Dozens of people trickled into the Boston City Council's chamber at City Hall Plaza today, helmets and water bottles in hand. As they settled into their seats, chatter quickly grew about this morning's cyclist death - conversations that were both timely and appropriate considering the topic at hand.
Within moments, city councilors would sit down with members of the Boston Police
Department, the Boston Public Health Commission, Hubway and local
bicycle advocacy organizations to discuss how to to make the city for a safer place for bicyclists.
Before the hearing got going, Patrick Kelleher-Calnan, an avid Boston bicyclist and member of the Boston Cyclist Union, said he happened to pass by this morning's fatal accident on his way to the hearing.
"We've seen a lot of issues on Comm. Ave., a lot of issues with large vehicles and trucks that definitely have challenges on urban streets that are pedestrian and cycle heavy," he said. "This is a transportation mode that can work for a lot of people and it's maybe a missing piece of the puzzle when people try to make their transportation decisions. But we want people to have that benefit of being able to save money on gas, of being able to get more exercise."
When asked whether Thursday's deadly accident may discourage people from riding a bike, he said: "Unfortunately, it probably does... People are very afraid sometimes of riding on urban streets."
City officials had no problem admitting that Boston has a long way to go in terms of improving conditions for bicyclists. One city councilor went so far as to say he is afraid to cycle.
"Personally, I'm scared to get on a bike in Downtown Boston," City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina said.
Before the hearing, City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo biked from his Jamaica Plain home to City Hall in an effort to raise awareness about bicycle safety. Of cycling in Boston, Arroyo said, "You almost have to fight the cars to get to a dedicated lane that is for the cyclists."
The Boston Public Health Commission reported that only 23 percent of the city's cyclists wear helmets, despite findings that show helmet-use reduces head injury by 88 percent, and brain injury by 88 percent.
City Councilor Matt O'Malley said that the public should not focus blame on cyclists who chose not to wear helmets: "It's not just about the helmets. It's not about blaming the victims."