We recently sent an official comment letter to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, expressing our strong support for recent pedestrian safety and traffic calming improvements around Roslindale Square. These improvements represent an important step forward in realizing our vision of a truly walkable neighborhood where everyone who prefers to get around without a car can do so easily, and those who need to drive share the space fairly and safely with everyone else. Much remains to be done. Toward that end, below we express our support for the changes made so far, and offer ideas for next steps.
On this World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims (according to the World Health Organization, 1.2 million people killed every year by traffic violence and 50 million injured), we are dismayed to report another serious pedestrian crash in our neighborhood. On Friday, a nine-year old boy was hit by a car shortly after stepping off his school bus at the intersection of Metropolitan Ave and Kittredge Street. The most informative media report comes from WCVB: Boy recovering after being hit by car in Roslindale. We extend our sympathy to the boy and his family, and wish him the speediest possible recovery.
Although it looks like the child will recover, we must remember it is predictable and indeed certain that crashes like this will happen again and again until and unless we do more than pay lip service to Vision Zero Boston. A quick look at the intersection, which is in the middle of a slope just past a peak limiting line-of-sight visibility, reveals a stark absence of critical infrastructure to protect people on foot: no crosswalk, no traffic calming, no curb bump-outs, not even a stop sign on the main street in a densely settled area with chronic speeding problems. There are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of intersections like this in Roslindale alone, and the fact that people keep getting hit and occasionally killed by cars in them is a reminder that these incidents are crashes, not accidents.
It’s time to demand more. We can’t just wait for someone to be seriously or fatally injured on a one-off basis to take a look at specific street crossings, and then spend a year patching up that one spot. Sign the Vision Zero Petition, speak to your neighbors, and tell your elected leaders and appointed bureaucrats at every possible opportunity that it’s time to proactively address road safety across the entire city. There are plenty of successful examples to follow, but at the rate we’re going now it will be a century or more before we realize the core Vision Zero principle: No loss of life is acceptable.
pedestrians hit by cars die when struck at 40 mph compared to 5% at 20 mph.
Our own District 5 City Councilor Tim McCarthy had some nice quotes in the piece:
District 5 Councillor Timothy McCarthy said the last speed limit change was implemented by a transportation commissioner who was from Ludlow, where higher speed limits are more common.
“If you go 20 mph in Ludlow, you probably wouldn’t get out of Ludlow for a few days,” said McCarthy. “But in our area, 20 mph is plenty.”
He said that West Roxbury Police Sgt. Michael O’Hara has done demonstrations in the past to show the actual speed of a vehicle traveling 30 mph relative to a pedestrian. He said O’Hara would ask residents to stand on the side of the road while a he drove by at exactly 30 mph.
“If you’re standing on the edge of the road and a Crown Vic goes by at 30 mph, you might as well be at NASCAR, you’re not getting out of the way,” said McCarthy.
Kudos to Councilor McCarthy for helping push this walkability initiative.
See also this video of the City Council’s Government Operations committee hearing on the initiative from last week.
We should remember that setting a safer speed limit is only a starting point. Most drivers will follow road design more than posted limits, so the ultimate solution must involve safer road design including narrower car lanes and other traffic calming measures (all key aspects of Vision Zero). A recent letter to the editor in the Boston Globe makes this same point. But we need not let these broader infrastructure challenges get in the way of a common-sense first step.
Breaking news (4/27/16 afternoon): From City Councillor Michelle Wu‘s summary of today’s city council meeting:
Speed Limits: We voted unanimously to pass Councilor Baker’s home rule petition to lower the default unposted speed limit from 30mph to 20mph in thickly settled areas and business districts and from 20mph to 15mph in school zones, as well as giving the City the authority to post speed limits without state approval and the requirement for a traffic study. Councilors Baker and Flaherty noted that speeding is one of the top issues councilors hear from residents. The matter now goes to the Mayor for his signature and then the state legislature for approval.
We’ve all been following the tragic spike in deaths resulting from car-on-human-being-walking crashes in our city, including our neighborhood, to start this year. As Dante Ramos asserted in an opinion piece in last Friday’s Globe (“If jaywalking is wrong, I don’t want to be right“), the answer to the carnage is not, as one of our state legislators has reportedly proposed, to jack up jaywalking fines. Instead, we need to reorder a badly disordered transportation system and reclaim the right of human beings on foot to safely use and inhabit our streets, intersections, and squares throughout Boston and here in Roslindale. It’s worth quoting from Dante’s piece at length as he talks about how Vision Zero will work here:
Ironically, [Sen.] Chandler’s legislation comes up at the State House just as Boston is embracing Vision Zero — a strategy for eliminating all motor vehicle deaths and serious injuries by 2030.
Heightened law enforcement may be part of the strategy, at least at certain key intersections. But according to Chris Osgood, Boston’s chief of streets, the city will rely more on education and on a deeper analysis of street-level conditions: the physical design of intersections, the timing of traffic and walk signals, the movement patterns of people and vehicles not just at individual intersections but throughout the surrounding blocks.
Of course, the gradual fine-tuning of a city’s overall transportation system may not seem emotionally satisfying to a driver who’s been delayed by a jaywalker. And when you’ve grown up in a world where transportation laws primarily serve cars’ needs, it’s easy to persuade yourself that stiffer jaywalking fines — what Chandler calls “the stick approach” — are for pedestrians’ own good.
Never mind that pedestrian fatality rates are lower in places where jaywalking enforcement is lax than in Los Angeles, where it’s been far more aggressive. Motorists don’t need greater protection from the supposed threat of wayward pedestrians, and, anyway, not every annoyance in life can or should be fixed through tougher laws and stiffer tickets.
WalkBoston recently sounded the alarm that serious (and fatal) pedestrian incidents are fast becoming a near-weekly occurrence in Boston. The latest such event occurred last night in Roxbury, where a mother and her baby were struck by a car at the intersection of Humboldt Ave and Humboldt Court. Our local CBS affiliate reports on two sisters coming to a quick rescue and performing CPR on the 5-month-old victim. We have scant information on details of the crash and the fate of the pedestrians remains unknown. We can only hope they both survive and make a full recovery. Update 6pm: we were devastated to learn via the Boston Globe that the baby has died.
That said, we would urge the media not just to cover the “human-interest” aspect of these tragic incidents, but also highlight potential root causes so that we don’t have to keep re-living the same sad story. Poor infrastructure and bad design decisions in particular are recurring themes–for far too long, Boston’s professional traffic engineers have prioritized fast and unimpeded traffic flow over other needs, including the very real risks to human lives of car-centric streets. Again, we don’t know the details of this incident, but a quick look at the intersection where the crash occurred shows (1) a long stretch of street with no crosswalks [despite a bus stop across the street]; (2) extremely wide travel lanes; (3) in a densely-settled area, a certain recipe for predictable harm to pedestrians. Once ago, it’s time to move into action on Vision Zero.See also this update on Universal Hub.
Further update: The Boston Globe article also suggests speed was a factor, again this is not surprising given the wide lanes:
Residents on Friday said the car that allegedly hit the woman and her child was speeding: one woman who declined to give her name said she heard it whipping down the street before she heard the crash.
We are fortunate to have neighborhood-level professional journalists at the Roslindale Bulletin covering important local issues; even more so now that the entire paper is available online. In late January, the Bulletin reported several stories that should be of interest to the WalkUP community. Highlights below: Continue reading
We envision a sea change for pedestrian safety in and around Roslindale: traffic calming, narrower automobile travel lanes, woonerfs, pedestrianized-street parties, reliable enforcement of speed limits, curb extensions, chokers, road diets, pedestrian zones, chicanes–they should all be in the mix and implemented where appropriate. We should be leading, not trailing, in rolling out these best practices, because we are ideally situated to be the most walkable neighborhood in Boston. We share the dream of Vision Zero and need to hold the City’s feet to the fire to make it real.
None of these changes are likely to come quickly, though. In our neighborhood, the streets surrounding Adams Park are especially bad but also have fantastic potential. While we’re putting in the long-term work to achieve Vision Zero, we should, in the meantime, at least get some crosswalks that are not an embarrassment to the community. Check out these two recent photos from the already problematically-wide intersection at Poplar, Washington, and Corinth. Roslindale deserves better.