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Vision Zero

In 2021, Most Massachusetts Pedestrian Killings Were Concentrated In Just 12 Communities

A memorial to the 39 people killed by drivers in the city of Springfield during 2020 and 2021 at a vigil held on the steps of the Springfield Central Library on Sunday, November 21, the World Day of Remembrance. Photo courtesy of Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, via Twitter.

A new WalkBoston analysis of pedestrian deaths during 2021 found that most fatal crashes that killed pedestrians last year were concentrated in only 12 cities and towns across the Commonwealth, and that older adults were disproportionately represented among the victims.

In 2021, at least 75 pedestrians lost their lives in traffic crashes in Massachusetts, according to statistics compiled by WalkBoston from the MassDOT IMPACT crash database. Those deaths accounted for 18 percent of all motor vehicle killings in the state in 2021.

Almost one third of those deaths (24 of 75) occurred in just four cities: Springfield and Boston, which each saw 9 pedestrian deaths in 2021, and Brockton and Lowell, with 3 deaths each.

Eight other communities (Dedham, Framingham, Lawrence, New Bedford, Oxford, Saugus, Weymouth, and Yarmouth) had more than one killing in 2021.

Altogether, those 12 communities accounted for more than half of the pedestrian deaths in Massachusetts in 2021.

The new WalkBoston report, Fatal Pedestrian Crashes in MA (2021), puts a special focus on Springfield.

MassDOT's crash data indicate that Springfield's streets aren't just dangerous for pedestrians: the city is home to about 2.2 percent of the Commonwealth’s population, but the 2,883 injury- or death-causing crashes that happened in the city during 2020 and 2021 represent about 5.9 percent of the Commonwealth’s total number of serious crashes.

In 2021, four of Springfield's 9 pedestrian deaths occurred on just one street: State Street, a four-lane arterial that extends east from the city's downtown area and divides residential neighborhoods that are home to high proportions of Black and Hispanic residents.

In early September, two cars struck and killed an unidentified victim who was crossing State Street near the Springfield Armory.

In November, another driver struck and killed 40-year-old Michael Diaz Vargas on State Street a few blocks further east, near Mason Square.

A week later, yet another driver struck and killed Springfield Central Library staffer Gayle Ball in State Street in front of the library.

Then, in early December, a school bus struck and killed Alexangeliz Medina, a 16-year-old Springfield High School student, on State Street downtown.

City of Springfield officials are now proposing some traffic-calming improvements for State Street in front of the Springfield Central Library, but those changes would be extremely modest in scope, and would only affect one block of a street that's over three miles long.

"The problems with State Street are typical of a lot of Springfield's major streets, and how the city is laid out," said WalkBoston executive director Stacey Beuttell in a phone conversation with StreetsblogMASS. "There’s very fast-moving traffic that bisects a lot of neighborhoods, so residents are forced to interact with these very difficult roads. And there are very few pedestrian signals outside of downtown; the neighborhoods are suffering with very old signal equipment. We can’t know if that’s a culprit in the specific crashes we’ve cited, but pedestrians are often left trying to guess how to cross the street."

The WalkBoston report also warns that older adults are disproportionately represented among the victims of 2021's crashes.

According to Census data, 17 percent of the Massachusetts population is over 65. But people in that age group represented 36 percent of the victims in fatal crashes involving pedestrians last year.

"If we want seniors to be able to live independently, we need to be sure they can walk to their local shops and appointments without fear of being hit by a car," said Beuttell.

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