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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Cities Take Steps to Increase Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety

Monday, October 20, 2014

A simple yet promising technology has been proven to save the lives of bicyclists and pedestrians on roadways. That’s why cities such as Boston are taking the initiative to require a new piece of equipment on large trucks.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh recently proposed a rule to the Boston City Council requiring side guards on all large city vehicles or trailers.

Rob Pardo (Boston DPW) and Volpe staff stand in front of a truck with a side guard.
The installed panel-style side guard is among Boston’s first of this type and follows a Volpe-Boston partnership last year. (Volpe photo)

Side guards, which are installed on large trucks to protect bicyclists and pedestrians from falling underneath the vehicle, helped reduce bicyclist fatalities by 61 percent and pedestrian fatalities by 20 percent in the United Kingdom in side-impact crashes after side guards were required on most heavy-duty vehicles.

These data were brought to light by Volpe engineer Dr. Alex Epstein, who proposed a study to examine the safety and potential fuel economy benefits of truck side guards during Volpe’s first-ever Innovation Challenge. The Innovation Challenge, now embarking on its third year, is an annual competition for Volpe staff to develop unique solutions to emerging transportation issues.

Although Dr. Epstein’s team didn’t win the competition, he delivered a talk about the potential benefits of side guards at a LivableStreets event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in early 2013. An advisor to former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino heard his talk and contacted Dr. Epstein to learn more about his research, which led to last year’s pilot initiative that added side guards to 19 Boston Public Works Department vehicles.

Earlier this year, New York City also asked Volpe to help it study and develop pilot initiatives on side guards for its largest-in-the-nation municipal truck fleet.

Three side mirror types and a Fresnel lens, all designed to mitigate the right-side blind spot of a large truck, were viewable by demo attendees from the driver’s seat of a Boston DPW truck.
Three side mirror types and a Fresnel lens, all designed to mitigate the right-side blind spot of a large truck, were viewable by demo attendees from the driver’s seat of a Boston DPW truck. (Volpe photo)

On September 8, Mayor Walsh proposed an ordinance that would require side guards on all city vehicles or trailers exceeding a gross weight of 10,000 pounds and on semi-trailers exceeding a gross weight of 26,000 pounds.

In his letter to Boston City Council, Mayor Walsh stated that the ordinance establishes requirements for protection equipment to be installed on vehicles contracted by the City of Boston, to be constructed and/or equipped as to offer effective protection to unprotected road users against the risk of falling under the sides of the vehicle and being caught under the wheels.

“I am pleased that this life-saving measure, a first in the nation, is moving forward as a result of the Volpe-Boston partnership over the past two years,” said Dr. Epstein. “Side guards, blind spot mirrors, sensors, and other truck technologies are all important means to prevent or mitigate deadly crashes with the pedestrians and bicyclists who must share the road with these massive vehicles. I believe that vehicle-based safety is becoming a key strategy for cities to reach their goals of reducing or eliminating traffic fatalities.” 

Boston City Council voted unanimously on October 29, to pass the Truck Side Guard Ordinance. Read the press release: City Council Passes Truck Side Guard Ordinance