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: