The Invisible Zebra

imageImage via flickr

Imagine a world where crosswalks don’t exist.  Every crosswalk you know and love has been erased from the pavement.

That’s what it’s like for bicyclists in Massachusetts.

Although we have some of the nation’s best bike laws here in the Bay State, there are still a couple of major holes in our legislative structure.  The crosswalk is one of them.

Under current Massachusetts law, a person riding a bicycle in a crosswalk has absolutely zero legal protection.  Crosswalks are for pedestrians, period.  For everyone else (bikes, motorcycles, cars) they do not exist.

Why does that matter?  Because crosswalks are a shield from liability.  If you get hit in one as a pedestrian, it’s pretty much automatically the driver’s fault.  Even if they had a green light, the crosswalk still protects you.

Without that shield, a biker in a crosswalk is left just randomly crossing the street.  If you get hit by a car in this scenario, there’s a good chance that it was your fault.  Unprotected by those painted lines, you’re just some schmo who thought it would be a good idea to cross perpendicular to traffic.

In other states, bikers in crosswalks are recognized and given rights.  For example, here’s an excerpt from RCW 46.61.755 from Washington State:

(2) Every person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or crosswalk must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian by this chapter.

That was easy, right?  Unfortunately, similar legislation here in MA has repeatedly stalled.  From what I understand, pedestrian advocacy groups have opposed anything that would put more bicyclists into crosswalks.

While I sympathize with their concern, something has to be done.  Just think of the Southwest Corridor or the bike path on Memorial Drive, where cyclists are forced to stop, dismount, and walk every few minutes to make it across the many streets that intersect these major throughways.  Does this really make sense?  Of course not, but that’s the only legally protected way to cross.

I’m proud of my state, and everything it’s done to promote the rights of cyclists in the past few years.  However, we still need to fill this gaping legal hole.  My hope is that by bringing this unseen problem to enough peoples’ attention, we can come together, raise our voices, and call for change.  Or at the very least it will inspire some of you to walk your bikes when crossing.

Yours,

Josh

Note: The City of Somerville has come up with a clever way around this problem.  By installing a bike path in between two crosswalks, they can provide a safe (and legal) crossing for bikes and pedestrians.  Way to go Somerville!

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