Motorist Kills Pedestrian at Mass. Ave. and Melnea Cass

A Google Streetview image of Massachusetts Avenue at Melnea Cass Blvd.
A Google Streetview image of Massachusetts Avenue at Melnea Cass Blvd.

Massachusetts State Police are investigating after a motorist killed a pedestrian this morning at the dangerous intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury.

The intersection is one of the city’s most chilling examples of how outdated street design is a serious threat to the safety of the traveling public: according to the city’s own data, it ranks among the 5 worst intersections for crashes that injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists, and it ranks as one of the top 8 locations for injury-causing crashes among motorists.

This fatality is particularly tragic because both streets have already been identified by the city as top priorities for safety improvements under the city’s Vision Zero program. Sadly, the city’s planned improvements are still months away from being implemented.

Long-awaited plans to rebuild Melnea Cass Blvd. as a “complete street” are scheduled to go under construction this year, and the city also recently announced plans to extend the Massachusetts Avenue bike lanes southward to Columbia Road as part of its fiscal year 2020 budget.

This morning’s tragedy highlights the tension between the city’s efforts to implement safety improvements slowly and deliberately, with long periods of public feedback, versus the urgency of improving safety immediately.

It’s too late for today’s victim, but at an intersection that averages at least two injuries every month, the city should protect public safety with quick-build traffic-calming improvements now.

Update (11:53 a.m.)

The City of Boston and MassDOT (which controls the eastbound approach to the intersection, the I-93 approach roadway) completed a safety audit of this intersection in July 2016.

That study recommended a number of “high impact/low cost” safety improvements that the City of Boston could make, including:

  • “Upgrade all pushbuttons to be APS push buttons.”
  • “Consider providing a leading pedestrian interval across Massachusetts Avenue/Southampton Street.”
  • “Evaluate pedestrian timings and consider extending the pedestrian clearance times.”
  • “Consider installing a contra-flow bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue,
    south of Southampton Street.”
  • “Consider consolidating the number of southbound lanes on Massachusetts Avenue to provide bicycle accommodations.”

Three years after the audit’s report, the “short-term” recommendations for new bicycling accommodations remain unbuilt. Streetsblog has submitted an inquiry to the Boston Transportation Department about whether any of the audit’s short- or medium-term pedestrian signal timing recommendations have been implemented.

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The pedestrianized section of Franklin Street next to the Downtown Crossing station entrance pictured on May 29, 2019.

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