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Generating a city’s first report on bicyclist safety: lessons from the field
  1. Dahianna S Lopez,
  2. David Hemenway
  1. Harvard Injury Control Research Center, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr. Dahianna S Lopez, Harvard Injury Control Research Center, HarvardUniversity, Boston, Massachusetts,02115, USA; dsl654{at}


Background For cities aiming to create a useful surveillance system for bicycle injuries, a common challenge is that city crash reporting is scattered, faulty or non-existent. We document some of the lessons we learnt in helping the city of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, do the following: (1) Create a prototype for a comprehensive police crash data set (2) Produce the city’s first cyclist safety report, (3) Make crash data available to the public and (4) Generate policy recommendations for both specific roadside improvements and for sustainable changes to the police department’s crash reporting database.

Methods We provided research and technical assistance to government partners to generate the report and used participant-observation field notes to generate the list of learnt lessons.

Results After the release of the report, the city implemented immediate activities aimed at making an effort to prevent injuries, including: (1) Furnishing over 1800 taxis with stickers to prevent ‘dooring,’ (2) Adding pavement markings at trolley tracks to decrease the likelihood that cyclists would fall from getting their wheels lodged in the tracks, (3) Conducting targeted enforcement of traffic laws and (4) Working directly with state and federal agencies to fund a more comprehensive surveillance system. As of January of 2017, nearly 4 years after its public release, 19 170 users have viewed the crash data set 23 247 times. Some of the lessons include finding and using committed champions, prioritising the use of existing data, creating opportunities to bridge divisions between stakeholders, partnering with local universities for assistance with advanced analytics and using deliverables, such as a cyclist safety report, to advocate for sustainability.

Conclusion Providing an initial report on bicycle crashes in Boston served to identify specific problems, showed the value of a data system, and provided a blueprint for an improved data system. Building a useful surveillance system depends in no small part on the wise use of advocacy, group dynamics, and politics. Our hope is that the lessons learnt from our experience in Boston can help others do even better.

  • advocacy
  • policy
  • surveillance
  • bicycle

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  • Contributors DSL and DH contributed to the analysis and interpretation of the work as well as the writing and editing of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The Committee on the Use of Human Subjects at Harvard University.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The bicycle crash database for Boston is open-source and can be found here: