Comments on H2877/S1905: An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities

Below are comments I submitted to the State’s Transportation Committee in support of a bill (H2877/S1905) sponsored by Sen. Will Brownsberger, Rep. Jon Hecht, and Rep. Dave Rogers. The hearing is today (6/13) at 2:00pm in State House Room A-1.

June 13, 2017

The Honorable Members of the Joint Committee on Transportation
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts State House, Boston, MA 02133

Members of the Joint Committee on Transportation,

Thank you for holding this hearing today and for considering my written comments. I am writing to you regarding S1905, An Act to reduce traffic fatalities, sponsored by Sen. William Brownsberger. As a City Councillor in Cambridge, MA, I am pleased to support our state representatives in advocating for such important steps to increase the safety of all road users. 

I am proud to represent the City of Cambridge and in my short time on the Council have advocated for increased safety of all road users, including vulnerable users such as pedestrians and cyclists. Even though Cambridge has been named the 8th best city for cyclists (representing one of only two small cities in the top 10) and has earned the state’s top Walk Score, we had three tragic deaths of pedestrians and cyclists in 2016. In February 2016 Marcie Mitler was struck and killed while crossing the street in Porter Square. Four months later Amanda Phillips was struck riding her bike in Inman Sq. And last October Dr. Bernard “Joe” Lavins was killed while riding his bike through the Porter Square juggernaut. These three victims represent crash fatalities in one of the state’s safest cities in just one year.

Though Cambridge is taking steps to improve these dangerous intersections in the wake of such tragedy, we must do more to proactively prevent dangerous situations for vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. The pace of change depends on what people—not only bike and pedestrian advocates, but drivers, transit riders, and all residents—are willing to do to help accelerate it, and to make certain compromises. Most of us have at times been guilty of texting while driving, walking, or biking, jaywalking, opening car doors without looking, not using bike lights at night, or riding against traffic. We are always running late or in a hurry. We take changes and make mistakes. We are human.

But, we are all in this together. We all have much work to do to build a broad consensus that protecting the safety of all users must become our top priority in the ways we design, build, and individually navigate the limited space of our shared public ways.  The Vision Zero policy, which Cambridge has committed to, prioritizes safety for all road users. Even though safety is a goal that we can all agree on, we are not there yet. This bill takes many critical and collaborative steps to help us get further on our path to truly achieving Vision Zero. We can do much better by each other, but we won’t get anywhere unless we work together regardless of what form of transportation we use.

I am thrilled to see the various pieces of this legislation, including developing a curriculum for young students regarding safety in all forms of transportation, allowing cities to operate road safety cameras systems only for speeding, red light and right turn violations, creating a standardized reporting tool for crashes, and requiring cyclists to use rear red lights and red reflector lights at night, among the other important provisions.

I am particularly glad to see sections 2, 3, and 17, which correlate directly to efforts that have been successful in Cambridge. Sections 2 and 3 require state-owned and state-contracted trucks to be equipped with side guards and convex and crossover mirrors, which help to significantly mitigate the level of injury in the event of a crash between a truck and cyclist or pedestrian. In 2015, Cambridge installed side guards on city-owned trucks, and has advocated for other municipalities and private entities to adopt similar protections.  Section 17 would lower the default speed limit on state highways and parkways in thickly settled or business districts from 30mph to 25mph. This aligns well with Cambridge’s recent move to reduce speed limits citywide by the same amount, thanks to the state’s passage of the Municipal Modernization Act last year. Though the default speed limit now for all Cambridge-owned streets is 25mph and to 20mph is designated safety zones, we are still limited in reducing the speed limit on state-owned parkways, such as Fresh Pond Parkway and Memorial Drive. Having inconsistent speed limits can be confusing for drivers, and leads to inconsistent compliance.

I want to reiterate my thanks to the Chairs of the Committee for scheduling this hearing, and to the sponsors of this bill for their tireless advocacy. This bill strikes a fair and well-balanced approach to protecting all users, including motor-vehicle operators, cyclists, and pedestrians. The more we can all work together to protect the safety of all users to share our roads, the safer our streets will be and the closer we will get to truly achieving Vision Zero.

Sincerely,

Jan Devereux

Cambridge City Councillor

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Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA