Side guards on Harvard truck

Side guards are being installed on Harvard’s larger trucks. The metal guards provide a safety measure for cyclists and pedestrians.

Courtesy of Harvard Campus Services

Campus & Community

Harvard rolls out program to protect pedestrians and cyclists

4 min read

Second institution in U.S. to install side guards on its large trucks

Harvard University today announced a new initiative to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety by becoming the first higher education institution on the East Coast to install side guards on large trucks. The truck-safety initiative applies not only to vehicles owned by the University, but extends to trucks operated by major vendors as well.

“Side guards are a simple, cost-effective safety improvement we can make to protect the people in the community who bike and walk through our dense, urban campus,” said Meredith Weenick, vice president for Campus Services. “This action builds on our award-winning efforts to promote sustainable transportation as a healthy, safe, and affordable option for our students, faculty, and staff.”

Led by the Office for Sustainability, representatives from a variety of Harvard departments, including Strategic Procurement, Fleet Management, and Environmental Health & Safety, partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe Center (Volpe) worked over a year to develop a leading truck-safety program aligned with the Volpe Side Guard Standard. It includes two major components:

  • After a successful pilot installing the side guards on Mail & Delivery Services box trucks, Harvard fleet technicians have begun installing side guards on all existing, eligible Harvard-owned trucks, including box trucks and solid waste and recycling trucks. When possible, new trucks purchased by Harvard will include side guards.
  • Harvard has also begun asking vendors that drive large trucks to campus to install side guards on eligible trucks as quickly as possible. In response, the University’s waste-management vendors, Republic Services and Save That Stuff, have installed side guards on all waste-service trucks serving Harvard’s campus. Moving forward, contracts for preferred vendors that bring eligible trucks onto campus will include a requirement to develop and share a plan for meeting the Volpe Side Guard Standard.

This effort aligns with a commitment in Harvard’s Sustainability Plan to “increase the bikeability and safety of the streets in and around Harvard’s campuses.” According to Volpe, nearly half of bicyclists and one-quarter of pedestrians killed by collisions with large trucks first impact the side of the vehicle. Following a similar national mandate in the United Kingdom, cyclist fatalities dropped by 61 percent and pedestrian fatalities from side-impact crashes dropped 20 percent. When designed to be aerodynamic, certain side guard types also lead to a 4 to 7 percent improvement in fuel economy, saving truck operators money and reducing emissions.

“This initiative is likely to save lives as side guards, blind-spot-reducing mirrors, and other truck safety measures are implemented more and more in U.S. cities by the public and private sectors,” said Alexander Epstein, the Volpe team lead. “I see Volpe’s collaboration with Harvard University on the truck safety initiative as a way to leverage the strengths of our two research-driven organizations.”

The University of Washington installed side guards on its box trucks in 2015, but no other major institution has required side guards on both the trucks it owns and those operated by its vendors. In Massachusetts, the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have moved to require side guards on their municipal fleets and those of their vendors.

“As 10 of the 16 bicyclist fatalities in the last six years in Boston and Cambridge have involved a large truck, we’re thrilled to see Harvard tackle this serious safety issue, and challenge other private institutions and companies to follow Harvard’s leadership,” said Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union.

To learn more about side guards visit the Volpe Center website.