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.
Intersection of Metropolitan Ave and Kittredge Street
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.
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.
Neighbors said speeding is a constant problem on West Selden Street.
“Literally I’ve been in my house and cars have gone by so fast that my house shakes,” said Dee Phillips, who lives on the street.
It’s easy and natural to blame bad drivers — and some in the comments on the above-linked article callously assert irresponsible parenting — but fundamentally these tragedies are a statistically predictable result of the decisions we collectively make about our urban environment, starting with street design, but also including enforcement as well as culture and community norms. Put simply: speed kills.
My first post-college job back in the 1990s was at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a think-tank in Chicago that researches and advocates for smarter transportation and land-use policies, as well as environmentally sustainable economic development. We were trained not to call car crashes “accidents” in public statements; rather they should just be called “crashes.” The reason: although any particular crash might seem accidental in its details, in the aggregate the phenomenon is the predictable and foreseeable result of policies involving our streets. And while any single crash may or may not have been avoided through better design decisions, there are well-known proven techniques that will greatly reduce the number of such crashes. All it takes is a determination that we won’t tolerate a certain baseline level of death and serious injury as the “cost of doing business.” This is exactly the point of the Vision Zero Initiative: No Loss of Life is Acceptable. We embrace this vision, and you should too.