Though some safety improvements still remain to roll out in Roslindale Square, especially regarding the relocation of certain bus stops, the final condition has come into clear focus recently with the installation of flexposts to help delineate and reinforce the paint that was put down by our friends at BTD in the late spring/summer. Now that the dust is partially settling, this seems like a good time to explain what has been installed and why.
The “tl;dr” version is that these improvements reduce the likelihood of serious injuries or fatalities caused by cars driving through the square. They also make it more pleasant and fun to walk around, which is key to WalkUP’s mission! The longer version below:
- This is traffic calming, because speed kills. To protect everyone using our streets, the most effective thing we can do is to slow the speed of the motor vehicles using them, so that everyone can be and feel safer. For everyone not in a vehicle, the speed we really want to get the motor vehicles to is about 20 mph. Because once you get motor vehicles going over 20 mph, things get ugly real fast. This chart illustrates why:
This is why slowing vehicle speeds is such an important part of the city’s Vision Zero program that aims to eliminate fatal and serious traffic crashes on Boston’s streets by 2030.
2. The fundamental basis of traffic calming. The way to slow vehicle speeds is two-fold: First, set the speed limit to the speed you want motor vehicles to go. While a citywide 25 mph default speed limit isn’t perfect, it is clearly better than the 30 mph limit we previously had for decades. Second, redesign every street to provide the physical and visual cues needed for drivers of motor vehicles to slow down and meet that speed limit. Note that we didn’t mention enforcement here. That’s because we can’t really rely on close enforcement long-term in any location (BPD has a lot on its hands) and enforcement carries with it its own concerns about equity. An analogy that is often made in this context is to the incredible strides in airline safety that have occurred over the last couple of decades, to the point where you can count on one hand the number of fatalities on U.S. commercial airlines in that period. This success has come largely from treating every single crash as worthy of investigation and analysis and then making systemic changes based on the conclusions drawn every time. We know slower vehicle speeds will lead to fewer fatal and serious crashes. Everything we do to slow vehicles makes us all safer.
3. The physical and visual cues needed are fairly straightforward. They are, in fact, now on the ground in the square. They include:
- “street diets” to reduce the amount of undifferentiated asphalt that decades of auto-centric transportation management have left us, while simultaneously shortening the distance that pedestrians need to cross a street and tightening turns at intersections so that drivers have to slow down to take them. Reducing the number of lanes that crosswalks have to cross also reduces the “double-threat” of a car driver stopping for a crossing pedestrian in one lane, blocking the view of that pedestrian from the adjacent lane, and the car driver in the adjacent lane crashing into the pedestrian. The idea here is that we’re dealing with city streets, not interstate highways;
- “crosswalk daylighting” to allow drivers to see pedestrians and pedestrians to see drivers. This is done by prohibiting parking within 10 to 15 feet of the crosswalk on the approaching side; and
- flexposts to physically reinforce these improvements. Flexposts have been around a long time, but have recently become the go-to way to provide inexpensive yet fast, effective safety improvements. Note that they can be driven over by emergency vehicles if necessary.
Finally, an additional measure that the current plans do not do enough to implement is real, protected cycling infrastructure to further reduce the priority given to motor vehicles and provide meaningful alternatives to those wanting to travel by bicycle. In-street bicycle lanes are present on parts of Washington, South, and Corinth, but they quickly devolve to sharrows, which may (unfortunately) do more harm that good. Much more is needed.
The following photos illustrate the above points: