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Mayor Pledges ‘Immediate’ Action After Somerville Resident Killed In Door-Zone Bike Lane

A Google Street View image of Broadway in Somerville near the site where Stephen Conley crashed. The roadway includes two parking lanes against the curbs, two travel lanes for cars, and two green-painted bike lanes in between the parking and moving vehicle lanes. In the middle distance is a traffic light at the intersection of Packard Avenue. The bike lanes do not continue beyond that intersection.

Broadway near Packard Avenue in Somerville. Courtesy of Google Street View.

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne is promising to restrict on-street parking and make other targeted safety improvements "immediately" after a 70 year-old Somerville man died this weekend from injuries he sustained when a driver opened his car door into him while he was riding his bike near the Tufts University campus.

According to a press release from Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, the collision occurred on Friday, August 12 around 11:20 a.m. near 1055 Broadway in Somerville, between Teele Square and Powder House Circle.

Somerville police believe that the victim, identified as Stephen Conley, 70, of Somerville, was traveling westbound in the painted bike lane on Broadway when a driver in the adjacent parking lane opened the door of his Land Rover into Conley's path.

Conley went to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he died from his injuries on Saturday.

In Massachusetts, Chapter 90, Section 14 of the state's General Laws states that “no person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians.”

The incident remains under investigation, but in their press release on Monday, police and the District Attorney said that they have filed no charges against the driver, and Somerville Police Chief Charles Femino declared the collision was an "accident."

The segment of Broadway where the crash occurred, just east of Packard Avenue, features a green-painted bike lane that lies between a lane of moving motor vehicle traffic and a lane of curbside parking in both directions.

Such "door-zone bike lanes" put users in a hazardous position with respect to opening car doors in adjacent on-street parking areas: users have very limited room to maneuver if someone suddenly opens a car door into their path, particularly if there are moving cars or trucks passing on the rider's left.

Crash records suggest that the hazards of riding a bike near parked cars is significant. A 2013 analysis of bike crashes in the City of Boston concluded that 18 percent of bike crashes in the city's records "involved a driver or passenger opening a car door into an oncoming cyclist."

An opening car door was also involved in the fatal 2016 crash that killed Amanda Phillips while she was riding her bike through Inman Square. That crash spurred City of Cambridge officials to undertake an ambitious redesign of Inman Square that is currently under construction and, when complete, will provide physically-separated, sidewalk-level bike lanes through the intersection.

On Tuesday morning, StreetsblogMASS reached out to Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne and Somerville transportation officials to ask if the city would make any changes to Broadway in response to the crash.

In an emailed statement, Mayor Katjana Ballantyne responded that "we are immediately making safety improvements by eliminating parking within 20 feet of crosswalks. Cars parked close to an intersection can block the visibility of people driving and make it harder to see people trying to cross by walking, biking, wheeling, or driving. This will help prevent crashes and increase safety. In addition, the City will install flex-posts in the center on this section of Broadway to reduce driver speeds."

Ballantyne added that the street is scheduled to be repaved and have its sidewalks reconstructed in the near future, which could be an opportunity to implement more permanent changes.

"A one-way protected bike lane on this section of Broadway is part of the City’s draft Bicycle Network Plan," noted the Mayor.

Jon Ramos, a West Somerville resident and father of two, told StreetsblogMASS that he and his family frequently ride on Broadway "because that's the way to get home for us."

"It's depressing that these unsafe door-zone bike lanes are still here," Ramos said. "We’re asking the city to fulfill their promises of being a 'Vision Zero' city, which demands a rapid response to immediately improve dangerous conditions following a serious injury or a fatality. So the ask is to remedy this unsafe door zone bike lane and build a truly fully-separated bike lane, for both Broadway and Powder House Boulevard, which is in a very similar situation."

Powder House Blvd. runs parallel to Broadway two blocks to the north, and was the site of another fatal hit-and-run crash that killed Allison Donovan, a neighborhood school teacher, in 2019.

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