By David Taber
They will push off from Davis Square’s Seven Hills Park in silence on Wednesday May 16, remaining silent as they pedal their bicycles down Massachusetts Avenue through Cambridge to the Boston Common. Some will be wearing red armbands to signify they have been injured in collisions with vehicles, and some will wear black, to honor friends who have been killed by motorists.
The procession will be one of almost 250 Rides of Silence taking place across the country at the same time to remember the dead and raise awareness about bicycle safety.
Nationally, the first such ride took place in 2003 in Dallas, Texas. It was meant to be a one-time event to commemorate the life of Larry Schwartz, who was thrown from his bicycle and killed when swiped by the mirror of a passing bus. But over the last four years, it has become a regular rite of National Bike Week.
Samuel Thompson, who has organized the Boston area Ride of Silence for the last two years, said the ride grew mostly through word of mouth.
“People have read about it in small publications or heard about it from friends of friends of friends,” he said.
Thompson said he was inspired to organize the Boston area’s first Ride of Silence last year after reading about it in Bike Culture Magazine.
In order to reinforce the rides processional nature in contrast with other bicycle rides which are geared toward celebration, riders will be asked to move not faster than 12 miles an hour and to remain silent unless communicating about a potential hazard, Thompson said.
In addition to creating a proper atmosphere for the ride, asking people to be silent is also a way to discourage cyclists from expressing negative feelings they may be harboring toward motorists during the ride, Thompson said.
“People could potentially not be feeling to positively toward motorists on the ride. We want to encourage people not to be too aggressive,” Thompson said.
David Watson, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike) said it is important for motorists to understand they are sharing the road with cyclists.
“I think it’s important for every vehicle on the roads to realize cyclists are there and to look out for us,” Watson said.
And Peter Collins, Advocacy Director for MassBike said efforts to increase awareness are particularly important as environmental concerns and rising gas prices drive more people to self-propelled two-wheel transportation. “With a change over in the transportation sector, or any sector, it takes time to change over the mind set,” Collins said.
While Watson supports the ride, and his organization’s main purpose is to advocate for a safer cycling environment, bicycling is already a relatively safe means of transportation, he said.
“I actually think that the danger is significantly overblown. If you look at things in terms of absolute numbers, the number of bicyclists killed or injured is actually very small,” he said.
Data collected by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health puts the number of cyclists hospitalized as a result of collisions with motor vehicles between 2002 and 2004 at 467. This is only .028 percent of the 16,178 motor vehicle-related accidents recorded for those years, although the highest rate of hospitalizations. 2,245, or 13 percent of injuries requiring hospitalization were of pedestrians, and 11,023 or 68 percent were of vehicle occupants.
The Department of Public Health data also identified 11 cyclist fatalities in motor vehicle accidents during the same time period. These deaths account for only .007 percent of the 1,536 motor vehicle fatalities recorded in the three years.
In Somerville there were 85 bicycle crashes, accounting for 2.2 percent of all traffic accidents, between 2002 and 2004. There was also one bicycle fatality, according to the city’s Safe-Start pedestrian and bicycle safety report, released in November.
Steven Winslow, the city’s pedestrian and bicycle safety coordinator said the report’s main goal was to identify and make recommendations to improve safety at Somerville’s most dangerous intersections. Twenty-seven intersections were identified in the report and recommendations from repainting crosswalks to installing road spanning gateways to alert motorists as they enter high-density commercial districts were put forward.
Other local events taking place during National Bike Week, which runs from May 12 to 19, include the Metro Boston Bike Week kickoff party at Redbones in Davis Square from Monday from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. Free breakfasts for bicyclists will be served at various restraints and café’s including The Sherman Café in Union Square and the Broken Yolk on College Avenue.
And on Saturday the annual Somerville historical bike ride will launch from the parking lot of city hall at 10:00 a.m.
This year the ride will visit site of historic interest in Somerville and Medford. The ride will include a stop at a Medford farmhouse with the only slave quarters still standing in the United States and the Medford house that was the subject of the classic Christmas tune ‘Over the River and through the Woods,’ said Ron Newman, of the Somerville Bicycle Committee.
The bicycle committee is sponsoring the ride along with the Somerville Historic Commission.
For more information about National Bike Week events, visit www.massbike.org