Testimony as prepared for City of Boston City Council Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation – Implementing changes for safe streets during and after Covid-19 pandemic

Testimony as prepared for City of Boston City Council Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation – Implementing changes for safe streets during and after Covid-19 pandemic

Testimony as prepared for City of Boston City Council Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation on May 11, 2020 Docket #0662 – Implementing changes for safe streets during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, May 11, 2020 conducted via Zoom.

Thank you Councilor Wu & Councilor Breadon for the chance to speak today, and thank you to all the councilors taking part this evening. My name is Brendan Kearney, and I’m the Deputy Director of WalkBoston. WalkBoston is a statewide pedestrian advocacy organization whose mission is to make Massachusetts more walkable. We work with municipal staff, state agencies, community-based organizations and residents to make walking conditions safer, more enjoyable, and more equitable for all.

Jeff & Stacy gave a great overview to help set the stage, and it was great to see Jacob & Vineet identifying the different types of problems & how BTD hopes to repurpose areas. Also want to say thank you, Representative Elugardo, for your inspirational words of how the state can be a partner. 

I wanted to highlight a few areas of concern for people walking.

First, On Speed reduction / traffic calming: 

  • I shared this info at the Budget hearing but wanted to reiterate since Jeff mentioned it: Earlier this week, MassDOT reported that the rate of fatalities on Massachusetts roadways doubled in April: with 50% less traffic on the road, 28 individuals died in crashes, compared with the month of April 2019 when there were 27 deaths on roadways in the state. Road safety projects are important to combat this problem. 
  • In response to that – Massachusetts State Police launched a Speed Reduction Initiative to address the increase in speeding vehicles now that traffic volumes are low due to stay-at home order. The focus of this mobilization is to identify, stop and take enforcement action on operators of vehicles traveling at very high speeds. We appreciate that appropriate use of police department time. 
  • However – We hope that expanded sidewalks, car-free streets and additional bike lanes can be self-enforcing designs and ways to slow people down that can be added without increased police presence; it does not need to take away from COVID-related response. 

Second, On Signals: 

  • Need for automatic pedestrian recall.  Make it so ‘No need to push a button.’
    Set up signals so they allot time for people to cross without having to push a button to request it. 
  • ‘Mid-day’ cycle phases: shorter delay, lights change more often. Change timing of signals to slow traffic with traffic signals – the opposite of the “green wave”; regulate lights to keep traffic speeds down.
  • Would love to hear about the plan to implement some of these changes — which can it be done remotely from the Traffic Mgmt Center, and which require going out to the intersection to fix? Would need to prioritize changes by ease of implementation. areas that see crowding &/or crash data.

Third, On Small businesses: 

  • Our small businesses make walkable communities/neighborhoods successful
  • Thriving downtown districts and town centers are critical to the success of walkable communities. With many stores now closed to walk-in customers, that life is on hold, and furthermore threatened with the uncertainty of what is to come. For all of you listening to this hearing, think about those local places you walk to in your neighborhood that make it home to you. Figure out a way to continue supporting those businesses. You will not only be helping your local shops, you’ll be preserving the walkability of the places you love. For me, that’s Pavement Coffee on Western Ave in Allston. Re-ordered coffee beans online today.
  • We know that people walking, biking and taking transit are more likely to frequent local, small businesses. Anything that can be done to improve walking, biking and riding transit will in turn help small business community recover once we re-open.
  • Really should consider car free or “car lite’ streets in key business districts to facilitate reopening while maintaining mandated physical distancing requirements.
    • Mayor mentioned this yesterday is his press conference – ideas of widening sidewalks, allowing restaurants to expand onto sidewalks
    • Understand emergency access and lack of organized grid structure of Boston’s streets need to be considered when determining which areas to devote to people walking and biking – not always a parallel path that traffic can be diverted to – but honestly a lot easier to move people out of the way for emergency vehicles than to move cars; i.e. Downtown crossing (Washington St/Summer Street) need fire truck access? people just get out of the way.

Finally for vulnerable populations/limited spaces due to COVID:

Agree wholeheartedly w/ what Galen spoke about w/ older adults, in conversations that we’ve had with the Boston Age Strong Commission who have identified potential locations where expanded sidewalks and outdoor spaces would greatly benefit senior residents.  I know they’ve shared it with Jacob as he’s been compiling locations.

Goal to facilitate essential movement in areas where it is most needed: for older adults near senior housing, for access to parks and schools (throughout the summer & into fall). WalkBoston, MassBike and the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative have had conversations about the needs of older adults living in senior housing units in urban walkable centers across the state.

As we’ve seen through Boston Globe coverage, older adults are among the most vulnerable to fall victim to COVID-19. Ensuring that our elders have safe access and enough room on our sidewalks to walk to get food and other essential services is a must. We ask that you keep the needs of our seniors on the top of your minds when deciding on a methodology to share Boston’s streets.

2 example areas that I hope are considered that can also build onto ongoing planning efforts:

  • State St (downtown). Extended curb / sidewalks as part of State St Reconstruction Project.
  • Washington Street from Comm Ave to Brookline line (Brighton). Senior safety zone / create safe access to grocery store location as part of Allston Brighton Mobility Study.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening.

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