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Vision Zero

Springfield Librarians Protest City’s Failure to Fix Deadly Pedestrian Crossing on State Street

3:24 PM EDT on July 21, 2023

A man and a woman in casual clothing hold signs next to a wide four-lane street. A grand Italianate-style library building with tall arched windows is in the background behind them on the other side of the street. The man holds a sign reading "keep kids safe: build the promised crossing" and the woman holds a sign reading "No more deaths! SLOW DOWN"

Springfield City Council president and mayoral candidate Jesse Lederman (left) stands on State Street with Chelsea Bell, President of the AFSCME Local 1596A union, which represents Springfield librarians, to demand street safety improvements in front of the Springfield Central Library (in the background). Photo courtesy of Elizabeth McKinstry.

Library workers in the City of Springfield are organizing protests this weekend over the city's negligence in addressing safety hazards on the deadly four-lane roadway at the library's front entrance.

Members of the Springfield public library's labor union, AFSCME Local 1596A, are organizing the protests in solidarity with their late colleague, librarian Gayle Ball.

In November 2021, a driver struck and killed Ball as she crossed State Street, the four-lane roadway that sits in front of the library's front entrance.

That crash happened only a week after another driver struck and killed Springfield resident Michael Diaz Vargas, aged 40, as he was crossing State Street on foot 3/4 of a mile away.

"I was working the night Gayle was killed and I'm still not over it," Elizabeth McKinstry, a training and programming librarian at the Springfield Library, told StreetsblogMASS.

McKinstry is also on the executive board of executive board of AFSCME Local 1596A, which is organizing the protests on Friday and Saturday.

City's safety plans haven't been implemented

In January 2022, city officials finally acknowledged State Street's serious hazards and presented plans to improve safety on State Street in front of the library.

The plan would have reduced the width of the roadway from four lanes to two to create a highly-visible crosswalk between the library and the densely-populated residential neighborhood to the south:

Conceptual plans for a new crosswalk and traffic-calming improvements in front of the Springfield Central Library, where drivers have struck and killed two victims in the past decade.

For three months during the summer of 2022, Springfield used construction barrels to test how the changes might affect traffic.

But near the end of that trial run last August, Springfield Public Works director Chris Cignoli alleged that he still didn't have enough traffic data to make a decision.

In August, Cignoli told the Springfield City Council that he would delay permanent construction of the proposed safety improvements until the spring of 2023, according to a report from Paul Tuthill of WAMC.

As of July 21, the City of Springfield still hasn't done any work on the crosswalk.

McKinstry told StreetsblogMASS that she and her colleagues have been calling and emailing Springfield's Department of Public Works "every two to three weeks" to find out when it would install the promised crosswalk, but nobody has ever responded to her inquiries.

StreetsblogMASS also left a phone message with Springfield's Public Works Department on Wednesday. They did not respond.

"We have seen other communities jump into action to address pedestrian killings," McKinstry told StreetsblogMASS. "They (the city) indicated that it was an important priority, and that they were mourning with us. But now we are in the dark with no communications about what's going on."

Librarians demand action

On Friday morning, several Springfield librarians stood on the side of State Street in front of their workplace during the morning rush hour and waved signs that demanded action for safer streets.

"A lot of people beeped and waved. We talked with pedestrians. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the issue frankly, and the lack of safety there," reference librarian Lisa Lipshires told StreetsblogMASS.

"Every time I come to work, I miss Gayle," said Lipshires. "It’s been very hard. She was a brilliant person, and very kind and generous. But I’ve also met library patrons who have been affected by the dangerousness of that crossing."

Springfield City Council President Jesse Lederman, who is challenging Mayor Sarno in this fall's elections, also joined the librarians.

Springfield librarians and City Council President Jesse Lederman (right) hold signs demanding a safer State Street in front of the Springfield Central Library on Friday morning. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth McKinstry.

On Friday afternoon, the communications director for Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno finally responded to a press inquiry from StreetsblogMASS.

"The State Street Pedestrian Crosswalk project is advancing," wrote Bill Baker, the Mayor's Communications Director, in an email. "The design of the State Street pedestrian crosswalk project is done and the City of Springfield will be using Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) grant funding to pay for the project."

A Three-Mile Threat

Even if the Sarno administration manages to follow through with its promises for the library crosswalk, it will only address a small portion of a roadway that ranks among the Commonwealth's deadliest streets.

Drivers have caused six fatal crashes along the 3-mile length of State Street since the beginning of 2019, according to MassDOT's crash database.

There have been an additional 433 injury-causing crashes there in the same period.

The street's posted speed limit is 30 mph, but a city traffic study found a significant number of outlaw drivers ignore that limit.

That study also found that more than one in eight of State Street's drivers exceed 40 mph during the morning rush hours.

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