Friday, March 18, 2011

Making our Roads Safer: Data Collection and Bicycle Accidents

Here's a link to an interesting story in the San Francisco Chronicle which identifies the most dangerous roads and intersections for cyclists in the Bay area.

The Chronicle article illustrates why it is important for municipalities to collect and disseminate raw data about bicycle accidents.  It allows government officials and the public to identify and reconfigure bad intersections, and it tells cyclists which areas they may want to avoid (or at least be aware of).  So how is the data collected?  Typically, crash data comes from police departments, whose officers fill out the police reports.  Problems arise when the standard police report forms do not call for information regarding whether a bicycle was involved.

As I noted in an earlier post, the City of Boston updated the software it uses so that reports can now reflect the fact that a bicycle was involved.  Thus, we will soon be able to identify the most dangerous spots to ride within the City.  However, many cities and towns still do not collect data regarding bicycle accidents, preventing a full blown analysis such as that which was done in San Francisco.

Do you know if your town's police department has a way of collecting data pertaining to bicycle accidents?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Is fixie/no brakes street legal under Massachusetts law?

It was a call from a newspaper reporter that originally got me thinking about whether it is legal to ride a fixie with no brakes in Massachusetts.  For some enlightenment, I went to Mass. Gen.L. c. 85, sec. 11B(7) deals with the issue of "braking systems" for bikes, and reads as follows:

"Every bicycle operated upon a way shall be equipped with a braking system to enable the operator to bring the bicycle traveling at a speed of fifteen miles per hour to a smooth, safe stop within thirty feet on a dry, clean, hard, level surface." 

So that clears that up, right? All the bike needs is a "braking system" that complies with the "15/30 rule". That would seem to rule out the operation of a fixed gear bike with no brakes on a public way in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  

Not so fast, though.  What constitutes a "braking system" under Massachusetts law?  One would think that a brake lever and caliper would meet the definition.  Similarly a disc brake would seem meet the definition as well.  But must the braking system be friction based such as in these two examples?  Could the drivetrain of the bicycle act as a braking system if enough reverse force is applied to the pedals?  Seemingly, those folks riding a fixie who can lock the rear wheel up and skid to a stop can brake just as effectively as someone using caliper brakes.  So maybe the answer to today's question depends on the rider him or herself.  Perhaps it is legal if the rider has the skills to meet the requirements of the 15/30 rule.

Now let's address a different issue--how does the general public perceive the bike rider who has no brakes?  I bet you've already got an answer for this one: who cares, right?  As long as YOU know you are safe.  However, public perceptions take on a much more important role if there's been an accident.  Let's suppose you get doored while riding your fixie and you sustain serious injuries.  In the hypothetical incident, you have no opportunity to brake (lawyers and accident reconstructionists refer to this as "perception/reaction time"), so technically the fact that you have no brake shouldn't make any difference,  right?

Fat chance.  The ultimate decider of fact is that jury of your peers.  Not just your peers from the morning ride, but your peers from the ice cream aisle at the grocery store or the express line at Dunkin' Donuts.  Chances are nobody on your jury will ride bikes, and they may even be biased against cyclists.  Fact is, no matter what the circumstances are surrounding the accident, the jury is going to have a hard time bending its collective head around the fact that a bike rider was crusising along without brakes.  The defense lawyer will know this and will do his/her best to exploit this to their advantage.  Does this mean you can't get a fair trial?  Absolutely not.  A good plaintiff's attorney who understands cycling can explain the lack of brakes and put it into context, but still, the lack of brakes is still likely to play into the jury's deliberations on some level no matter how well your lawyer handles the issue. 

Thus, even if fixie/no brake is ultimately deemed to be legal in a court of law, the rider still runs the risk of juror bias, even if the rider is not at fault. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

2010 Canton Cup Cyclocross

I finally got around to doing my first cross race ever last Saturday.  I lined up with about 130 others for the Cat 4 race at Canton.  I had no expectations for this race and therefore no disappointments either.  I was second row on the starting line and was basically getting passed the whole 3 laps I was racing.  People were going down left and right through the big open field (a winding path had been cut through the tall grass) due to excess hay that had been left over from cutting the path.  There were transitions from dirt to asphalt and then the track as well.  One asphalt path had a nasty bump in it that I couldn't see and my hands slipped off the bars.  My right foot came unclipped from the unexpectedness of it.

The race was fun, and a nice diversion but the pace is slow even though you are at threshold the whole time.  I will probably race cross again but definitely like the speed of being on the road much more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jamestown Road Race

Ok, despite the lack of race related posts it was a pretty busy season for me.  I can't say I won anything, but there was steady progress beginning with Purgatory, then continuing into Fitchburg Longsjo, Attleboro Criterium, Workingman's Stage Race, Concord Criterium, Salem Witches Cup and now Jamestown RR.  There was the usual smattering of Wells Aves and Wompatucks as well.  Maybe I will post on those other races later.

I had never raced Jamestown before, and as always when racing somewhere new there was apprehension about what I was getting myself into.  I have been told before that "you'll do fine" only to be dropped on the first major climb one too many times I guess.

It was a beautiful day for racing with temps in the high 50's at the start and well into the mid 60's by the finish.  The Cat 4's did 2 laps for a total of 38 miles.  Jamestown RI is a beautiful island not far from Newport, with a nice little village on the south side of the island and some great scenery along the way.  The island is long and skinny running in a north/south direction.  I had been told there were hills, but they really weren't bad--all of them could be knocked down in the big ring.  There were a lot of bigger riders in the race which was a good sign for me--a sprinter's race.

There were a few small breaks but nothing that was capable of sticking.  As we headed north the headwinds were too strong.  Once we headed south, the pack was really rolling along and nothing was going to get away.  As others have reported, the road around the lighthouse (at about mile 12-14) is dicey--winding and fairly narrow--and kind of reminded me of a paved golf cart path.  After the light house, you've got about 3 miles to position yourself for the final uphill section before the final downhill sprint.  Actually, how you do in this race depends on how strong you are on that final power climb.  After the climb there is a short downhill into a 90 degree left turn, and then the final downhill sprint.  Generally speaking, you go through the corner in the same positioning you earned going over the hill, and you cross the finish line in the same position you rounded the corner.  I was talking to one guy from Hallamore who'd raced it before and he put it well when he said Jamestown is a 37 mile warmup followed by a 1 mile race.  That last hill takes about 90 seconds to climb and is about a mile from the line.

I had good positioning throughout the race but by about mile 30 I knew today wsan't going to be my day.  I have not ridden much over the last month and the legs weren't responding to the surges or climbs by then.  I saw other guys around me who were producing strong accelerations that there was no way I could match.  Still, I was enjoying it and who knows what's going to happen anyway.

I was about 10th with a mile to go at the bottom of the climb, i.e. at the "beginning" of the race.  There's a slight right hand turn just before the climb when you transition from one road to another.  There's a nasty looking granite curb on the inside of the turn.  This creates a bottleneck/accordion thing which can be dangerous because it is located at the bottom of the crucial climb.  Sure enough, there was a crash somewhere behind me in that corner which I neither saw nor heard.

As we started up the hill the pace really picked up.  As expected I was steadily losing ground here.  By the time we got to the top, I was about 30 back.  By now the die were cast and I passed through the 90 degree turn in about the same position.  I was grinding it out going down the hill when a nasty crash scene suddenly appeared before my eyes about 50 yards up the road.  The road was straight and wide (no yellow line rule approaching the finish) and the guys who crashed seemed to be too far back to be contending.  I have no idea how it went down, but it was one of the bigger crashes I have seen with  bikes and bodies all over the pave.  One guy with nowhere to go rode straight into the pileup at about 30 mph and he and his bike launched about 8 feet in the air.  Amazingly by the time I went around the wreck seconds later, that guy was on his feet, but with a nasty welt on his backside.

I pretty much sat up as soon as I saw the crash and coasted over the line, finishing 31st of about 95 starters.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kudos to the Boston Police and Nicole Freedman

I am often asked whether biking in Boston is getting safer, more dangerous or staying the same.  My answer has always been that it is not possible to really know since there has never been a means for collecting the necessary data to truly delineate any trends, due in large part to how the Boston Police and EMS collect and disseminate data.

Some changes are being made to the forms which the BPD uses and it should now be easier to collect and analyze data on where and how bike crashes are occurring. Coupled with accident data collected by Boston Bikes, these adjustments in accident reporting by Boston Police and EMS will inform a range of policies including enforcement and bike lane design.

This is great news for cyclists, who will in the future be armed with more information about how to stay safe on the roads.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Marlene Pineda Bike Accident

Sad news about Marlene Pineda, a 24 year old Smith College graduate who was killed in a bicycle accident on Monday August 16, 2010.  She was riding down a hill in Brighton MA when she was hit by a car.  I am familiar with the area as I have commuted on that road, and I know from personal experience that drivers can be careless and distracted by various things including the train tracks and the carriage road.  The City is trying to do a better job making Boston more accomodating to cyclists but this unfortunate event shows that there's still a long way to go.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wells Ave Crit

On July 18, 2010, my team hosted the Wells Avenue Criterium.  We offered up serious primes from our sponsors including Larabar, Boston Bike Law, and 360 Neuromuscular Physical Therapy.  We also had team member and official photog Bob Jenney snapping some pics including this one of yours truly:

It was a fun day but a hot one.  I won a bran muffin in a prime sprint and took 7th overall in the B race.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

House Bill 4728 Proposes to Lower Prevailing Speed Limit

MassBike needs your help to pass House Bill 4728 to reduce the prevailing speed limit in Massachusetts urban areas from 30mph to 25mph. MassBike and other safety advocates have long supported efforts to decrease the speed limit, and this is the closest it has ever been to passing! This bill, originally sponsored by Representative Denise Provost (Somerville), would significantly increase pedestrian safety in neighborhood settings by slowing vehicle traffic to speeds safer for walkers and cyclists. It is currently in the House Committee on Bills in Third Reading, and when it reaches the Senate, it will be on the fast track, so please take action to support this bill by calling or emailing TODAY.

Why is this bill important? This is an important safety measure because bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities from crashes with automobiles are directly related to speed: When struck by a vehicle going 40 mph, 90% of bicyclists and pedestrians die, as compared to only 5% when the vehicle is going 20 mph. Massachusetts' prevailing speed limit of 30 mph is too fast for local roads in densely developed areas, and 25 mph is the safer standard, which has been adopted by many other states across the country. Massachusetts should join these states in protecting the safety of all our residents and visitors.

What can you do to help?

1. Call or email your State Senator and ask him or her to ask Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo to move H4728 forward.

2. Call or email your State Representative and ask him or her to ask Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo to move H4728 forward.

3. Email to let us know who you contacted.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Andy von Guerand

Yesterday I posted on the fatal bike accident in Newton, Masachusetts involving Andy von Guerard, which happened at an intersection I ride through almost every day.

What I didn't realize then was that I knew Andy, who was a Barista at the Taste Coffee House in Newton, where I go almost every day for coffee. He was a friendly guy who knew his customers.  My sympathies are with his family, friends and co-workers at Taste.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sad news about a cyclist in Newton today--from Wicked Local

Sadly, this accident happened on Commonwealth Avenue at an intersection close to my home.  I ride through this intersection almost daily.  As I rode by this morning, there was a small bouquet of flowers there to memorialize the site.

According to reports, on May 17, 2010 the cyclist was killed at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue, Lowell and Homer Streets in Newton MA.  The cyclist's death was the result of a collision with a motor vehicle at about 5:20 p.m.  Reports indicate that the cyclist was traveling eastbound on Comm Ave and the other vehicle, an SUV was crossing from Homer Street onto Lowell Street. 

There is a traffic signal here but it is unclear from the reports who had the green light.  The few bits and pieces of information that have been released are not conclusive of anything.  The name of the cyclist has not been released, but he was 21 years old.

Ironically, the accident happened within sight of City Hall, where the day before the fatal bicycle accident the annual Bike Newton Rally took place.  The purpose of the rally was to encourage bicycling.

Of course, the blame game is alrerady starting even though the facts are still unknown.  It would be nice if people would remember that this is a tragedy for the cyclist's family and wait to see what happened before chiming in with their assessment of who's at fault. 

Edit: the cyclist was Andy von Guerand of Colorado.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gran Prix of Beverly--Press Release

BEVERLY, MA – The hottest month of the year kicks off with sizzling cycling action during Beverly Homecoming. On Wednesday, Aug. 4, downtown Beverly will spring to life with the return of world-class bike racing and the 2nd annual Fidelity Investments Gran Prix of Beverly, presented by Beverly Hospital. Last year, the inaugural Gran Prix of Beverly attracted hundreds of spectators, including many first-time cycling fans, who were treated to front-row views of a stunning series of lightning-quick criterium races. This year, with the Gran Prix newly designated as the official "state championships" and coinciding with Beverly Homecoming, the races promise to be even more of a spectacle.

The Gran Prix will consist of four divisions – Elite Men, Open Women, Masters Men, and Amateur Men – as well as a kids race. All four groups will race the same serpentine course, which starts and finishes on Cabot Street in the heart of downtown Beverly, and winds along sections of Hale and Dane streets. For the uninitiated, a criterium, or "crit," is a high-speed, high-stakes chess match on two wheels. Held on relatively short circuit course – typically on closed city streets – a criterium features brightly clad competitors constantly jockeying for position at speeds of up to 35 miles an hour as they repeatedly circle past spectators, and closer to 45 miles on hour during the final dash to the finish. Each race lasts roughly an hour, and consists of several "races within a race," called primes (pronounced "preems"), ensuring non-stop action.

"The whole atmosphere was so charged," said veteran pro racer Tim Johnson, a native of Middleton who now calls Beverly home. "The transformation of Cabot Street into a race course is pretty amazing. I was so excited about the crowds, three and four deep by the start-finish area, and going past St. Mary's Star of the Sea church, with Father Barnes ringing the church bells for the primes. Everything was amplified."

This year, race organizers scored a major coup by having the Grand Prix of Beverly staged a week earlier, to coincide with the 44th annual Beverly Homecoming, one of the highlights of the city's calendar. This citywide celebration – the quintessential New England summertime festival – guarantees a terrific crowd. The Gran Prix will be held on the same day as another popular Homecoming staple, the annual Lobster Festival.

"It's a real win-win for Beverly Homecoming, with two major events going on mid-week," said Beverly Recreation Director Bruce Doig, who also plays a major role in Homecoming organization. "It looked like a good marriage."

According to Doig, the focus of Homecoming calendar – more than 80 events strong – has recently migrated to Lynch Park along city's coastline, and the Gran Prix will help re-establish the event's traditional ties to the city's main thoroughfare. "It's a huge event," said Doig of the Gran Prix. "It was so dramatic, when you see how fast these racers are going, and the turns they're trying to negotiate. And the businesses look at it as a win-win, because the race is drawing a lot of people to the downtown, and there's plenty of opportunity for them to stay open."

Last year, several restaurants took advantage of local streets being altered into a race course/walking mall, setting up sidewalk tables to create outdoor cafes and enhancing the party atmosphere. And the racing didn't disappoint. In the Men's Elite race, New Hampshire's Benjamin Zawicki of Richmond Pro Cycling won in a furious sprint finish, edging Robbie King of IF/Lionettes and Beverly's own Shawn Milne of Team Type1. Two more top pro riders from Beverly, Johnson and Jesse Anthony, finished 5th and 12th respectively. Former Canadian national champion Lynne Bessette, Johnson's wife, finished second in the women's race, winning the bunch sprint behind Rebecca Wellons of NEBC/Cycle Loft/Devonshire Dental.

Anthony, Bessette, Johnson and Milne are all expected to return this year, ensuring another top-flight field. Bike races are only as good as the competitors, and the fact that Beverly can bring such star power to the start line is a testament to the cycling community found on Boston's North Shore and to the race organizers, spearheaded by Beverly-based cycling club Essex County Velo. It also reflects Johnson's commitment to the free kids race. "I really want to see the kids race become a must-see event," he said. "That's where we grow our future champions, and future ambassadors of the sport.

For details, contact race director Paul Boudreau, at

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blue Hills Classic

Spent the AM marshaling at the Blue Hills Classic in Milton with many others from 545 Velo.  The race sold out in advance this year and is joining the ranks of the New England Spring Classics.  It was great to see so many 545 Velo teammates out there volunteering and racing.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Turtle Pond Circuit Race

I've been on trial on Martha's Vineyard for the last 3 weeks, living in a hotel room and eating 3 meals a day in restaurants.  The trial went extremely well, but between trial prep and trial, I've barely been on the bike for about a month now.  Thus, expectations were low for the Turtle Pond race.

It was a beautiful day for racing--sunny skies and warm.  We rolled out at 9:15 a.m. for 4 laps on an 11 mile circuit in Loudon NH.  I'd never raced at Turtle Pond before and I'd been told there were a couple of "short" rolling hills.  Based on this description I figured I could fake it for a couple of hours.

The neutral start took us to the top of the first hill.  As we went up the hill I was getting a bad feeling--10% grade and it seemed to keep going and going.  This did not bode well.  The remainder of the course was rolling hills, as described.  There was one hill on the backside that was noticeable but not too bad.  The last 1-2 miles of the loop was basically downhill and very fast.  My plan was to be at the front at the base of the bigger hill so I could fade back and still be in contact at the top.  By the third time up, I was feeling the leg cramps coming on and I knew trouble was brewing.  I lost contact on the 4th time up and pedalled squares for the rest of the race.

Not a great result, but good to get out there.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bicycling Safety Summit--Boston Bikes Press Release

Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced the city’s first-ever Bicycling Safety Summitat 5:30 PM on Wednesday, April 21 at Boston University’s Morse Auditorium. The Summit will gather area bicyclists and high-ranking city officials to discuss ways of improving safety for everyone who uses Boston’s roadways. The Mayor’s announcement comes in the wake of a third recent bike accident and ahead of Boston Bike Week next month.
“This is about the need for a shared, common respect amongst everyone who uses Boston’s roads,” said Mayor Menino. “We have to come together and recognize that everyone is responsible for keeping our roadways safe and that we all have the right to safe passage through our beautiful city. We can start by fulfilling the personal responsibility of wearing a helmet.”
Mayor Menino has ordered the Boston Police Department (BPD) to immediately launch a focused enforcement effort aimed at both cyclists and motorists in an effort to assist them to better share the road. Officers will more proactively seek out and fine for safety violations committed by those on a bicycle and those operating a motor vehicle. This effort will include the strict enforcement of Massachusetts laws dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian safety. The BPD is also researching the possible implementation of an enhanced reporting mechanism to document all accidents involving bikes.
Two years ago Mayor Menino developed Boston Bikes to increase cycling safety around Boston through the use of marked bike lanes and various educational campaigns. Since, Boston has seen much improvement including:
  • the installation of 15 miles of bike lanes with another 20 slated for this year;
  • the publication of the first-ever Boston Bikes map;
  • the installation of more than 500 bike racks;
  • the formation of the Boston Bikes Advisory Board designed to advise city officials on how best to implement proven safety measures such as dedicated bike lanes;
  • and the passage of a city ordinance making it illegal for cars to be parked in bike lanes, the enforcement of which will be heightened by Boston Transportation Department ticket writers.
In light of the recent accidents, however, city officials encourage people to:
  • Visit the Boston Bikes fanpage on Facebook or join the Boston Bikes Twitter feed to learn more about the program and share concerns about specific roads in Boston;
  • Call the Mayor’s 24-hour Hotline at (617) 635-4500 if they notice a safety concern that needs immediate attention including roadway obstructions like potholes or debris;
  • Visit the Boston Bikes homepage at to receive updates on the Cycling Safety Summit;
  • Visit to register for classes on bicycling safety conducted by MassBike on April 22, May 6 and May 19 at City Hall;
  • Wear a protective helmet at all times when riding a bike (helmets can be bought for $5 at the Boston Medical Center gift shop);
  • Come to the Bicycling Safety Summit on Wednesday.
In response to the three recent serious crashes in Boston and in cooperation with the City of Boston’s new bicycling safety initiative, MassBike has scheduled additional bicycling safety classes in Boston in April and May. This is a great opportunity to learn the secrets to safe bicycling, for new and experienced urban riders alike.  The classes are FREE and open to the public, but pre-registration is required by emailing or calling 617-542-2453.
Intro to Bicycling Skills, (a classroom session, 2 hours Free):
Evening classroom session (off-bike) covers bike-safety principles, bicycling laws, guidelines for riding in traffic, and more. You must take one of these classes before you can attend our on-bike classes.
Cost: Free
Intro to Bicycling Skills: Thursday, April 22, 6-8pm
Intro to Bicycling Skills: Thursday, May 6, 6-8pm
Intro to Bicycling Skills: Wednesday, May 19, 6-8pm
Intro to Bicycling Skills
Boston City Hall, Room 937
1 City Hall Square, Boston, MA 02201
Enter at corner of Broadway and Third
Nearest T stop: Government Center on Green and Blue Lines; Haymarket on Orange Line.
Enter at Congress St. after 5:30pm, take elevator to 9th floor, then follow signs.
MUST RSVP for this class by emailing or calling 617-542-2453
Click here to donate $15 to support these classes
MassBike is proud to work with the City of Boston on its bicycling safety initiative.

RIP Lino Gastaldello

Lino Gastaldello purchased the Willier brand with his brother in 1969 and rebuilt it into one of the premier names in the sport.  He was killed while out riding his bike near his home in Italy.  Lino will be remembered as the president of a great Italian company but as a family man and a devotee of cycling.