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Friday, December 7, 2012

Robin Essay: Fatal Bike Crash Hits Home

A makeshift memorial has been set up on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and St. Paul Street in Boston. (Chris Ballman/WBUR)

Yesterday at 8:30 in the morning at the intersection of St. Paul Street and Commonwealth Avenue right below our offices, just across the street from the Boston University Campus, 23-year-old BU student Christopher Weigl was riding his bike when he collided with a tractor trailer and was killed.

Just like that.

Christopher Weigl (Student profile screenshot)

We learned later that he was a grad student in photojournalism. Just like my nephew studying journalism at Northeastern, he’d been given the assignment of writing his own obituary. I hated when my nephew did it; today I devoured every word of Christopher’s obituary in Brian McGrory’s column in The Boston Globe.

The intersection is one of the busiest of the many along Comm Ave., which runs the length of the BU campus straight to Fenway Park a few blocks away, and the heart of Boston beyond.

On our side, parked cars, then the bike lane, then two lanes of eastbound traffic, two sets of train tracks — tracks for incoming and outgoing T trains. On the other side it repeats, two more lanes of westbound traffic, a bike lane and parked cars.

There are always swarms of people on our side, packs of students running into the CVS, or dashing across the street to make the train, or to grab food at Panera or Boston House of Pizza, dodging cars and the many cyclists who at that point on Comm Ave. can catch a little hill and sail past. It’s actually a lovely view of Boston in the distance.

The 16-wheeler had moved left to make the right hand turn across the bike lane. I’m sure we’ll learn what happened. Those who were there said the truck driver was devastated. Meanwhile, many of our colleagues just walking in to work, were sickened by what they saw. Karl tried to shield Candy; she says she kept saying “Is he alone?? Is someone with him??” And Karl would say, “Candy, he’s already gone.” And she would say. “I know. Is he alone? Is somebody with him??”

Then later there would be the sneakers peeking out from under a white sheet. For hours. We know these sheets appear all too often in violent neighborhoods, a terrible thing, and we know about the huge number of bicycle deaths. Another BU student was killed at another intersection earlier this fall. Awful. I had a college friend recently killed in Florida by a distracted driver. But this was in our neighborhood. A dark cloud that rolled up from the street into our offices and settled in our stomachs and hearts.

At 1 p.m. we still weren’t allowed to come out of our building and turn right, we had to turn left and walk around the block to get lunch. I mention this not because of any inconvenience, about which, who cares. But because it was confronting again the thing that we hadn’t been able to shake all day, that a young person’s life had come to a sudden and absolutely irreversible halt. And he lay there, as we worked, as insurance agents came and set up video cameras and police directed traffic. Shouldn’t we have stopped everything out of respect? Shouldn’t we, as Candy suggested, have been with him?

A ghost bike was set up Monday morning at the scene of last week's fatal accident. (Kathleen McKenna, Here & Now)

A ghost bike was set up Monday morning at the scene of last week’s fatal accident. (Kathleen McKenna, Here & Now)

I have nothing profound to say. But I did want his family to know that, while it might have looked like life was going on, as we worked on our show, and dashed to and fro, there were stolen moments in the bathroom to shed a tear, there was a constant feeling of unease.

We were mourning a member of our community.

A young person we might even have seen at some point, sailing down Commonwealth Avenue. Into his future. With a beautiful view.


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  • Delia Somerville Biker

    Thanks. You captured some of my thoughts here too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nathan-Lemmon/1259776677 Nathan Lemmon

    I’ll ride along this section on my bike – once in a great while – because it is the most direct route to downtown from where I live. It is a very, very dangerous place to ride a bike. I was just saying the other day that this is the most dangerous section of street to ride a bike in the city and the bike lanes don’t help much because they give people a false sense of security. The problem is that you have two lanes going each way and you have lots of traffic going different speeds. There are two major problems. 

    1) Sometimes traffic in the right lane (next to the bike lane) travels fast, very fast. I’m talking about 40-60 mph. If you’ve ever experienced a car passing you on the left – less than 36 inches away at 60 miles per hour – you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t have a mirror to look behind you…well. OK you combine this with the fact that you have drivers opening their doors sitting in the cars that are parked along the side and you have a recipe for disaster. What do you think the bike rider does when someone quickly opens their door? Yeah, they swerve a bit out into the lane to avoid running into the door. Well if you have two cars barreling down the two lanes at 60 miles per hour, side by side because someone is passing – there is not enough room for everyone at the party. 2) The other major problem is the MBTA buses. When you are on a bike you can’t go around them on the left because they don’t look and wait – they just pull out. As soon as the doors close those drivers just pull out. They don’t even look. They may put on their signal but only AFTER they start to pull out. You can’t pass them on the right because then you would risk hitting a person getting on the bus. The MBTA bus drivers not only ignore bike riders…get this and I would not exaggerate, they purposefully try to hit bike riders on Commonwealth Ave. I’ve seen it happen and I’ve seen them hit bike riders. Be careful people. Don’t listen to music while you ride. Use a mirror so you can see behind you and look into that mirror every five seconds. And please don’t ride a fixy with no hand brakes.  

    • Ken Cound

      Ottawa city buses have flashers synchronized to  come on as the door closes. This system always assumes they are moving into a left maneuver  and you can slow and veer right when they move. To eliminate this hazard would be an achievement. 

    • Prolatus

      I ride in Boston 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. I’m car-free, and have been for 4 years. This stretch of Comm Ave. is on my regular ride to and from work. I have encountered none of the difficulties you describe, and don’t consider the road particularly dangerous. What are you doing wrong?

      It’s a good question to start on. Several of the bike deaths this year could have been prevented with a good bicycle safety program. Why doesn’t the city (and perhaps the colleges and universities, whose students are the ones most affected) put some money there, instead of on the ridiculous “NO EXCEPTIONS: WEAR A HELMET” sprays in bike lanes?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nathan-Lemmon/1259776677 Nathan Lemmon

    One more thing..bless you Christopher Weigl. Lots of White Light to you and your family in this terrible time. 

  • Lfriday

    Beautifully written. I work kitty-corner across the street and couldn’t shake that lump in my throat the entire day. What a talented young man, lost quicker than the flash on his own camera.

  • Guest

    I work across the St Paul St from WBUR, we had basically the same view of the events all day from the plentiful windows of our building.  Robin, you have done a great job of describing how I felt all day.  I also kept thinking that someone should have been with him.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/ellen.gilliam Ellen Gilliam

    Thank you, Robin, for putting our feelings and thoughts into words. With those words, Christopher Wiegl’s life continues in all of us.  God bless the truck driver. God bless cyclists and drivers everywhere. Wear your safety gear and pay attention.

  • Matt

    Well said.    I share your unease.   I had just dropped my son off at daycare when a detour took me right by the accident scene, moments after it occurred.  I briefly saw the truck and a body on the ground.   By the time I got to work, a fatality was confirmed.   I can’t shake the sight of that scene, nor the knowledge that — as I was saying goodbye to my precious little boy — someone else was losing their’s forever.   It’s tragic.  

  • David M

    Ok, I’ll get hell for this, but… The problem with many “cyclists” in Boston is their sense of entitlement. They want to be vehicles one second and pedestrians the next. They run red lights. Swerve in and out of cars. Hop curbs, and generally don’t follow any laws but the ones they’ve made up for themselves. All the while with headphones in their ears. Nathan, you can’t pass the bus on the left or the right? Has it ever occurred to you to stop and wait a moment? This is a tragedy, and we have to wait and find out the results of the investigation, but it sounds like the distracted one was the biker, and not the truck driver.

    • BikerWhoFollowsTheRules

      Not all bikers believe they have a sense of entitlement. Boston drivers can act just as erratic and dangerous, even whilst following traffic laws.  As a biker myself (who also drives), I obey ALL traffic laws but sometimes I do things a car wouldn’t out of our own personal safety, like swerve around MBTA buses. And I completely agree that running red lights and disobeying the rules makes it more dangerous for both bikers and drivers. I do not believe we are innocent. But not all bikers meet the stereotype you claim to know so well.

      I recognize that bikes are vehicles as well, and if you expect cyclists to act like vehicles and respect all traffic laws, then drivers must respect bikers. The honking, yelling, dirty looks, and dangerous driving habits are unnecessary. A mutual respect and understanding for one another is needed and is lacking, as presented by your post.

      This is not the time or place to call out some bikers for their irrationality. The general problem with all of this is the finger pointing. We don’t know who was at fault in this tragic accident and its pretty unfair to Chris and his family so assume he was at fault. It’s also perfectly possible that both the biker and the driver were obeying the traffic laws and did not see one another, or that both were distracted.

      Hopefully David, we can all take something away from this tragic accident. As biking becomes more popular, the city of Boston clearly needs to reevaluate how bikers and cars will SHARE the road.  We need learn to respect/ sympathize with one another a little more.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Slaughter/100001461472234 Richard Slaughter

      Yes, you will get hell, and you should.  This is not the time or place.  First of all, it’s not relevant to this discussion – he was legally in a bike lane – there’s the possibility that he could have anticipated the right hook and ridden more defensively, but there is absolutely ZERO indication that this young man was in any way breaking the law.  *IF* it turns out that he was somehow at fault, then would be an appropriate time for you to bring up your (highly debatable) topic.

  • http://singingstring.org/ asongbird

    Blessings, Robin…and on all of you…and most of all, on the young man and his loved ones. Sorrow prevents saying more.

  • http://twitter.com/inthebigmuddy Julie Croston

    I was there, too, just minutes after, seeing the soles of shoes peeking out from under the white sheet for the time it took me to drive by along with the rest of the traffic, thinking of when I’ve biked with two kids along a major but less daunting thoroughfare across the river. Share the road shouldn’t just be a slogan. No number of aggressive or less-than-cautious cyclists can take away the need for vehicle drivers to take it to heart, moment-by-moment, mirror check by mirror check.

  • Samuel Walworth

    Another sad event and a sad day!

    However, I really applaud Robin for pointing out that, Boston IS NOT well equipped  for a Biker friendly roads, both in terms of infrastructure and the mentality of the bikers and car drivers alike.

    Last year around Thanks Giving, while driving during the evening, as I was approaching the intersection of Brookline Ave and Longwood Ave, at this location

    http://goo.gl/maps/bMlkT

    I saw a family of 4 Dad, Mum and 2 kids on bikes spread across the width of the road, wearing Dark Jackets, Dark Pants and Dark shoes.. and I barely missed them..

    If this is the kind of behavior shown by the bikers, I am sorry to say, this tragedy will keep repeating for some more time.

    Stay Safe my friends!

    • Hypocrite cagers..

      oh yeah so i was blasting through the countryside and I saw a family of 4 deer spread across the width of the road … and I barely missed them..

      If this is the kind of behavior shown by the deer, I am sorry to say, this tragedy will keep repeating for some more time.

      Stay Safe my friends!

      In other words, pay attention to your surroundings for god sakes. If you can’t see 4 people (black, blue, fluorescent yellow, whatever) in the middle of (artificially lit) city, maybe you should have your eyes checked?

      • Samuel Walworth

        Did I say it was evening? a dark one? people wearing dark clothes?
        No reflectors, no lights nothing!!
        Coming at 35 – 40 miles, its easy to miss them during dawn / dusk times!

        See, if I or another motorist had missed them who would have lost the lives?

      • David C. Holzman

         Ever hear the phrase “protective coloring?” People who cycle in the evening should wear white and have lights. City cyclists should ride single-file.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Slaughter/100001461472234 Richard Slaughter

        Calm down – he’s suggesting that cyclists at night should choose clothing and lights – surely you agree with this (I know I do).  
        Having said that, Mr Walworth, remember that there are MANY of us who strictly observe laws – a lot of drivers have the habit of labeling all cyclists according to those they’ve seen breaking the law.  Remember that we’ve seen drivers ignore yeilds, pass us too closely, and other illegal behaviors that put us at risk as well – as a cyclist I still keep in mind that the illegal actions of these callous and dangerous individuals should not reflect on the courteous and respectful driving I see from the majority of drivers.

        Please give us the same respect – especially when discussing the loss of a young man who it appears, so far, was riding completely legally.

        • Samuel Walworth

           Mr Slaughter,

          I have utmost respect for the pedestrians and the bikers, I always Yield to them, even at the cost of few honks from behind.

          I never said, All Cyclists or Pedestrians are like that, only a few, and these are the few ones who create a bad name for other bikers / cyclists.

          At the same time, I agree that most of the drivers on Boston roads think and act as if they are on some race course.

          Finally, in all due fairness, the Road Signs, the Traffic Light positions, the Road Marks, all are very inconsistent through the city and cause too much confusion for any driver, and that always contributes to these small time distractions and at times can be very dangerous.

          E.g on European Motorways, every exit has a marking sign starting from 400 meters, right up to the exit point, so that a motorist doing 65 – 70 mph is well prepared and ready for the approaching exit.,

          Similarly, all the Merging Lanes to Interstates are very well placed and marked.

          Talking about the Signals, there is no standardization of the placements of them, adding to drivers sometimes completely missing them or not understanding what its supposed to mean.

  • Chupa88

    Why can’t a portion of the side walk be carved out for a bike lane instead of the street?

    • Samuel Walworth

       If you ask the Boston Public Dept, the answer will be, “there is not much traffic here, so why bother” and Fox News will scream that Tax Payer money is being wasted on stuff which are not needed by the cars.

    • David C. Holzman

       Because if you put bikes on the sidewalk, when they get to intersections, cars won’t be expecting them, and the intersections will be more dangerous than they already are, and intersections are the most dangerous places for cyclists.

    • Robin

      Just jumping in to say, I’ve been thinking this too. Sidewalks are so wide, halve them, then the bike path, THEN parked cars , then traffic .
      One last thing, having heard from many who work in this area, I’ve decided we were gathered around him. A congregation in cubicles.

      Best,
      Robin

      • Carol

        I was in Munich, Germany and that is exactly what they do. 1/2sidewalk is for pedestrians and the other 1/2is for cyclists. Seems to work well.

        • John Allen

          May seem to work well to you, Carol. but the blind conflicts at intersections make for a car-bike crash rate on these bicycle sidewalks about three times as high as in the streets, and the national German bicyclists’ organization which has had to live with them has campaigned against them for decades. It isn’t much fun for pedestrians, either.

          And Robin, think about what you suggested: a bicyclist is riding at the same speed as motor traffic down a hill and can’t stop in time to avoid a truck making a wide turn. Now you want to put the bicyclist behind a row of parked cars, to shoot out into the intersection from hiding. That will really improve safety, won’t it?

          A bicyclist who is riding on a road does best to follow road traffic rules. 20- mph bicycle traffic certainly does not belong on sidewalks. 

          We don’t know why Chris Weigl didn’t stop, but the very same crash could have happened to someone on a motorcycle or motor scooter. Would we be campaigning to put them on sidewalks? Robin, your emotional response to this crash was right on the mark but everything you know aobut bicycling, you learned in kindergarten.

          On the other hand, there are some things which BU could do to create practical bike routes and increase bicycling safety on its campus. Mostly, they consist of providing alternates to Commonwealth Avenue. But first, as the University is in the education business: include bicycling safety and bicycle inspection in its orientation. BU students are smart enough to learn this stuff. They are, as the saying goes, college material. or they wouldn’t be at BU.

          As to the alternate routes: trying to improve Commonwealth Avenue is like trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The city made its best lame effort, installing bike lanes in the door zone of parked cars, encouraging bicyclists to ride where they face a hazard against which they have no defense.  Chris Weigl is only one of the increasing number of cyclists who are being killed in right-hook and car-door collisions all around the country.

          As Keri Caffrey, a friend of mine, says:

          ********

          How to boast bike friendliness while marginalizing bicyclists:Step 1: let motoring and aggressive behavior rule your streets for half a centuryStep 2: force bicyclists to operate using conflict-ridden edge behavior with draconian laws and door zone bike lanes [well, we don't have the draconian laws here, yet]Step 3: put a cage around their ghetto, [that is, the cycle track Robin proposes], paint the pavement green and say it’s safe

          ********

          If there are going to be infrastructure improvements, how about some bicycling and pedestrian connectivity improvements, alternates to Commonwealth Avenue so BU is no longer an educational strip mall?

          A few specific suggestions:

          –Restore the section of Massachusetts Bike Route 1 which passes through the campus (Silber Way, Blandford Street, Cummington Mall, Babbitt Street). BU was complicit in dismantling this route by gating off Babbitt Street!

          – Create a contraflow bike lane on St. Mary’s Street to provide an alternative to the Mountfort Street tangle for access between the campus and neighborhoods south of the Turnpike.

          – Install a contraflow bike lane on Essex Street for easy access from the BU bridge into the residential neighborhoods south of Commonwelath Avenue.

          – Link the two ends of the campus under the BU bridge embankment, on paths connecting with streets north of Commonwealth Avenue either side of the bridge.

          – Reconfigure streets for better bicycle access. For example, make Bay State Road into a two-way bicycle boulevard (allowing local access, but designed to discourage through motor vehicle travel).

          Yet more such possibilities might suggest themselves if attention is focused in this direction.

      • John Allen

         Robin, as a radio journalist, you may know the name Joan Donaldson. Please, then : read this

    • Guest

      Chupa88 – unfortunately what you’re suggesting simply makes the next victim of an accident a pedestrian hit by a cyclist vs. a cyclist hit by automobile. And before you argue that if a cyclist hits a pedestrian the damage is much less severe, there are numerous cases of pedestrians hit by cyclists who suffer severe, life altering injuries. My response should not be taken to imply that Mr. Weigl’s death was not tragic. It was.

      I only mean to point out that solutions are not as easy to find as we’d often like to believe. If we make the bike lane part of the sidewalk vs. part of the street, we’re be exposing an unprotected pedestrian to a potentially much faster moving object that has more mass.

      I wish I knew the answer, but this isn’t it.

    • Lauren Kerr

      Many parts of Europe already do this. In Denmark, I’ve been told, bike ridership is up largely due to policies that have placed bike lanes in between the sidewalk curb and designated parking areas.

      Some form of raised barrier might help, too. I’ve been on many combined bike/walking paths (Brooklyn Bridge is a good example) that were ineffective because the “bike lane” was merely  a strip painted into a too-crowded walking path.

  • Samuel Walworth

    I recall during my trip to Paris in 2010, I was yelled by my taxi driver as I was trying to open the door to get out (ofcourse on the left side) for not opening the door without being careful enough.

    He screamed at me and said, he would be considered at fault, if someone crashed on the door.

    Being an American I thought as a pedestrian / passenger I was “entitled” to get down on the street where ever I wanted.

    I was bit annoyed  that day, but soon it sank that, its a very very healthy traffic etiquette (ofcourse enforced by the Law) but it makes life little bit more safer for everyone who shares the road.

    • Neillex

      One thing to remember— The bicyclist or pedestrian may have the Right-of-Way, but the driver of a vehicle  has to SEE the pedestrian or cyclist in order to yield that right of way. Sometimes darkness,  weather, or other traffic conditions make visibility difficult. Too many times I have seen  people just bolt out onto a cross- walk in front of me. Yes, you have the right of way, but please be sure the driver can see you in order grant you that right.

  • Apallenf

    In Amsterdam the bicycle lane has it’s own traffic light and signs.  In this case the tragedy is so recent the answer to this problem may have to wait.  You know, I never saw a sixteen wheeler or a pickup truck in the Netherlands though I am sure they existed in some form.
    In any case my heat goes out to the family of Christopher Weigl.

    • Samuel Walworth

       In almost all other developed countries I have been to, there is a strict restriction of HGVs during peak business hours, not here!!!

      • Jessica Mink

         I think that some sort of law like that is the only solution to these recurring bicyclist deaths.  Most of them seem to involve large vehicles, some larger that should be turning on Boston’s narrow streets where the driver will not be able to turn from their travel lane or see everything around them as they are turning

  • Alchiz

    Tiny point: what’s a “violent neighborhood”? is that where “other people” live? Careful…

    • Guest

      I see your point, but you’re reaching. There are neighborhoods that have higher rates of violent crime than others, and I think that Robin put it tactfully.

  • Jay Whaley

    Do you know if the rider who was killed was wearing a helmet, and if so, do you think that could have saved him?
    I’m an avid bike rider here in San Diego, and had my own serious bike accident back in 1989.  Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet, and my two broken arms healed up in time.  My motorcycling years taught me to ride “as if I was invisible” and be prepared for a fall.

    I’ll agree that there are plenty of bike riders who have very little respect for traffic laws, and are oblivious to the extreme danger of sharing the road with cars.

    You won’t catch me riding without my helmet on, and being hyper-aware of the traffic around me.  I understand that bikes are considered “vehicles” under Cal. law, and I’m expected to obey traffic laws as I do when I’m driving my car.

    We bicyclists also need to choose routes that are safer for us, with less vehicular traffic or hazards.

    Bicycling is a wonderful and clean way to commute, and we all need to do more of it.  Be aware of the dangers and plan ahead…

    • Steve Brown

      I don’t know for certain about whether or not Christopher was wearing a helmet.  Always a good idea for any cyclist.  However given the nature of the accident, I’m afraid the outcome would have been the same whether he was wearing a helmet or not

      • Robin

        Yes, Before the sheet came, the image so many can’t shake, includes a helmet. He was reportedly a very careful, Eagle Scout, young man.

        As to listener below, thank you. I was trying to say, I’m not unaware that others have witnessed these white sheets, and known this curdling feeling .
        All best,
        Robin

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Slaughter/100001461472234 Richard Slaughter

      Based on the description, the cyclist was pulled under the wheels – I odn’t know if he had a helmet, but likely it would be irrelevant either way…

  • Janet Z F

    Thank you for writing this, Robin.  I am sobbing over this beautiful young man and the whole situation.  My daughters and all of my friends kids are around the same age.   What a great person he was and would have been.  Reading the obituary he wrote for himself was the most heartbreaking part.  What a tragedy.

  • Iris Adler

    Thank you for doing this Robin. It was a shock seeing that young man, so small and vulnerable on the road next to the huge, overwelming truck. As the mother of a twenty-something, all I could think was, this is someone’s child.
    I noticed a very smart design near Prospect Park in Brooklyn recently, where there was the sidewalk, then a bike lane, then a lane for parked cars and finally a moving car lane. The parked cars acted as a bulwark between the cyclists and moving cars. It may not always be practical, but it sure is effective.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Slaughter/100001461472234 Richard Slaughter

      Iris, in many ways I like the sort of design you mention as well, but it has safety weaknesses as well…  For example, think about intersections; the cyclists then pass through what would normally be the crosswalk while the vehicles turning right often won’t expect them.  In fact, it could lead to exactly the same issue that happened here…
      Although having said that, if there is bike-specific signalling as well, that could be resolfed.. .but then you’re talking about another significant increase in expense…

      • Caitrin M

         In nyc, you can’t turn right on red, ever, which solves that problem.  There certainly need to be more efforts made to improve safety for cyclist.

  • guest

    Thank you for writing this Robin.  It is just so sad.  I used to work right at that corner and somehow that made this more personal and upsetting for me.  It is so dangerous biking around the Boston area.  I honestly don’t want my two children biking anywhere because even if they are doing everything right it only takes one distracted driver and it is all over. 

  • A cyclist AND a driver

    Thank you Robin for sharing your thoughtful essay. My heart goes out to Chritopher, his family and his friends.

    I work a block up the street from WBUR and the corner where Christopher lost his life. Since learning the news, I’ve had a constant mental refrain of “There, but for the grace of god, go I.” It’s chilling.

    I ride my bike the 4-5 miles to work every day through Somerville, Cambridge and this little corner of Boston. On this commute I cover just about every kind of surface road imaginable: one way, two way, single lanes, double lanes, dedicated bike lanes, “shared” bike lanes, streets where traffic regularly crawls to a halt and streets that may as well be drag strips.  

    NOWHERE on this route is more dangerous than the corner in front of the CVS where Christopher died. The rotary on Memorial Drive (directly off the BU Bridge) and the gauntlet that is Webster Ave. (running from Inman Sq. in Cambridge to Union Sq., Somerville) come close. But Comm Ave is notable in its deceptiveness. At first glance, it seems like it ought to be smooth sailing for everyone: two lanes for vehicular traffic, a comfortably wide bike lane, traffic lights for the busy cross streets and walk signals for pedestrians. But it’s not safe–for all the reasons others have already posted here, and as Christopher’s death so horribly illustrates. There are just too many things going on for all but the most vigilant travelers to keep tabs on. And even then, people can make mistakes. I’ve had more close calls in this one block than in all the other areas of my commute combined.

    I don’t know what the solutions are to prevent more incidents like this from occurring. A “ghost bike” prominently on display on this corner might be a good start, though.

    I urge everyone–whatever your mode of transport–to exercise caution out there.

  • Sean

    This is the fifth bicyclist
    fatality in Boston
    this year and I think it’s time that we accept a simple fact—not all cities can
    be “bicycle-friendly.”  I speak as
    someone who has ridden a bicycle, driven a large vehicle for a living, and been
    in many other cities around the country and around the world.  Boston
    was laid out in the 18th Century. 
    Its roads are too narrow and too small. 
    Its corners are too sharp.  It’s
    that simple.  Parts of Boston are simply NOT practical for
    bicycles.  They can barely handle cars,
    much less cars AND bicycles.  They were not
    designed for this, nor can they be.  Being
    healthy and eco-friendly is great, but at some point practicality and common
    sense has to enter the discussion.  While
    I felt I could safely ride a bicycle in parts of Australia
    and Florida, I would never, by the same token,
    have ridden a bicycle in Boston or Cairo, Egypt.  Blaming drivers and fining citizens will not
    solve this problem.  Cyclists need to use
    “smart routing.”  I hope we don’t need
    anymore tragedies to realize this.

    • A cyclist AND a driver

      In my experience, environments in which vehicular traffic is already forced to move slowly (cramped streets, tight corners, stop sign intersections) can be some of the safest for biking.

      Speed and sudden moves are two of cyclists’ worst enemies.

      We don’t know yet who–if anyone–was at fault in this particular scenario. But I do know that, at least in my own experience, the layout of Comm Ave encourages both speeding (motor vehicles and bikes trying to beat red lights on a straightaway) and sudden turns (motor vehicles turning fast immediately before pedestrians cross or the light changes… or trying to figure out belatedly which street they meant to turn down).

    • Ken Cound

      Sean, you are talking about cars and bicycles. Lets move to the discussion about large vehicles moving around in that congested urban arena. Cars pose a finite set of obstacles to even the most leery cyclist: steer clear of parked cars with occupants, watch out for gutter rub-out  right turns across your lane, I could go on but soon run out of paper.  Large vehicles are a hazard to pedestrians who see the white line as their soul property. Oddly all truck drivers do not respect the white lines. For that infraction all trucks should have to pay by being diverted away from the core areas. (Love you Boston)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Brooking/100000446587617 John Brooking

      It seems illogical to me to say the streets are too narrow and curvy for bicycles, because they can barely handle cars. What’s the narrower vehicle here? The bicycle’s size and maneuverability make them much BETTER suited to narrow streets than cars and trucks are. The motorists just need to learn to share.

  • Jcohen954

    I recently moved out of the Boston area to a community in southeastern Pennsylvania. During my 16 years in Boston, I did not appreciate the erratic and dangerous behavior of the drivers in and around the city. Since I’ve moved, I have had to retrain myself how to be a curteous driver- how to wait my turn at a stop sign, and how to let another car in to a busy street. It struck me after the fact how dangerous our driving was. I lost a colleague to a bike accident in the same neighborhood 1o years ago. There needs to be serious consequences for dangerous driving in Boston, or more lives will be lost to carelessness.

  • Valerie

    Beautifully written.

  • Evaarnott

    When I was in Hamburg, Germany, there were many cars in the center of the city.  The bicycle lane had a different color concrete from the sidewalk so that pedestrians did not walk on it but left it to the cyclists. Where parking was allowed, the parked cars were between the bicycle lane and the moving cars.

  • Candace Miller

     Christopher’s death is simply heartbreaking. I was devastated to see WBUR’s first photo of him under the sheet with the truck awkwardly stopped. As a student at Harvard and professor at BU, I have cycled down Commonwealth Ave. for years. However, after my second child, I decided it was just too dangerous. It felt as though drivers either didn’t see me or were aiming for me. My husband cycles year round. While he is a safe rider, he was recently hurt when a driver hit him and drove away. Even if he’s 10 minutes late coming home, I picture him in the same horrible scenario that happened to Christopher. I went to Christopher’s website and paged through some of his outstanding photos. This is such a sad loss for his family, friends, BU, Boston and beyond. I understand that while bicycle deaths are up, actual ridership has increased by much more. Still, the fact is that on a beautiful sunny day in December, a day when the sun is shining gloriously–in our community, on our streets–a young man, a talented photographer, couldn’t get where he wanted to go on his bike safely. He was killed in the street. And all his promise for the future lay dead under that sheet. I am with Candy, he shouldn’t have been alone.

  • Ken Cound

    A suggestion; compare the urban layout of Boston with other similar cities who have made accommodations for cyclists sharing the road with motorists, and you have a starting point for the debate.  It will not be so much about restricting movement of certain parties, but how to implement practical ideas. Maybe London or Dublin would be a suitable model. We did this in Ottawa, and have come up with a core bike lane with barriers.

  • John Moore

    Then why didn’t you go be with him.  I see the comments of a lot of people who were there saying, “someone should be with him…” GO! Next time just go be with the person. Act! Do! Sigh.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

       Dead bodies require no company, but I doubt the police would have let anyone near him anyway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonag2 Jon A. Gibson

    I was on the other end of something like this, once.  I was driving my car to work one morning, while it was still dark; I had the green light when I saw the front rim of a bicycle in my headlights.  I spun my wheel to the right, stomped my accelerator & missed hitting the bicyclist.  He didn’t miss hitting me.  The bicycle was undamaged, but my car had a big dent in it & the rider was taken away in an ambulance.

  • Bikeolounger

    I’ll be a differing voice: It’s quite possible that the placement of the bike lane was immaterial. Indeed, a bike lane behind the cars would have been an even greater problem.

    A cyclist overtaking a left-turning truck (and why would a big truck be in the left lane EXCEPT for the purpose of making a sharp right turn??), as some eyewitness accounts suggest is what happened, is making a potentially fatal mistake.

    I don’t claim to know what happened. I was not there. I am stuck relying on second- and third-hand reportage.

    However, there is a reason why most big trailers like the one pictured in articles I’ve seen related to this tragedy have “don’t pass on right” signs indicating that the truck swings wide to the left to make a right turn.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Brooking/100000446587617 John Brooking

    My condolences to Weigl’s family and friends.

    One way to make intersections safe for cyclists is to have a separate bikes-only signal phase, so that motor vehicles and bikes are not in the intersection at the same time. These are used a lot in Europe, for good reason. The tradeoffs to that solution, besides the expense, is that it makes everyone’s wait time longer, which tends to lower compliance, and you also should prohibit right-on-red to be really safe.

    When the two types of vehicles are in the intersection at the same time, the root problem is the lack of visibility between the motorist and the cyclist. Therefore, any solution that places bicyclists FARTHER AWAY from the motor traffic, such as on the sidewalk or between the sidewalk and parking lane, will only make the problem WORSE, if you don’t introduce a separate signal.

    Counter-intuitively, the safest way for a bicyclist to transit an intersection at the same time as motor traffic is by using the same lanes, because that maximizes the cyclist’s visibility and buffer space. This is what cycling education teaches. Unfortunately, the taboo against mixing slower and faster traffic makes everyone who hasn’t taken cycling education believe (falsely) that using the same space is too dangerous. As a result, most cyclists are won’t do it (seeing it as unsafe, rude, or both), those who do are sometimes harassed by motorists and law enforcement, and many bicycle advocates who are not educators won’t advocate it. Too bad, because my experience and those of many others shows it to be much safer.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/43ATUXYZ7ZCHQNSNG5KMUKHS2U Allen Muchnick

    Tragedies such as this will only become less frequent when all new bicyclists are instructed to NEVER pass a vehicle on the right–and that applies triple for large vehicles such as tractor trailers and buses.  

    Unfortunately, *any* “bicycle facility” that places a straight-through bicyclist on the right side of right-turning traffic only makes such tragedies more likely.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Brooking/100000446587617 John Brooking
  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LHWDHDCJKUAISUEAZF2FT52PGQ Commander Cody

    It’s good to see so many people caring about this tragedy, and some offering ideas for prevention of others.

  • Mike

    If your riding Salsa steel frame bikes in Salt Lake City or any bike for that matter, it’s super important to be safe and watch out for vehicles and the like. It’s so sad to hear about fatal hits on a bike. Prayers go to the family. 

  • jsallen

    Please see my additional comments about truck-bicycle crashes in Boston and about improving conditions for bicycling and walking around the BU campus.

    You too can prevent truck-bicycle collisions: http://streetsmarts.bostonbiker.org/2013/05/28/you-too-can-prevent-fatal-truck-bicycle-collisions/

    Connecting the Boston University campus: http://streetsmarts.bostonbiker.org/2013/01/30/connecting-the-boston-university-campus/

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