Bicycle Commuting

 

Bicycles are a great form of recreation and an environmentally friendly alternative to a car – but on the road, they should be treated and handled like any other vehicle

Cyclists on the rise

 

With 8,141 people who regularly use a bicycle as a means of everyday transportation – an equivalent of 2.4% of its population – Boston is one of the ten large American cities with the highest share of bicycle commuters, states the 2014 “Where We Ride” report – an analysis of bicycle commuting prepared by the League of American Bicyclists. Boston is also one of the cities where bike commuting is growing the fastest. The same report mentions that in the state of Massachusetts as a whole, the number of people commuting by bike increased by a staggering 106% since 2005.

There can be little wonder as to the reason for this trend. In a city that has been reported to be the home of some of the rudest drivers in the US  as well as one of the most traffic-congested, the

benefits of swapping a car for a bike for the morning commute seems to be self-evident. Biking may be one of the fastest ways to travel around Boston, as is likely also the case with many other cities in the Commonwealth. Additionally, a Bostonian who wants to bike commute to work does not even have to have their own bicycle – citizens can rely on a public bike sharing program. The Hubway, as it is called, covers the Boston metro area and includes more than 180 stations and 1,600 bikes that can be rented for a small daily, monthly, or yearly fee. In addition, bike riding is environmentally friendly and good for health and overall fitness – a 30-minute bike commute can burn up to 500 calories and people who bike regularly have better blood pressure and insulin levels.

Checking out a commuter bike using Boston’s Hubway. A city-wide bicycle rental program.

 

Healthy and green – but not always safe

Nevertheless, while its benefits are enticing to many, biking can be dangerous too. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that in 2015, 818 cyclists died in traffic accidents, a number which accounted for 2.3% of all traffic fatalities in that year. 71% of those deaths occurred in urban areas. In addition, NHTSA further estimated that 45,000 cyclists were injured in crashes in 2015. Clearly, then, bicycles are not mere toys – they are vehicles and are subject to certain traffic laws when used on public roads. Bicycle commuters, therefore, must be familiar with these laws and comply with them. It is also vital to be acquainted with one’s rights as a pedalcyclist as well as to know, and apply, some basic safety principles. The good news is that Massachusetts has been ranked as the 4th most bike-friendly state in the US by the League of American Bicyclists, which can be taken as a sign that cyclists in the Commonwealth are not subject to overly-complicated or unreasonable traffic regulations. What, then, are some highlights of the Massachusetts bike law that every bike commuter should always have in mind?

Massachusetts bike law

Cyclists in the state of Massachusetts are allowed to use any public road, street, or bikeway but it is prohibited to ride a bicycle on clearly marked limited access or express state highways. The streets are considered to be the safest place to ride a bike, but cyclists are required to strictly obey the same traffic rules as motorists. Sidewalks outside of business districts may be used too unless local regulations state otherwise. If planning to stop or turn, a cyclist must signal the maneuver with their hand and may use either hand to do so. Pedestrians are regarded as a privileged group for cyclists too, meaning that they must always be given the right of way and also audibly signaled before a biker can overtake or pass them – except that it cannot be done with a siren or a whistle. Stunt lovers will probably be disappointed to learn that at least one hand must be held on the handlebars at all times and that it is prohibited to ride without a regular, permanently attached seat. Helmets, on the other hand, are required only for cyclists who are 16 years old, or younger; nevertheless, it is advisable that all cyclists use them, regardless of their age. A helmet must be well-fitted and fastened with a chin strap.

There are also special regulations concerning riding at night and altering the design of a bicycle. When it comes to the former, a cyclist must use a white headlight and red taillight or rear reflector while riding between half an hour after the sunset and half an hour before the sunrise. The headlight must be visible from 500 feet and the taillight from 600 feet. The rear reflector must likewise be visible from 600 feet in the low beams of a car’s headlights and must be clearly seen from the back and sides. If a bicycle is not equipped with pedal reflectors, at night cyclists must wear ankle reflectors for safety. The Massachusetts bike law prohibits altering the design of the bike so that the hands are higher than the shoulders while gripping the handlebars, and the fork cannot be extended or modified in any other way.

Safe on the bike-commute

When it comes to other general safety principles, one of the most fundamental rules is to be predictable on the road. This not only includes obeying all the traffic rules while cycling on a public road or a street but also riding and acting like motorists do. Cyclists should go with the direction of the traffic, stay in the right lane, avoid lane splitting and weaving in and out between the cars. This will help to avoid many of the dangers cyclists are prone to – like being in a driver’s blind spot or falling victim to a “door prize collision” (where a car’s door opens right in front of an incoming bicycle). Cyclists should also remember that riding a bike requires the same amount of attention, motor skills, and coordination as driving a car, if not more so – thus, they should never allow themselves to drink and ride – even though it is not an offense or punishable crime in the state of Massachusetts. Likewise, avoiding any distractions while cycling can be a matter of life and death, so using the phone on the bike is highly inadvisable.

Bicycles are a great form of recreation and an efficient means of transportation in a world where traffic is ever heavier and gas prices continue to rise. For those who want to stay in shape, save money, and reduce their carbon footprint, cycling may be a great alternative for a car. But before swapping 4 wheels for 2, it is vital to learn about all local bike laws and safety principles. In this way, cyclists will ensure that during their morning and evening commute they will stay out of harm’s way, while contributing to their own health and that of the planet.