Boston pedestrian fatalities at highest since 2017

Boston is on track to match or exceed the highest annual total of pedestrian fatalities in five years, according to police figures, in a situation activists call a “public health crisis.”

So far this year, 10 people have been killed, nearly as many as the 11 pedestrian fatalities in all of 2017 and more than the seven in 2018, nine in 2019 and five last year.

“Unfortunately, these numbers aren’t surprising, and they’re tragic,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets, a nonprofit based in Metro Boston. “Pedestrian fatalities and serious crashes that have an enormous mental, physical and economic toll are truly a public health crisis.”

On Jan. 5 of this year, a 92-year-old Stoneham man, whose name the Herald is withholding at the request of his family, was hit at 11:30 a.m. in Charlestown and dragged for a mile by a vehicle that left the scene, police said.

Officers located the driver, but no charges were filed against him after the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled that the preliminary manner of death was “accidental,” according to a police report.

“It was a horrible tragedy,” the victim’s daughter, who also requested anonymity, said. “I haven’t even gone by where he died because I just can’t. But people who know that area told me trucks go whizzing by.”

Because speeding and running red lights are two of the most dangerous driver behaviors, Thompson said, LivableStreets has urged state officials, to no avail, to allow Boston to use cameras for enforcement.

On Dec. 9, 2015, then-Mayor Marty Walsh released VisionZero Boston, a plan to make streets safer and eliminate fatal and serious traffic crashes in the city by 2030, a goal that his successor, Mayor Michelle Wu, shares.

“Far too many … crashes are entirely preventable with infrastructure and street design choices,” Wu said in a statement. “Our administration will prioritize safe streets as the foundation for healthy, connected and vibrant communities.”

Before Wu took office on Nov. 16 after eight years as a city councilor, some of VisionZero’s benchmarks, such as better bike lanes, had already been started or met. Effective Jan. 9, 2017, officials lowered Boston’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph, citing AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety data showing there is a 47% likelihood of a fatal or severe injury for a pedestrian struck by a driver traveling at 30 mph.

The same set of data, however, showed there is still a 30% likelihood at 25 mph, compared to 17% at 20 mph.

“I would support lowering it to 15 mph,” said City Councilor Ed Flynn, who’s focused on traffic and pedestrian safety.

Flynn said he has released a 12-point plan that also includes raised crosswalks, more stop signs, sidewalks that are wider at intersections, and a study of whether pedestrian lights give people — particularly the elderly — enough time to cross the street.

In addition, he has called for an end to what’s called concurrent signaling, which gives pedestrians a walk signal and the right of way at the same time turning vehicles are given the green light to go.

Signals such as that may have been a factor in a Sept. 11, 2019, crash that claimed the life of Diane Ly and seriously injured her boyfriend, Warren Cheng, at Summer and Melcher streets in the Seaport District. Ly was 30 years old, and Cheng had planned to propose to her the following week, his lawyer, Jeff Catalano, said.

The lights at the intersection were changed two days after the crash. But Wu’s press office told the Herald in an email there are still 319 intersections that have similar concurrent signaling in Boston.

“The city,” Thompson said, “needs to update its plan.”