Tag: H3331

Testimony against Sidewalk Robot Bills (H3331, H3417, S2228)

Testimony against Sidewalk Robot Bills (H3331, H3417, S2228)

October 27, 2023 

Joint Committee on Transportation
Brendan Crighton, Senate Chair
Room 109-C
Boston, MA 02133

William Straus, House Chair
Room 134
Boston, MA 02133

RE: Testimony against Sidewalk Robot Bills (H3331, H3417, S2228)

Dear Chairman Crighton and Chairman Straus,

WalkMassachusetts is a non-profit organization that works to make walking safer and easier in Massachusetts to encourage better health, a cleaner environment and more vibrant communities. Founded in 1990 as WalkBoston, we changed our name in April 2023 to better reflect the work we’re doing across the Commonwealth alongside community partners. LivableStreets advocates for practical, people-centered transportation systems in Metro Boston that can dismantle invisible barriers that divide neighborhoods, communities, and people.

We are concerned about legislation that would give robots the same rights to public sidewalks and walkways as pedestrians (H3331, H3417, S2228). Sidewalks, crosswalks, and other walkways across the Commonwealth currently fall short of meeting the needs of people of all ages and abilities, as evidenced by the increasing number of pedestrians killed every year.

Using MassDOT data, WalkMassachusetts released a crash report earlier this year which found that in 2022, 435 people died in traffic crashes in Massachusetts, including 101 people walking. Of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, 60 communities had a fatal pedestrian crash in 2022, and older adults were hit and killed at a higher rate than those in other age groups. 71% of fatal pedestrian crashes took place in Environmental Justice Census Block Groups. The report can be found at https://walkmass.org/fatal22 

Two sessions ago (March 2019), we testified against a ‘mobile carry device’ bill similar to H3417/S2228. We are broadly concerned that regulations allowing these devices could open the door to privatization of the public way. More specifically, we are troubled about the impacts these vehicles can have on the safety and comfort of pedestrians, young and old, and of people using mobility devices.  A 90-lb device that can carry up to 45-lbs of goods traveling at 12.5 miles per hour should not operate on the sidewalk; instead, it belongs in the street. Even more concerning is H3331, which would allow a 550lb ‘personal delivery device’ to operate at 10 miles per hour on sidewalks. It is unclear what the total weight of this much larger device would be, since the bill notes that this weight excludes cargo. At this weight and speed, the likelihood of a pedestrian injury is high–and likely higher for people who don’t move as fast or cannot see or hear these devices coming down the sidewalk.

We applaud efforts from the private sector for looking to offer deliveries using smaller vehicles. Oversized vehicles are a danger to people walking, biking, and driving. However, if delivery companies are concerned about the risk of their 550 pound vehicles getting struck while traveling on local streets, the answer cannot be to move them to the sidewalks.

Our shared vision for safe streets points to a longstanding need to increase funding for Chapter 90 and MassDOT’s competitive funding programs, including Safe Routes to School, Complete Streets, and the Shared Streets and Spaces program. Additionally, there needs to be a strong emphasis to encourage the use of these funds for traffic-calming, sidewalk construction, and other similarly walk-friendly infrastructure. Every reconstruction project should be a Complete Streets project, not just projects that receive money through the Complete Streets funding program. These oversubscribed programs allow communities to implement traffic calming measures and street designs that accommodate a wider range of smaller vehicles for deliveries and transportation.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment, and would be happy to work with any proponent to offer feedback.

Sincerely,

Brendan Kearney
Co-Executive Director, WalkMassachusetts

Catherine Gleason
Public Policy Manager, LivableStreets Alliance