Pedestrian fatalities up in Boston last year

WBUR reports on what the city says it's doing about it.



Free tagging: 


Fix the Lights, Dammit

Boston Traffic lights suck for pedestrians. The walk signal is on too short and the don't walk signal is illuminated when it would be perfectly safe to cross with traffic. The result is people ignore the lights and run across the road because it's often the only way.

Traffic lights should be timed for pedestrians in dense areas. (And the walk button usable in non-dense areas.) The walk signal should illuminate before the green light to give walkers a head start and it needs to stay lit long enough to allow people to reasonably cross the street.

The walk signal needs to mean something. It shouldn't be on don't walk unless the traffic also has red light.

Crossing against traffic is not the reason why most people are killed but it's an easy improvement.

Martha Rd/Causeway St.

I'm sure there are hundreds of intersections that could stand better pedestrian signals, but a really obvious place is the craziness that is the intersection of Martha Rd, Causeway St, Staniford St, and Merrimack St. Martha Rd is still wide enough that it is allowed a center island. Anyway, when I go through this area there are long cycles where cars aren't moving, but pedestrians don't have a pass. Just promotes crossing against the walk sign.

And the weird thing is this area was just redesigned/rebuilt.

Totally agreed, and they

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Totally agreed, and they really need to fix all the places where pedestrians get a walk signal at the same time drivers have a green light to go turn. Drivers turning always think they have the right of way because of the green light and aggressively cut on front of people on cross walks who have a walk sign. If they do stop, usually the car behind them starts honking, angrily slams the gas and drives around them seeing the pedestrians at the last second. Often they still don't stop and drive between people in the cross walk. Corner of Boylston and Dartmouth is a great example of this. I see it happening daily at this intersection which gives pedestrians a walk the same time two lanes are allowed to turn left up Dartmouth. It's so bad I don't cross there anymore. Everytime that light turns green this happens, never seen a cop there once or anyone cited for it.


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So a green light/walk signal works in the entire borough of Manhattan, but it doesn't work here? How about fining drivers who "think they have the right of way"?

Part of the problem is when

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Part of the problem is when there is no turn on red and then pedestrians block it on the green, drivers get frustrated. I'm not saying they are right, but there must be a better way

Good suggestion

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Now if only BPD traffic enforcement would monitor and actively ticket violators. The only places I've seen active enforcement is in Brookline-Harvard St. Coolidge Corner at a crosswalk near Pete's Coffee. They just pull cars over constantly and ticket them. I've never seen BPD enforce traffic rules on cars at intersections (yield to pedestrians, don't block the box, etc.)

Only thing even close in Boston

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I've seen a two-man police operation a few times on Mass Ave between Boylston and Newbury but it seems like it's specifically looking for expired inspection stickers. Also makes it hard to get on the #1 bus.

The worst is when the still make you press

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the "beg button" to get a walk light at these intersections with the concurrent green light and walk light. What's the point, when the walk light has no effect on the traffic signal? Often you get to the button a fraction of a second too late and have to wait through a whole light cycle, and inevitably the buttons break and take forever to get fixed. And then if you try to cross the street when a broken walk signal should be lit, turning drivers will yell at you and try to mow you down.


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There are times where the wait was so long for a walk light I thought the light must be broken.

Beg buttons need to go too

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The phases should all be set so that the expectation is that there is a pedestrian waiting to cross or about to cross. Walk signals should be automatic. This is how it's done in major cities across the world (including Cambridge, which as far as I know, has very few, if any, beg buttons). The lack of a consistent standard setting is why people don't bother with pedestrian signals in Boston. Another thing that's a major problem is the lack of regard for the needs of pedestrians in the design and placement of traffic signals in North America. In Germany and most of Continental Europe, the traffic signals are placed before the crosswalks and are a set little lower to the ground. This does two things: 1. prevents crosswalk blocking by drivers who ignore stop lines (which is very common in Boston), and 2. redirects the driver's focus to their immediate surroundings and puts other road users closer to their sightlines. The MUTCD standards are dangerous to pedestrians and need to be changed.

Most intersections in Boston

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Most intersections in Boston DO have automatic ped phases, at least during peak times. The only reason they still have push buttons is to placate people who expect to have to push a button. It's purely psychological. You feel more assured that the light is going to change soon if you pushed a button to trigger it, even if it was going to change anyway.

And not all intersections in Cambridge have automatic ped signals - plenty are actuated only. I'd wager it's about the same proportion in Cambridge as Boston, though the percentage may be higher in Cambridge if you include all of the far-flung, more suburban parts of Boston instead of just the dense, urban parts.

Cambridge does get props though for consistently using Leading Pedestrian Intervals (when ped signals run concurrent with vehicle signals, the ped signal comes on 3 seconds before the vehicle signal turns green). There are a few places in Boston with them, but not enough.

Whenever I travel to another

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Whenever I travel to another big city, it becomes painfully obvious how dysfunctional our pedestrian signals are. I just got back from Chicago, and I couldn't help but notice the following when I was there:

- Very few intersections have beg buttons
- Almost all intersections have concurrent walk signals
- The concurrent walk signals always last as long as the green
- The cycle lengths are much shorter

I honestly felt like I rarely waited more than 30 seconds for a walk signal, almost anywhere in the city. Someone I was walking with commented "Are the signals coordinated for pedestrians? We've hardly had to stop and wait at all." They're not coordinated for peds. They're just timed in a way that reduces wait times for everyone!

Meanwhile in Boston:
- Most intersections have beg buttons, which you sometimes need to press and sometimes don't
- Some crossings are concurrent, and some are exclusive
- Some concurrent walk signals don't come up unless you press the button
- Outside of downtown neighborhoods, you always have to press the button for exclusive walk phases and for minor street concurrent walk phases, even if you're directly next to a T station
- Many concurrent walk signals don't last as long as the green
- The cycle lengths tend to be very long


Can't understand why the city can't just step up and enforce the existing laws. Every single day in the Back Bay (one of the hotspots identified by the article) you see drivers speeding, running red lights, and failing to yield to pedestrians on turns and at mid-block crosswalks. It's pervasive.

It's just not a priority. Why

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It's just not a priority. Why that's the case I really do not know. But the political leadership doesn't seem interested, the police don't seem interested. I just do not get it. It's not like there isn't significant backing and political support to gain here for them. Makes no sense.

also: revenue!

I swear the city could double its budget overnight if they just put cops on the corners of Boylston/Dartmouth and Boylston/Berkeley and handed out tickets for failure to yield all day.


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The state takes all money above $50.

That's why municipalities don't enforce traffic laws - it costs them too much!

Don't forget people rolling

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Don't forget people rolling stop signs! They do this because there is low visibility, but don't think to stop at the sign and then inch forward.

Or maybe they just have to *really* go to the bathroom.

Completely agree. Drivers

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Completely agree. Drivers know(or should know) when pedestrians are in a labeled/designated crosswalk they have the right of way. Its a state law. Can't tell you how many times I've(or have seen others) been nearly hit by drivers ignoring folks standing in a crosswalk. You'd think simple enforcement would make drivers second guess ignoring the pedestrian waiting/trying to cross the street.


Not to let drivers off the hook, but the city could help by installing button activated crossing signals and mid-road pedestrian signs at key crosswalks. Cambridge has been doing this for a while and it seems to help.

Boston might be a "walking city" but there's nearly no pedestrian specific infrastructure. This is cheap stuff.

Pedestrian beg buttons have no place in an urban environment

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With the exception of lightly used mid-block crossings. The default should be an automatic walk phase with each and every cycle, whether concurrent with the green or exclusive (and exclusive phases should be used sparingly) and the expectation should be that there is a pedestrian waiting or approaching the intersection. That's how Cambridge does it. It's very frustrating to approach an intersection just as the light is changing, only to miss the pedestrian phase because you didn't hit the button in time and have to wait through several cycles. It's even worse when your hands are full and you can't hit the button, or the when the button in inaccessible due to a snowbank or other obstruction. Boston is particularly egregious when it comes to this, and add the utter inconsistency from one intersection to another, even on the same street, it's no wonder no one bothers waiting for the light. The settings are so inconsistent that they can't be trusted.

I guarantee you would never

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I guarantee you would never have to "wait through several cycles". If you push the button, the ped phase will come on in the next cycle.

And the reason that we have buttons is the same reason most signals are actuated - traffic volumes and flow patterns change based on time of day. There are plenty of intersections with extremely high ped volume during the morning and evening peak hours on weekdays, but very little ped traffic otherwise, such that it would be a waste of everyone's time to have the ped phase come up every cycle on the weekends, or at 3 am. Again, it's the same reason we actuate signals. It'd be a waste of everyone's time if every phase came up every cycle. The only difference is that it's harder to automatically detect pedestrians, so we expect people to push a button. This system leads to the lowest average delay for all users of the intersection, by allocating cycle time to where there are actually people.

Well, in that case

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They should install buttons for drivers to call a green light, with the default being an exclusive pedestrian phase until a driver comes along.

Like I said, we already have

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Like I said, we already have the equivalent - actuated signals that only change if a they detect a car.

The problem with leaving signals in an exclusive ped phase until a car comes by is because, even in the densest parts of the city, cars quite likely outnumber peds during off-peak hours. I've done traffic counts. It's true.

And even if we did leave signals in an exclusive ped phase until they detect a car (and there was little enough traffic that there would actually be times they didn't detect a car), ped signals take a lot longer to cycle through. Before that light would change to green for a car, it would need to change from walk to flashing don't walk, and count down the number of seconds it would take for a person to walk across the street at 3 ft/s (which, for a 4-lane road is about 20 seconds), then have a few second long all-red clearance interval. So you're now at up to 30 seconds before that car gets a green. And what if you approach the intersection as a pedestrian midway through that countdown, but can't run across the intersection? Then you have to wait. And this would happen constantly, because there is rarely ever going to be a gap of several minutes between cars at any intersection in Boston. Especially not at a time where there are also going to be pedestrians wanting to cross.

The average delay for all users is minimized when the signal rests at green for the heaviest volume movement, which in 99.9% of cases will be cars. (excluding peak hours where there is so much volume from both modes that a signal will never get to rest).


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I guarantee you would never have to "wait through several cycles".

Clearly you've never walked around regularly in the South End, South Boston, Dorchester, etc. Again, the expectation at most intersections should be the assumption that there is a pedestrian waiting or approaching. Beg buttons should be the exception in an urban area, not the rule, as is the current (and increasing) practice. Boston has a very suburban attitude towards pedestrians when it comes to its traffic signals.

True, I don't make it to

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True, I don't make it to Southie or Dorchester very often.

But what I said is not nonsense, it's an undeniable fact. I challenge you to go stand at an intersection, push the button, and then observe the phases. You will never have to wait more than 1 cycle. Traffic signal controllers aren't set up to skip a phase multiple times. In fact they aren't set up to skip a phase at all if that phase has been called.

I think it's nonsense in some cases

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Go to East Newton and Harrison and press the button, then see how many cycles you wait through (same for E. Concord -inexplicably, the similar intersection at E Brookline has an automatic exclusive phase and has a good level of service for pedestrians, though the exclusive phase is a bit overkill). It can be up to two. Outside of mid-block crosswalks, the buttons need to go. Beg buttons are unheard of in most of New York City and LA, all of Germany, France, and Denmark, among other places. The vast majority of users on the public ways in this city are on foot, it's time for traffic signals to reflect that.

Until the sixties, there were no pedestrian signals in Boston, pedestrians just went with the green ("walk with the green, not in between"). Philadelphia still does this at most intersections, and is at least just as, if not more, congested a city as Boston. It's simple and seems to work just fine.

while we're on the subject of waste of everyone's time

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It'd be a waste of everyone's time if every phase came up every cycle.

Right. all the more reason to have concurrent signals at many more intersections unless it is an intersection with high volume turning movements. These should be coupled with many more LPIs (A head start for the walk sign). Increase compliance by actually making the signals work for people.

Here are some policy recommendations (2-page PDF) Prof. Furth presented to the Boston City Council in December:
1) Require that any study that reports vehicle delay must also report pedestrian delay.
2) A policy preference for short signal cycles.
3) Forbidding pedestrian timings that require multi-stage crossings

I support concurrent signals

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I support concurrent signals in many locations.

I also support LPIs, as I said in a previous comment on this very post.

You're barking up the wrong tree here.

Also, FYI, Furth was who I learned traffic engineering from as a student at Northeastern. ;)

Thank you.

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It's even worse when your hands are full and you can't hit the button, or the when the button in inaccessible due to a snowbank or other obstruction.

This is a very good argument against beg buttons. I had this exact issue on a rainy day last week heading home, carrying two bags of groceries and an umbrella. I either had to put the (paper) grocery bags down on the wet sidewalk in order to hit the buttons, or just walk with the green and not care about the orange hands. I chose the latter. I imagine this may also be an issue for some people with certain mobility issues.

Crosswalk AND the light

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Just being in the crosswalk doesn't give you the right of way alone, unless there is no signal.

pretty sure

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it's actually the other way around. A crosswalk gives a pedestrian right of way. If the crosswalk is at a light, the light rules. So cars sometimes have right of way (going straight) but pedestrians always have the right of way over cars turning.

The right of way is yielded, not posessed.

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That written, drivers never have the right to drive into pedestrians. Even if the driver is otherwise obeying all signals and rules and the pedestrian is violating dozens of 'em.

If a driver operating a properly working vehicle at safe and legal speeds can safely avoid running into a pedestrian (in a crosswalk or otherwise), the driver is obligated to do so.

Word of warning

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Step out against the light and into the path of a cyclist who has the green light and cause a collision, both you and the cyclist will get hurt.

But you will be liable for the accident.

Oh, and don't scream at the cyclist narrowly avoiding your negligent arse. Definitely don't say anything about red lights when the cyclist has a green.

It's never legal to

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It's never legal to intentionally run someone over with your car, so debating about who has the "right of way" is just semantics. Either way you have to stop.

So thing goes if some suicidal person runs out in front of your car on I-93. You still have to hit the brakes, no matter how annoyed you are about enduring premature brake pad wear.

Who said anything about drivers and cars?

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Jaywalking endangers you and endangers cyclists who are obeying the light cycle. I'm sick and tired of idiots stepping in front of me when I have a green and then yelling at me for "almost hitting" them when they are the ones in the wrong.

Pull your head out of your stupidphone and look where you are going, please! If you don't have the light, you don't have the right of way.


It looks like the rise in fatalities matches the rise in Uber/Lyft usage. It's entirely possible the two are unrelated, but Uber needs to be examined nevertheless.

I've seen a steady uptick in ride-share drivers clearly focused on their dashboard phone and not paying attention to anything else. These same people tend to do risky things like suddenly make an illegal Uturns, slam on the brakes, occupy bike and travel lanes, let passengers off at unsafe places, etc. Sure, cabs have been doing this forever but there are a lot more Uber drivers then cabs and at least cab drivers had a bit more experience. (Note: Yes, I agree cabs suck.)

My solution: If the car is registered with a ride sharing company and it receives any citation, the ride share company should be fined $500 irrespective if the driver had a passenger at the time.

Think big picture, Dog

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You're correlating increased fatalities with rise in Uber/Lyft, but there is no indication that Uber/Lyft crash at higher frequency than other personal vehicles. What makes you think staring at one's phone is specific to Uber/Lyft drivers? On my way to work in Longwood every day, I see many people staring at their phones while driving, but few of them have passengers and/or Uber/Lyft insignia.

Let's look at the big picture: people are turning away from driving and seeking other forms of transportation in cities, which include public transit, walking, and cycling. All people are becoming less attentive and more focused on devices, which is cited as a cause of increased crashes across the nation in recent years.

Distracted Driving

I've heard numbers thrown around by BTD and BPD that estimate 2/3 of cars double parked in the city are Uber or Lyft drivers waiting on fares. Don't know the accuracy of that, but anecdotally I think we all know there's a lot of this. Same goes for delivery vehicles from Amazon et al with the dramatic rise in online shopping. Double parking is a significant and underappreciated cause of road congestion. It's also incredibly dangerous to people on bikes who have to then enter the flow of traffic.

As to overall crash numbers, though, most research indicates the rise across the country is due to distracted driving from cell phone use. People are addicted and won't put them down. It's absurd and deadly. I think the end solution, outside of self-driving cars, needs to be Apple etc being forced to use the technology which they have to prevent their use in a moving vehicle.

prevent their use in a moving

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prevent their use in a moving vehicle.

You had me until this statement.

The problem is that it is essentially impossible to tell if someone is a driver or a passenger. Some apps (e.g. Pokemon Go) already have features that make you agree that you're not driving when you try and use them and they detect that you're moving at greater than X rate of speed, but this feature is triggered not only when you're a passenger, but even when you're on a bus or train - which is incredibly frustrating. Next time you're on the T, look around at how many people are entertaining themselves with a smartphone and then ask yourself whether it really makes sense to prevent that.

What I didn't add for brevity

What I didn't add for brevity's sake is that there is existing technology that can be built into the car that will detect when you're driving and put your phone into safe mode. That already exists. So that wouldn't present an issue for people on a train. The key is mandating their use rather than allowing it to be the decision of the driver to opt in which existing apps already do. Carry on.

I'm genuinely curious how

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I'm genuinely curious how your phone could detect that you are driving instead of a passenger. Please provide some kind of source, because I've never heard of such a thing.

The only way I could think that your phone would possibly be able to tell is by using the camera and some incredibly advanced recognition software to determine that you are in the driver's seat, and even then there would still likely be an unacceptably high number of false positives.

Existing technology that can determine whether you are moving relies on the phone's accelerometer, which can only tell how fast you are moving, and in what direction. GPS location could reveal that you are moving at a certain speed on a road, but is nowhere near precise enough to determine your location more precise than a few feet, and wouldn't know where you are relative to your car anyway.

I'm not even trying to be contrary here, I'm just genuinely curious if you know of some technology that I don't, because if so that would be very exciting.

EDIT: Upon re-reading your comment I think you were going more for the approach of your car communicating with your phone to tell it that you're driving. But this raises a bunch of other problems - like how does your car actually know who's driving? Why shouldn't the passenger be able to use your phone while you're driving? How do you require everyone to connect their phones to their cars and update this fact when they get a new phone, etc.? What if the bluetooth chip in your phone dies? It's a neat idea, but there is no way it would be practical.

The city is spending a

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The city is spending a pathetic $3 million on Vision Zero. Meanwhile they are spending over $100 million on two parking garages in the Seaport. Maybe spend more money protecting the people being killed and spend less money on the people doing the killing???


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The reason why they are spending 100 million (as you say) on two parking garages is that the majority of people on my planet (perhaps not yours?) drive to work. And 3 million spent on Vision Zero is nothing to sneeze at.

Most people do not intend to kill another when they get in their cars. I have mentioned this time and time again. Unless they premeditate on killing a cyclist or a pedestrian or ramming their car into another, for example, then, yes, ok, they are killers. Most commuters are just trying to get to work without incident.

As of 2013, 45.3% of Boston

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As of 2013, 45.3% of Boston commuters drove to work - including both solo drivers and carpools.

That's hardly a majority. And in fact I'd say it's likely declined even further in the 4 years since.

(true, the rate jumps to 75% if you include the whole metro area, but we're focusing only on people driving into Boston).


4/10, needs follow-through

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You're going to have to up your game if you want to troll a pedestrian/driver thread on UHub, dawg. "On my planet" is reasonably incendiary while expressing nothing, and "If they didn't mean to kill the pedestrian, they shouldn't be treated as killers'" is a pretty dumb thing to say, and it might fly in the minor leagues, but around here, you're up against some fiercer competition. roadman will be in here shortly to show you how it's done. This one is too weak to even warrant a Swirly response.

In fact, in Boston, more than

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In fact, in Boston, more than 50% of workers do not drive to work. See:

And in fact that includes all the people driving in from the suburbs! Why should we be subsidizing them? If you look at actual taxpaying citizens of Boston, it is even lower: only 40% drive.

Seems to me for every $100m we spend on drivers we should be spending at least that much subsidizing transit, biking, and walking.

Any info on where victim's phone was at the time?

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Having avoided a number of potential incidents downtown and around town the past year or two by judicious use of my horn when getting a green light but having a pedestrian actually step out in front of my car at a crosswalk with their head buried in their phone, I am wondering how much of the uptick can be related to this quasi-suicidal behavior.

This doesn't excuse drivers from not mastering the ability to see through their car's windshield pillars to prognosticate when someone on the sidewalk is going to jump in front of them because they have their head down and haven't run into anything metal yet.

But I'm curious if there's any statistics that show whether the victim's phone was in their pocket or in their hand at the time of the impact.

And to head the expected responses off at the pass: I fully accept that the driver who kills a pedestrian is the one at fault for not having greater control over their vehicle and being aware of their total surroundings. I only wish that we also expected the pedestrian to have even a modicum of survival instincts so as to help the driver in their duties rather than challenge them at every crosswalk instead. Seriously, look around you when you walk down the street tomorrow and count the number of pairs of eyes that meet back at you. The percentage of pedestrians zoned out behind headphones and screens has only increased and continues increasing. I've acted similarly between streets when on the sidewalk, but I force myself to pay full attention at crossings and it's very clear when I do that I'm in a shrinking majority of pedestrians that do.