Boston Mayor Marty Walsh pulled a Trump — he said something outrageous and the media ate it up.
He claimed that changing “30” to “25” in the ordinance books would save pedestrians by slowing traffic. New York City tried that and it didn’t save pedestrians. It raised revenue.
Long before the failure of “Vision Zero,” we knew from any number of experiments that even changing signs, as opposed to ink on unread pages, doesn’t change average traffic speed.
When I say “we,” I mean people who pay attention to traffic safety. The Boston Transportation Department is run by a parking clerk and the city is run by a union president. For many years before they arrived, the BTD considered traffic safety standards as obstacles to overcome rather than rules to live by.
As I wrote before, Boston police don’t care enough about traffic safety to keep good records. But fatal accidents are investigated by State Police, and those do go into the record books.
In the most recent year for which I have records, 2013, there were 8 fatal accidents involving pedestrians in Boston, six of them with enough information in state records or Boston Globe stories to discuss the causes.
- On January 30 a car backed into a pedestrian.
- On February 27 a man ran into traffic on a rainy night. The state road is not subject to Boston’s new speed limit.
- On May 9 a boy was run over by a van on a rainy morning in a “chaotic” business district that already has a 25 mph limit (regulation 143-A).
- On June 9 a pedestrian was killed at or near a signalized intersection with a “yield to pedestrians on turns” sign. It is not clear whether the cause was jaywalking, running a red light, or failure to yield when turning, but there is no reason to blame speed in this congested area full of traffic signals.
- On July 5 a pedestrian was killed by a left-turning car, which would have been going well under 25.
- On November 25 a mother and child on the sidewalk were run over a drunk driver.
Lowering the city speed limit to 25 would have not saved those people, not even if drivers obeyed.
I’m not even getting into the question of accident rate vs. speed. Pedestrians can overcompensate, thinking that slower traffic is safe when it isn’t. (Traffic calming expects drivers to overcompensate for apparently dangerous situations; this is the same problem in the opposite direction.) And there is some evidence that worrying about enforcement distracts drivers.
But Boston had a solution in search of a problem, and its legislative delegation brought home a big present for city leaders. Who for the most part don’t have to obey traffic laws themselves.
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