Testimony as prepared for Boston City Council Joint Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation Public Health – Docket #1074, Order for a hearing to discuss speeding cars as a public health emergency

Testimony as prepared for Boston City Council Joint Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation Public Health – Docket #1074, Order for a hearing to discuss speeding cars as a public health emergency

Testimony as prepared for City of Boston City Council Joint Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation Public Health – Docket #1074, Order for a hearing to discuss speeding cars as a public health emergency and address infrastructure improvements; and Docket #1040, Order for a hearing to discuss pedestrian safety, traffic enforcement, and vision zero for the hearing scheduled on Monday, November 23, 2020 at 3:00 p.m. conducted via Zoom.

My name is Brendan Kearney, and I’m the Deputy Director at WalkBoston. WalkBoston is a statewide pedestrian advocacy organization whose mission is to make Massachusetts more walkable. We work with municipal staff, state agencies, community-based organizations and residents to make walking conditions safer, more enjoyable, and more equitable for all.Thank you to all the city councilors for having this conversation and sticking around. Thank you also for having public comments first. Coming to these meetings and participating on panels is part our job as advocates, so thank you for making sure that community members who showed up to speak are a priority.

Speeding is a huge public safety issue: the Governor’s Highway Safety Association Report “Speeding Away from Zero” released in 2019 shared that 28% of fatal crashes in 2017 in MA were speeding-related. Higher speed, regardless of limit, is a factor in every traffic fatality or serious crash: there is less reaction time for a person driving to brake or avoid a crash, and a fast moving vehicle inflicts higher blunt force trauma on crash victims.

Even though traffic volumes have been down (during pandemic), still increased rates of speed on the streets. Councilor Flynn has already identified here today a number of fatal crashes as well as crashes where people drove at high rates of speed into immovable objects. 

Last week, there was a session during MassDOT’s Moving Together conference about MassDOT’s “Speed Management to Prevent Serious Injuries and Fatalities” project. MassDOT announced that they have committed resources to study how speed limits are set for clarity to users / designers and to be able to base it on the context (meaning having slower speeds around places there are many people: main street districts, schools, senior centers, transit stops). Hope Boston can get to the front of the line on this!

Councilor Bok mentioned Systems Fixes, so I’ll try and frame my comments that way.

First, I’ll agree wholeheartedly w/ her suggestion on improving the Signal Policy: Need to improve our signals so they prioritize vulnerable road users – especially people walking – and give consistency from intersection to intersection for everyone with pedestrian-first signals. Councilor Flynn mentioned concurrent signals, which do work well when people driving are doing it at a slower speed so they can appropriately yield to people who have the legal right of way in the crosswalk. There are some exceptions: they are not appropriate at intersections with many turns, or at T intersections where 100% of people driving are turning a vehicle across the path of people walking in a crosswalk. No matter the setup — concurrent or exclusive for people walking — traffic signals should on be a shorter half cycles wherever possible, so that there is less delay for everyone. 

I’d like to also offer a few more Systems Fixes:

1. The City should and can lead when there are multiple jurisdictions. Many of the most dangerous roads for speeding are not Boston owned or have multiple jurisdictions (Boston, MassDCR, MassDOT). Would be great for the City of Boston to take the lead to advocate for changes and lead on some of these mixed jurisdiction places and get the stakeholders to the table to make safety changes. Becca will share more.

2. We need GOOD data. (Thanks for highlighting, Councilor Campbell.)
Boston Police should be fixing their database connections so that they are automatically sharing any crash data reports w/ MassDOT. That still doesn’t happen, though we’ve all been talking about it for years.

Thank you to the City Council for funding a band-aid to the problem w/ a data analyst position so that information is shared more readily with the transportation department, but the systems fix would be to get the BPD crash report system to connect directly to the state’s crash reporting system. The problem is that so much of the content lives within the narrative section. Those police reports have way more info about the crash than what EMS crash dataset includes which is shown on the Vision Zero Crash Map. Having that feeding into the MassDOT Crash Portal will possibly qualify the city for more funding programs to help fix dangerous streets.

Building on the data point, I’m glad that one of the commenters, Matt Lawlor, mentioned concerns around increased officer enforcement. In June 2020, WGBH reported out data showing that black people in Boston accounted for 70% of police stops despite being 25% of the population. 

Another data systems fix: Would also love to see data from those speed feedback signs. Is there a process for it getting collected & shared, or is that looked at when a project is going to happen? Is there an escalation or a next step? Meaning, does a Speed Feedback Sign location get upgraded to a speed hump if people continue to speed down a street?  

3. Figure out snow clearance for pedestrians, too. Important to show safety for pedestrians is key year round – from clearing curb cuts, to prioritizing the clearing of heavily traveled sidewalks and crosswalks. If sidewalks aren’t safely cleared, people walk in the street since those DO get cleared. Raised Crosswalks are a double win: they can slow speeding drivers and also makes it so a curb cut does not flood/freeze. We created a video showing the importance of clearing curb cuts after snow storms, that I’ll share a link to.

4. Councilor Mejia – I agree with your comment that there needs to be more overlap between development and transportation! One example of how we’re helping impact that: Urban Edge, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and The Community Builders are redeveloping the Mildred C. Hailey apartments, I recently met with them through an invite from Carolyn Royce and the Egleston Square Neighborhood Association / Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council during one of their existing meetings, and offered suggestion that a new 4 leg intersection at Centre / Lamartine should include a raised and safe connection for the Southwest Corridor. They already have plans for better connections from the site to the Southwest Corridor, & fixing pedestrian access through the site. 

Thank you for the opportunity to be on this panel, and I welcome your questions.

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