City Council Holds Hearing on Pedestrian Safety

By Lauren Bennett

     The Boston City Council held a hearing regarding pedestrian safety on November 18. Sponsored by Councilor Ed Flynn, the hearing was focused on pedestrian safety and vision zero, which is a plan to reach zero serious or fatal crashes. The hearing also covered topics like traffic lights, crossing signals for pedestrians, and infrastructure improvements to roads such as speed humps, raised crosswalks, and pedestrian signals.

     Flynn has said many times that pedestrian safety is of top priority for him as a councilor, and that “we need to do everything we can and prioritize safety for pedestrians,” especially for children, seniors, and those with disabilities.

     Several members of the public as well as city officials were invited to testify at the hearing. Scott Burke, Managing Partner of Morrison Mahoney, said that his office building is right outside the crosswalk where a woman was fatally hit this past September. Burke said that last February, he and several others emailed the city warning them that there were issues with the light sequence at the intersection.

     This past June, he said additional reports were filed to 311, and that “the death of Diane [Ly] was absolutely preventable if anybody listened to us…we have local knowledge that I think is important.”

     Gilbert Ho, a longtime Chinatown community activist, also said that he is “very concerned” about the safety of pedestrians, as there are many senior citizens and families with young children who cross the street in Chinatown. He said he has mentioned to Councilor Flynn that traffic lights should be delayed green for cars turning and pedestrians crossing, as “people and cars are fighting to get across.” Additionally, he said the city should “further look into slowing down the right or left turn arrow for pedestrian crossing.”

     Ho said that another issue is with cars turning right on red. He said he recognizes that cares are allowed to do this in some places, but “I see a lot of cars not really yielding for pedestrians when they are making the right turn,” he said. “It’s very dangerous for pedestrians.”

     Brendan Kearney of WalkBoston said that crashes, fatalities, and injuries can be prevented through fixing signal timing, among other things. “that design is to influence [driver] behavior,” he said. Kearney referenced page 140 of the GoBoston 2030 plan, which he said contains “great recommendations” that he believes the city should be putting into practice. “The city has already done the research on this,” he said.

     Chief of Streets Chris Osgood highlighted some of the work that his team is doing, including a focus on maintenance and education, major roads and corridors, the Neighborhood Slow Streets Program, and the bike network across the city.

     Osgood said the citywide efforts in legislation, education, and maintenance include a bill that is “likely to succeed this week in pushing forward a distracted driving bill to be signed at the state house,” as well as lowering the default speed limit in the city of Boston. The City is also focused on ensuring that safe driver behaviors are practiced by all drivers.

     As far as maintenance goes, Osgood said that the city has doubled its investment in things like pavement markings and has restriped about 2,600 crosswalks over the past couple fiscal years. Additionally, the city is working on engineering changes with a focus on major corridors, which will lead to safer driving. According to Osgood, there are “dozens of projects on the move on these key corridors.”

     The Neighborhood Slow Streets program, which is focused on contiguous blocks, is prioritized for streets with “high numbers of vulnerable road users,” Osgood said, as well as areas where there are “key links” in the transportation network, such as bus routes and MBTA train stations. Areas where there are high percentages of crashes are also considered for the Slow Streets Program. The city is also focused on redesigning streets for 20 miles per hour, as was discussed in a previous Council hearing about lowering the city speed limit.

     Bike lanes are another focus, and the city is making it a priority goal to have roughly four times as many people commuting to work by bike by 2030, and there are several more miles of protected bike lane to come, with eight miles already in place throughout the city.

     The city has also installed about 85 speed feedback signs across the city, Osgood said, and is focused on improving crosswalks by doing things like daylighting intersections.

     City Councilor Matt O’Malley inquired about things like raised crosswalks, photo enforcement, and feedback regarding the Slow Streets program with the only complaint being that certain neighborhoods did not receive Slow Streets benefits.

     Osgood said that city engineers do support raised crosswalks in areas where they make sense, but they don’t work in every situation. By state law, photo enforcement is not allowed, though there are bills out there pushing for things like stop arm cameras mounted to stop signs on school buses.

     Osgood added that they are trying to “find the right mix of staff and capital” for the Slow Streets program, and taking a look at it for the upcoming fiscal year’s budget to see how the program might be able to be broadened. “It’s a prioritization,” Osgood said of the program. “We are looking at where do you have seniors, youth, persons with disabilities…those are places we look at first.”

     City Councilor Kim Janey said that there should be a citywide plan in place to make these improvements, because right now, “we have neighborhoods fighting over Slow Streets initiatives.”

     Osgood said that the city will take 311 requests for problem areas, and recommended describing the situation through 311 to be reviewed by the city. City Councilor Michelle Wu said she hopes that “even one person flagging something as unsafe” will warrant the city checking it out, as she’s concerned that the city waits for several complaints about the same issue to come in before they address it.

     Another community member mentioned that crosswalk times should be extended, as many crosswalks do not allow enough time for elderly or people with disabilities to get across the street. Additionally, he said that bikers who blow through crosswalks are dangerous, as well as bikers who go the wrong way down a one-way street. He said he would like to see bike rules enforced, as he does not believe they currently are.

     Community activist Alison Pultinas said the design issue with the conflict between turning vehicles and pedestrians is an important one. “The issue of cars that have the right to turn on red or cars that have a green light and are allowed to turn while pedestrians have a walk signal is very complicated and deserves a lot of analysis,” she said. “There has to be a criteria looking at the speed on these corridors and that has to be one of the determining factors whether it’s going to be an all-way stop.” She added that she hopes the public can be more involved when discussing these intersections.

     As this conversation continues to move forward, “we have a lot of work to do,” O’Malley said, adding that he believes it’s a good thing to see that everyone wants safer roads for pedestrians, cars, and bikers.

            Councilor Flynn said that pedestrian safety is probably the issue he works the most on within his district, and is glad to see that residents want to be active and involved, and “have some great ideas for how we can improve pedestrian safety.

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