In Worcester, the State’s Most Crash-Prone Intersection Is Getting a Makeover

Worcester's Kelley Square, a junction of 7 busy streets near an interstate highway interchange, has the dubious honor of being the intersection with the most crashes in Massachusetts.

A December 2016 Google Street View image of Kelley Square in Worcester, looking north towards Water Street and the Canal District.
A December 2016 Google Street View image of Kelley Square in Worcester, looking north towards Water Street and the Canal District.

In MassDOT’s most recent “Top Crash Locations” report, the intersection with the Commonwealth’s greatest number of motor vehicle crashes was Kelley Square in Worcester, with 138 reported collisions between 2014 and 2016.

In its current form, Kelley Square is a hectic junction of 7 busy city streets next to a busy Interstate 290 interchange. It’s also at the southern edge of the city’s walkable Canal District, and a necessary crossing for anyone walking or biking downtown from the city’s diverse and densely-populated Vernon Hill neighborhood. For those reasons, the intersection sees a steady stream of bike and pedestrian traffic, in spite of a hostile design with wide-open expanses of asphalt.

An October 2018 safety audit by MassDOT identified about 20 crashes in the area involving a bicycle or pedestrian over the 4-year period from 2013 to 2016 – one of which killed a pedestrian while she was standing on one of Kelley Square’s narrow sidewalks.

In May 2015, according to police reports, North Carolina truck driver Gary Shray was attempting a tight right turn from Millbury Street into Kelley Square when he towed his trailer onto the sidewalk and crushed 24-year-old Sarah T. Ewing of Hudson under his wheels. Shray also seriously injured a friend of Ms. Ewing’s, 25-year-old Joseph Meszaro of Oxford, who was standing next to her on the sidewalk.

In a construction project scheduled to begin this fall, though, MassDOT will reorganize the square into a large, peanut-shaped roundabout, belted through its midsection with a broad crosswalk to link the northern and southern sides of the square:

The project will also bring changes to Madison Street, a 4-lane arterial that extends northwest from the intersection towards downtown Worcester. Just two blocks away from Kelley Square, Madison passes through some vacant lots where the city would like to build a new minor-league baseball stadium to anchor a walkable district of new mixed-use development.

The MassDOT safety audit recommended evaluating “a road diet to reduce the number of travel lanes” on Madison Street, and some local advocates agitated for protected bike lanes. Those ideas were apparently rejected by MassDOT designers, who ultimately decided that most of the street’s width would remain dedicated for cars and trucks.

Instead, the project proposes to narrow travel lanes on Madison Street to widen sidewalks and build additional crosswalks between the square and the new ballpark.

Jerry Powers, the co-chair of WalkBike Worcester, praised MassDOT for extensive outreach efforts throughout the planning process, but expressed disappointment that the agency didn’t go further to calm traffic in the square and on Madison Street.

“We are not thrilled with the multi-lane traffic (on Madison and in the roundabout), because anytime you get over one lane, there’s the possibility of one car stopping for you in the crosswalk and motorists in the other lane not seeing you,” said Powers. “We’re advocating for raised crosswalks, but that’s still a point that hasn’t been decided.”

The current design, which was presented in a public information meeting in Worcester Wednesday evening, does not include any raised crosswalks, but Patrick Marvin, a MassDOT spokesperson, wrote in an email before the meeting that “the design team is still reviewing the potential to raise a crossing near the hybrid roundabout with the City of Worcester.”

MassDOT expects that the project will go under construction by October.

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