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.