Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 14, 2018

The Marcia Deihl bicycling fatality

Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley has obtained a copy of the crash reconstruction report in Marcia Deihl’s fatal collision with a truck on March 1, 2015, and posted the report online. I thank Mr. Kelley for performing this public service.

My understanding is that a Freedom of Information Act request was necessary to obtain a copy. That is not as it should be. The public needs to know the how and why of crashes, to avoid them and guide policy.

Quick summary: Deihl rode out of the driveway on Putnam Avenue from Whole Foods, collided with the front bumper of the truck, which was headed east in the lane closest to the driveway, and went under its front wheels. Here. You can see the ghost bike in the image. (It is before the driveway but the crash occurred at or after the driveway.)

Half-trigger warning: this post isn’t relaxing reading and neither is the report, but they don’t include any gruesome images, or except for the last few pages or the report, descriptions more graphic than what you have just read.

So, what about the report?

Unfortunately, the investigation leaves questions unanswered, which it might have answered. Only in the synopsis at the start of the report does the State Police investigator repeat part of the report of Cambridge Officer Sullivan who interviewed the truck driver at the scene. Sullivan’s report says that the driver “checked to his right but didn’t see anything but snow so he started to pull over. He stated as he was pulling over he started to put on his hazard lights. He felt a bump and thought he ran over a snow bank.” He also said that he was pulling over to park and then walk to a construction site to see if it was ready for the dumpster he was carrying.

The report doesn’t raise, or answer, the question whether the driver was looking ahead prior to pulling over, as he was approaching the driveway. There was also no discussion of the role that snowbanks might have played in blocking sight lines. You will probably recall that the winter of 2015 was the snowiest one ever recorded in the Boston area. 94.4 inches had fallen from Jan. 24 through Feb. 22, 2015.

Deihl pulled out of the driveway either just as the truck was passing, or she passed it. The initial point of impact was the front of the truck and — as identified by a GPS recorder in the truck — it was going only 5 mph at that point (slowing to a stop).

One thing that calls out to me in the report is the intensive examination of the truck but cursory examination of the bicycle (p. 12 of the PDF, p. 7 of the report). What if, for example, Deihl’s brakes had failed? Were the steel rims of Deihl’s old English three-speed bicycle wet? Steel rims are as slippery as ice when wet, and rim brakes barely work then. The temperature reached 30 F on the day of the crash, which occurred at 3 PM, but snowmelt might have wetted the rims. Or did the bicycle have a coaster brake, in which case wet rims wouldn’t have been an issue? Did Deihl skid on packed snow or ice? Also the autopsy report is rather perfunctory. Medical condition leading to loss of control? — last page of the PDF. “Bicyclist rideout” crashes like this one are rare after childhood, suggesting to me that something unusual went wrong.

The key to this crash would seem to be why Deihl came out of the driveway and collided with the truck, rather than stopping to let it pass. But the trucker also pulled over to the right — Deihl may have turned right assuming that the truck would clear her. — page 9 of the PDF.

Deihl was required under the law to yield to traffic in the street before entering it from a driveway. If she pulled out of the driveway ahead of the truck, the trucker could have prevented the crash as long as it was not too late for him to avoid the collision by braking or swerving. He was at fault if he failed to look. If Deihl was passing him on the right, she would have been close to the side of the truck and probably in its right-side blind spot. And sight lines may have been blocked by a snowbank.

It’s incredibly frustrating that:

  1. The investigator didn’t know what he is doing in a bicycle investigation (scenario repeated with the Anita Kurmann fatality in Boston later the same year);
  2. It took a FOIA request to see the report;
  3. Advocates use these tragedies to justify whatever pet projects they have. (Sideguards, says Alex Epstein. They would be irrelevant in this collision with the front of a truck: more about them here. Separate bike traffic from car traffic, says Pete Stidman. Just how would a sidepath have worked on a day when the street was lined with snowbanks is another valid question. Most likely, it would not have been usable. Comments by Epstein and Stidman are here. Neither of them had seen the report when they made their observations.)
  4. Advocates are avoiding adequately informing bicyclists about the hazards of trucks and how to avoid them.

Well, the advocates at the American Bicycling Education Association are an important exception. I am proud to be an instructor in its program. An animated graphic on safety around trucks is here and if you click on the title at the top of the page, you can find out how to sign up for a course (online or in person) which will cover that topic and much more.

I thank Paul Schimek for many of the observations in this post, and for drawing my attention to the availability of the crash report.

And again, I thank Craig Kelley for making the report available.

March 8, 2016

Magazine Beach Goes to the State House

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:57 am

Magazine Beach Goes to the State House: Exhibit & Associated Programs
How do we make decisions about the use of public land?

Location: State House, 4th floor, outside House Chambers
Exhibition dates: March 7-18
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm. (See it after 3pm on Monday.)

Programs:
Opening Reception: Wednesday, March 9, 12-1pm. 4th floor. Free.

Lunchtime Panel: Saving Our Parks: Effective Partnerships between Government & Community Groups, Wednesday, March 16, 12-1pm. 3rd floor, Room 350. Free. Refreshments at both.

See Magazine Beach – A Place Apart at the Mass. State House, starting this Monday afternoon (March 7). While the exhibition focuses on the forces that have shaped the Cambridge park, it explores the broader question: How do we make decisions about the use of public land?

The show includes a new section, A Revitalized Park, featuring the latest landscape plans and renderings of the park and information about the Powder Magazine and DCR’s Historic Curatorship Program.

On Wednesday, March 16 starting at noon there will be a Lunchtime Panel featuring effective public/private partnerships. Legislators, DCR and three community groups will present case studies of how they have partnered successfully to protect and preserve green open spaces, critical to community well-being.

Projects featured include:

  • Magazine Beach Park in Cambridge, MA, where the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association (CNA) has partnered with the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to study and stabilize the Powder Magazine there and now redesign and improve the western part of the 15-acre park.
  • Upton State Forest in Upton, MA, where the Friends of the Upton State Forest has partnered with DCR, Upton, Preservation Mass. and Upton State Forest user groups to preserve the last remaining Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Mass.
  • Southeastern Massachusetts Coastal Pine Barrens, where the Pine Barrens Partnership (PBP) is networking municipal, state and federal agencies, Native American tribes, environmental organizations and businesses to conserve this globally rare eco-region covering 26 towns and 100,000 acres.

Arrive early to pass through security and to see the exhibit. For further information, go to www.magazinebeach.org. Questions? Contact Cathie Zusy at cathzusy@gmail.com or Caitlin Duffy at Caitlin.Duffy@MAhouse.gov.

Magazine Beach

July 29, 2014

Mayor David Maher Announces Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Allston Street Fire

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:44 am

Mayor David Maher Announces Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Allston Street Fire

Office of the MayorMayor David Maher announced today that the City of Cambridge has established the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund to assist the victims of the recent Allston Street fire. On July 27, 2014, a 9 Alarm fire displaced nine Cambridge families, including several children, from their homes and destroyed all of their personal belongings. None of the 29 people displaced from the buildings sustained injuries although they are in need of financial assistance to help recover from this tragic loss.

“We are grateful that no injuries were sustained in the fire, however, there are many Cambridge residents currently without shelter and in need of financial assistance,” said Mayor Maher. “The majority of the residents affected were renters, making it difficult to recover any losses as many likely did not have renters insurance. Cambridge has always been very generous to our neighbors in need and many of the victims need our help right now.”

The Mayor’s Office will be accepting checks made out to "The Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund" via mail and alternatively, residents are welcome to stop by the Mayor’s Office at City Hall to deliver their donation in person.

Donations can also be made online at http://www.gofundme.com/MayorsFireFund

The Mayor’s Office also welcomes gift certificates in any amount to department stores and grocery stores.
Gift certificates and checks can be mailed or delivered to:
Cambridge City Hall
c/o Mayor’s Office
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139

For additional information, please contact Mayor David Maher’s Office at 617-349-4321 or email us at mayor@cambridgema.gov.

June 13, 2013

Celebration of Magazine Beach Park – Saturday, June 15

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:48 pm

Magazine BeachMagazine Beach was an island? People swam in the Charles River? That granite-block building stored gunpowder for ships in Boston Harbor? All of these questions and more will be answered to the tune of Cambridge’s finest Best Ever Chicken (bluegrass band), kite flying and races for children, learn-to-row lessons and art at Magazine Beach Park Saturday, June 15, 12-5pm. In case of rain, the art installation in the 1818 powder magazine will still be on and the music and picnic will move into the Riverside Boat Club, just across from Starbucks (at Micro Center/Trader Joe’s Plaza), on Memorial Drive.

The Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association, partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Charles River Conservancy, the Riverside Boat Club and many others, will offer Celebration 2013 at Magazine Beach. Their goal: to bring the community together in Cambridge’s second largest park and create an awareness of its rich history and great potential: 15 acres along the Charles River. The event is a Cambridge talent show with Artforming and Danielle Sauvé using lights and sound to transform the interior of the 1818 powder magazine into a place of memories and meditation; Nancy Adams, former head of the experimental art group Mobius, leading a performance around the magazine; public artist Ross Miller, David Craft of Gallery 263 and Lars Anderas (UMass Boston graduate student) marking the shoreline of Captain’s Island; and Cambridgeport’s own If this park could talk signs… all over the park – just for the day – revealing the site’s stories. The Riverside Boat Club, home of many rowers preparing for the Olympics, will offer learn-to-row lessons.

Magazine BeachThere will be food trucks, cold lemonade, a new history of Magazine Beach, and almost everything but swimming in the Charles River. (We’re not quite ready for that.) Rain or shine, come to the park for entertainment, fun and community. It’s free! For further information, go to www.magazinebeach.wordpress.com or join us on facebook at: www.facebook.com/magazinebeach.

Partners: Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association, MA Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Charles River Conservancy, the Riverside Boat Club, the Cambridge Historical Commission, Cambridge Historical Society, Artforming, Gallery 263 and UMass Boston
Sponsors: New England Grassroots Environmental Fund, Charles River Conservancy, Forest City & Anonymous

Magazine Beach is a DCR park in Cambridge, MA, along the Charles River.

Magazine Beach Party

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