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Vision Zero

Wu Administration Revives Centre Street Safety Project For West Roxbury

An evening scene on a wide four-lane street that's lined with one-story commercial buildings. In the foreground, a person walks across the street at a traffic light as another person rides a bike in the opposite direction. A few cars' headlights are visible in the background.

Centre Street in West Roxbury on the evening of June 20, 2019.

The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) is reviving a pre-pandemic plan to reconfigure Centre Street in West Roxbury in an effort to curb dangerous driving along a busy neighborhood commercial corridor with high volumes of foot traffic.

The project's revival was announced earlier this week as part of the Wu administration's "safety surge" announcement.

In the city's press release, the BTD said that "the City will implement vital safety improvements along Centre Street in West Roxbury from the West Roxbury Parkway to Lagrange Street to address the ongoing history of fatal and serious injury crashes on this street."

The press release goes on to describe a design that would reduce the width of Centre Street "from four vehicle travel lanes to three (creating one lane in each direction with turn lanes)," much like the design that the city proposed in 2019.

The BTD has acknowledged that Centre Street’s current four-lane configuration is fundamentally unsafe for pedestrians: cars often stop to let someone cross the street at crosswalks, but passing cars in the other lane are then less likely to see the pedestrian walking in front of the stopped vehicle.

In spite of those hazards, Mayor Walsh did not stand behind the recommendations of his staff, and his administration put the proposal on hold indefinitely.

Instead, in a November 2019 public meeting, the Walsh administration promised stepped-up policing efforts to punish dangerous driving.

Three years' worth of records from the city's crash database demonstrates that that policing has not been effective. Since the end of 2019, there have been dozens of additional crashes on Centre Street in West Roxbury.

In fact, in one of those crashes – a December 2022 incident where a driver hit and injured a kindergartner walking home from school – eyewitnesses told Universal Hub that the perpetrator was a uniformed police officer who ran a red light in his personal vehicle.

There have been several other serious crashes on Centre Street in recent years. In the summer of 2021, James Erti, 52, a BTD employee, died while riding his motorcycle after he collided with another motor vehicle on Centre Street near its intersection with Park Street.

And in October of last year, a driver struck a pedestrian on Spring Street just west of its intersection with Centre Street (from a practical point of view, Spring Street is a four-lane continuation of Centre Street; at the intersection of the two streets, vehicles staying on Centre Street must make a turn, but vehicles going from Centre to Spring go straight through). The victim of that crash later died of their injuries.

Jason Brown, a West Roxbury resident who supports the city's proposal, told StreetsblogMASS this week that "the public discourse about the project is pretty toxic," but he's optimistic that City Hall is finally ready to follow through on making his neighborhood safer.

"The fundamental thing that’s changed is who’s the mayor, and the mayor has control of whether this happens or not," said Brown. "All the times I’ve met her has been in the context of advocating for safer streets, and for better access for walking and biking in the city. I think she does understand that this is something that there’s need form, and there are people here who support it."

The city will host a traditional in-person public meeting for the project next week, on May 31st, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Ohrenberger School (175 West Boundary Road).

Additionally, BTD staff are holding three sets of "office hours" for the project at the West Roxbury library on June 12, 15, and 16. Learn more on the city's project webpage.

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