By Martine Powers
| Globe Staff
May 16, 2013
Bicycle advocates were excited Wednesday about the release of an expansive report on bike crashes in the city, but many said they were less enthused about the initiatives the city may undertake as a result of the study’s findings.
In an effort to make the city safer for cyclists, police will begin to hand out $20 citations to cyclists who run red lights; and the mayor’s office may push for a law requiring helmet use by bike riders of all ages.
“We’re still blaming the victim,” said Dahianna Lopez, a Harvard doctoral student who worked as a consultant compiling crash data for the Boston Police Department. “Helmets are not what we need to focus on right now. What the report should be highlighting is, ‘Hey, what can we do to prevent these crashes?’ ”
The report, commissioned by the office of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, collected and analyzed data from Boston police, Boston Emergency Medical Services, and Boston Bikes, a program begun by Menino to encourage cycling in the city.
‘What the report should be highlighting is, “Hey, what can we do to prevent these crashes?” ’
The report outlined a slew of statistics on bicycle collisions in the city: The number of bike crashes rose slightly between 2010 and 2012, but ridership has grown much more sharply.
Among cyclists who were injured and who required medical assistance, about half were not wearing a helmet, almost twice the percentage of total riders who do not wear helmets.
The report also suggested that the most frequent factor cited in police collision reports could be attributed to cyclists: The report stated that 28 percent of the time, a crash occurred after a cyclist ran a red light or rode through a stop sign.
But after acknowledging a math error Wednesday, city officials updated their figures: Of the 891 crashes in which causes were listed, cyclists ran a red light or rode through a stop sign before colliding with a car just 12 percent of the time.
Twenty-two percent of collisions between cars and cyclists occurred when a vehicle door opened unexpectedly on a cyclist. Eighteen percent occurred when a motorist did not see a cyclist, and 12 percent occurred when a cyclist rode into oncoming traffic.
Pete Stidman, director of the Boston Cyclists Union and a consultant on the report, said the updated numbers are important in an atmosphere where blaming cyclists for crashes is prevalent.
The error “is really damaging to the reputation of cyclists everywhere,” Stidman said. “Those kinds of numbers would say there needs to be some kind of crackdown. but that’s not the case.”
Still, Stidman said, the report will prove useful: Now that the city has data on where most crashes occur, and the most common type of crashes, officials can make targeted improvements tailored to each street or intersection.
Also, he said, the data show that crashes occur in every section of the city and that ensuring the safety of cyclists is an issue that should be on the minds of every local official.
David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a statewide bike advocacy organization, said he disagrees with the conclusions of city officials on bike helmets. Forcing helmets on the heads of cyclists won’t prevent accidents, Watson said.
“We need to focus on preventing a crash in the first place, not just providing protection when they crash,” he said.
Watson said the data demonstrate the need to educate children, teaching them the rules of the road for bicyclists and safe methods of navigating the city on a bike.
“That’s how, ultimately, we’ll change the culture,” Watson said. “That’s how it’s worked most elsewhere in the world.”
At the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, one of the intersections with the most collisions in the city, cyclists had mixed reactions to the report.
Sarah Kimball, 30, said an all-ages helmet requirement made sense to her. She is a hospital resident and knows how helmets can save lives.
She was also pleased to hear that the city planned to install side guards on some public works trucks and that it would encourage private truck companies to do the same. She said she has a personal stake in the matter: She collided with a truck when it cut her off two weeks ago, though she did not receive any significant injuries.
“As someone who was just hit by a truck,” she said, “I would love that.”
Ira Kemp of Arlington said that cracking down on bike riders who run red lights, an offense that he admitted committing on occasion, would not address one of the biggest factors in bike crashes: the behavior of motorists.
“It’s a huge cultural issue,” Kemp said. “Most motorists don’t have an ounce of respect for people on bikes.”
Ruth Rothstein, who was riding from her home in the South End to Harvard Square, said greater enforcement of laws demanding that cyclists stop at red lights “would not be the worst idea.”
A few moments before, she said, a police officer on Massachusetts Avenue had encouraged her to stop for the light.
“It was me and two other bikers,” she said. “He told us, ‘You share the road; you share the red light.’ ”