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Northeastern researchers proposed steps two years ago to make Centre Street in West Roxbury safer for pedestrians

In 2015, a West Roxbury man suffered a traumatic brain injury at Center and Hastings streets when one driver stopped for him to let him walk across but another did not and slammed into him. Yesterday, a woman who was hit by a car at the same intersection died of her injuries.

In 2017, a Northeastern civil-engineering professor and one of his students wrote a detailed study on how to curb such crashes along Centre Street between the Holy Name rotary and Lagrange Street, by converting what is now a four-lane road into two lanes, with pedestrian islands at intersections and dedicated turn lanes at key intersections, steps they said would both slow drivers down and reduce the odds of them flooring it at intersections - and the odds of pedestrians getting hit by motorists not realizing why other motorists were stopping.

Prof. Peter Furth said today that BTD engineers looked at the study and its accompanying data and basically said that it was interesting, but that they had more pressing concerns.

That could change. City Councilor Matt O'Malley (West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain), who asked fellow councilors to observe a moment of silence for the woman at their meeting today, said it's time to figure out how to make Centre Street safer.

Furth and master's student Huijie Gao said the answer would be to return the road to its state before the 1960s, when it had a single traffic lane in each direction - which would allow not just for pedestrian islands and turn lanes but dedicated bicycle lanes as well.

Currently, with a four-lane road, motorists at red lights see open road ahead and zoom away when the light turns green. But forced into a narrower road, they would no longer do that, and a two-lane configuration would eliminate what he called a "double threat" to pedestrians, where, as in the 2016 crash, one motorist stops for a pedestrian but another headed in the same direction then plows into him.

Furth continued that eliminating a lane in each direction wouldn't reduce the capacity of Centre Street much. It sounds counter-intuitive, but he said most through traffic in the area already goes down the nearby VFW Parkway. A day spent by Gao and fellow students collecting traffic data at the intersections between the Holy Name rotary and Lagrange Street revealed that Centre Street actually has long periods where sections of the road are clear, followed by a burst of traffic as the lights change at one of the intersections that have them, he said, adding congestion comes when drivers try to make left turns.

By installing islands at intersections, and slowing traffic speeds from 30 to 25, the city could even save money by removing traffic lights altogether at several of the intersections that now have them, he said.

Furth and Gao decided to study Centre Street because Gao is from West Roxbury and told Furth how dangerous the road is for pedestrians.

In a letter to city councilors in 2016, the man described his crash:

I left Ace Hardware on Centre Street, bags in hand, went to the pedestrian crosswalk on Hastings Street towards Sugar Bakery, looked up and down the road, saw one car slowdown in the first lane, and began to walk. Within five steps, and in no more than five seconds, I saw from the corner of my eye that I was about to be hit by an incoming car. A split second later, I felt the impact, lost consciousness briefly, and was certain that if I didn’t die, I would be very badly injured. I regained awareness after I had hit the ground, and the first thing I could think to do was try to wiggle my toes, since I could not feel my legs and was not sure if I perhaps had a spinal injury.

Firefighters braced me and put me on a stretcher, medics evaluated me and rushed me off to Faulkner Hospital, and officers got my information so they could go inform my wife, who at the time was home with our toddler and pregnant with our second daughter. In a daze, I tried thinking to myself how what had just happened actually happened. Did I not look? Did I miss the car? Why would I walk in front of a moving vehicle? I couldn’t figure it out. I was evaluated by the physicians in the Emergency Department, and told how lucky I was to have survived the hit. I did not break any bones. My MRI was clear. My neck seemed okay. My relative youth and fitness had helped save me. But what was not evaluated was the damage done to my brain. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which wasn’t diagnosed until a month later, when I was still unable to stay awake, see straight, or return to work in a functional capacity.

When I put the pieces together with the help of a paramedic, it made more sense. Based on how I was hit, the damage done to the car, the crater my head left on the windshield during impact, where the car had come to a stop, and where my body had ended up, the driver was going somewhere in the range of 35-40 miles per hour. The reason I had never seen the car coming was because, as I went to take that first step off the sidewalk, the car wasn’t even in my line of sight.

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Comments

I would like to see something change, even if they can't implement all of those suggestions. Centre St. is just terrifying. Last night, after detouring around the accident, I slowed down to allow a pedestrian to cross in a cross walk, as did the car across from me. The car in the far lane drove right through, and if the pedestrian had been distracted for one second, he would've been hit too.

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Voting closed 31

The worst sections on Centre St are the crosswalks that have no lights at all - Richwood St, Hastings St, and Maple St - whereas the crosswalks at LaGrange, Park, Corey and Willow have lights.

Perhaps adding lane-reducing islands or converting the crosswalks to speed tables at these non-light crosswalks might help. They did that at Mount Auburn Street several years ago - people were racing down Mt. Auburn St to get to Fresh Pond Parkway, so the city of Cambridge installed two islands (one near the hospital, one just outside Harvard Square).

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Deepest sympathy to the victim, I was in the area at the time and knew from the number of police, fire and ambulances responding that it was something serious. Our schools, elder affairs, driver's education and the license exam should address spatial awareness and double threats.

I had never heard of the term "double threat" used in this context but it's accurate. It's not just pedestrians at risk but a major cause of T-bone collisions when a motorist taking a left turn across the first lane of a double threat is "waived on" by the car in the first lane only to be hit by a car in the second lane who never saw it coming. On any given day you can see accidents in the making on these type roads. It amazes me how many people don't anticipate the second car or pedestrian. As noted after the Southie fatal last year, a dedicated Boston Police traffic squad comprised of officers who actually want to write tickets would be a good first step. You can reduce the speed limit to 1 mph but if nobody enforces it on a regular basis, especially in high crash areas, it's meaningless.

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Voting closed 27

Hear hear. CVS on Market St. in Brighton is notorious for this. A well-meaning driver in the line to go up market disregards the much shorter/quicker line next to them to turn onto Faneuil. I hear "crunch" all the time.

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Maybe harrassing the city until they get done will be what I do with the rest of my life. Who's with me?

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Voting closed 35

The street should be shut down to cars until it is made safe. I don't care if it takes weeks. I don't care if it's a minor inconvenience to drivers. Driving on public streets is not a right. We know what will make the street safer. The professor already did all the work for the city but they care more about cars than people's lives. The driving lanes should be reduced immediately and cops need to do their jobs and get criminal drivers off the streets.

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Voting closed 34

Then there's you being you.

I hate to tell you how things get to the stores you shop at or how things get delivered to your house, but it involves vehicles on roads.

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100% agree. A plan is staring then in the face. Makes balking over unknowns harder to fake.

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I harassed the city and the police station for a year about Holy Name Rotary after numerous times of almost being hit. I asked the police station to put a detail out there and start ticketing. All I got from them was "not our roads, talk to the city and the state police." Which I did, over and over. I gave up.

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In front of Marty. Then he might pay attention to the car fire.

Seems the only way to get marty's attention to something unsafe in traffic is to be a car on fire.

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I’ve been fuming about this for a while and contacted Matt O’Malley last year detailing scary close calls. He passed me off to his liaison who promised she was planning a meeting with BTD and would invite me. That never materialized.
The lack of action, as I see it, is that Matt is beholden to old crowd that demands as little change as possible, to get in their car and drive as fast as they want, and above all else, parking spaces. These are god-given rights to anyone that lived here before 1990 and as long as they elect the kid of a guy their comfortable with he’ll keep these new-fangled ideas like walking and transit focused building at bay.
Matt has two worlds. He’s the big progressive on social media and with city-wide issues. Then in person with the old WR folks he’s for bigger parking lots and against schools for poor kids. He doesn’t tweet about that side of things, keeping the old voters happy it’ll always be 1994 in West Roxbury. Amazing how it works, they aren’t on Twitter!

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Voting closed 40

I had a similar - if not identical - experience with Matt O'Malley. I called his office after I saw a pedestrian struck at the West Rox Parkway/Centre St rotary a year or two ago. I was curious if there were ANY plans to make that multi-stage crossing safer for pedestrians. He mentioned something pretty vague about maybe some effort on one portion of that rotary. That was it. No follow up. No action. It's really frustrating because this is an obvious place where our community could be improved, and he just doesn't seem that interested.

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Just curious, has anyone called into O’Malley’s office and had a successful result/experience?

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I have many times. Make a phone call, follow up with an email, and get in touch again if you don't hear back within your time frame. This is the way to hear back from any of the electeds and the various City Hall commissions. Find out who your O'Malley neighborhood liaison is, and direct your inquiries to him/her. Same with City commissions--copy in your Office of Neighborhood Services representative, and follow-up.

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he replied to one of my emails three years ago saying that the city did a wonderful job plowing Centre, washington and hyde park ave. Haha

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following up on a question as chasing. You may live in a different responsive universe than I do.

Also I attend community meetings and try to meet the new liaisons for the electeds. It isn't onerous to follow up, nor complicated and takes less than a minute. The more specific your question, the better.

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Why would you be complaining to O'Malley about snow removal on Hyde Park Avenue?

Meanwhile, I griped to McCarthy about piles of snow blocking corners at 11 one night in February of 2015, and he replied in 10 minutes. Better yet, there were crews removing snow (and allowing people to walk on the sidewalks) the next day.

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Same here. Baker St from Gardner to VFW might as well be a race track. I’ve since moved, but I called MO’M and each of the at large councilors on multiple occasions. The most I would get is a call back and “we’ll look into it”. I asked about one of those fancy radar speed signs and was told it was too expensive.

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You can blame O'Malley, Rush, Coppinger, Walsh or even Menino. There is ample blame to go around. But it's ultimately the car culture to blame. You can only expect politicians to go against their constituency so much. You have a vocal contingent of people in West Roxbury that drive SUVs and think they live in a far-flung suburb. These people think there isn't enough parking anywhere and probably haven't been on the MBTA in years. It's not even always an age thing, there are 30-somethings that think this way. Look at the charter school thing there. All the complaints are about traffic. These people think building transit-oriented housing actually creates more traffic. It's all irrational but they all vote and are loud. The rational people that see how counterproductive this is must organize and drown them out. Only then will the politicians listen.

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Voting closed 27

These changes were proposed over 10 years ago too when Centre Street was redone. Instead, the city put in brick sidewalks and called it a success. People have asked elected officials to do this for years to no avail. Hell, some residents are somehow even blaming new housing and yuppies for this. Anything to avoid the obvious - that this street has been a known danger for a long time and no one did a damn thing about it.

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to promote road capacities of 60 years ago while population, employment, and development has grown tremendously. The plan doesn't even offer as much parking as the 1960 plan. This is progress?

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...more parking will fix the problem. Right.

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To demand that his pathological obsession be accommodated at all cost.

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has been a mess for a long time. As a person who lives and works in WR, I drive on Centre every day. It would definitely be improved by doing the three lane plan and angled parking. I've been guilty of not stopping for pedestrians but it's not because I don't want to stop for them. If I see them, I stop. Many times though, I'm so focused on the cars next to me and ahead and behind me and the cars coming toward me on the opposite side and the cars that are taking lefts and the cars that are parking or double parked that I don't see the pedestrian who wants to cross until after I'm already going through the crosswalk. The curves in the street don't help. I would think the businesses in WR would also support the three lane plan. It would slow down traffic so that drivers can actually take notice of the businesses in the area instead of drivers just trying to get through the area while avoiding the cars around them. I would also love to be able to ride my bike to work but I don't have a death wish and there's no way I'd ride my bike on Centre St. the way it is now.

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It would be a huge help to the businesses if people felt comfortable walking or biking to them. I know people who simply don’t feel safe crossing the rotary and crossing Centre Street. Once you’re in the car it’s only a few minutes difference to head for Chestnut Hill or Dedham.

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Voting closed 18

I am all for bike lanes, bike infrastructure, etc. But I have also had bikes almost plow into me b/c they didn't want to stop at the cross walk either. Granted, I'd rather be hit by a bike than a car.

I say get rid of the parking on Centre, add bike lanes, make it safer for pedestrians and ticket folks going over 25mph (I *think* that is the limit).

While we are at it....stop allowing Holy Name attendees to park at a diagonal in front of Holy Name when they attend their services. It makes trying to cross the street in that area even more dangerous. The cars coming up on Centre (heading towards RB's) can't see you and you can't see them unless your already in the cross walk. They have a huge parking lot - use it.

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Because, of course, "you've got to understand, cars are going to hit you."

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Arlington did something similar on Mass Ave, sadly not until a few people got hit. There was a vocal contingent of people opposed to the reconfiguration who believed Arlington was a suburb and anyone who wasn't driving shouldn't be in the town anyway. They did they everything they could to stop the project, going as far as to try and sue the state.

In the end, the city and state went ahead with the renovations and Arlington is better off. All the fear mongering about endless traffic and delays never materialized. (It still backs up in the morning but it did with the old configuration too.) Most of the day traffic moves just as quick. There aren't any additional vacant storefronts. Oh, and now it's far easier and safer to cross the street.

The lesson is that reconfiguration of roads to make it safer for pedestrians works without being detrimental to drivers. We've come a long way from the 1960's when the prevailing view was just to widen every road.

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As a driver, I vastly prefer the new to the old. No more swerving slaloming cars flying around, and plenty of places for turn lanes.

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What, you mean you didn't like the old configuration in East Arlington, where you had five or six lanes' worth of road width with no markings besides the double yellow line in the middle?

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is A LOT of the drivers are dick heads. I don't know why West Roxbury in this regard is so bad, because it's notas bad in other, similar, areas.

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not excusing the behavior, but people get frustrated by the constant stopping, lane changing, back up, etc, caused by bad turn architecture, double parking, and the buses doing the best they can, and start to get aggressive because it's the only way they perceive they're going to get anywhere. forcing a road calming would make things more predictable and would probably chill people out.

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Yes, yes, yes, and yes! Driving this stretch really sucks for all the reasons you mention. It’s no secret that the reason MA drivers are considered so bad is because of the crappy infrastructure.

Also, attention paid to where the next double-parked car is going to be, is attention not paid to pedestrians or bikes.

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Much can change in two years.

Look, just a few weeks ago, the traffic was backed up around the Holy Name Rotary. We took a right to take Centre St. to get home.

I do not know how often that happens but if it happens on a regular basis, the observation that one should not worry because most of the traffic heads towards somewhere else might be old news.

Right now the speed limit is 25 mph in the city, no? How low do we go? Changes to the roads will only go so far. It will not help curtail distracted drivers. (Nor will it curtail sun glare, which, I believe was a factor in the current death.)

I don't know. I am on that road during the week and on weekends. I rarely see it quiet.

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Stopped cars don't kill people. Cars moving too fast and driven by people who make up their own rules kill people.

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If you can't deal with it you don't know how to drive.

A very silly excuse for killing someone, and yet it is a sacred trope for bad drivers who weren't paying attention or couldn't pull over for a few minutes to save a life.

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"How low do we go?"

Based on extensive reading of U-Hub over the years.....

    • Reduce he Speed Limit to 5-10 MPH
    • Automobile drivers should be preceded by a cyclist or pedestrian waving a large, red flag.
    • Suburbanite motorists should adjust there schedules to begin their commutes around 3-4 am to allow sufficient bicycling time to make it to their jobs at Faulkner.
    • Have roving bands of locals checking drivers licenses to make sure that no suburbanites are driving in West Roxbury.
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Voting closed 4

Holy Name rotary backs up with people going home from work and schools, etc. Most of the problem seems to come from cars going onto West Roxbury Parkway heading toward Washington St. There's a stop light at the intersection of WR Pkwy and Belgrade and another light at the next block at the intersection of WR Pkwy and Beech. These two traffic lights seem to be the major reason the traffic backs up into the rotary causing gridlock (rotarylock?). If those two traffic lights were green a lot longer for the WR Pkwy drivers it would help out around the rotary.

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Don’t forget the new condo units
Across from St Thresas that will
dump even more traffic!

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What condos? Do you maybe mean the ones on Lagrange?

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The ones a mile from the rotary.

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