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Vision Zero

Springfield Is the Commonwealth’s Deadliest City for Traffic Violence

A wide 5-lane street at sunset with three traffic lights mounted on yellow poles showing red lights.

Sumner Avenue at “The X” intersection in Springfield, pictured in summer 2023.

WalkMassachusetts has released its annual survey of fatal crashes for 2023, which highlighted the City of Springfield for having the Commonwealth's deadliest streets last year.

Drivers killed 19 people in the City of Springfield over the course of 2023. 9 of those victims were pedestrians.

According to MassDOT's IMPACT crash database, Boston had the same number of deaths from traffic violence in 2023.

But Boston is a city with four times as many people, and almost three times the land area as Springfield.

Adjusting for population, the risk of getting killed by a driver in the City of Springfield has been two to four times greater than the risk of getting killed in Boston in each of the past four years.

Across the entire Commonwealth, there were 346 reported deaths caused by motor vehicle drivers in 2023, according to WalkMassachusetts.

69 of those victims – approximately 20 percent of the total – were pedestrians at the time of their deaths.

WalkMassachusetts also calculates that more than half of the killings occurred in "environmental justice" communities – that is, neighborhoods where people of color, non-English speakers, or lower-income households make up a higher-than-average proportion of the resident population.

The entire City of Springfield meets the state's demographic criteria for environmental justice neighborhoods.

Wide streets, sluggish city government put residents at risk

In a press statement accompanying the WalkMassachusetts report's release last week, Betsy Johnson, a local safety advocate with the organization WalkBike Springfield, blamed "Springfield’s outdated infrastructure" as the primary threat to residents' safety.

"Our streets were designed when the thinking was to make streets wider and straighter so there would be fewer crashes, but sadly, that resulted in drivers driving faster, not safer. Springfield lacks adequate traffic calming measures and safe pedestrian crossings and walkways,” said Johnson.

One of Springfield's victims last year was Michael Cooley, aged 68, a lifelong Springfield resident who was killed by a driver last fall while crossing State Street in front of his apartment near the Springfield Central Library.

Two other people had already been killed crossing the street at that same location in the past decade: a driver killed librarian Gayle Ball there in 2021, and another driver killed 7-year-old library patron Destiny Gonzalez in 2014.

Springfield's Public Works Department has acknowledged the street's lethal design and has had plans in place since January 2022 to make the block safer by narrowing the four-lane roadway and installing a raised crosswalk with a signal.

But to date, the city still hasn't been able to make those plans a reality. Work on the crosswalk still hasn't begun.

Another driver struck and seriously injured a scooter rider on the same block on Monday afternoon.

Betsy Johnson and other local safety advocates are calling on the city to establish a citizen Complete Streets Council that can advise on improving safety in city-led projects.

A Complete Streets Council was recommended in a Complete Streets policy that the City Council approved in 2016, but it was never implemented.

MassDOT expresses appreciation for 'awareness'

StreetsblogMASS asked MassDOT's press office what tools, if any, the agency has to address safety issues on local streets in cities like Springfield, where obvious safety problems coexist with bureaucratic resistance to solutions.

In a statement provided to StreetsblogMASS on Wednesday, MassDOT spokesperson Jacquelyn Goddard wrote that "MassDOT appreciates its safety partner, WalkMassachusetts, for raising awareness regarding crashes involving pedestrians... Everyone has a role to play to prevent roadway deaths and injuries and MassDOT is pleased to work with groups such as WalkMassachusetts to help save lives."

As we reported last year, MassDOT has a new Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) that came out at the beginning of 2023.

Brendan Kearney, co-executive director of WalkMassachusetts, told StreetsblogMASS on Tuesday that "they've been moving a couple things along" from that plan.

"They've put out a vulnerable user safety assessment, and they're focusing on school zones, for instance" (editor's note: Kearney is also a member of the StreetsblogMASS board of directors).

But Kearney also observed that the ongoing violence on the Commonwealth's roadways shows how much more work there is to be done.

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