Dante Ramos just nailed it in last Friday’s Globe

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.

Mother and Baby Struck by Car in Roxbury

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.

Humboldt Ave and Humboldt Court
Intersection of Humboldt Ave and Humboldt Court in Roxbury
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.

Additional details from WHDH.

Third Pedestrian Incident in Rozzie in Two Weeks

Firth and Washington Street
Firth and Washington Street

We were yet again saddened to hear of another car hitting a pedestrian in Roslindale; this is the third such incident in about two weeks (Blue Ledge Drive / Hyde Park Ave). The latest occurred at the intersection of Firth Road and Washington Street. Thus far the only reporting we’ve found was this brief description on Twitter:

pedestrian hit by a car in intersection of Firth & Washington in Roslindale- she was on the ground but alert- tons of traffic.

While the City has a formal action response plan for any pedestrian incident involving a fatality, non-fatal incidents don’t necessarily result in anything more than a statistic. Yet these non-fatal incidents are often equally indicative of poor road design creating dangerous conditions.

The important thing to remember is most of these incidents are preventable and not merely the result of poor judgment by a driver (or pedestrian). Cities that take Vision Zero seriously have seen dramatic results–in Sweden, pedestrian fatalities have dropped 50% in the past five years; we’ve also seen a 43% reduction in traffic fatalities in Minnesota, a 48% reduction in Utah, and a 40% decrease in Washington State (source: Vision Zero: Learning from Sweden’s Successes). Thus far, the City of Boston’s Vision Zero aspirational plan hits all the right notes, but we’ve yet to see real changes “on the ground.” These recent incidents in Roslindale are powerful reminders that immediate action is urgently needed.

We wish the victim of the latest incident a quick recovery. If anyone has more details, please leave them in the comments here.

Silvia Acosta

About Tuesday’s Pedestrian Death on Washington Street at Blue Ledge Drive

Silvia Acosta
Family photograph of Silvia Acosta (with Mayor Marty Walsh)

Our deepest sympathies go out to the family of Silvia Acosta, a 78 year-old resident of our neighborhood who was tragically struck and killed by a motor vehicle on Washington Street on Tuesday afternoon. Universal Hub has the most complete coverage so far of the crash, which occurred in the section of Washington Street between Walworth and the West Roxbury Parkway. The Herald also has a report.

What’s being reported so far is that the crash happened in the late afternoon (shortly after dark) and that Ms. Acosta was in a crosswalk when she was struck. It is noteworthy that the Suffolk DA’s office is charging the driver, who reportedly left the scene even though she later admitted she knew she had struck someone, with vehicular homicide by reckless operation as well. While it is important that individual drivers be held accountable for their actions, it is usually the case that larger design, infrastructure, and policy decisions play a significant role in these sorts of tragedies, demonstrating (unfortunately) how badly needed a vigorous VisionZero policy and set of actions in our city really are. We’ll follow this story as it unfolds further to see what exactly happened, what lessons can be learned, and what steps can and should be taken going forward to prevent pedestrian deaths around the location of the crash and throughout our neighborhood. And then we’ll do what we can to make sure those steps are taken. Stay tuned.

Washington Street and Blue Ledge Drive, Approximate Location of Impact
Washington Street and Blue Ledge Drive, Approximate Location of Impact

We can learn a couple of things from New York

Going in reverse order from when these things came over the transom:

POINT THE FIRST

“25 keeps us all alive!” — To be clear, I do not believe this is really the slogan, but I was in New York over the past weekend and snapped this picture:

IMAG0008

You’re reading the sign right. New York has had a city-wide 25 mph speed limit for more than a year now. The world has not ended and their economy has not crashed, but traffic fatalities of all kinds of down year over year: 241 this year against 269 last year. The new Boston Vision Zero Action Plan is finally pointing us in this direction. But let’s be honest: it is long, long past time for our city to take the same kind of step — let’s make 2016 the year it happens.

POINT THE SECOND

Why 9 or 10 is better than 12. I commend to everyone the following article from Rob Steuteville over at Better Cities & Towns about how the humble Williamsburg Bridge’s rehabilitation back during your correspondent’s youthful years in the big city led to some of the first research into why narrower vehicle travel lanes are safer than wider ones. Worth a read: The New Science of Traffic Engineering. Challenging a misguided orthodoxy only sticks when you gather the data to show why that orthodoxy is wrong.

Boston’s Vision Zero Action Plan and sharing the Arboretum Gateway Path with our friends at LivableStreets’ 10-in-1 Street Talk

As part of our effort to spread the word and gather more support for the Arboretum Gateway Path concept, I was excited to have the opportunity to do a 7 minute presentation at LivableStreets Alliance’s 10-in-1 Street Talk last Wednesday night at the Old South Meeting House downtown. This is the 10th anniversary for these talks, and they’re a great way to connect with folks who have similar interests and advocating for making our streets and public places better and safer for everyone. LivableStreets has posted some photos from the event on their facebook page. I’ll share the video of the whole thing as soon as I see it posted in a public forum, but I was most struck during the evening by the presentation from Mark Chase of Somerville Neighborways. You should check out the images on the website, especially the concept of stressing the importance and local ownership of key intersections with resident-organized and applied graphics painted directly on the pavement. Pretty impressive and something that we should look into doing here in Roslindale – I have my own thoughts on where, and I’m sure others in our neighborhood do as well.

The evening got off to a great start with the semi-surprise of the Mayor’s announcement of the city’s Vision Zero Action Plan in a short video, which was followed by reinforcing remarks from BTD Commissioner Gina Fiandaca. Chief of Streets Chris Osgood was also personally in attendance to emphasize the importance of the announcement. The whole action plan is worth looking at and taking part in as it moves forward. But I would say that among the most interesting  and important early action items is the institution of neighborhood slow speed zones in the Talbot-Norfolk triangle near Codman Square in Dorchester and between Washington Street and Franklin Park in Jamaica Plain’s Stonybrook section. My own understanding is that this is mainly a matter of lowering the speed limit from 30 to 20 mph and highlighting that fact with signage and enhanced crosswalk treatments and related measures. Bottom line: The pilots are a great idea, long past due, yet fundamentally every residential area in the city should get the same treatment, as soon as the city can get the standard package set next spring and summer through the pilots and then roll them out. The data on vehicle speed vs. fatality rates for pedestrians are uniform on pointing to the shift from 30 to 20 pm as being absolutely essential. If we can get actual vehicle speeds to that lower level on our neighborhood streets, we will have accomplished something of real and lasting value.

Bussey and Walter Intersection

Walter and Bussey Intersection Slated for Redesign – Let’s Make It Better!

Bussey and Walter Intersection
Bussey and Walter Intersection

We recently learned that the city plans to rebuild the intersection of Walter and Bussey Street, a problematic spot for pedestrians and bicyclists at the edge of the Arnold Arboretum adjacent the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center and not far from the Sophia Snow House on Centre Street. Although the new design represents an improvement, it is a long way from achieving Complete Streets standards and moving us toward Vision Zero: that no one should die or be seriously injured from transportation on our public ways. We are also troubled by the apparent lack of public notice and comment on a project like this that has significant impacts on our quality of life and would benefit from community input.

New Proposed Design for Walter-Bussey Intersection
New Proposed Design for Walter-Bussey Intersection

Fortunately, our close allies from the Livable Streets Alliance have sent a detailed letter to the City’s new Chief of Streets, Chris Osgood, detailing problems with the new design. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we are reproducing LSA’s letter below, which we endorse wholeheartedly. If you want to help make this intersection better, please contact your City Councilors and neighborhood liaisons and demand that the Department of Public Works hold public meetings and hear from the neighborhood before plowing ahead with this project. Although the plans appear to be final, this should not be a done deal. The work hasn’t started yet, so let’s make it better.

Finally, to dispel any confusion, note this is not the same intersection nor the same process currently underway regarding the Walter-Centre Street intersection. That project is under DCR control; we’ll have an update on the recent community meeting in Rozzie about this shortly.

Update: WalkBoston has also sent a comment letter.

Read More

Another Pedestrian Tragedy in the City of Boston

Local news reports on a terrible tragedy this past weekend in Mattapan, where an eight-year-old girl was killed and a twelve-year-old boy seriously injured by a hit-and-run motorist who was later arrested and charged with vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident. Recall we had a similarly serious incident in Rozzie just a couple of weeks back (that driver has since been identified and charged). We don’t know the families or more details than have been made publicly available, but it’s an awful occurrence. We offer our condolences to the one family and wishes for a speedy recovery to the other.

One point in the article bears emphasis here:

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 InitiativeNo Loss of Life is Acceptable. We embrace this vision, and you should too.