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Out of a family's anguish, a call to narrow Centre Street in West Roxbury

Al Wentworth describes his wife's death on Centre Street in West Roxbury as son Matthew listens

With son Matthew behind him, Al Wenthworth describes the crash that killed his wife, Marilyn.

As a hall full of people listened, Al Wentworth tonight described the crash that killed his wife Marilyn in the middle of Centre and Hastings streets on Feb. 5:

He had parked on Centre, shortly after 4 p.m., so she could cross the street and get a cup of coffee at her favorite coffee place, Recreo. As he sat in the car, he heard a strange sound and looked and saw his wife of 42 years "fly in the air, landing quite a few feet away." He rushed to her side. He tried talking to her, then yelling at her, but "she never responded," he said. "I don't think she ever came to."

The driver who hit her, who said she was didn't see Marilyn because of solar glare, tried to help her until paramedics came and rushed her to Brigham and Women's, still breathing, but unconscious. She was rushed into the operating room, where she died.

With son Matthew and daughter Jennifer at his side, Wentworth told residents and city and state officials at the Elks Club tonight that he strongly supports a proposal, first made two years ago by civil-engineering researchers at Northeastern to reduce the number of vehicle lanes Centre Street from four to two - and to create pedestrian islands at each intersection so that nobody else will ever have to die like Marilyn did.

"Let's get it done, let's get it done now!" Wentworth told a crowd of more than 100 people, who then stood and applauded him and his children.

Northeastern Prof. Peter Furth, who oversaw the research, which included graduate students standing at Centre Street intersections doing traffic counts, said restoring Centre to its state of 50 years ago, when it had just two lanes, but with turn lanes at key intersections, would eliminate the temptation drivers now have to speed away from lights - often missing the pedestrians for whom drivers in the other lane are stopped.

Chris Osgood, Boston's chief of streets, said he has hired a consultant to investigate Furth's work and develop traffic-calming measures for Centre Street by June, so that residents can give their input and figure out just what the city should budget for. City Councilor Matt O'Malley - who organized the meeting - said getting money to make Centre Street safer will be his top budget priority this year.

In the meantime, the city has installed new 25-m.p.h. signs along the road and markers at intersections, Osgood said. Boston Police have stepped up speeding and crosswalk enforcement as well, Therese Kozmiski, captain at BPD District E-5, said. "I'm taking it personally," Kozmiski said of Marilyn Wentworth's death. She said officers have issued 80 crosswalk citations to drivers this month, compared to 48 last month.

Residents said the increased enforcement seems to have worked - motorists are driving more carefully on Centre - although several worried what happens when the police move onto something else.

One of those residents was a man who has an idea of what the Wentworths are going through - because three years ago, he was also hit while crossing the same intersection. He said he spent a year recovering from the traumatic brain injury he suffered when he started crossing the street after a motorist stopped, only to be hit by somebody who didn't see him.

"I'm really hoping and praying we're never here again talking about this," he said.

Bicyclists said Centre Street is one of the most dangerous streets in the city for them, what with the traffic and the double parking. One said it reminded him of streets in Tampa, FL.

Jeff Catalano, who lives on Hastings Street, said "my heart's in my mouth" every morning when his kids have to cross over Centre to get on the train to school.

But residents, some of whom remember when Officer Jimmy Kilduff scared sense into motorists on the streets of West Roxbury, said city officials have to look beyond just Centre. From Washington to Lagrange, from Weld to VFW Parkway, from Spring to Baker, residents described streets that make them terrified to let their kids go out and fearful for their older relatives.

Residents living along Washington Street, which still has some 40-m.p.h. signs, noted deaths on their street as well. A parent of a Beethoven School student said the crossing guard there has near misses pretty much every day from motorists who seem to take the 40 signs as encouragement to go even faster.

Several recounted hits or near misses of their own, including a Temple Street resident who said that she at least got a stop sign at her corner out of one incident - after a year of trying to convince the city to install one, somebody from BTD came down one day and was talking to her, while standing right on the curb, with his butt hanging over the road when a car came close enough he could feel it. That did the trick, she said.

Vince Bertand, who lives on Maple Street, said "it's pretty pathetic" that he has to load his kids' bikes in his car and drive them over to Millennium Park so they can ride around because it's just too dangerous for them to bike over there.

Although many residents applauded Furth's proposal, some worried any efforts to make Centre safer by reducing the number of lanes would only make Waze-using motorists switch to their streets.

One Mt. Vernon Street resident called the idea "all show ponies and unicorns" and said it would prove a nightmare that would "impact this community for generations."

One resident of Montview Street, which parallels Centre, said motorists already use the street as a high-speed way to avoid the traffic lights along Centre - and that they often ignore the stop signs on Montview.

And some residents, addressing state Sen. Mike Rush and state Rep. Ed Coppinger, said the state needs to take action, as well. One called for legislation that would allow for speed cameras that could trigger the issuing of tickets. Robert Triest, economics chairman at Northeastern, said economics research shows that people respond to incentives - and he called for state laws that would automatically levy penalties against motorists who hit pedestrians or bicyclists. Such laws in Europe have created dramatically safer streets, he said.

Waiting for the meeting to begin. The Wentworths are in the lower left:

Crowd at the meeting
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Comments

1. Raised medians with with enough as pedestrian refuges to cross in two steps AND high visibility pedestrian-activated crossing lights are far, far more effective than look-good curb extensions OR road narrowing. With more and more traffic lights on streets, drivers are conditioned to just look for and respond to them. Before all the added traffic lights drivers payed more attention to the road instead of being zombies going from one red light to the next. Hence, lights are what now work at pedestrian crossings.

2. Traffic volumes are WAY UP since Northeastern's traffic counts. Thank Uber/lyft and the healthy economy. Narrowing all the roads isn't a solution, pedestrian crossing lights and raised medians are.

3. Lawless cyclists encourage others to be more lawless. Same with rideshare drivers double parking, parking in bus stops, handicapped spaces, and anywhere they like. Curb extensions worsen the problem of rideshare drivers, taking away corner spaces where drivers used to be able to pull over to drop off passengers or even use their phones.

4. Raised medians slow down traffic and save lives. Just look at the data.

5. All of the above rational choices will be ignored and instead the road will get protected bike lanes and horrendous traffic congestion resulting in fewer visitors to local businesses which then fail or move to greener pastures.

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Produce your CV and some back up. Until then, we’ll listen to the actual expert on this who says the opposite of whatever you’re trying to say here.

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Lawless ride share drivers are a much bigger problem in terms of traffic congestion around the Parkway than bikers. To blame bikers for the way people speed down Center St on their way home to Westwood is just stupid. There are very, very bikes on Center St. because it's one of the most dangerous roads for bikes around.

Raised walks and stop lights are a good idea - are they not being considered because of plowing concerns?

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.

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I knew a dumb driver would find a way to blame cyclists for drivers breaking the law and killing pedestrians.

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There are not many cyclists on Center st. try again.

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Not many cyclists on Centre, yet designating a travel lane For bicyclists.

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Why might there not be many bicyclists on Centre Street?

Could it be that it's so dangerous they avoid it?

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lol the double parking on centre is jackass locals running in to mail an envelope/grab a coffee/pick their kid up/etc. uber issues are endemic in this city, but not on this stretch.

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even if it's not Uber drivers in this spot. Curb extensions also encourage double parking because temporary parking can no longer be done in those spots.

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The basic premises of your argument is that it's OK if there's some fatalities because any significant changes could impact local businesses and commuting times.

So are you OK being the one to die so that no one is delayed? If you got killed crossing the street would your friends shrug and agree it's for the good of society?

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Raised medians in general are unnecessary unless when used as a pedestrian refuge island. They tend to create more problems than they solve. They prevent drivers from making left turns, forcing them to drive further distances to get to their destination, and also cause people to drive faster because of the lack of left turning traffic in either direction. But more importantly, medians block emergency vehicles, which often need to drive over the center line when traffic pulls to the side.

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Narrow or widen?

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Centre between Holy Name and Lagrange currently has two lanes in each direction. Furth's plan would reduce that to one lane (with turning lanes at key intersections). His proposal calls for using some of the reclaimed space for dedicated bike lanes.

He didn't get into the capacity issue much, but his report says the traffic counts his students did showed that the road would not become gridlocked because it doesn't really carry as much traffic as people think

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After reexamining about the issue, I do think two lanes would be better on Centre. I would, however, like to see a bit more recent statistical evidence to back up the student's claim that road does not carry as much traffic as people think.

I am not sure how much "reclaimed space" would be left if one truly wishes to have two lanes for traffic and parking on each side. If the thinking is let us narrow further the one road on each side proposal to make room for cyclists, I have reservations.

Honestly, I really do not know what will be the most effective. There will always be people who drive cars in a aggressive manner or who drive distracted, even with narrowing of lanes, putting in islands (one still has to step off), additional police enforcement (there is only so many police officers to go around), etc. I do think there is a valid argument to be made that folks will use Waze to find a go around, making other streets more congested. Perhaps camera installations with hefty fines are in order?

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The most effective thing is to ban cars from that area. You said yourself that driver always break the law, so this is the only solution. Drivers had their chance. They spectacularly blew it. Pedestrian heavy areas like this one and cars do not mix, so get rid of the cars. You can find examples of this working in cities all over the world.

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is for everyone to stop having kids.

The most effective way to stop crime is to have a total surveillance police state.

Downtown Boston shouldn't have cars. Suburban West Roxbury with limited bus and train service needs cars until we can massively increase the frequency of bus/train service or extend the Orange Line.

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There are ways to travel around and out of WR without using Centre St. I agree that many of the business districts in Boston need to be made pedestrian-only like much of the world does. Some side streets would have to have their direction changed to make this work, but it can be done.

We should also do this to parts of Centre in JP, Dudley Square, Fields Corner, etc.

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Let's say I live in Roslindale (which I do) and I want to get to the YMCA (for summer camp) or the little league fields by Cath Mem. What's my route - I drive up Washington St and then down Lagrange? Or up the VFW and down Lagrange? Any closure of Centre St. would mean that traffic (which is already heavy enough) on side roads like Weld is going to skyrocket.

Traffic calming is a realistic solution. Some areas of the city would be well served by street closures as you note. This isn't one of them. There isn't enough residential density along Centre St. to keep those businesses open if you close that road - people will just go to Dedham big box stores even more. Centre St. in JP is a poor comparison because a) density is way different b) there is an MBTA line c) the additional artery rd of Washginton St and the J Way are much closer to the closed area.

As the post notes, traffic here isn't heavy 24 hours a day. This is a solvable problem in the way that say, traffic in Longwood, isn't.

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No,take the T ,ride your bicycle,or walk!

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That's a long walk for most people, especially since you are talking turning a 10 to 15 minute car ride into a 30 to 40 minute walk.

And if Centre Street was closed, the buses would be a bit screwed, too.

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Won't happen so stop wasting energy typing it up. There are millions of dollars of businesses on that road which depend on people driving there. Hell, I bet even the pedestrians who get hit and killed in most of these crashes are crossing the road to get to their car because they drove there.

Cops should step up some distracted driving enforcement there though and the penalty for texting while driving (or maybe even touching your phone) should be $1,000 or a loss of license for a month first offense no exceptions.

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They might have to actually ... talk to people. Get out of their cars! Not be heroes with guns but nasty people who harsh your day by making you behave!

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Americans will drive to malls, walk across a huge parking lot, and walk around inside a mall. Americans do in fact patronize businesses that they can't park right in front of.

It just takes a slight attitude shift to get them to instead drive to a side street that now has bollards at benches at the end, then walk around the car-free main street area. And this will get many more people walking or biking to the area from home.

And yes, traffic enforcement in this city is ridiculously nonexistent.

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People who drive to shop in West Roxbury are already doing a park-and-walk much of the time, for any business that doesn't have a parking lot.

Closing Centre Street would be a major change on top of that. It would also screw up bus service.

Medford Square tried it in the 70s, except they a road network that provided alternate routes. It didn't work.

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American do drive too much but not really to malls per se.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/pamdanziger/2018/04/07/4-models-of-the-shop...

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Decades ago, I was reading a book about shopping malls. They noted that the malls have to lay themselves out so that the shopper is deceived into thinking the distance between stores is shorter than they are. A classic example for me is the Natick Mall. Between where Sears was and where Macys is covers a long distance, but they make it so one cannot see how far it is but having subtle twists (I think there are 3 at the Natick Mall.) The latest wing (which is not living up to expectations) has outright curves.

It annoys some, but the reality is that people don't want to walk a long distance. The book said that people would get in their cars and drive if they were at one end of the mall and they thought that the store at the other end was too far away. It's sad, but it's true.

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One through lane in each direction is far safer than two for a whole host of reasons. A big one is that when there are two lanes in each direction, the driver in the left lane feels pressure to pass the one in the right lane, even when it is not safe to do so. The other issue is that left turns are extremely hazardous because they block a travel lane and have to cross two opposing lanes.

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replace the slow and inconsistent commuter rail - which doesn't even run on sundays - with an orange line extension. use that to free up buses from duplicating that stretch and send them further out into dedham, needham, etc, to bring people to transit where they can be as distracted as they want, and an aggressive train driver is no danger to anyone.

stop slapping bandages on the supply side. address demand, make it so people don't use these local roads as inter-township cut-throughs anymore!!!

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Or run DMUs frequently. All the benefits of a subway extension, with none of the construction cost.

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Except you still have to transfer :-/ and subway is cleaner than diesel

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https://gizmodo.com/what-state-has-the-most-pedestrian-traffic-deaths-18...

We're ranked 42nd. Cold comfort for the Wentworths of course.

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Cool, let's get to 50.

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Unless Massachusetts becomes a state with very few pedestrians, like most of the ones further down on the list.

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I’ve found much of my bonding with my neighbors has been through conversations about complaints directed at Matt O’Malley’s office about this specific issue. He’s been hearing complaints about safety on Centre St for a while, with little to no meaningful action. Then someone dies and the answer for him is to have a meeting focused on taking comments from residents who he has already been hearing from for a long time. Fellow neighbors: please keep putting the pressure on the city. Call O’Malley, ask for updates, file complaints when you see a pedestrian safety problem. Don’t be satisfied with a few new 25 mph signs, some extra ticketing, and a public forum.

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I've only been in West Roxbury for less than a year, but I feel like I'm taking my life in my hands twice a day when I cross Centre to get to and from the train. I lived near Comm Ave in Brighton for years and this seems way more dangerous, despite being a smaller road.

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Not to say you shouldn't be able to cross safely, but the two stations serving the Centre St. corridor are on opposite sides of the street and only 0.4 miles from one another. Have you considered opting for the station that doesn't require crossing the street?

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This is a city emergency. Walsh, and Boston in general need to stop the way he is approaching making streets safer; from waiting till someone is killed or seriously injured and then doing something about that one intersection/street, to redoing all the dangerous streets/intersections. Two people were killed recently, on Park Drive and Centre in West Roxbury and the city said they will accelerate plans to make them safer. Meaning, they knew they were dangerous/deadly but didn't see an urgency. With this many people being killed the city needs to accelerate all the work. It is insane for Walsh to say we will just wait until a family loses someone to address a known dangerous street. I don't understand the lack of respect for life that Walsh has.

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For the residents that don't want the traffic on "their" streets b/c of people speeding the city can do what they did on Beech. Put stop signs at every intersection. People used to fly down the street and now they can't.

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The driver who hit her, who said she was didn't see Marilyn because of solar glare

While I do have some sympathy for the driver, as I'm sure it was a terrible ordeal for her to go through too, but if her sight was impaired by solar glare, even temporarily, she should have stopped her car. Simple as that. Because she didn't, she is responsible for taking a life and she will have to live with that for the rest of hers. For all the attention that distracted driving gets, temporary visual impairment while driving (solar glare, fog, heavy rain, dirty windshield, defective wipers, snow, etc.) is as much of a hazard, if not more. It seems that many drivers do not seem know what to do in situations when they can no longer safely see the road. While engineering and roadway design changes and enforcement are important tools that go a long way to improve safety, more must be done to see that drivers are properly trained before licenses are issued. Comprehensive drivers' education with practical and theoretical training (similar to what is done in Germany and some other places) should be a requirement in order to book road and written tests, and the tests themselves should be much more stringent.

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The earth moves, changing the relative position of the sun. Pull over for a couple of minutes and it won't be an issue.

We encountered this at the end of Spring Break when my son was driving toward Amherst on Rt.2. I taught him how to handle the glare by using the visors, tracking the lines, etc., but I also had him pull off where it was safe and wait it out.

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don't understand why people don't keep sunglasses in their console.... seriously, they're like 7$ at CVS.....

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Sunglasses don't help with direct sun to the face.

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I'm not always a fan of road diets. For example, the redesign of Mass Ave through MIT is a horrible disaster, especially for the #1 bus.

But in this case, Centre Street really does feel like it would work better as two lanes, with left turn lanes at intersections. The existing four lanes plus parking are really shoehorned in, and make it scary to cross the street or ride a bike, while not really adding much car capacity compared to two lanes.

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I have a BRILLIANT solution....Add more housing and increase the population of cars and people!!!!!! Makes sense to add to the chaos before we fix a major issue we are having right? Walsh just wants to say under his leadership business boomed and that is all he cares about. Meanwhile we are being crammed in like animals and the hometown feeling is GONE

Make it single lane NOW...dont wait until June. Get a bucket of paint and fix the problem now. Too many people are nearly killed or injured in that dangerous WR center

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