Brookline fails on bike helmets for Hubway users

Each of the four Hubway cities -- Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, Somerville -- own the stations within their boundaries. Thinks work seamlessly but there are small differences.

About two years ago I wrote on my blog that bike helmets have nothing to do with safety. Things haven't changed much in that department: plastic hats still don't prevent crashes, and helmet propaganda still increases fear of cycling, and car advocates (including most media outlets) still use helmets as a entry into victim blaming after every crash.

Recently I came across this strange sticker on the Coolidge Corner Hubway station (which may be as far from the center of Coolidge Corner as possible, by the way). It seems to be on all Hubway stations in Brookline.

Announcing ... skate sharing!

Announcing ... skate sharing!

The sentence makes no sense. Despite the Town of Brookline's desperate attempt to tell users they must wear a helmet, what the sign actually says is you don't need one.

  1. You must be at least 16 years old (and have a credit card) to use Hubway.
  2. Skates??  Note to Brookline: these are bicycles.

The sticker can only be understood as part of a perpetual fear machine: trying to shame you into wearing a plastic hat.  To recap from my original post:

And we know from experience that blaming the victim:

All of these are significant obstacles to bicycling and violate basic principles of freedom and equity of access/mobility.

Another pedestrian killed on deadly Allston speedway

On Wednesday night a 26-year-old man was killed trying to cross this highway entrance on Cambridge St in Allston.

Walking to Cambridge requires crossing multiple highway ramps and contending with speeding traffic that will never stop for you. This has been a danger zone for decades, yet city could easily install a raised crosswalk with a signal or stop sign and other traffic calming measures such as narrowing the on-ramp.  Last month the city presented conceptual long-term designs which were all opposed by community members as dangerous or impractical for bikes and pedestrians.

Just a little bit up the block there's this spot, which might just be the worst bus stop in Boston:

Scariest and most dangerous bus stop in the City of Boston?

Scariest and most dangerous bus stop in the City of Boston?

Despite the obvious danger here, the Boston Globe still fell into the usual trap of blaming the victim, who seems to be getting away with recklessness:

The driver, a 45-year-old man, remained at the scene and spoke to investigators. He did not show signs of impairment, Conley’s office said. No charges have been brought against the driver.

No charges?!?!  You shouldn't have to be drunk of leave a crime scene to be charged with said crime.  If you hit and kill someone, whether intentionally or by virtue of being inattentive, that's vehicular homicide and it's a crime.

Level of Service: how we still promote car travel in every project

California recently announced that it's finally moving away from emphasizing the car-centric metric known as “level of service” in transportation projects, a positive step that will make transit, bike and pedestrian projects easier to plan and implement. While the situation in California was among the worst planning problems, it still happens all the time here.

BU Bridge bike lanes are narrow and even disappear at the end, where "there is no room" for safety.

BU Bridge bike lanes are narrow and even disappear at the end, where "there is no room" for safety.

Eric Jaffe has a good in-depth article at Citylab on the history and use of LOS. Put simply, level of service (LOS) is a metric devised by highway engineers that assigns a letter grade to roads and intersections based on how much delay vehicles experience. LOS fails to differentiate between modes – one bus serving hundreds or more people per trip is treated the same as a car carrying one person – and most importantly, places top priority on speeding car travel. This sentiment could not be in greater conflict with the needs of vibrant, sustainable cities.

Unfortunately we continue suffering from the prioritization of vehicles over people. Despite Mayor Menino’s empty promise, cars are very much still king in Boston.  Every time your city or MassDOT engineers tell you “there is no room” for a bike lane, proper sidewalk, bus stop or other need, this is what’s happening. Engineers decide “we need __ lanes” based on the LOS result of computer models, often assuming an arbitrary 1 percent traffic increase to justify their demands and at best they assume current traffic can’t be reduced. Car driving – the least desirable mode – is being prioritized and the rest of us don’t really matter.

For example, when the Charles River Dam (Museum of Science) Bridge was reconstructed, the plan included basic bike lanes. Then we were told we couldn’t have bike lanes until the Longfellow Bridge was done because “temporary” extra capacity was needed for cars. They even put sharrows just to rub it in.  When the MBTA ran a shuttle bus route carrying thousands of people over the bridge, the City of Boston angrily refused to allow bus stops at the Museum of Science during rush hours, and they certainly wouldn’t let those thousands of people to bypass the daily gridlock in bus lanes.

Same thing on the Mass Ave Bridge, with hundreds of buses each day and no safe bike path: we "need" those two lanes for cars and all you bikers get is a dangerous 3 feet with cars whizzing by at deadly speeds. On the BU Bridge, the argument was not about whether cyclists should have the right to a small safe space, but whether the compromise design "could accommodate" the expected traffic. Even though the bridge was a single lane per direction for two years and everyone managed just fine.

There are countless other examples. Don't forget the Longfellow Bridge: we're told we won't see a safe bicycle path because "cars might need that space someday... it's an evacuation route." Seriously?

We need to start pushing back against those who insist upon putting cars first. Share your favorite (or most frustrating) examples of pro-car bias in the comments. And next time you hear “there’s no room” you’ll know what to say.

Truck driver who killed bicyclist in Sullivan Square walks free

Despite overwhelming evidence of negligence, a grand jury declined to charge the driver who killed a bicyclist in Sullivan Square earlier this year. This comes on the heels of a crash last week in which a truck recklessly drove over a bike. Both were clear cases of failure to look and show concern for others, despite driving a giant death machine.

But there are other factors at play here. Bike advocates including the Boston Cyclists Union and MassBike have pointed out the lack of empathy found in people who don't bike: they simply don't know what it's like, and they relate to the driver and not the cyclist. Or perhaps they just believe the myth that bicyclists disregard traffic laws more than drivers and thus are inclined to assume the cyclist must have been doing something wrong.

Either way, the car-centric street design is largely responsible for putting the cyclist Owen McGrory is such a vulnerable position. This accident and many others could have easily been prevented. The City of Boston has a plan to reconstruct the entire area, replacing the rotary and its approaches with an actual neighborhood, but it is still sitting on a shelf. The area has just been completely repaved and there are now some bike lanes, which I guess is helpful but they disappear where they are most needed. Probably because "there's no room", in other words "cars are still king in Boston".

Is this SUV going to respect your right to the road?

Is this SUV going to respect your right to the road?

So the area is still a major danger zone. Those of us who work in the area will continue to put our lives on the line, and the next person who tells me "be safe" or "be careful over there" ... just don't say anything.

PODCAST 01 - Green Line updates; Bridj luxury bus service

Transit Matters co-editor Marc Ebuna joins me for this special inaugural episode focusing on the Green Line. Following a recent public meeting with MBTA staff, Marc shares the latest Green Line initiatives including vehicle tracking (real-time train arrival info), signal priority, stop consolidation, three-car trains, accessibility and fare collection. Also, construction on the Green Line Extension to Somerville and Medford is moving full-steam ahead. 

We saved a few minutes to talk about Bridj, the new luxury shuttle bus service which fills gaps in our transportation network in a way that is (for most of us) not useful. We share our predictions on the future of this service, and we want to hear what you think. Will you use Bridj? 

The Transit Matters Podcast is your biweekly source for transportation news, analysis, interviews and more. We focus on sustainable transportation planning, operations and policies in Boston and beyond, and we do it in the average commute time. Read more about the podcast and send us your questions, comments and ideas for topics or guests >> contact us

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Share your thoughts on the Green Line and other transit topics we discussed in this episode in the comments below.

Keep the old Northern Ave bridge car-free

This is possibly the worst piece of news I’ve seen in a while. Apparently the City of Boston is in fact considering allowing cars on the Northern Avenue Bridge – the old wooden pedestrian bridge connecting the new Seaport District to downtown, just north of the Seaport Bridge.

It is true that the Seaport District experiences massive gridlock on a daily basis – I drive a truck there for work sometimes and it’s miserable – but that’s because it was designed that way. We had a blank slate to work with but the city deliberately went the route of giant parking garages, limited transit capacity and wide multi-lane stroads. Everyone who has ever studied this could have predicated the current disaster.

What to do now? The only solution to traffic congestion is transportation alternatives. Build more and better transit services, require secure bike parking and protected bike paths, expand Hubway … but you can’t build more roads to solve the problem. Adding more road capacity will only extend the daily parking lot.

It won't bring any kind of vitality or economic development either. People who drive through neighborhoods tend not to stop in them. And most people who go to the Seaport District, by whichever mode, really just want to get out of there. It's not a place most of us enjoy spending time. Because it was a major missed opportunity to design a place worth being in.


Welcome! A few thoughts on a new direction.

Transit Matters is taking a bit of new direction, with more regular posts and focused on transit issues in Boston. We aim for the site to be your go-to source for local transportation news and analysis, and we'll spend time and effort advocating plans and policies that promote the use and growth of public transit, walking, cycling, skating and other sustainable modes.

We think what makes us different is our informed perspectives and a critical analysis normally absent from other media. We can and should move closer to a safe, sustainable region that remains vibrant and affordable.

The new Transit Matters Podcast is your commute companion, featuring news, in-depth analysis and interviews. Listen, learn and share as you travel around.

Learn more about who we are and how to contact us.

In short, transit matters. Hey, get it?  This project depends on your participation as we all learn and grow. Get involved in the discussion by commenting on posts, sharing articles around, helping to promote the site, and  reaching out to us with ideas for topics and guests. We want to hear from you because, well, it's no fun otherwise. Email