MassBike is in its first year of working with the MassDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Awareness and Enforcement Program to make cities and towns across Massachusetts safer for cycling. This initiative is part of the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) developed to reduce serious injuries and fatalities. The program requires collecting and using data about safety on public roads. In Massachusetts, 12 communities have been selected for 13 studies (two in Quincy) based on the rate of bicycling and collisions in each city or town.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, WalkBoston, and MassBike are working together to increase bicyclist and pedestrian safety in these communities. The goal is to reduce injuries and fatalities by 20 percent over five years, and the plan to do so involves three basic elements: enforcement, education/awareness, and preparation.
The enforcement component involves educating local police on the laws and challenges specific to bicyclists and pedestrians. To facilitate this, MassBike’s police training video has been shown to police officers in the 12 communities. With a firm understanding of bicycling laws in Massachusetts as well as best practices, police officers can educate residents about the legal, safest ways to get to their destination, no matter the mode. Walk audits highlight safety issues in each community and will help prepare the communities for infrastructure and other safety changes.
Although the basic plan – enforce, educate, prepare – is the same for every community, how it plays out in practice varies from place to place. Each of the communities has its own set of opportunities, as we discover after each visit.
Some communities see improved bicycling facilities and safety as a way to revitalize a downtown area. Cities where a downtown core has been overlooked in favor of suburban development – such as Brockton, Lynn, Haverhill, and Fall River – want to attract cyclists as part of a plan for economic development. Other places with higher rates of cycling – such as Cambridge, Somerville, Newton, and Watertown – are looking to improve safety for their cyclists and attract even more commuters. Salem and Pittsfield are looking for slightly different help. In Salem, a city with an already robust cycling culture, bringing businesses out in support of increased cycling is a way to help make improvements for bicyclist safety. Pittsfield represents a town just starting out to think about cycling infrastructure, and there are a lot of opportunities there to increase safety and attract more cyclists.
With MassBike and our partners out there on the street, we get to both learn about the challenges of bicyclists in specific communities throughout Massachusetts and help those communities learn how to make cyclists safer on the road. Next year will we will continue to work with these communities, build off of what we learned in 2014, and meet the needs of each city or town to ensure that whoever is bicycling through or around them will have a safe, enjoyable experience.
To see a full list of the towns and cities that are participating in the safety program, visit the MassDOT website.