Bicycling is basically safe. It’s safer, in fact (according to NHTSA figures on fatalities per vehicle mile) than driving a motor vehicle. Sometimes it seems less safe, because we all have stories about close calls we’ve gone through, and because serious or deadly accidents get a degree of attention within communities of bicyclists that motor vehicle accidents don’t receive. I’m sure we all know at least as many people injured (or, sadly, killed) in motor vehicle accidents as we do people injured on bikes, but the bike accidents stick in our minds because they remind us of our vulnerability.
That said, bicyclists do face road dangers that people in cars don’t face:
- debris on the shoulder or in the bike lane
- sunken drain or manhole covers
- shrubbery or tree branches extending into the roadway
- intersections & signals not designed with bicyclists in mind
- drivers not expecting (and therefore not seeing) bicyclists in the roadway
- hostile drivers shouting threats or abuse at bicyclists
- police ignorance of safe practices and laws
Some days, it seems as if everything in the road environment is arrayed against bicyclists. I’ve even had a policeman shout at me (“What are you doing over there? You belong on the shoulder!”) when I was following the safe practice of vehicular cycling prior to a left turn. Recently, Molly Schaeffer was the victim both of verbal assault by a driver and a frustratingly ignorant police response. If the police aren’t supporting our safety, who will?
One answer is to create a shared body of knowledge about actual road hazards in Newton:
Use bikewise.org to report road hazards. (When you visit the link, you may see a map of Seattle; if you register, you can change the default location to Newton, MA.) Road hazards range from the easily cleared (gravel, sand, or other objects in the bike lane that you can’t clear yourself), to medium-term problems (sunken storm drains, potholes), to long-term problems (dangerous intersections, poor sight-lines, chronic high-speed drivers).
What’s wrong with Newton 311? Really, you should use that, too. But what we get with Bikewise is a community tool for sharing information: the more people who register for bikewise and use their mapping tool to report hazards, the more we’ll all be aware, as a community, of hazards that need fixing, hazardous areas that require caution, and hazards that need community action (pressure on Aldermen and city officials) to get fixed. So, go ahead and call 311, but consider also reporting the problem to Bikewise, so we all know it’s there.
When you report a hazard through bikewise.org, a report is automatically sent to Newton’s Bicycle Coordinator, who will register the hazard with 311, and follow up with the person who reported it to make sure it is actually fixed. Longer-term fixes will become part of a master list of trouble-spots in Newton that need priority attention for improving safety.
Bikewise is also a good way to report crashes and thefts after you have reported them to the Newton Police. Again, it’s a way to share information with the Newton biking community. If there are patterns in accidents or thefts, the bikewise mapping tool will make those patterns clear, and we’ll be able to bring those patterns to the attention of the city.