportation oversight of the roadway, where safety improvements were promised for after the Longfellow Bridge was completed in the spring. “Where are the changes?” Ramos said, “How many deaths is it going to take to fix all of your known problem roadways?” Many in the cycling community shared that upset with the agency’s delay – one using the phrase “blood on their hands.”

The agency, through its communications department, said, “We express our sincere condolences to the family of the victim and will continue to work with key stakeholders to ensure ongoing pedestrian, cyclist and vehicular safety throughout this area and around the commonwealth.”

The agency’s plan for safety improvements – still on the books – is mostly for line striping; the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, citing an increasing number of fatalities since 2015, prefers protected bike lanes. Ramos said the solution that would have avoided the day’s tragedy was protected intersections.

Porter Square Redesign

11 May

Protected bike lanes aren’t in final proposal for traffic changes coming to Porter Square

 

A human wall formed at an April 26 bicyclist protest in Porter Square to dramatize the need for protected bike lanes to city transportation officials. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Final plans for traffic safety improvements in Porter Square were presented Tuesday, updated from a form presented Jan. 18 but not erasing fully the strong opposition by residents and cycling activist groups.

The presentation had the square’s current five-phase traffic signal cycle (including one for pedestrians only, and another to leave the mall parking lot) still being replaced by a simpler three-phase cycle.

A left exit from the Porter Square shopping plaza through a zebra-striped pedestrian pavilion will remain; the January plan showed it being eliminated, with the exit blocked by cement planters – a proposal called cheap and ugly by many in attendance.

In addition, a pedestrian island between lanes of traffic where Somerville Avenue meets Massachusetts Avenue will remain, shifted a bit toward the T stop and widened some. The move is meant to better distribute motor vehicle traffic and allow for implementation of buffered bike lanes, which have gridded white paint separating bicycle and motor vehicle traffic. The buffered lanes are planned for both sides of Somerville Avenue.

“We want to move forward with this plan,” said Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, to a crowd of about 75 at Lesley University’ University Hall, “but that does not preclude future safety enhancements.”

The project would run “over the next few months [during] construction season,” he said.

Barr said plans were altered based on input from the community and an April 26 protest by the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, but he still received criticism from cycling activists who felt their message went unheard.

“Worthless,” is what one angry attendee called the plan, and city councillor Quinton Zondervan asked senior traffic engineer Patrick Baxter repeatedly why there could not be plastic flex posts – the primary demand of the April protest – where the city planned to put buffered bike lanes. An April 30 council order, though passed with some debate, also hoped for more extensive steps toward bike safety.

Baxter said trucks coming trough the snaky area would shear off posts in the curves, drawing criticisms from one upset cyclist that the city was “prioritizing trucks over bikes.” As part of the April protest, people formed a human wall in the Somerville Avenue bike lane buffer area to prove protected lanes were possible – and cars and bikes passed by without incident, using the lanes on either side of them.

Changes to the square were spurred by two deaths in 2016: Psychotherapist Marcie Mitler, 63, was hit by a car at 5:56 a.m. Feb. 18 while walking at Somerville Avenue and White Street, and died later at Massachusetts General Hospital; Ironwood Pharmaceuticals employee Bernard “Joe” Lavins, 60, was hit by an 18-wheel truck at 8:08 a.m. Oct. 5 while bicycling on Massachusetts Avenue across from the shopping plaza and pronounced dead at the scene.

Porter Square Alterations

3 Feb

 

Planned changes in Porter Square allow left turns from White Street and close one shopping plaza exit. (Image: City of Cambridge Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department)

Traffic safety improvements in Porter Square would remove the pedestrian island where Somerville Avenue feeds into Massachusetts Avenue; close an exit from the mall allowing for a left-hand turn onto Massachusetts Avenue; and make the left turn from Massachusetts Avenue onto Somerville Avenue a single, dedicated left lane, replacing a center southbound lane that can be either left or straight.

The goal is to simplify the nest of intersections surrounding the mall and T stop and make it safer for all – drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department representatives said. The current five-phase traffic signal cycle (including one for pedestrians only and another to leave the mall parking lot) would be replaced by a simpler three-phase cycle.

The changes, intended to be low-cost and and come as soon as spring or summer, were shared Thursday with around 100 people gathered in University Hall at Lesley University, presented by Phil Goff of Alta Planning and city engineer Patrick Baxter. Continue reading