BU Professor Dies On Crumbling DCR Staircase In Dorchester
On Saturday, David Jones of Milton, an associate professor of public health law at Boston University, died when he apparently fell through a rickety set of stairs between the ground level of the JFK/UMass T station and Columbia Road.
State Police are investigating the incident, but say that Jones was already dead by the time police responded, and that his body was found under a gap in the stairs above.
An MBTA sign at the top of the stairs, adjacent to the Columbia Road sidewalk, says that the staircase would be closed “until Fall 2020” and suggests an alternative, more convoluted walking route to the bus stops below through the Red Line station’s lobby.
According to State Police, the bottom of the stairs had been fenced off as well.
For people arriving or departing by bus, however, the stairway is clearly visible as the most direct route to Columbia Road and the densely-populated Dorchester neighborhoods west of the station, and the alternative route, through the Red Line station, is not immediately evident.
Archived Google Street View imagery suggests that the stairs had been intact and in use as recently as June 2019. But in imagery taken in November 2020 (see screenshot above), the stairway is clearly missing several steps about 15 feet above the ground.
Tweets from the MBTA’s commuter rail account suggest that the stairs were closed in early 2020:
The stairs between Columbia Road and Old Colony Avenue next to JFK/UMass Station is inaccessible until further notice. Please access the station from Sydney Street or Morrissey Boulevard/Mont Vernon Street while necessary repairs are being made.
— MBTA Commuter Rail (@MBTA_CR) February 9, 2020
An MBTA spokesperson told Streetsblog on Monday that “the staircase is not MBTA property.”
Instead, the state agency in charge of the dangerous stairway appears to be the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the agency that controls the Columbia Road overpass and Old Colony Avenue, the street that runs beneath the overpass next to the Red Line station.
On Monday, StreetsblogMASS asked DCR whether the agency is taking any action to repair or replace the staircase, or whether, given the obvious safety hazards it creates, DCR would remove the current stairway altogether.
A DCR official would only say that “the Administration is currently investigating this incident.”
As reported here previously, many of the DCR’s roadways create dangerous conditions for people walking and bicycling in Massachusetts, and the agency has a reputation for being slow to respond to life-threatening conditions.
In 2019, the state legislature convened a special commission “to improve the management, operations, and asset condition” of DCR infrastructure.