Tips for Safe Bike Commuting in Boston
In Boston, more people are cycling to work and school than ever before. This is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise, while avoiding the Boston traffic gridlock.
If you plan to join the cyclists, we hope you enjoy the benefits. But before you ride, we encourage you to learn about traffic laws and road conditions in Boston and nearby communities.
- Boston Bicycling Maps and Apps
- Boston Bike Lanes and Bike Paths
- Massachusetts Bicycle Laws
- Dangerous Boston Streets and Intersections for Cyclists
- Boston Bike Sharing
- Wearing Bike Helmets in Boston
- Boston Bike Parking
- Winter Biking in Boston
- Boston Bike Accidents - Reporting
- Boston Bike Dooring Accidents
- Protecting Yourself Through Your Massachusetts Auto Insurance Policy
- Boston Area Bike Groups
The City of Boston offers this web page to help cyclists plan their routes and travel with bikes on the MBTA. Boston offers many bike lanes to help cyclists travel safely. You can find these bike lanes on Google Maps or the BlueBikes app.
In Boston, expect to see different types of bike lanes. In addition to traditional bike lanes, you may see buffered bike lanes, separated bike lanes and contraflow bike lanes.
If you watch closely, you may notice the bike lanes and safety infrastructure change during certain times. To the left, is a photo of Staniford Street, during the City of Boston Bike Count in September 2021. The bike traffic signals were activated and a bike counter was set up near the Merrimac Street intersection.
Buffered bike lanes provide more space between cyclists and parked vehicles, which helps to protect cyclists from dooring injuries. Separated bike lanes have permanent curbing, flex posts or some other infrastructure to protect cyclists from cars and trucks. Contraflow lanes can be a little confusing at first. These lanes are designed to allow two-way travel on streets which allow one-way traffic for motor vehicles. These may be separated or painted.
Looking for a bike path with a beautiful view? Boston has many, starting with the Charles River Esplanade, the North Bank Bridge under the Zakim to the Charlestown Waterfront Bike Path and the Lower Neponset River Trail, which runs from Dorchester to Milton. For more ideas, we suggest this article, "The Best Bike Paths in Boston," published by Boston Magazine.
M.G.L. c. 85, § 11B is the primary law on bicycle safety and motor vehicle operation near bicyclists in Massachusetts. As a cyclist, you should always wear a helmet and make sure you have proper safety gear such as bike lights and neon safety vests. Bicycle helmets are not required by law for cyclists who are 17 and older. However, helmets are an essential tool in protecting against head injuries. Wear one at all times when riding, no matter how quick the trip.
On the other hand, cyclists are required to use bike lights under Massachusetts law. Safety vests are not, but are an inexpensive way to protect yourself in Boston traffic. Do whatever you can to stand out to drivers, especially in the dark evening and early morning hours, and to large trucks and vehicles.
Where you ride is important. Motorists have a responsibility to share the road with cyclists. Cyclists are allowed to ride in the center of the traffic lane. This may be the safest option at times. But for the most part, try riding on the right side of the road or in the bike lane, traveling in the same direction as traffic. This prevents traffic from backing up.
The City of Boston encourages cyclists to ride in the street and save the sidewalk for pedestrians. You can use the sidewalk if you must in the interest of safety, except where signs and markings prohibit this.
Like motorists, you must follow traffic laws, such as stopping at red lights. To learn more, read our article, Quick Facts About Cycling in Massachusetts.
Plan your commute to avoid dangerous intersections for bicyclists. If you must travel through these areas, look for protected bike lanes. And remember, it can really help to walk your bike route before you ride and observe the traffic flow.
Commonwealth Avenue has long been one of the most dangerous roads in Boston for cyclists. Over the years, cyclists have been seriously injured on Commonwealth Avenue, Massachusetts Ave. (Mass. Ave) and Beacon Avenue, along with Saint Paul Street and Packard’s Corner, which sits at Commonwealth and Brighton avenues in Allston. Nearby are Boston University, Kenmore Square and Fenway Park, also highly congested traffic areas.
The good news is these roads have seen some safety improvements, including protected bike lanes. In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced a $20.4 million roadway project with help from the City of Boston and Boston University. This partnership developed a mile-long protected bike lane along Commonwealth Avenue, from the Boston University Bridge to Packard's Corner. In 2019, BU Today published guidelines for using the new protected bike lane.
More on Bike Accident Locations in Boston:
- Boston Bikes Map is a starting point for learning about dangerous intersections in Boston.
- The Boston Cyclist Safety Report (2013) also provides background on bike accident locations in Boston.
- Boston Cyclists Union's website provides updates on dangerous areas for cyclists and advocates for safety improvements
In Boston, a common mistake is drivers neglect to check for cyclists. They may look ahead and to the side, but not behind. Read more about right hook accidents.
If you feel unsafe at anytime, look for a safe opportunity to depart the bike lane and step onto the sidewalk for a few minutes. This may not always be an option; but when you can, this may help you regroup in challenging traffic situations.
Times have changed. You no longer need to own a bike to commute in Boston. You can simply access the Blue Bikes app on your cell phone.
Here is some background if you are not familiar with the Boston bike share system. In 2011, the City of Boston teamed up with New Balance to introduce Hubway. Season one began with a plan for 600 bike rentals at 61 stations in Boston, according to news reports. The bike share expanded into Cambridge, Brookline and Somerville the next year. The four municipalities operated the system as a regional bike sharing system, with the City of Everett joining the regional collaboration in 2019.
Today, Blue Cross & Blue Shield is the name sponsor and the system has grown even more. In 2020, MassDOT and Lyft provided additional support to expand into Arlington, Chelsea, Newton, Revere and Watertown. These bikes are popular so if you plan to use one, check the app first.
To learn more, visit the BlueBikes.com website or download the app.
Bicycle helmets are the first step for protecting yourself against the risk of a head injury in a bicycle accident. Buy your helmet local if you can. This is a good way to support local businesses and there is a good chance the bike shop will help you fit your helmet. Blue Bikes riders should plan to bring their own helmet.
Massachusetts law states you can park your bike anywhere it does not disrupt vehicle or pedestrian traffic. Look for bike parking in garages and bike racks when you can. Over the past few years, the City of Boston has installed thousands of new bike parking spaces. Look for bike racks before you travel in by visiting this Boston Bike Parking map. Another option is you can park at a MBTA station. Many stations offer "pedal & park" facilities (though we suggest you check on your local station before you travel). Not all MBTA lines and stations allow bikes.
For many, cycling continues despite the snow and cold. If you ride during the winter, dress the part with a neon safety vest and use bike lights. Your goal is to stay visible to traffic at all times.
Before you ride, ask other bike commuters about their experiences. Also look for winter biking classes in your community (these are starting to be offered more and more in the Boston area).
Find more information by reading:
- Everyday Winter Biking, Landry Bikes
Massachusetts law requires one to report bicycle accidents resulting in personal injury, death or $100 or more in damage to police. In Boston, drivers and cyclists should report crashes involving bikes to the Boston Police Department and check with campus police on their policy if you are a college student.
As a cyclist in Boston, it is in your best interest to call police to the scene of a bike accident. An officer can help you get medical care and gather information from the motorist. If you have been injured and cannot make the call yourself, ask the driver or a bystander to call.
Visit the emergency room if you are involved in a bicycle accident. Go right away. The sooner you are examined, the sooner you can understand your injuries and receive medical treatment if you need it.
Dooring is against the law in Massachusetts and is punishable by a $100 fine. So is parking in a bike lane (since 2009 in the City of Boston and statewide since 2017). Drivers should well understand their responsibilities to stay out of the bike lane and always check for cyclists before opening a vehicle door.
But dooring is a common occurrence in Boston and Cambridge. Too many cyclists will tell you a driver has opened a door onto their path and they were seriously injured or managed to dodge a major injury. Just as dangerous is when Uber and Lyft vehicles let passengers board or commercial trucks stop to make deliveries.
Cyclists who are injured by a car door should report the crash to police just as they would any other type of collision. Again, you should also receive immediate medical attention.
No one wants to think about the possibility of being injured in a bike accident. Still, it is important to understand your insurance policies. If you are ever hit and injured on your bike, you may be able to file a claim against the driver's auto insurance policy if they were at fault. But if the driver is uninsured or underinsured, you may have to look to your Massachusetts auto insurance policy.
With a few adjustments, you can increase your coverages to help you with your medical expenses and financial losses should you be injured. Read more in our article, What Every Massachusetts Bicyclist Needs to Know About Car Insurance.
The Boston area is lucky to have a number of cycling clubs and organizations. Members, gatherings and social media pages are a few places to learn about cycling safety. A few to consider: MassBike, Boston Cyclists Union, Quincycles, Somerville Bicycle Committee, Cambridge Bike Safety and Bike Newton.
Bay State Bike Week also offers cycling events each year, concluding with Bike to Work Day at Boston City Hall Plaza. You can usually find our attorneys at our Project KidSafe tent; come over and say hello!
Bike Safety Resources at Boston Colleges and Universities
Your college or university may also offer bike safety resources. Check with the commuter or transportation office or the campus police department. A few websites to start with: Boston University bike safety web page and the Boston College Police Department's bike safety resources.
Updated March 2022.
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
Breakstone, White & Gluck has been consistently recognized as a top-rated Boston personal injury law firm. While we represent cyclists who have been injured, for the past decade, we have also worked to encourage cyclists to wear helmets and protect against head injuries on bikes through our Project KidSafe campaign.
Since 2013, our Project KidSafe campaign has partnered with more than 50 community organizations - police departments, schools, bicycle committees and Massachusetts Safe Routes to School - and donated more than 33,000 bicycle helmets to children across Massachusetts. The American League of Bicyclists has twice recognized Breakstone, White & Gluck as a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Business.
If you have been injured by someone else's negligence, learn your legal rights. For a free legal consultation, contact our attorneys at 800-379-1233 or use our contact form.