Recent Safety Improvements in Roslindale Square – An Explainer

Flex Posts Around Adams Park
Flex Posts Around Adams Park

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:

  1. 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:

Crosswalk daylighting on South, at the connection between the municipal parking lot and the area leading to the Village Market.
Flexposts on the curve at South/Poplar help shorten the crossing distance and clarify that this is a single lane approach that widens only after the crosswalk.
Flexposts again delineate the single-lane approach on South, reinforcing the yield required of drivers coming from Washington and once again shortening the crossing distance.

5 thoughts to “Recent Safety Improvements in Roslindale Square – An Explainer”

  1. Is it possible to protect the HP space at the corner of Corinth and Cohasset?
    Non HP cars park there very frequently and sometimes cars will park in front of the HP space hanging over the corner. Maybe irhebspve could be pontes blue.

    1. Thanks for raising that. Maybe we could see if the city would give that a blue carpet treatment like the bus lane just got the red carpet? Place to start that effort would be a 311.

  2. Great explanations. I welcome these changes as a long-time Roslindale resident. Our neighborhood square thrives as a walkable space, not a thru-way. Look at Centre Street in West Roxbury as an example of a business district held back because of the highway dividing it.

  3. Now that the main thoroughfares that were designed to move large amounts of traffic have been neutered of their purpose, our side streets have become raceways for frustrated drivers seeking to avoid needless gridlock imposed on them. I beg anyone from the City to sit at the corner of Kitteredge and Hemman for an hour, watch drivers race from Beech to Metropolitan or cut up to Highfield – many flying thru the stops- and tell me things are safer. Even large vehicles are now using Glendower and Cornell given that the the intersections can support the turns. In an unscientific study I did one morning the percentage of vehicles coming to a complete stop was under 10% and about 30% not remotely slowing down …. I’m not being dramatic, come by and see for yourself. Traffic calming doesn’t work when it’s just being diverted to residential neighborhoods. Side streets have become much more dangerous because the expected level of traffic behavior is no longer predictable. Jamming main areries on purpose doesn’t make everyone run out and buy a bicycle or take the T as social engineers tirelessly claim- it’s just not realistic. My neighborhood is now more dangerous than ever.

    1. Sven – We appreciate continuing the conversation and agree that issues of drivers speeding and failing to observe stop signs and crosswalks as well as signals need to be considered throughout the neighborhood as well. This is why we’ve been such big proponents of the Neighborhood Slow Streets program and think it should be rolled out to every residential area citywide as soon as possible. Heavy congestion on main streets is occurring everywhere, traffic calming or not. There were backups at peak periods on Washington Street and Cummins Highway long before BTD did anything to improve safety for walking and cycling in the Square. Rather than back track on the safety improvements we’ve secured to date, we are committed to making them more widespread. Thanks.

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