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Tips for Safe Bike Commuting in Boston

Boston cyclist in bike lane next to car

In Boston, more people are cycling to work than ever. Many more are also riding for recreation. Cycling is a great way to get exercise, fresh air and avoid sitting in traffic. But before you ride, we encourage you to learn as much as you can so you enjoy your time riding and minimize your risk for injury in a bicycle accident. Our article covers bike lanes, dangerous intersections and your rights and responsibilities as a cyclist in Boston. 

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

Since 2008, Boston has created at least 105 miles of bike lanes and 6 miles of protected bike lanes. You can find bike lanes on apps such as Google Maps. 

As of January 2020, Blue Bikes offered over 3,500 rental bikes at over 325 bike stations in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline and Everett. BlueBikes offers maps of bikeshare stations on its website and app.

Boston Bike Lanes and Bike Paths

The City of Boston has ambitiously extended its bike lane network over the past decade. In addition to traditional bike lanes, you are likely to 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, you should generally travel on the right side of the road or in the bike lane, riding in the same direction as traffic. This prevents traffic from backing up.

The City of Boston encourages cyclists to ride in the street. This is to save the sidewalk for pedestrians.

Wherever you travel, cyclists must also follow the same traffic laws as motor vehicles, including stopping at red lights. Motorists have a responsibility to provide you with adequate room to make safe decisions. They must also yield to cyclists when turning at intersections. 

To learn more, read the Quick Facts About Cycling in Massachusetts.

Dangerous Boston Streets and Intersections for Cyclists

Plan your travel to avoid dangerous intersections. If you cannot avoid these areas, take time to really learn about the intersections. Look for protected bike lanes and other safety infrastructure. We suggest walking along on sidewalks at least once before you ride anywhere in Boston.

This is especially true on Commonwealth Avenue, which has seen roughly twice the state average for bike crashes, according to the BU Today - the Boston University newspaper. 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.

There are now protected bike lanes in this area. 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. A mile-long protected bike lane was built along Commonwealth Avenue, from the Boston University Bridge to Packard's Corner. In 2019, BU Today published guidelines for using the new protecting bike lane. 

Beyond the Boston University area, the city has many roads and intersections which can be dangerous for cyclists, from the Seaport to Charlestown to Back Bay. South Station and North Station have high volumes of pedestrians, commuter traffic and large commercial trucks and this makes them challenging for new cyclists. Take time to learn as much as you can before you ride and remember construction and traffic patterns are always changing.

More on Bike Accident Locations in Boston:

We touched on a few dangerous Boston intersections above. But bike commuters have to be aware that there are risks at every intersection in Boston or other cities. Beware that many drivers may check in front of them, but not behind, which is where cyclists are often approaching. Drivers have a responsibility to check. Truck drivers also have a responsibility to check and use mirrors which allow them to see adequately around their vehicle. They should never speed through an intersection.

Drivers cause many serious accidents when they make right-hand turns at intersections without checking or are traveling too fast. These are often called right hook accidents

Boston Bike Sharing

Bike sharing came to Boston in 2011, with the arrival of Hubway. New Balance was the major sponsor. In 2018, the City of Boston announced it was transitioning to a new sponsor, Blue Cross & Blue Shield, and Blue Bikes. To find stations and 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 do fulfill their legal obligations to stay on the scene. They may just keep driving or only stay for a few minutes.

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 any 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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