Making Cambridge Safer for Walkers

Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

US News & World Report included the city of Cambridge in a 2009 story, “15 Cities for People Who Hate Driving and Long Commutes.”

Cambridge scored high with an average commute time of 24 minutes and a 58 percent rate of non-car commuters. According to the article, “Cambridge combines all of the reasons that would make you ditch a car. It is a walker’s mecca—the 2000 census found Cambridge to have the highest percentage of pedestrian commuters in the country, at 25 percent. Walking is easy when many employers are located in town. Several of the largest employers in the Boston area are in Cambridge, such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research, and Genzyme Corp. Biking is another popular way to get around. The 11-mile Minuteman Commuter Bikeway connects Cambridge to nearby towns like Arlington and Lexington. Finally, Boston’s MBTA rapid transit system (popularly known as the T) has six stops on two different lines in Cambridge.”

But the mix of automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians on city streets can be dangerous. Police have targeted the intersection of Vassar Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge as part of a roadway safety campaign since a fatal bicycle-truck collision there last month involving an MIT graduate. It is one of five top most dangerous intersections, according to Cambridge police.

The top 5 accident locations for 2011:

1. Garden St and Massachusetts Ave – 18 accidents
2. Massachusetts Ave and Vassar St – 16 accidents
3. Hampshire Street and Prospect St – 11 accidents
4. Broadway and Windsor St – 10 accidents
5. Albany St and Mass Ave – 10 accidents

In 2010, the Cambridge Community Development Department divided city and non-city residents into three categories according to the methods they took to get to work. The CDD found that commuting to work by car represented the largest statistical group at 37 percent, followed by bicycling, walking and using mass transit respectively at 30 percent. This high level of commuter traffic in Massachusetts‘s fifth-largest, highly dense city is a contributing factor to the buildup of traffic jams, accidents and personal injuries.

Beginning in September 2011, the Cambridge Police Department started a roadway and safety campaign. This enforcement program was part of a continued focus on safety for all bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists within the city of Cambridge.

“Commuting in an urban environment can be dangerous,“ Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas said in a Sept. 19 press release. “That is why we are committed to enforcing all applicable laws and educating the public about the best safety practices to ensure that everyone who travels in Cambridge can feel confident about their safety.”

Police officers were deployed to busy intersections across the city on foot and motorcycle patrol to enforce and monitor crosswalk safety. Officers stopped motorists who failed to obey the Massachusetts General Law and the City of Cambridge ordinances and issued citations. This program will focus on motorist, bicyclists and pedestrian safety.

Since the fall of 2010 and while selling Spare Change News in Central Square, I have observed CPD motorcycle police monitoring traffic control during the 4 pm to 6 pm rush hour. The corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Prospect Street has a very large late afternoon volume of motorists and truck traffic. The police have pulled over both motorists and truck drivers and have issued warnings and citations.
In addition to the police department implementing a roadway and safety campaign, the CDD has created a traffic calming program. This program involves the creation of a series of physical and visual cues such as speed tables, neckdowns and roadway markings, which slow down the speed of traffic and increase safety. Speed tables are long, flat-topped speed bumps that allow for gradual slowing of a vehicle, and neckdowns extend the curb at intersections and provide a shorter distance for pedestrians to cross.

The CDD generally reviews design changes in conjunction with community members and with other construction projects, such as repaving and sewer reconstruction. The CDD completed two projects in 2010; one in the Lechmere MBTA Station neighborhood at Fifth and Gore Street, and one on Linnaean Street located in Neighborhood Nine, which borders Harvard Square and Porter Square. The CDD completed several projects in 2009, including one on Upland Road located on the west side of the Porter Square Shopping Center. Projects under construction include one on Brattle, heading west out of Harvard Square between Fresh Ponds Parkway to Sparks Street.

ROBERT SONDAK is a Spare Change News writer and vendor.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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