City to lower speed limit

By Beth Treffeisen

Special to the Gazette

In an effort to improve roadway safety for people walking, driving, and bicycling on city streets Mayor Martin Walsh last week announced a reduction in the default speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph starting Jan. 9.

If you don’t see a posted sign, the new speed limit will be 25 mph. State owned roadways located in the City of Boston will not be affected by this new law.

Park Drive, Riverway, and Jamaicaway, which run from Fenway down into Jamaica Plain, are state owned roads that will not be affected by the new law. These connecting roads have seen a few crashes.

Major streets in Boston that have had a lot of accidents, such as Beacon Street that runs from Beacon Hill into the Back Bay, Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street in the South End, and Commonwealth Avenue that runs from Kenmore through Allston, will see a reduction in the speed limit.

“I am pleased that our hard work and commitment to creating safer roadways for all users by reducing the default speed limit to 25 mph will become a reality in January,” said Walsh in a statement. “This is an important milestone in our Vision Zero efforts of bringing the number of traffic-related deaths to zero, and with approval of this petition we are one step closer to achieving that goal.”

This past summer, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law giving cities and towns across the Commonwealth the authority to reduce the default speed limit to 25 mph. On Dec. 7, the City Council took a final vote approving Walsh’s petition to reduce Boston’s speed limit under the Municipal Modernization Bill.

Although there have been steps to improve Boston’s streets in recent years, traffic related tragedies continue to persist. To date in 2016, at least 17 people have been killed in traffic crashes on City of Boston streets. Twelve of these people were killed while walking and five were killed while in a motor vehicle.

Studies show that there is a direct link between the speed that a vehicle is traveling when a crash occurs and the likelihood of a fatality or severe injury resulting from the crash. At 20 mph there is a 17 percent likelihood of a fatality or severe injury occurring, and that number jumps to 79 percent at 40 mph.

“We think this is very important,” said Brendan Kearney from WalkBoston. “It gives people driving more reaction time and the ability to react when people are in the crosswalk. It’s a step in the right direction.”

The Boston Police Department is committed to achieving Vision Zero and will use enforcement to deter violations, according to the City. The penalty for violating the speed limit will not change.

The fine for exceeding the speed limit in Massachusetts is $105. If you drive more than 10 mph over the speed limit, you have to also pay $10 for each mile per hour that you are over.

Boston Transportation Department teams are auditing existing speed limit sings, and will fabricate new signs as necessary. The new signs will be posted at entrance points and other strategic locations in the City.

“I’m thrilled that we’ve taken an important first step to improving pedestrian and traffic safety throughout the City of Boston,” said Mission Hill City Councilor Josh Zakim.

He continued, “While there is more work to be done, we have now laid the groundwork for further creative solutions that enhance both safety and quality of life, especially in the downtown neighborhoods of District 8.”

There will be two pilot neighborhood slow street zones, where the speed limit will be 20 mph. One will be in Jamaica Plain in the Stonybrook neighborhood and the other will be in Dorchester at the Talbot-Norfolk Triangle, according to WalkBoston.

Vicki Smith, the chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, said that she has heard a lot of positive feedback from her neighbors, especially after the fatal crash that killed two pedestrians on Beacon Street this past March.

“It has severe consequences,” said Smith. “People are getting killed on the streets. If you ever driven in Boston you know that people run red lights, turn right on red without looking all the time.”

Smith said she hopes that the new law will have as much enforcement as parked cars that receive tickets get.

Smith said, “We are very much in favor of it.”

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