By Seth Daniel
An adult and a child were struck by a vehicle in the are of 640 Commonwealth Ave. on Tuesday night, June 21, near the Boston University campus, and though the injuries were non-life threatening, the accident this week highlighted the importance of the Vision Zero effort now underway by City planners – an effort that looks to cut such accidents down to zero in the future.
The Vision Zero project got underway earlier this year, but a meeting on June 15 at St. Cecilia’s Parish highlighted one of the corridors that the City is focusing on, that being Massachusetts Avenue from Boston Medical Center all the way to Beacon Street. At the meeting last week, proposed design improvements that can be made quickly, rather than in the long-term, were unveiled to the public for consideration.
Charlotte Fleetwood, a City transportation planner who is heading up the effort, has been on a tour of neighborhood associations recently and said that accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists have been on the rise. She said the effort on Mass Ave – as well as a second pilot are on Talbot Street in Dorchester – is aimed to protect the most vulnerable first.
“We want to understand why crashes are happening,” she said. “We want to focus on the most vulnerable uses – the walkers and bikers. I you make the streets safer for the most vulnerable, it is safer for everyone. Pedestrian and cyclist accidents are on the rise. We had four pedestrians killed in January. Whatever the reason, that’s unacceptable.”
Vision Zero kicked off earlier this year when Mayor Martin Walsh decided to focus more on pedestrian accidents in Boston. His memorable quote was that using the streets of Boston “should not be a test of courage.”
But certainly it is.
On a recent afternoon on Mass Ave near Harrison Street, a woman crossing the street was nearly mowed down by a driver going way too fast and taking a left turn without yielding.
She was missed by inches – screaming out loud as she realized the car was coming right at her.
A similar situation unfolded at the very same location about five minutes later as a medical doctor crossed the street and, like an all-pro running back, juke stepped his way to safety as the vehicle bore down on him.
Residents of Massachusetts Avenue say that such situations are common all along the corridor every day and at all times as impatient drivers hampered by poorly-timed lights and gridlock take greater risks at the expense of those walking and biking.
That’s one reason why the City chose Mass Ave to begin the Vision Zero Task Force’s work.
“First of all, speed matters,” said Fleetwood. “One major goal is to reduce speed on the street.”
She said at 20 mph, there is an 18 percent risk of an accident, but at 40 mph there is a 77 percent risk.
Some of the early plans for Mass Ave include having a protected bike lane from Huntington Avenue to Beacon Street. These lanes get bikes off of the street and protect cyclists from getting “doored” by parked cars who unknowingly open their doors into the bike lane while a cyclist passes. A bike lane of some type is also planned for the entire corridor.
Pedestrian Crossing improvements are planned for Harrison Avenue, Washington Street, Shawmut Avenue, Tremont Street, Columbus Avenue, St. Botolph Street, Huntington Avenue, Westland Avenue, Clearway Street, Belvidere Street, Boylston Street, Newbury Street, Commonwealth Avenue, Marlborough Street, and Beacon Street.
Other such improvements that can be done quickly are “daylighting,” which is bumping the curb out at the corner, such as at locations like St. Botolph and St. Stephen Streets. While it does reduce some parking, it is said to make safer passage for pedestrians crossing, who often can get blocked out by parked cars at the corner.
The Vision Zero team will also have a comprehensive website to track car and pedestrian accidents. Using that data, they will further inform their plans.
“The changes we want to make are rapid changes,” said Fleetwood. “We want to focus on quickly, with things like markings, signal timing, flex posts, and speed radar signs.”
The Vision Zero Task Force includes the Boston Police, the Boston Fire, Boston Transportation, WalkBoston, the Bicyclists Union, Boston EMS, and others.