Improving Dangerous Intersections In Underserved Communities

MassBike was recently invited by MassDOT to participate in a Road Safety Audit to help improve Morton Street in Mattapan. This is just one of many audits that take place around the state to improve our most dangerous intersections, and MassBike has been a strong supporter of this work.

Fixing this corridor is important, and the safety audit is a crucial first step to doing so. It is an important regional connection between Blue Hill Avenue and the Casey Overpass, which thousands of people use every day commuting from the South Shore to work at the Longwood Medical Area, Northeastern University, or other employers.

Unfortunately, Morton Street itself wasn’t really built to handle that kind of traffic. It is lined with residential buildings, has poor signage, no bike lanes or other markings, and intersections that rank as the state’s 185th and 37th most dangerous. Fortunately, there have been no reported car-bike crashes over the past three years, but that may be because few people are willing to bike on that street.

We are glad to be strong partners with MassDOT in their efforts to improve road safety for all users, especially in neighborhoods cut in half by major regional routes with heavy traffic. The day of the audit, there was a car cash involving an MBTA bus, providing a poignant backdrop to the activity. We look forward to our continued partnership with MassDOT as we work toward a common goal of a safer, healthier neighborhood.

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3 Responses to Improving Dangerous Intersections In Underserved Communities

  1. Mark Kaepplein December 28, 2011 at 3:38 am #

    What needs to be changed is making sidewalks too wide and road lanes too narrow. Narrow lanes squeeze riders between traffic and car doors. The tragic death of a cyclist on Vassar Street appears to me to have been due to poor visibility and the tanker truck swinging wide into the oncoming left turn lane occupied by the cyclist. Had the sidewalk and corner been narrower and without the signal pole forcing a wide turn, this death might have been prevented. Most new “pedestrian friendly” features show no accident reduction while this one helped create one.

  2. Price January 3, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    I am still learning the details of what happened in this tragic crash, but generally I will say that I agree accommodating all users of the road to maximize safety should be the top priority. That said, pitting pedestrians against bicyclists is usually a losing proposition, when the reality is that there is almost always a solution that can serve both.

  3. Mark Kaepplein January 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    I corresponded with cycling advocate John Allen on this crash and learned from others more information. Bad engineering right on the MIT campus contributed to the death. The City of Cambridge identifies intersection as that of two trucking routes. In 2003, Cambridge narrowed Vassar Street at the intersection with Mass Ave by about 12 feet, making 18-wheeler truck turns impossible to make without crossing lanes and breaking traffic laws. Allen pointed out that the signage on the ATM kiosk is very bright, impairing night vision, especially when wet surfaces are all reflecting light. Typically cities and towns require permits for business signs and should have failed this one for being so bright at night on the eastern side in particular. Shading the kiosk windows at top and bottom would further reduce light from reflections inside. Slip lanes are out of fashion despite offering pedestrian refuge islands to shorten crossing distances, but being truck routes, one is appropriate at that corner. If it were not a truck route, curb extensions would be OK given the high pedestrian volume. A mixed question is on traversable corners, which this was not due to a signal pole. Pedestrians can be hit on extended crosswalk corners, but if unoccupied, one could have saved the cyclist. Bad weather conditions, two errors by the City of Cambridge and driver error were primary causes. The cyclist might have had a chance if he was to the right of the left turn lane, very aware, and anticipated trucks need to swing wide. All in all, I blame Cambridge for creating a tight corner on a designated truck route to propagate their dogma and pursuit of urban design awards – it was only a matter of time before circumstances came together.