MassBike’s New-And-Improved Partnership With The MBTA

As is often the case when someone calls something “new-and-improved”, there was nothing really wrong with our relationship with the MBTA before – MassBike has worked closely with the T for years (decades really) and have made continuing progress on better integrating bikes into the transit system.

We’ve really come a long way from having no access at all to having pretty good access today (yes, we’ve still got more work to do on that). But our collaboration with the T recently took an unexpected turn toward an even closer working partnership, stemming, as these things often do, from a tragedy – the death of Eric Hunt in April in a crash involving an MBTA bus.

Immediately following that crash, MBTA General Manager Rich Davey reached out to me to discuss bicyclist and bus safety. Mr. Davey brought me together with key MBTA staff responsible for bus driver training and operations, as well as the Executive Director of MARTA, the association of regional transit agencies across Massachusetts. We began what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about safety (and access) statewide.

We had a great meeting, focusing primarily on bus/bicyclist safety. Here are the high points:

  • Rich Davey is committed to safety above all else.
  • The training people presented an overview of bus operator training: Up until recently, drivers were trained when hired and never retrained unless they were involved in at-fault or multiple accidents. They now have a plan to retrain every driver on a regular basis, using a bus simulator, although it will take 2-3 years for each complete training cycle because they can only train a handful of drivers per day. They are especially interested in interactive training ideas to supplement classroom sessions or printed materials. (They committed to involve the advocacy community in developing new simulator scenarios and printed materials, and they have already begun working with us on this, as Shane previously reported.)
  • The T is planning to use the great Chicago training video, but agree it would be better to have a video featuring T personnel and equipment. They want our help to get bicyclists to watch the video too.
  • I told them about the very common experiences of buses passing bikers too closely and passing just before pulling into a bus stop. They said that drivers are specifically instructed not to do those things, and seemed skeptical that the problem is as common as I claimed (based on my own experience and other reports to MassBike), but were open to finding new ways to convey this message to drivers.
  • I suggested that it is important for drivers to understand the cyclist’s point of view, and that perhaps we could work with them on videos or even rides to give drivers that experience.

Mr. Davey also gave me the opportunity to talk about other issues unrelated to the recent bus incident, so I talked about the need to provide a better forum for public participation than the old “Bikes and the T” committee, continuing the collaborative working relationship with the advocates, completing bike rack installation on the bus fleet, and relaxing the peak hour restrictions (and specifically doing a pilot on the Blue Line).

The next day, Mr. Davey spoke at Mayor Menino’s Boston Bike Safety Summit, reiterating many of the points he and I discussed at our meeting and committing to working with the advocacy community to improve safety. As we already reported, Mr. Davey also met “Biker Boy” at the summit, which led to Biker Boy and I recording the public service announcements you may have heard on the T lately.

Following the safety summit, we participated in the meeting we previously reported with the bus driver training staff, together with representatives from the Boston Cyclists Union, Cambridge Bicycle Committee, and the City of Boston. This meeting led directly to MassBike jointly submitting, with BCU and LivableStreets Alliance, a proposal for major revisions to the information provided to bus drivers about interacting with bicyclists. The next step is to work with the T to finalize these revisions, then move on to helping them design better simulator scenarios for their ongoing training program.

We continue working with the T to improve access for bicyclists. I am now the poster child for taking folding bikes on the T! (For real, check out my picture in the new T brochure and on the newly-spiffed-up “Bikes on the T” webpage.)

During Bay State Bike Week last month, I had the honor of speaking at the opening of the newest “Pedal & Park” facility at South Station, part of the MBTA’s $4.8 million federal stimulus-funded bike parking expansion project. I thanked the T for spending real dollars to improve bicycle access, but I held their feet to the fire just a little to do more to ensure that all MBTA employees treat bicyclists with respect and take bicyclist safety seriously. I know that Rich Davey does take us seriously, and we have a great opportunity to make some major positive changes with our newly-strengthened relationship with the T.

Your support of MassBike makes this work possible, so please join or renew, and tell your friends.

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6 Responses to MassBike’s New-And-Improved Partnership With The MBTA

  1. Paul Schimek June 3, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    Glad to see MB & MBTA are on the right track, so to speak.

    One item: apparently T bus drivers are instructed to sound the horn before passing bicyclists if they are worried that the bicyclist may not realize that they are about to be passed closely by a bus. I suggest that this is a bad policy. Instead, bus drivers should be trained to either:
    a) pass bicyclists when they are sure there is enough room and when they will not need to move right again until safely past the bicyclist (e.g., to pull into a stop, as noted in the post)
    b) slow wait until there is an opportunity to safely pass (or until the bicyclist has passed the bus stop).

    Note that in neither case is sounding the horn necessary. If the bus driver feels there is a need to sound the horn because he will be passing closely — then he is passing too close, and should not do so.

  2. Paul Schimek June 3, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    One more thing: please ask the MBTA to inform bus operators that:

    a) bicyclists are not required to use bike lanes and may have good reasons for not using them from time to time

    b) bus drivers should leave the same amount of clearance when passing a bicyclist in a bike lane as when there is no bike lane; some bicyclists may be using the left-most edge of the bike lane.

    c) bicyclists are permitted to use the shared bus/bike lane on Washington Street in the South End

    d) when a traffic lane is too narrow to share with a passenger car (let alone a bus), safe bicyclists ride in the middle of the lane. The width available to the bicyclist should take into consideration that the area where car doors can open is not a safe place to ride.

    e) bicyclists are permitted to use Vassar Street in Cambridge, even though the adjacent sidewalk is marked as a bike facility. Similarly, bicyclists are permitted to use Columbus Ave – Tremont Ave between Melnea Cass Blvd and Centre Street, even though there is an adjacent bicycle path.

  3. David June 3, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    @Paul Schimek: Thanks for the comments, Paul. We’ve been thinking about this a lot, and pretty much covered your points in what we’ve already submitted to the T. The tough part will be helping the T use all this information in an effective way, because if all they do is give drivers pages of rules, they’ll just end up in the “circular file”.

  4. JJJ June 4, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    “One item: apparently T bus drivers are instructed to sound the horn before passing bicyclists ”

    That sounds like a bad idea. It would only work well if buses had two horns, similar to the green line. The friendly “hello, please move” bell and the “YOU’RE ABOUT TO GET RUN OVER” horn taken from an oil tanker.

    As for bikes on the T, what exactly is happening with putting bike racks on the buses? That program seems to have stalled, and you can’t depend on them unless 100% of buses are equipped.

    Also, any clue what this is (from the MBTA website)

    “Bike Ports
    Covered bike parking is being installed at many stations (at 50 stations by Spring 2011) to provide protection from the elements. The Bike Ports are well located for safety and security. Please don′t forget to lock your bike!”

  5. Paul Schimek June 4, 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    @David –
    – MB should review content of regular training materials and make sure they are 100% correct, including non-trivial questions to test understanding.
    – Remedial program should be required for any driver who received a complaint of dangerous operation from a cyclist (or other road users)
    – Separately, ask MBTA if they will donate bus ads (or even bus wraps) for a Same Roads, Same Rules message. Other transit agencies have done this. (Also CEMUSA and Decaux bus shelter ads.)
    -How about “how’s my driving? call or email . . .” on the back of all buses?

  6. David June 4, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    @JJJ:

    Honking: We’ve already asked the T to change their policy to limit honking at cyclists.

    Bike racks: The bus fleet is currently about 70% rack-equipped. The original funding for bike racks enabled the T to retrofit about 50% of the fleet. At this point, they have applied for federal money to continue the retrofit process, but all new buses come with racks. Either way, the fleet should be 100% rack-equipped within 3-4 years. The current problem is that buses get moved around between routes and garages, so there continues to be consistency issues even on the routes designated as “bike rack equipped”. For a complete list of routes that are supposed to be rack-equipped, go to http://mbta.com/templates/popup_help.asp?eid=19424.

    Bike ports: This is a new kind of bike parking for the T. It consists of a canopy over bike racks, but it is not fully enclosed. It’s a step up from fully exposed bike racks, because it protects the bikes a bit from the weather, but it is not as fancy as the secure “Pedal & Park” facilities.