Tips for Safe Bike Commuting in Boston

Boston cyclist in bike lane next to car

In Boston, more people are cycling to work and school than ever before. They are enjoying 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

The City of Boston offers this web page to help cyclists plan their routes and use the MBTA (which allows bikes on many transportation lines). Another resource is the Go Boston 30 plan

Boston offers many bike lanes to help cyclists travel safely. Take advantage of these bike lanes whenever possible. You can search for bike lanes on Google Maps or the BlueBikes app. Another resource is the Boston Bike Network Plan, which details the city's plans to build out 356 miles by 2043.

Boston Bike Lanes and Bike Paths

In Boston, you can 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. Each provides a different riding experience.

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.

Massachusetts Bicycle Laws

M.G.L. c. 85, § 11B is the primary law regulating bicycling 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. We urge you to wear one at all times when riding, no matter how quick the trip. 

On the other hand, bike lights are required by 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 and 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.

Dangerous Boston Streets and Intersections for Cyclists

Plan your commute to avoid dangerous intersections for bicyclists. If you must travel through these areas, look for protected bike lanes and traffic signals. Try to avoid areas known for heavy truck traffic at intersections. It can really help to walk along the sidewalks in these areas before you ride and observe the intersections. 

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 resulted in 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. 

When it comes to Boston intersections, take time to learn as much as you can before you ride. Remember that construction and traffic patterns are always changing.

More on Bike Accident Locations in Boston:

Drivers have a responsibility to check for cyclists and leave them enough room. One common mistake is drivers do not fully check for cyclists. They may look ahead and to the side, but not in their blindspot. 

As a cyclist, you can take steps to protect yourself. Familiarize yourself with your route and ride defensively. Be cautious and leave space between yourself and all vehicles. Use special caution near truck drivers and operators or large vehicle, who can cause cyclists serious injuries when they turn without checking in all directions for cyclists. 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 it is, it can help you regroup in challenging traffic conditions.

Boston Bike Sharing

You do not need to own your own bike to commute in Boston. Just access the Blue Bikes app on your cell phone.

If you are not familiar with the system, here is some background. 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. But the bike share was an immediate success and expanded into Cambridge, Brookline and Somerville the next year. The four municipalities operated the system as a regional bike sharing system.

Today, Blue Cross & Blue Shield is the name sponsor. The City of Everett joined the regional collaboration in 2019. In 2020, MassDOT and Lyft provided additional support to expand into Arlington, Chelsea, Newton, Revere and Watertown. 

To learn more, visit the website or download the app.

Wearing Bike Helmets in Boston

Bicycle helmets are the first step for protecting yourself from the risk of a head injury in a bicycle accident. The City of Boston once reported 72 percent of city cyclists wear helmets and has worked to increase this number. Discounted helmets are available from some of the city's retailers. Blue Bike riders should pack their own helmets because you are required to wear one while using the bike share. 

Boston Bike Parking

Massachusetts law says you can park your bike anywhere it does not disrupt vehicle or pedestrian traffic. In recent years, the City of Boston has installed thousands of new bike parking spaces. You can find a bike rack before you make your trip by visiting this Boston Bike Parking map. Another option is to park at a MBTA station. Many stations offer "pedal & park" facilities (though we recommend you check before traveling).

Winter Biking in Boston

For many, cycling doesn't stop in 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:

Boston Bike Accidents - Reporting

Massachusetts law requires you to report any bicycle accident resulting in personal injury, death or $100 or more in damage to police. In Boston, report your bike crash to the Boston Police Department as well as campus police if you are a college student. As a cyclist in Boston, you should always call police to the scene of a bike accident to help you gather information from the motorist. If you have been critically injured and cannot make the call yourself, ask the driver or a bystander to call. This is important because motorists do not always follow through with their legal obligation to stay on the scene. 

Visit the emergency room if you are involved in a bicycle accident. Go right away. The sooner you are examined, the sooner you can receive medical treatment if you need it.

Boston Bike Dooring Accidents

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 they have had a door open onto their path. Just as dangerous is when Uber and Lyft vehicles use the bike lanes to board passengers 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 crash. You should also receive immediate medical attention.

Protecting Yourself Through Your Massachusetts Auto Insurance Policy

No one wants to think about suffering a bicycle accident. But it is important to be prepared. Review your Massachusetts auto insurance policy with your insurance agent. With a few strategic decisions, you can buy and increase your coverage types to help you with medical expenses and financial losses should you be injured in a bike accident. Read more in our article, What Every Massachusetts Bicyclist Needs to Know About Car Insurance.

Boston Area Bike Groups

Because so many people ride, the Boston area has a large number of cycling organizations. Members of these groups, gatherings and social media pages are a few places to learn more about what you need to know as a cyclist. A few to consider: MassBike, Boston Cyclists Union, QuincyclesSomerville Bicycle CommitteeCambridge 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 February 2020.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck

Breakstone, White & Gluck is a Boston personal injury law firm which represents those injured by the negligence of others. Our attorneys have obtained record verdicts and settlements in the areas of personal injury, medical malpractice and product liability. We are committed to promoting safety for cyclists and pedestrians in Boston and Massachusetts. Since 2013, our Project KidSafe campaign has partnered with nearly 50 community organizations - police departments, schools, bicycle committees and Massachusetts Safe Routes to School - and donated 30,000 bicycle helmets to children across Massachusetts. In 2017, the American League of Bicyclists 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 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.

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