Adrienne Garrido was laid to rest on Saturday. The 17-year-old was one of two Needham High School students struck and killed last weekend while crossing Webster Street, right outside of the school. Her friend, sixteen-year-old Talia Newfield, was also killed.
The investigation into the incident is ongoing, but residents are calling on town officials to act now to prevent similar tragedies.
Wyatt Kim was a classmate of the two teens. She walks on Webster Street every day on her way to and from school, and says cars often don't observe the 30 mph speed limit or the crosswalk.
"I feel like it's always going to be dangerous," she said of walking around Needham.
And many parents say that's not good enough. At a regularly scheduled meeting of the town's Traffic Management Advisory Committee, residents packed into a small room in the town’s public works building, filling the chairs, sitting on the floor, and spilling out into the hallway.
Jennifer Goddard read a statement from another resident who lives near Webster Street and witnessed the aftermath of the accident.
“No parent should have to eulogize their child because of an avoidable pedestrian accident," she read, her voice breaking. "I hope we can honor Talia and Adrienne's memory by bringing about positive change."
Many other residents spoke with emotion and frustration about the lack of street lighting, the poorly-marked crosswalks, and the shortage of crossing guards — especially near the schools.
"For one, the lighting is terrible," resident Claire Franks added. "I drove Webster Street after the accident and noticed there's not one sign with speed limits on that street."
Selectman John Bulian listened to the parents quietly. After the meeting, he said he had spent most of the week on the phone with concerned citizens.
“It became clear to the board that we need to come up with a plan to make safer pedestrian crossing in this town,” he said.
Jason DeGray, a civil engineer for Toole Design Group, said communities like Needham have struggled to balance the desire to become more walkable with the reality that the environment was designed around automobiles. Keeping cars at lower speeds is crucial to saving pedestrian lives in the event of a collision, he added.
“At 20 mph there's a 13% chance of fatality,” said DeGray, who works with cities and towns to make their streets safer, especially for those on foot or cycling. “At 30 mph it's up to 40%. And at 40 mph it's all the way up to 73%.”
Many towns and cities surrounding Needham — including Newton, Boston, and Brookline — have reduced the speed limit for most roads to 25 mph. DeGray says that's a good start, but it's only one step towards solving the problem.
“Ultimately, drivers drive at the speed they feel comfortable,” Degray explained. And on a relatively wide-open street like Webster, lowering the speed limit won’t necessarily change that. There are other ways that are proven to have an impact including narrowing the street, reducing the number of lanes, raising crosswalks, and increasing their visibility through better lighting and signs.
Of course, all of these infrastructure changes cost money.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has made funds available through the Complete Streets Program to help municipalities make roads more safe and accessible. Roughly half the state has taken advantage of the program but so far, Needham has not.
DeGray says, ultimately, reducing pedestrian deaths is pretty straight forward.
“It's really not rocket science,” he says. “It's trying to minimize the conflict between high speed boxes of steel and very vulnerable human bodies.”
At Needham High School, the growing memorial of flowers, candles, and messages to Garrido and Newfield is a sobering reminder of that conflict.
Town officials say they'll continue to hold public meetings on pedestrian safety, with the next hearing on March 27th in City Hall.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Needham Selectman John Bulian's name. The story has since been updated.