Sometimes when I’m riding around, I think about how when I first became an everyday, all-season cyclist, only 5 years ago, Boston didn’t even have bike lanes on Comm. Ave. Needless to say, we’ve come a long way since then. As recently as 2006, Boston was named by Bicycling Magazine as one of the worst cities for cycling in the United States. It was far from our city’s first appearance on that magazine’s shitlist. Fast forward to 2012, and that same publication now credits Boston as the 16th best city in the nation for bikers. Word!
What happened? The urban legend in the cycling community is that someone gave Mayor Menino a Trek bike, and he fell in love with the thing. Regardless of how it started, there’s no question that the city has become demonstrably more cooperative and embracing of bike culture in the last half decade. Since 2007, we’ve received dozens of miles in new bike lanes, the Hubway bike rental system and thousands of new bike parking spots. Heck, I’ve even seen cops stopping bikers riding around feeling the wind in their hair, not to ticket or harass them, but rather to offer them free helmets! WHAT DIMENSION AM I IN?!
These infrastructure and attitude changes are quickly turning Boston into a world-class cycling city, and they’re far from slowing down. In fact, the city just announced a plan to add a buffered bike lane on the Cambridge St. bridge that separates Allston from Lower Allston (LA if you’re feeling snarky), dealing with one of the most dangerous and heavily-cycled areas of the city. Fingers crossed they’ll do something about South Huntington soon, too!
For the last year, my job has been to pedicab around the streets of Boston. Unfortunately for this wide-eyed state-smashing rabble-rouser, the job kinda requires that I follow the bike laws. LUCKILY a slew of new bike-friendly legislation has been passed since the Boston Bikes campaign was started in 2007. In fact, we have some of the most cyclist friendly road laws in the entire country now! Every biker on the road should know their rights, how to stand up for those rights and when to just give pedestrians and cars a break and not be a dingus.
One really sweet and useful law is that, in the absence of a bike lane, cyclists can legally ride side by side and take up an entire car lane, as long as there is at least one other lane for cars to drive past in. This one is awesome when you’re riding with a few friends, and helps keep everyone SAFE! It’s also really useful when a more experienced biker is riding with someone who feels less comfortable on the street, where the more experienced rider can take the more “dangerous” side of the street, whether that’s by the parked cars (ouch, doors!) or speedy car traffic. Or you can just use this law to chat with the cutie you’re on an adorable bike date with, wutever.
Oh! Also! Ya know those sweet pictures of bikes painted onto the ground with arrows above them? They don’t just mean “up the bikes!”. That means you’re in a “bike priority lane” and can take up the entire car lane, by yourself, if you want to. They usually put these on dangerous, heavily-trafficked roads, so you might want to take advantage of this ability.
You can ride on any road in the city, except STATE highways and when noted by specific signage. Which makes a lot of sweet shortcuts and ramps up for grabs. You can also, legally, ride on sidewalks, as long as it’s not in a “business district”. Seriously though, don’t do this unless you have to. It’s dangerous as fvck. For real tho...pedestrians are totally not expecting to share the sidewalk with bikes and hitting them sucks for everyone.
Speaking of DANGER, you don’t have to wear a helmet if you’re over 16. But...you’re seriously a dingus if you don’t. However, I guess it’s only your own life at risk. Autonomy and all that good stuff.
Some illegal behavior to watch out for from the arch-nemesis of the urban cyclist, the aggressive auto-mobile. It’s automatically the driver’s fault if you get doored (duh!) and if they make a right turn and hit us, it’s also their fault. They cannot cut us off after passing, and they can’t squeeze us into an unreasonably narrow lane. We also have the right of way against cars making a left turn, when the biker is going straight.
If cars do any of this stuff to you, stand up for yourself! Come up to them at a red light if it’s safe to do so, tell them what they did, and how it was illegal and put your life in danger. Most drivers don’t even realize, and maybe by talking to them you’ve spared another cyclist from the same danger. If they get belligerent about it, welp, do whatever you think is right to protect yourself and your fellow bike friends. The film Premium Rush probably has some solid tips for ya.
There’s some not-so-fun stuff we have to do, though. They’re all small prices to pay in exchange for the other, sweet laws. We’re supposed to give hand signals if we’re gonna turn, and are technically supposed to have headlights on the front and back of the bike. I’ve never heard of a cop hassling anyone for either of these things, but signaling is smart and easy anyway, and everyone should have at LEAST a rear light or reflector. There are also technically rules about having brakes, but they involve particular breaking stopping distances, not required equipment. You breakless fixie freaks could probably argue that you can meet the requirements using only your beastly calves and thighs, huh? Let me know how that goes.
While it’s really important to know our legal rights as cyclists and not be intimidated by cars, it’s also cool to not be needlessly aggressive with them. Don’t cut cars off for no reason, ride in the bike lane if there is one and it’s safe to ride in, and don’t barrel through red lights if there’s car traffic coming at you. A little respect goes a long way towards keeping us all safe. Which is important since a car is a two-ton block of steel hurling at you....
So yeah, Boston’s quickly becoming a pretty rad city to bike in. If you haven’t started yet, give it a whirl! You can get anywhere fo’ free, it’s faster than the T, you feel healthy and have fun. Bike lanes and cyclist friendly road laws make it safer than it’s ever been. If you already bike and stuff, yay! Know your rights, stand up for yourself, but DBAD (Don’t Be a Dingus). Ride safe, show friends how awesome biking is, and don’t be mean to cars for no reason. Unless they started it...
*Law illustrations by Bike Safe Boston