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City Council Defers Bike Lane Discussion Following Friday’s Fatal Crash

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The Cambridge City Council held a moment of silence for the victim of Friday’s fatal collision between a cyclist and a box truck, but declined to further discuss bike safety policy during their weekly meeting on Monday. Still, the crash is certain to add urgency and emotion to a longstanding debate over bike safety in Cambridge.

Though the incident occurred in a Harvard Square intersection outside of a bike lane, it may only fuel bike safety advocates’ arguments in favor of better bike lane infrastructure — an issue that has long prompted some of the most heated debates in Cambridge politics.

In 2020, the City Council updated its Cycling Safety Ordinance with an ambitious plan to build 25 miles of separated bike lanes in Cambridge. In April, the Council narrowly voted to push back the deadline to complete the network.

On Monday, however, councilors declined to take up discussion of the fourth annual CSO progress report — instead referring it to a hearing of the five-member Transportation and Public Utilities Committee.

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Councilor Joan F. Pickett — the committee’s chair and a longtime opponent of bike lane expansion — told the Council that a committee meeting would be “a more appropriate time” to discuss the report in detail.

“In light of the tragedy that happened on Friday, I’m going to not ask any questions about this particular report,” she said.

Friday’s crash, which resulted in the death of a 55-year-old Florida woman, was the first collision-related bicycle death in the greater Boston area since August 2022. According to the Cambridge Police Department, both the cyclist and the box truck were traveling east on Mt Auburn Street before the crash, which occurred when the truck turned right onto DeWolfe Street.

Both DeWolfe Street and Mt Auburn Street have separated bike lanes at the intersection where the cyclist was killed. The lanes are separated from motor vehicle traffic by flex-posts and a painted buffer zone.

The crash is currently under investigation by the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office and Cambridge and state police.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, councilors expressed their condolences to the victim’s family and described themselves as “devastated” and “deeply saddened.”

“I cycle through that intersection almost every day, so I’m very aware of it, and it’s quite stunning to think that something I do every day is a place where a cyclist died,” Councilor Patty M. Nolan ’80 said in an interview.

She noted the presence of the separated lanes at the intersection where the incident occurred but said that city officials should ask what additional measures might reduce the probability of similar collisions in the future.

But, she said, she does not think the answers to that question will be clear until after the investigation concludes.

Councilor Paul F. Toner, likewise, wrote in a statement that he plans to wait for the investigation results before “discussing possible policy implications.”

But the Friday collision also led some transportation and bicycle safety advocates, including Sobrinho-Wheeler, to call for more stringent vehicle safety requirements.

In a Friday post on X, Sobrinho-Wheeler urged state and federal officials to require truck owners to install side guards — a safety measure designed to prevent cyclists and pedestrians from being swept under the vehicle. The truck involved in Friday’s collision was not equipped with side guards.

In 2015, Cambridge installed side guards on city-owned trucks, and in 2020 the City Council required trucks that are owned by or do business with the city to be equipped with side guards.

Beginning in 2025, state legislation will impose a similar requirement on tractor-trailers that do business with the Massachusetts government, but there is no similar federal mandate.

Chris A. Cassa, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who volunteers with Cambridge Bicycle Safety, said there are several infrastructure changes that could make intersections safer for truck drivers and cyclists alike — such as designing roads to increase visibility near the intersection, slow vehicles before they turn, or create extra space to prevent cyclists from falling into drivers’ blind spots.

Cassa said that Cambridge could consider establishing protected intersections, which incorporate “refuge islands” to ease street crossings and buffer zones to separate cyclists from cars, at particularly dangerous junctions.

The collision also sparked new urgency among some activists who have called for expanding Cambridge’s bike lane network.

A Wednesday email sent out by Cambridge Bicycle Safety asked Cambridge residents to write to the Council in support of “safer infrastructure” such as protected intersections.

In a Saturday statement sent to the Cambridge City Council regarding the incident, five Harvard student organizations urged elected officials to “prioritize safer cycling routes in Harvard Square and throughout the City of Cambridge” and praised both the CSO and the city’s “Vision Zero” traffic safety initiative.

“Still, recent efforts by some members of the City Council to delay these measures are deeply concerning,” the organizations wrote.

—Staff writer Matan H. Josephy can be reached at matan.josephy@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @matanjosephy.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

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