|A wide street, Brighton Ave: 80 feet wide. Chung-Wei Yang was killed by a bus here.|
But urban biking does present risks, especially in Boston with its narrow streets and aggressive drivers. In 2012, five cyclists were killed in accidents — though none in winter.This false, lazy sentiment about Boston's streets is unfortunately somewhat widespread. In fact, Boston doesn't really have many narrow streets. But, the narrow streets that Boston does have are one of its greatest advantages over other American cities.
In general, narrow streets are safer. From that study in Colorado:
“The most significant causal relationships to injury and accident were found to be street width and street curvature,” according to the report. “The analysis illustrates that as street width widens, accidents per mile per year increases exponentially, and that the safest residential street width is 24 feet (measured from curb face).”Even 24 feet is fairly wide (enough for two fast-moving traffic lanes), but that town did not have any smaller streets to study. Even without the research, it's easy to see that the main purpose of wide roads is to make it easier to drive faster -- and speed is the biggest danger to life and limb. One of the reasons New York City is having so many problems with street injury is because, other than a few, relatively small areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn, that city is cursed with extremely wide streets.
|Huntington Ave (courtesy: Google): about 95 feet wide. Kelsey Rennebohm was killed by a bus here.|
|Beacon St and Charlesgate West: at least 100 feet wide. Kanako Miura was killed by a dump truck here.|
|Comm Ave at St Paul St (courtesy: Google): about 110 feet wide. Chris Weigl was killed by a tractor trailer here.|
Here's some more data. BPD identified several intersections which had the most crashes involving a bicyclist in 2012:
|From Cyclist Safety Report 2013: most problematic intersections|
- Beacon St at Massachusetts Ave: 50 feet
- Massachusetts Ave at Beacon St/Comm Ave: 60 feet
- Harvard Ave at Brighton Ave: 50 feet
- Brighton Ave at Harvard Ave: 80 feet
- Comm Ave at Harvard Ave: 160 feet
- Huntington Ave at Belvedere St: 95 feet
- Belvedere St at Huntington Ave: 60 feet
- Columbus Ave at Cedar St: 70 feet
- Cedar St at Columbus Ave: 26 feet
All of those streets are very wide except for Cedar St; a small side street that is one of the only ways to walk or bike between two densely populated residential sections of Roxbury, and requires crossing the very dangerous Columbus Ave between two very long blocks.
|Columbus Ave (courtesy: Google): about 65 feet wide. A woman was struck and killed here on Christmas Eve.|
I could keep going on and on, but I think I've made my point quite clear: wide streets are dangerous. Unfortunately, Boston has many wide streets, and it is very difficult to fix them once they are created. The best way to create safer streets is to build them narrower from the beginning. But in the rare cases where we have that opportunity, we are still building wide streets because people do not know or understand the danger. Engineers claim to try and anticipate future traffic growth, and they do not consider the costs of the wider streets at all. Fire marshals want wider streets and turning radii for their trucks, but they don't think about the people who will be killed or injured by those design choices. Architects like wide streets because it feeds their egos: they're always trying to build the next "grand Parisian boulevard" and, at least in the bad old days, they could care less about the human cost. Even the new planners, with their "complete streets", tend to favor wider streets: to squeeze more stuff onto. That is unfortunate. Complete streets should be seen as a way to reduce the danger of overly wide streets, not as an excuse to make the mistake of building wider streets from the start.
If we want streets to be safer in the future, what we really need is a program which encourages narrow, human-scaled streets, and also celebrates the narrow streets that we have inherited from the past.