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Christopher Weigl and the national bike safety debate

Bicycle use among American commuters is at an all-time high.
Used with Permission /
Used with Permission /

Bicycle use among American commuters is at an all-time high. Between the price at the pump and an urban embrace of bike lanes and signage, one study found the percentage of bike commuters in 55 major cities jumped 70 percent between 2000 and 2009.

Of course, more bikes means more accidents – and continual flare-ups in the debate over bicycle safety.

There was a bicycle tragedy in Boston last week when I was in town to give a lecture at BU's COM school, my graduate school alma mater. The victim was 23-year-old Christopher Weigl, a graduate student at the same program. Weigl was a Skidmore College alum from Southborough, Mass., studying photojournalism.

There's great personal detail in the Boston Globe story, including testimonial from former Globe reporter Mitch Zuckoff, who now is a professor at BU and had Weigl in class.

Weigl, like all of Zuckoff's student's, wrote his own obituary as a class exercise.

There is more in the MetroWest Daily News and Weigl's own photojournalism site remains live here.

What is clear is that Weigl was an ambitious student in the graduate program, where he served as a teaching assistant.

We heard about a potentially fatal accident on Commonwealth Ave involving a bicyclist and a tractor trailer from students as they trickled in to class Thursday. The first call to police came at 8:36 am. Information moved among the department members during the 9:30 am class. It is not yet clear exactly what happened and who was at fault. No citations or charges have been filed against the truck driver, who remained at the collision scene and cooperated with police. The collision remains under investigation.

For his part, Weigl was wearing a helmet and traveling in a relatively new bicycle lane on a very busy inbound avenue during rush hour.

The tractor trailer was taking a right-hand turn--a turn that can be accomplished off Commonwealth Avenue only by swinging wide across a bicycle lane.

Weigl was the fifth cyclist killed in Boston this year, the second BU student in two months.

In an public policy twist, the Boston City Council had a pre-scheduled hearing on biking infrastructure less than four hours after the accident. A moment of silence was observed for Weigl.

It all hits a bit close to home.

I too rely on a bicycle to get to and from work each day. I know full well how dangerous the commute can be: my nervous family members remind me each day. And while bicyclists sometimes share in the blame, there is no match between a person on a bike and a person in a car.

Here in New York City, too often drivers turning across bike lanes do so without checking their mirrors.

So perhaps it’s a wise moment for all to heed the same PSA caution that ushered in the motorcycle boom: Check twice, Save a life: Bicycles are everywhere!!!