Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 24, 2017

Not left, Felton

OK, I couldn’t resist the palindrome, but this is a serious post anyway.

Site of near-collision at Cambridge and Felton Streets.

I nearly left-crossed another cyclist today, on my bicycle, as I turned left from Cambridge Street onto Felton Street. It could have been a very serious collision. He came storming out of the shadows past the black parked SUV in the photo, on the new separated bikeway. I wasn’t looking in his direction at the right time to see him in time to yield. (I had to look in different directions to yield to street traffic, sidewalk traffic in both directions, crosswalk traffic — and now, this parking-screened conflict. “He came out of nowhere,” someone else might say but the Transporters in Star Trek are fiction: he came from where not visible in time reliably to allow yielding.) The short stretch where parking is prohibited before the intersection is supposed to make it possible for left-turning drivers to yield. The bikeway is really only designed for bicyclists riding slowly. It doesn’t work to yield to a cyclist going 20-25 mph.

Startled, I yelled WHOAH! as I crossed just in front of him. He yelled back “I have the right of way.”

His sense of entitlement doesn’t exactly reflect prudence, but if I’d collided with him, I would have been held at fault.

In 45 years bicycling in Boston-area urban traffic, I’ve never collided with a motor vehicle, but I’ve had a couple of near-collisions with other cyclists: both in Cambridge, both at night: a near head-on on the path along Memorial Drive in front of the MIT dorms — the other cyclist had no headlight; the other, I was riding westbound on Harvard Street and a cyclist traveling the wrong way on Dana Street or Ellery street crossed at speed a couple of feet in front of me — also, no headlight.

The new installation on Cambridge Street gives bicyclists the sense of entitlement to enter intersections from screened conflicts, at speed. Bicyclists and motorists turning left here need to be extra-cautious. I don’t see how it would be even possible for the driver of a long vehicle turning left to see a bicyclist in the bikeway in time to yield.

Bicyclists riding fast are much safer riding with the motor traffic, but now the travel lanes are too narrow for motorists to pass bicyclists, and only the very strongest bicyclists (or those with electrical assist) are able to ride fast enough that motorists won’t want to pass.

I was on my way to the Bow Tie Ride when this incident occurred. The Bow Tie Ride was a tame affair indeed, average speed around 5 miles per hour due to the large number of participants of varying abilities. Traffic management by the Cambridge Police and volunteers was very good, but I didn’t have time to finish the ride at that speed and left partway through.

1 Comment »

  1. More thoughts:

    From the time I determined that it was safe to turn left, until I crossed the bikeway, was about three seconds. In that time, a bicyclist going 20 miles per hour travels 90 feet. In that time, I was looking down Felton Street, which I was entering, to set my course, and check for any possible impediment — pothole, etc. — until I saw the bicyclist out of the corner of my eye.

    It is safe to travel at speed only in the travel lane, where the cyclist would have been visible much sooner. At the time of the near-collision, 9:45 AM on a Sunday morning, the street was empty but the bicyclist had decided that he must be safe because he was riding in a bikeway.

    If there is congested traffic in the travel lane, then it is worse: the left-turning driver’s view of the cyclist in the bikeway (or a bike lane) is completely blocked until just before the moment of impact, and it isn’t safe for a bicyclist to travel fast at all, because that would also require passing vehicles which might turn right across the bicyclist’s path.

    In that case, the left-turning driver must stop partway through the turn, blocking the oncoming travel lane, to look to the right. The driver may not be able to see into the bikeway/bike lane at all before the hood of the vehicle protrudes into the path of a bicyclist. The driver’s only safe option then is to inch forward so the bicyclist can yield. The bicyclist had better be going very slowly, to be able to yield.

    The traffic law in other states allows passing on the right when passing a vehicle which is turning left, and on a roadway which carries only one-way traffic (a two-way street with a median strip, or a one-way street). Many states allow passing on the right under additional conditions: see for example Connecticut law here: — but allow it only when it can be done in safety — if you crash, it’s your fault but if you don’t it’s OK.

    Massachusetts traffic law is of the strictest type for motorists, allowing passing on the right when passing a vehicle which is turning left, and on a roadway which carries only one-way traffic,

    but Massachusetts law, completely inconsistently and unreasonably, gives bicyclists complete carte blanche to pass on the right. Any driver, including another bicyclist, who collides with a bicyclist passing on the right is at fault under the law:

    “(1) the bicycle operator may keep to the right when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way, ”


    “When turning to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway an operator shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, including a bicycle on the right of the other approaching vehicles, which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard. It shall not be a defense for a motorist causing an accident with a bicycle that the bicycle was to the right of vehicular traffic.”

    This requires drivers to yield to bicyclists they cannot see. The provision in Chapter 85 section 11B has been there since the 1974 revision, and the one in Chapter 90, section 14, since the 2009 revision.

    Comment by jsallen — September 25, 2017 @ 11:37 am

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