Bicyclists in Cambridge Cited Most Often on The Stretch of Massachusetts Avenue

During the evening commute on a weekday in Central Square, Steven Bercu was biking southbound on Massachusetts Avenue. He stopped at a red light at the intersection of Prospect Street, waiting for the light to turn green.

Bercu, 54, wanted to get a head start on the traffic waiting besides him, which included a tourist bus, so he started up on the walk signal. The officer stopped him after he rode through the intersection and told Bercu that he entered the intersection while the light was still red. Bercu disagrees.

“I think I’m in the right but appealing would be an inconvenience; it’s only a $20 ticket,” said Bercu. “My auto-insurance company told me that since it did not involve driving it would have no impact on my insurance premiums.”

Cambridge is one of the rare cities in Massachusetts to give citations to bicyclists. Out of the total citations to motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians in 2015, approximately nine percent were issued to bicyclists, according to Jeremy Warnick, Cambridge Police spokesman.

analysis of data on Github; original data from Cambridge Police

Bicyclist citations in Cambridge happen most often on busy Massachusetts Avenue at several intersections including Sidney Street, Inman Street, Brookline Street, Upland Road and Essex Street, according to cyclist ticket data from January 2010 through June 2016.

The five most cited locations reveal a trend of citations occurring in densely populated, highly trafficked area, or all within the heart of the fringe of the squares.

The intersection between Brookline Street and Massachusetts Ave — located one street away from Brookline Avenue and Sidney Street — is situated within the area of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Central Square, which are all highly residential areas. The intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Upland Road, located near the T stop Porter Square, is another highly active area for all modes of transportation.

“There is a heavy concentration of pedestrians and visitors within the greater MIT vicinity, a focal point for our enforcement and education efforts,” said Warnick.

An average of five citations were issued per day to bicyclists in 2015, according to Warnick.

“It’s just about enforcing the laws that have been established,” said Warnick. “Whenever there is a citation issued, ideally, it would have some sort of influence on your behavior” — referring to how citations would influence bikers to become more cautious on the road.

Ryan Silva, 43, disagrees. “I don’t think I’m more cautious because I know there is enforcement, because I’m primarily focused on being cautious around cars,” he said. “But I am aware of certain police hot spots and anyone would be slightly more alert if they knew an officer might be watching them.”

Silva said that he was pulled over last week after he came to a complete stop to let a pedestrian cross the crosswalk at Elm Street and Willow Avenue, which is on the border of Cambridge. He was pulled over because he did not wait for her to completely cross the street before he proceeded.

“I felt confused and frustrated because I had specifically stopped in order to be polite and let someone cross,” he said. Silva said he was let off with a warning because of his clean record.

Bike crashes in Cambridge have been decreasing from 19.6 percent in 2004 to 13.8 percent in 2012, according to data from the City of Cambridge.

Around seven to nine percent of residents commute to work by bike in Cambridge, according to the City of Cambridge website. With people biking, walking, driving or taking public transit in a dense, urban area, safety on the road requires special attention.

“I think the bigger issue is that motorists are not given citations in sort of an equal way,” said Stacey Thompson, the executive director of LivableStreets Alliance, a nonprofit organization in Cambridge that advocates for innovative and equitable transportation solutions in Metro Boston. “A culture of giving increased citations to vulnerable road users is not going to solve any of our problems.”

Rather than focusing on penalizing commuters, Thompson believes that changing the infrastructure would be more effective in improving road safety. “A better way to be thinking about this is how do we, particularly in the major squares, redesign those streets to better accommodate everyone,” said Thompson.