Commuting by bicycle in Boston

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m not in the know as far as traffic rules with regards to bikes go, but I’m fairly certain that automobile drivers are required to share the road with us bike riders. Maybe the etiquette is something I have yet to grasp. I never thought I would be harassed as much as I have been for simply riding alongside the road.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22. It’s illegal to ride on the sidewalks, but I risk serious injury and harassment from drivers if I ride in the street. Last night as I rode home from work, I prepared to turn left onto my street (off of Highland Ave.) I made sure to use the old hand signals to indicate my turn, and seeing only one car far behind me, it seemed like a pretty reasonable move. That is, until the car behind me sped up, caught up to me as I made the turn and swerved around me at the last second – a bit unnecessary considering there was no one else on the road and he could have easily avoided me by either a.) going the speed limit or b.) actually paying attention. Instead, as I turned down my street after a completely legal maneuver, the gentleman in the car passing me leaned out his window to make sure I heard what he had to say, “Get off the ****ing road you ***hole!”

Am I doing something wrong here? Is there some unwritten code of bike versus car ethics that I haven’t read? Did I miss the memo?

8 Comments so far

  1. Ulla (unregistered) on August 19th, 2005 @ 3:03 pm

    Boston drivers are not very considerate when it comes to accommodating cyclists. You are absolutely correct, as a bicyclist, you have the same rights as any other vehicle on the road. Which also means, for example, that they have no right to get mad at you if you take the lane because the lane is too narrow for a car to safely pass a bike. Trouble is, drivers ed in this country only marginally addresses pedestrian and bicycle safety, so most drivers never knew the law or have forgotten it since. In Germany, if you don’t look over your shoulder for bicycles when getting out of your car during the 45min. driving exam you fail. Needless to say, bicycle and pedestrian accident rates are much lower in Europe. Many people are lobbying for more bike lanes and bike paths. That’s great, but I think we ought to start with changing the way drivers ed is taught in this country. Of course, there will always be those who simply don’t care.

  2. greg chittim (unregistered) on August 19th, 2005 @ 4:26 pm

    I’ve found bike lanes make all the difference. I commute from Porter Square to near the Cambridgeside Galleria. I started out taking the same route as the 87 bus — down Somerville Ave through Union Sq and then skirting the McGrath Hwy to the Galleria. Total nightmare.

    Now I go down Beacon St and Cambridge St where there is a nice bikelane for most of the trip. Makes for a very pleasant easy ride.

  3. amy (unregistered) on August 20th, 2005 @ 8:33 pm

    I think I’ve encountered this guy. I once was riding when a car passed me. He speed up in front of me, then double parked right in front of me and was about to get out of the car. I saw him looking in his rear view mirror, so I’m thinking: good, he’s waiting until I pass. No. He waited until I got right next to his car, then threw open his door causing me to swerve into the road perilously to avoid hitting him. Then he yelled: that’ll teach you for riding on the road! and stormed off.

    It certainly would be nice if there were bike lanes everywhere!

  4. Drew (unregistered) on August 21st, 2005 @ 12:50 pm

    The bicycle is defined as a vehicle [MGL Ch. 85,

  5. Josh (unregistered) on August 22nd, 2005 @ 9:38 pm

    You were lucky.

    I have heard of angry drivers getting out of their cars and atacking bicyclists. I drive all over Boston (+the PRC and Somerville) and I used to ride there too, so I think of myself as somewhat atunned to the issue. Here is the deal… there are a lot of angry, frustrated people in this area and the first thing, or person, that crosses their path will become the focus of this energy.

    As a bicyclist I always treated those in cars as people who could possibly kill me. It’s simple – you have no idea of their state of mind or level of concentration and they are piloting a 1.5 ton vehicle with little concern for your safety.

    As a driver I have learned how frustrating it is that there are many people in the area who go out of their way to prove that pedestrians have the “right of way”. It makes my veins bulge when someone looks down the street, sees me coming in my car, and then walks in front of me to slowly cross the street. It makes me want to run people over. Seriously. Then I take a deep breath and try to relax.

    Of course pedestrians have the right of way, and bicyclists should be given the respect of another vehicle, but emotions are taking over, and safety and coutesy is going out the window. I would love to see pedestrians respect the walk/don’t walk symbols displayed and bicyclists commute safely with cars, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting. There is just not enough respect in this town.


  6. Ulla (unregistered) on August 24th, 2005 @ 12:05 pm

    The problem with bike lanes is that many streets around here aren’t wide enough to accommodate them safely. Hampshire St. in Cambridge, for example, has relatively new bike lanes, but in most places they are so narrow that you’re riding in the door zone. Not exactly safe. Anyway, all of you should put in your two cents on biking in Boston by filling out the MAPC bicycle survey. Here’s your chance to get heard:

  7. rider (unregistered) on September 16th, 2005 @ 3:14 pm

    That’s why I always carry my U-lock in the back of my pants. If someone yells get off the road, I can usually catch them and inform them that I can get fined for riding on the sidewalk and that I’m supposed to be on the street. If they act like an ***hole, then I use the lock to break off their mirror. It’s very easy to get away once you do this.

  8. Jason (unregistered) on September 23rd, 2005 @ 4:54 pm

    I am both a Boston pedestrian and a Boston driver. Today I have seen the most flagrant disregard for traffic laws by bikers yet. I was walking across the BU bridge with my girlfriend and she was hit by a biker riding the opposite direction. He didn’t notice and he didn’t turn around; he simply biked away. I noticed, several people around noticed, and you can be sure as hell that she noticed. Fortunately, she was not permanently injured, but she has to wear a sling for now until her shoulder heals. I am responding to the first post and to the rest of the posts generally: while some drivers do not accommodate bikers, many bikers do not accommodate pedestrians. I have seen bikers blow through red lights, push their way through and in front of pedestrians and ride in the middle of the road. Some roads aren

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