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Making Boston's Streets Safer

In The Wake Of Tragedy, South Boston Residents Want Safer Streets

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A car crash in South Boston that spilled over onto this sidewalk and left a toddler dead has sparked grief and outrage.
Stephanie Leydon
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Making Boston's Streets Safer

Katie Donovan is spending much of this summer on the Cape recuperating.

“My son and I were coming from his baseball game and we were crossing the street. In the cross walk. And were hit by a car — truck,” said Donovan.

It happened in South Boston, right near her home. Her 8-year-old son’s okay, mostly because she shielded him and took the brunt of the oncoming pick-up truck. She says she was thrown more than thirty-feet. Her injuries were so extensive that - three months later – Donovan’s still using a wheelchair.

She was starting to feel better until the crash on L Street that killed a two-year-old boy. It happened not far from where she and her son were struck.

“I think I maybe had a little bit of post trauma kick in a little bit,” said Donovan, ”and I was shaking for a couple of days.”

Boston police have ruled out speeding, and no charges have been filed in the L Street crash. But Donovan doesn’t see what happened as an accident because — for years — both the city and state have long known about pedestrian hazards in South Boston.

“To think that this could have been avoided, that they knew it was dangerous to walk the streets in South Boston and nothing was done,” said Donovan. “I think that really brings up some really serious anger, because that’s negligence.”

A state transportation report published three years ago highlights areas around South Boston where pedestrian safety needs improvement. They include the intersection where Donovan and her son were hit and along L Street where the toddler was killed. And on Boston’s Vision Zero website — where the city maps traffic complaints — there’s an almost solid line of dots along L Street, each one representing a report of everything from cars running stop signs to speeding.

“We already know what the solutions are, and we’re not acting fast enough,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of the Liveable Streets Alliance.

She points to measures already in use in other Boston neighborhoods that slow down traffic, such as dedicated lanes for buses and bikes. The removal of parking spaces near intersections and crosswalks to give drivers better visibility is also an option.

“Things that have been discussed in South Boston for a long time as problematic are sight lines,” said Thompson. “So we would say let’s pull parked cars away from intersections so you can see small children and older people, people in wheelchairs crossing the street.”

In the wake of the toddler’s death, the city is making changes on L Street, including removing parking spaces near cross walks, adding yield signs and painting lines that change the contour of the street to make it appear more curved instead of a straight shot.

“If we design streets to slow down traffic then you don’t have a choice to be a jerk,” said Thompson. “You have to go 20 miles per hour.”

Katie Donovan has formed a group of residents urging city officials to do even more, including find ways to reroute traffic out of the neighborhood.

“The people cutting through this town every day and using it like an extension of the expressway — they need to understand that this is a neighborhood,” she said.

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