In 2013, an eighteen-wheeler sanitation truck struck and killed a cyclist in Wellesley, a suburb of Boston. A year later, when a Boston garbage truck killed another cyclist downtown, the driver said he at first assumed he had gone over a pothole.
Last week, Boston mayor Marty Walsh’s office announced that it will pursue a new ordinance to protect cyclists from preventable deaths. With the help of the mayor’s innovation lab, New Urban Mechanics, the ordinance asks that the city outfit all its trucks, 10,000 pounds and over, with special side guards and curved mirrors to illuminate blind spots. In Europe, mandating side guards for big trucks is already common practice.
The designs for the side guards launched in 2012, a year Boston was experiencing an uptick in cyclist deaths. Most of those deaths came out of collisions with large trucks, pickups, or buses, explains New Urban Mechanics program director Kris Carter. The greatest danger in those cases, he says, is having the cyclist get sucked under the side and toward the rear wheels.
“If a cyclist is continuing straight, a common crash is a vehicle turns right and doesn’t necessarily see the cyclist,” Carter adds. “It’s pretty rare that a cyclist who goes underneath the vehicle survives.
The goal, of course, is to prevent crashes altogether. But in the meantime, the New Urban Mechanics lab wanted to see whether side guards might prove an option. After running a pilot with three designs on 16 trucks, Carter thinks that adding mirrors and side guards to trucks would be pretty cheap ($1,200 to $1,800 a vehicle), and could save lives.
“There’s a large number of construction work trucks, snowplows, and trucks that deliver food to the schools,” Carter says. “If we have trucks that are moving on smaller city streets and mixing with cyclists and pedestrians, we want to keep our cyclists and pedestrians safe.”