Hubway, Boston’s bike sharing system, recently expanded its network into Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline. It seems like a good time to interview Josh Zisson, a Boston lawyer who specializes in bicycle cases. I asked Josh about the rules of the road, and how he ended up practicing law on two wheels.
You’re the first bicycle lawyer I’ve ever met. Are there many of you, or are you a pioneer? And, follow up, why bicycle law?
I guess I consider myself a pioneer. There are other lawyers out there who do take on bicycle cases, but I’m the only one devoted to it. I started my practice in December 2011, after receiving my license in 2009 and working at a firm on the Cape through 2010. I’ve always believed in doing what you love. Riding is a big part of my life, and Massachusetts has some of the best bike laws in the country. It made sense to focus on bike law, since Boston is at the forefront of the urban biking movement. I’ve also been working to set up a nationwide bike law network to help bikers across the country. I only have two requirements for other lawyers to join: That they are somehow involved in bicycle advocacy and they ride a bike. I have to admit, it’s been difficult at times finding other bicycle lawyers who fit those two parameters.
Give me a quick summary of the rights bicyclists have in Massachusetts, and are there any movements afoot to change any of them?
In Massachusetts a bicyclist has substantially the same rights and responsibilities as the driver of any other vehicle. We can ride in the bike lanes, but we’re not required to. We can also ride on sidewalks, as long as it’s in the interest of safety, and outside of a “central business district,” which must be designated by signs. Hand signals are required for cyclists, but not if using them would be unsafe. When riding at night, the law requires a white front light and a red rear reflector (though I would recommend using a rear light as well). Other than that, we must observe all the same traffic rules that cars do.
The law also specifically protects us from three of the most common types of crashes: doorings, the “right hook,” and the “left cross.”
As far as changing the laws, there’s only really one area that stands out to me as needing improvement. Because cyclists are considered vehicles, we’re not protected while riding in crosswalks. If you’re hit while riding in a crosswalk, you’ll likely be found at fault for the crash. Several bills have been put forward to change this, but none has gotten very far.
What’s the most common reason your services are sought?
When someone gets hit by a car, my job is to represent the injured cyclist to the insurance company. People often don’t know what to do when they’re hit. They don’t know the rights that they have or the information they need from the driver. That’s why I’ve designed a fold up accident report that fits in your pocket. When I give it to someone I always say, “I hope you never have to use this.” But if they do have to use it, it will walk them through the process of gathering information and protecting their rights.
How many bicycles do you own? (My husband wants to know.)
Including the one that is currently being built, I own four. The one I ride every day is a single-speed city bike. It’s upright and European in its style. I also have a single-speed track bike which has a more aggressive posture. It’s quite fast. The one I’m having built is a 3-speed transportation bike. You don’t often hear people talk about how they love driving their car. With bicyclists, it’s different. We love riding our bikes.
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Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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