Boston has a problem with serious traffic injuries and fatalities, especially those involving pedestrians, and it’s doing something about it. As part of a larger plan to reduce car crashes and improve the city’s transportation infrastructure, Mayor Walsh announced in 2015 that Boston will adopt Vision Zero, a program dedicated to eventually eliminating traffic fatalities in the city. It’s an ambitious program, but now that it’s underway improvements may follow.
Vision Zero was first launched in Sweden in 1997 and has since spread to many cities and countries. Although the program has a deeper philosophical grounding tied to how the value of life is measured and how safety improvements are approached, a simple premise describes how Vision Zero is usually implemented: Because motor vehicle crashes are preventable and not truly accidents, it should be possible to take steps to improve safety and drive the number of fatal crashes to zero.
More than a dozen major US cities, including Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, have adopted Vision Zero within the past few years. The Boston program, to be implemented by the Boston Transportation Department (BTD), was detailed in a plan released this past December. Vision Zero Boston hopes to achieve its goal of zero fatalities by 2030.
According to the BTD, 1,279 pedestrians and bicyclists were injured seriously enough to require medical attention in 2014. Around a dozen pedestrians and one cyclist died that year. The pedestrian numbers are a concern because Boston is actually a very safe city for motorists despite a large number of minor vehicle crashes: 50 percent more pedestrians than vehicle occupants died on our streets between 2010 and 2014.
There are high hopes that Vision Zero Boston will bring significant change, but until implementation gets underway in earnest, we’re likely to continue to see reports of crashes, especially those involving pedestrians. Only last week, three people were struck near Downtown Crossing when a driver plowed into a tour group. That driver tried to flee the scene, but a crowd formed and wouldn’t let her leave. Those victims were not seriously injured, but only a few days before that a Quincy woman was seriously hurt when a car hit her in South Boston. In June, a two-vehicle crash sent one car onto the sidewalk, where a ten-year-old boy was pinned until help arrived.
Boston’s plan, like others before it, notes that speed is possibly the most important factor in reducing pedestrian injuries and deaths. The BTD’s documentation shows that while a pedestrian struck by a vehicle moving at twenty miles per hour has an 18 percent chance of being killed, the fatality rate jumps to 77 percent at forty miles per hour. In fact, a speed decrease of only five miles per hour can reduce traffic deaths of all kinds by 30 percent. In April, the Boston City Council voted unanimously to reduce the speed limit in the city to twenty miles per hour. Actual change had to wait for a new state law to pass that actually gave the city that power, but that’s no longer an obstacle. Mayor Walsh has said he hopes to see the speed limit brought down to twenty-five miles per hour by the end of this year.
Vision Zero Boston is targeting a few areas at a time for improvement. Massachusetts Avenue, from the Charles River to Melnea Cass Boulevard, is one priority corridor, as is Codman Square. A simultaneous Neighborhood Slow Streets program is at work making safety changes in two neighborhoods flagged as problem spots. The program is planned to bring continuous improvement, so additional areas will be targeted in the future.
Until Vision Zero achieves its goals, vehicle crashes involving pedestrians will still occur. Even then, reckless behavior will continue to endanger pedestrians, as a March hit-and-run drag-racing crash in the Back Bay shows.
When you’ve been the pedestrian victim of a crash, turn to a law firm that understands pedestrian accident law. At Joel H. Schwartz, PC, we have the kind of experience you can count on. We also offer all clients a free consultation to go over their case, so give us a call today at 1-800-660-2270 or complete our contact form below to find out what we can do for you.