With pedestrian & biker deaths up in Mass., focus is on designing safer roads that slow cars down

BOSTON — A large portion of Centre Street in West Roxbury is now a maze of lane changes and dedicated routes for buses and bikes.

The number of lanes for cars went from four to two and now, there’s fewer parking spaces.

Although this “Road Diet” has been in place for months, opinions are still strong about the change.

Brenda Devane thinks the change would cause more traffic, “and it has,” she said.

Katie Riel has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years and always thought Centre Street was dangerous. She is excited by this new configuration and said, “Traffic is definitely slower.”

Ken Cunningham doesn’t like the change and believes travel times have increased.

It’s a similar situation in South Boston where many residents expressed concerns about changing road patterns there during a community meeting, despite some recent tragedies involving pedestrians.

“In the last 2 to 3 years, it is a concern that a lot of pedestrians and bicyclists are losing their lives on the road,” said Suzanne LePage, senior instructor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute where she teaches classes on traffic design.

LePage said giving up traffic lanes for vehicular traffic doesn’t necessarily mean longer travel times for drivers.

“So, it does work, even though the logic is if you take away capacity, we’re not going to have any room to travel,” said LePage. “But most before and after studies show that we don’t see a major increase.”

Chronic congestion and long pedestrian crossings have the town of Needham considering a road diet in the center of town along Great Plain Avenue.

Carys Lustig, Needham’s Department of Public Works director, said the town might go from four lanes to two lanes and add turning lanes.

“We had two tragic deaths in Needham of two younger women and I think I think one of the big concerns we have is speed,” Lustig said.

Lustig said safety comes first, but this is also a chance to redefine Needham Center.

“You want people walking in your downtown because that’s when they browse thru the stores and are stopping at restaurants,” Lustig said.

LePage believes there is now more interest in building roads for people over building roads for cars.

She expects to see more projects like the one underway on the Hammond Pond Parkway in Newton. That roadway is currently dug up and is being redesigned, going from four lanes to two, with new space for bike lanes and pedestrian paths.

“Safety is paramount for sure, but I think transit friendliness and building better cities in a broader sense is just as important,” LePage said.

LePage said federal legislation passed almost 20 years ago links road funding to additional safety improvements and the expanded road uses that are being seen today.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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