Mayor Wu Won’t Wait: City Will Implement Centre Street Safety Improvements This Fall
12:15 PM EDT on June 2, 2023
The City of Boston will reconfigure Centre Street in West Roxbury from a 4-lane configuration to a safer 3-lane cross section with protected bike lanes later this fall.
“This is a neighborhood business corridor, and we want it to feel like one that people can get across and use every day rather than it primarily being a place for cars to zoom through and people need to jump out of the way,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to an audience of approximately 200 people at West Roxbury’s Ohrenberger Community Center Wednesday evening.
It’s fairly unusual for the Mayor of Boston to attend a community meeting about an upcoming public works project. But Mayor Wu told the audience that “more than anything else, I’m a mom,” and that as someone who brings her kids to sports practices and meals along Centre Street on a regular basis, she feels a personal responsibility, above and beyond her professional responsibility as the Mayor, to make the street safer.
“Every time we’re trying to cross Centre Street, I’m gripping tightly onto my kids’ wrists – if they won’t let me hold their hands – because we see what it’s like, and we know what has happened in the past,” said Mayor Wu.
Mayor Wu and her Chief of Streets, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, said that the current four-lane configuration creates multiple safety hazards, especially at intersections and crosswalks, and contributes to an unusually high crash rate along the roadway.
Cars will often stop to let people cross the street, but cars in the other lane are then less likely to see the pedestrian walking in front of the stopped vehicle – what traffic engineers refer to as a “double-threat” crosswalk.
For similar reasons, drivers making left turns across two lanes of oncoming traffic also face higher risks of crashes.
And the wide, multiple-lane layout also invites people to drive recklessly. According to the city’s speed analysis, the majority of people driving on Centre are breaking the speed limit, and about 15 percent of drivers on Centre Street – over 1,200 drivers a day – are going faster than 35 mph.
“That is a deadly speed, especially for an older adult if they are struck in a crosswalk,” said Boston Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge.
Franklin-Hodge also stressed that these aren’t merely statistics – real people have lost their lives because of the street's unsafe design. Victims include West Roxbury residents like Marilyn Wentworth, who died after trying to cross Centre Street on foot in 2019, and James Erti, who died in a motorcycle crash in 2021.
To address this violence, Franklin-Hodge told the audience that the city would be moving forward this year with a modified version of its 2019 plan to reduce the width of Centre Street from four vehicle travel lanes to three, with one travel lane in each direction plus a dedicated turn lane at intersections.
On-street parking would move away from the curb to make room for a new curbside protected bike lane. At bus stops, the city will install modular platforms to create new accessible boarding areas for transit riders.
Near the end of Franklin-Hodge’s presentation, a few loud hecklers in the audience attempted to interrupt the meeting. But the majority of the audience seemed supportive of the city’s plans.
“I’ve had really close calls on Centre Street, both as a pedestrian and as a cyclist, and the new design is going to reduce the number of crashes and injuries,” Sarah Breuer, a West Roxbury resident, told StreetsblogMASS.
Breuer arrived at the meeting on an e-bike, and used a pair of crutches to make her way on foot around the Ohrenberger Community Center auditorium.
“As a mobility-impaired person, when I’m using my wheelchair, I’m about as visible as a child would be in the crosswalk,” Breuer added. “I think this plan is a big win.”
During a question-and-answer period at the end of the meeting, numerous speakers shared emotional testimony about their experiences in crashes and traumatic near-misses on Centre Street.
“My children cross Centre Street twice a day. My child almost was hit by a car this year from that double-threat (crosswalk),” said West Roxbury resident Lora Estey. “The only reason he was not hit was because I am terrified. I am a sibling of a kid who was hit by a car, and if you don’t understand how that changes an entire life, an entire family, talk to me later. I support this.”
Another audience member who had earlier attempted to interrupt Franklin-Hodge during his presentation used her time at the podium to express dismay that the city had conclusively made its decision to reduce the number of lanes on Centre Street, almost four years after the plan was first proposed.
Mayor Wu acknowledged the questioner’s frustration, but she also told the audience that she thinks elected officials should be honest with their constituents, and that the street’s current four-lane configuration is too dangerous for the city to offer with a straight face as an option for the street’s future.
“What I heard from my team was that this is a part of the city where they pray constantly that it won’t be on our conscience that something happened because we waited another month, another year,” said Mayor Wu. “And so I am not going to put forward an option that is not safe for the community.”
City staff hope to finalize designs for a reconfigured Centre Street by the end of July, and install new lane markings and bus stop platforms this fall with quick-build materials.