A ‘SafeSTART’ for safe streets

On February 8, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

mayor_webBy Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

By now, it’s no secret that I have made a firm commitment to ensuring that Somerville is truly a multimodal community, encouraging walking, biking, and use of public transportation, as well as providing safe ways to do so. But moving our infrastructure into the 21st century and creating safer streets will not happen by chance. That’s why we have the SafeSTART program.

In 2006, I convened a pedestrian and traffic safety task force that was asked to evaluate every aspect of our traffic and pedestrian systems – from crosswalks and signals to traffic-calming technologies. Their report, titled Safe, Sustainable Transportation Assessment and Recommendation Team, or SafeSTART, outlined recommendations for short-and long-term enhancements. I am proud to say that most of their recommendations for cost-effective improvements have been effectively implemented citywide over the last six years, and that many of them were completed immediately upon delivery of the report.

We have restriped or freshly painted more than 2,000 crosswalks, and added more than 30 miles of on-street bike facilities like bike lanes and sharrows; we’ve added or repaired, on average, 150 faded or damaged traffic-related signs per month (1,800 per year) and installed approximately 300 phosphorescent reflective materials for added visibility on pedestrian and stop signs throughout the city. More recently, we successfully implemented a back-in, angled parking configuration in one of our most congested business districts that, due to increased parking availability and a reduction in vehicle speeds and improved pedestrian/bicycle safety, have excited residents and business owners in other parts of the city.

All of our efforts in the last several years have contributed to Somerville being named the 8th most bikeable community in the nation by thestreet.com, and the 10th most walkable by walkscore.com, in addition to commendation by the Boston Phoenix as one of the best places to live in Massachusetts. Yet in a community as old and historic as Somerville, particularly a densely settled urban community where our infrastructure sees a lot of use, aging infrastructure and highly traveled streets require constant maintenance and frequent reassessment. Our needs and resources continually change, and therefore so must we.

Which is why, I am happy to announce, I have commissioned the beginning of a new SafeSTART process. We will reassess those recommendations set out in the initial SafeSTART report, and examine ways in which we can improve to create a unified vision for our city’s unique transit and safety needs across all levels. Using a data-driven approach, and with an eye toward innovative design that can address safety issues and influence behavior, we will be able to evaluate the impact that the initial report and action steps have had, and work to improve or expand on them.

We have a great starting point: recent data – both statewide and local – shows a significant decrease in the numbers of pedestrian accidents over the last two years as compared with data from 2008 to 2010 and, since 2006, traffic accidents in general are declining. When combined with the efforts of our police and traffic and parking departments, both in terms of increased enforcement measures and improvements in engineering equipment, serious motor vehicle accidents in Somerville were down 23% in 2012 alone.

The overarching principles that guided the initial SafeSTART report will continue to guide our decisions and policies. Somerville should be a great place to live, work, play and raise a family, and an important part of that means that our streetscapes must be designed to encourage slower vehicle traffic and speeds, while allowing for increased bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Reducing our carbon footprint and creating an environmentally friendly, and healthy, community is synonymous with reducing our dependency on automobiles. And as the Green Line Extension gets under way, our goal of bringing the percentage of residents who have easy access to rapid transit from 15% to 85% is finally within reach.

With a solid basis and indications that our policies and recent enhancements are successful, the newly convened SafeSTART team – composed of representatives from SPCD, Traffic & Parking, Engineering, SomerStat and the Police Department – can step back and look at our system as a whole, measure what has been effective in strategically planned areas, and what we can do to improve safety and infrastructure for walking and biking citywide.


11 Responses to “A ‘SafeSTART’ for safe streets”

  1. j connelly says:

    The 300 phosphorescent reflective materials are great, better visibilty and you do notice that it alerts drivers. Those coupled with the high Somerville Police visibility in areas does make a difference.

    ‘by thestreet.com’, ‘walkscore.com’ evidently either do their studies from their desks, spend actual little on site time, rely on somebody elses info.
    Because if they really spent time as a pedestrian in Davis, Union Squares, etc. they would see what a pedestrian really goes through.

    Now if the city could use this same phosphorescent reflective materials on signage for the cyclists to obey the laws. Cyclist complying with rules of the road, staying off the sidewalks in the squares. Do as Cambridge, putting some traffic/parking control officers on bikes to ticket/enforce those bad cyclists making it safer, that would be a big plus. Right now it appears the mayor closes his eyes to anything that might upset the cyclists.

  2. Detective Hound says:

    What ticket cyclists not on your life, one they won’t pay, two the cops have gotten out of the bikes, to much like hard work and effort, three old fashioned meter maids on a bike, how could he pad the system for his cronies? they would be going down with cardiac arrest. Just up the fines for parking again, tow every snow bird and forget which lot!!

  3. j connelly says:

    They will pay, if on repeat offenders…. you confiscate the bike from ticket scofflaws. ‘Book em Danno”

  4. Somerbreeze says:

    Some of this is just so much MALARKEY! If the Mayor really had pedestrian safety as a priority, why do we still see sidewalk cycling in the business districts?

    The so-called enforcement ballyhooed in April sputtered into oblivion by July; it was nothing more than a slick PR gambit to throw the citizenry off.

    The Mayor has empathy for cyclists and BS for pedestrians. And Joe C., the longer you hold forth on public safety, the longer your Pinocchio honker gets….

  5. Somtom says:

    Infrastructure means zero/zip/nada without enforcement. Walking and driving, I continue to see – every single day – dozens of rules of the road violations by cyclists on the streets and sidewalks of Somerville.

    Hizzoner, with his meaninglessly massaged statistics, says “our policies and recent enhancements are successful” but as a walker, driver, taxpayer, voter, and yes, even occasional cyclist, I don’t. The only “recent enhancement” I’ve seen is a higher tax bill. My policy from now on is to do anything and everything I can to see that someone else, someone who shares my priorities by spending less money and enforcing more laws, is the next mayor of Somerville.

  6. A. Moore says:

    I will second that next mayor comment.

  7. Former Somerville Resident says:

    Somerville needs a new mayor. This guy hasn’t done anything to improve Somerville besides raise taxes that drive residents out of the city. Somerville used to be a great place to live; unfortunately, the citizens of Slumerville keep voting this dingbat into office just because he has a ‘D’ next to his name.

    Memo to the citizens of Somerville: For God’s sake, please elect a NEW mayor!


  8. j connelly says:

    A real candidate for mayor would pledge and honor the pledge that the mayor’s salary would be at a much lower rate than the present extremely high $alary the pre$ent mayor receive$.

    Somerville is 4 sq miles, Boston & other cities are way bigger in size and this mayor places his $alary to be comparible with those cities. L”ego”
    has all his priorities mixed up.

  9. JAR says:

    … and still I, and others, wait at light after light on Highland Ave., whose traffic light timing–one of the least costly and most effective traffic calming, fuel saving, pedestrian safety and greenhouse gas-reducing measures there is–doesn’t warrant so much as a passing mention.

  10. Somerbreeze says:

    And the traffic light timing on Somerville Ave. is a time-consuming, ill-conceived FARCE!

    Ill-timed does nobody good!

  11. j connelly says:

    What the city needs is to repave the streets 1st and then spend $$$ on the “mayor’s fluff projects”. Notice how Tax-Exempt Tufts, pays no taxes yet places their own signage on city streets, Packard Ave. Whitfield Rd, Sawyer Ave, declaring their (Tuft’s) own parking regulations.

    Sawyer Ave., a city street occupied by all Tuft’s owned tax-exempt residences…Wanna bet our mayor will make that a priority street to pave and have the taxpayers wait to have their streets done.

    Ah Yes! Somerville..The All America City, Da Envelope Puhleeeez!

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