A recent crash on a Cambridge street that turned fatal for a bicyclist has led to promises by that city to do more to protect the growing number of cyclists on its streets. At the same time, cycling advocates are pushing for additional action, some of which the city has promised before but been slow to deliver.
Just after noon on June 23, Amanda Phillips was riding her bike in Inman Square when she was struck and killed by a landscaping truck. The event is still under investigation, but witnesses and police statements suggest that Phillips was biking along Cambridge Street when she struck the open door of a jeep and was thrown into the travel lane, where the truck then hit her.
It’s been claimed that the driver of the jeep opened the door as Phillips was passing, knocking Phillips off her bike and into the street. It’s also been stated that the truck struck her from behind as she fell into the street. Both of these details are in dispute, but they’ve led to further appeals for a thorough investigation of the crash.
The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike) has called on the Middlesex District Attorney to file charges against both the driver of the jeep and the driver of the truck. In a letter that was also sent to Cambridge police and several local officials, MassBike reminded the DA that “opening a car door into a cyclist without first looking is negligent and a violation of law . . . Likewise, when a driver runs into a cyclist and hits her from behind, if the cyclist dies, that is negligent homicide or manslaughter.” MassBike does not claim that either driver is guilty of these charges, but they feel that the seriousness of this incident deserves not only a complete investigation, but also a full hearing in court.
The five-way crossing at Inman Square has long been known as a dangerous intersection. Bike and pedestrian traffic is heavy, and many passenger cars and buses pass through. The city wants to improve the intersection, but the project has barely begun. In fact, a hearing on preliminary plans had been held only the night before the crash.
Since the crash, the Cambridge City Council unanimously called on the City Manager to fast track plans to redesign the square with pedestrian and cyclist safety in mind. They’ve also recommended that side safety guards be installed on all large Cambridge city vehicles to protect pedestrians and cyclists. In 2014, Boston became the first city to require side guards on city-owned and city contractor trucks.
Cambridge’s council also called for both a budget and a schedule to be developed to put protected bike lanes on Inman Square’s main streets. A public safety campaign has been requested to educate cyclists and motorists about the dangers of what cycling safety advocates refer to as “dooring,” the problem of someone suddenly opening a vehicle door into the path of a passing cyclist. The full investigation may take months, but some believe this is what happened to Phillips.
MassBike’s call for charges won’t surprise those who have been following similar issues in and around Boston. Authorities are sometimes criticized for not taking cycle crashes seriously enough. Earlier this year, the family of a Swiss researcher who was killed while cycling in the Back Bay sued the driver of the truck that struck her. That collision is believed to have been caught on city-operated traffic cameras, but the family’s efforts to push the case have been slowed because the city hasn’t turned over the video.
After that particular crash, the city announced it would make numerous changes to that intersection, long considered a problem area. Actions such as that are critical to Boston’s future, as some now consider Massachusetts the fourth most bike-friendly state.
More people are turning to cycling as a way to commute, travel short distances, or to stay fit. At the same time, there are more vehicles on the road now than there have ever been. The risk of a collision between a cyclist and a motorist continues to be something that everyone on the road should be aware of and should take steps to reduce.
If you or someone close to you has been in a bicycle crash, give the Law Offices of Joel H. Schwartz a call. Our office has experience with bicycle accident law and can help you understand what your case will involve. We offer a free consultation to all clients. Give us a call at 1-800-660-2270 or complete our contact form below.