Taking action about a dangerous road/intersection
September 27, 2013 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Near where I live in Boston, there is a dangerous road, and a particularly dangerous intersection. I'd like to take action to have someone take steps to remediate it. Can you recommend specific resources and data to use to make the most compelling call to action?

I'd like to write to City Hall, my city representative for my district and the representatives at large, and whomever else (MA DOT? BPD?) to register a complaint. The road in question sees lots of traffic at high speeds (well in excess of the posted limit) and seems to be narrow for its number of lanes.

I'd like to include whatever facts and figures I can in my submission.

Traffic volume is available here.

The Mass DOT crash data is available here. (I think I saw somewhere that this is data through 2011, though.)

I did some preliminary searches and found hundreds of accident reports, several with fatalities.

I'd love to be able to include things like 1) number of traffic citations issued for this street and intersection (if any), 2) estimates of prevailing speeds (if any), 3) insurance company documentation, 4) traffic patterns on similar streets (if any), 5) city projections regarding the use of the road in the future, and any proposed road alterations, 6) what state or city planning standards exist for roads of this type and whether they're being adhered to (i.e., the width I mentioned), 7) information about traffic standards (i.e., there is no dedicated left turn at the intersection, which gives rise to many accidents), and anything else that can be relevant. I'm a lawyer (you're not my lawyer, FWIW), and would not be shy with any state (or federal, to the extent relevant) FOIA requests, happy to read statutes and regs, etc.

I haven't decided how much effort I want to put behind community organizing around this issue, but I realize that any advocacy I want to undertake will be more effective with many voices behind it.

For now, my first step is marshaling the data and the arguments for a fix; any additional resources with respect to the data collection and legal research part of this undertaking are greatly appreciated.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Contact Walk Boston, they can point you to the right people.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:22 AM on September 27, 2013

Here in my hometown in VA the local traffic reporter for the newspaper is particularly effective at getting DOT to follow up on dangerous intersections, traffic lights with bad timing, etc. I might try that route before i invest a lot of time myself. One thing I've learned from traffic column is that our opinion of "dangerous" or "needs fixing" is often very different than that of the experts who do that stuff all day.
posted by COD at 9:23 AM on September 27, 2013

The 30 mph road in front of our (Massachusetts) house is unsafe. Among examples of driving I've personally witnessed:
  • driver going close 50 in blizzard conditions, loses control, does a 360 into a snow bank, backs out, takes off accelerating up again
  • driver loses control, goes off the road and knocks a house off its foundation
  • multiple drivers routinely passing a stopped school bus with lights flashing
Here are the steps we took: got the last traffic survey, got information about plans for the nearest intersection that were done in response to that survey (hint - the average speed recorded was 50% higher than the posted speed), contacted our local ward representative, scheduled a ward meeting, invited as many people as we could (including our neighbors who have a dog who lost a leg to a speeding car on the road), established that this needed fixing, presented all of that to town government and was told: no local money + no state money + no federal money = road doesn't get fixed.

You're convinced that this needs to be fixed - you might want to find out if there's money for the fix before you go down the road of rallying support, otherwise it's wasted effort (unless of course, there hasn't been an appropriate recent traffic survey - then that should be step one), especially in the current economic climate.
posted by plinth at 9:25 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're in the actual City of Boston you can get get some of the traffic citation/accident information from the Boston Police's Media Relations Dept (http://www.cityofboston.gov/police/divisions/media_relations.asp), though you'll have to draw up a quick public records request letter. Have you found MassDOT's list of their publications, including traffic standards? http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/highway/DoingBusinessWithUs/ManualsPublicationsForms.aspx

I'm a law librarian in Boston and have a decent amount of experience with related questions, feel free to drop me a MeMail if you have any questions during your research.

My experience in Salem, MA with a terrible intersection is that despite ceaselessly bugging our city councilor, nothing really got done to improve things. The city passed the buck to the state, and the state was completely unresponsive since the road construction was done in compliance with their standards.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:37 AM on September 27, 2013

Also, Boston's Transportation Dept. page has a bunch of guidelines and standards under their traffic management & engineering section: http://www.cityofboston.gov/transportation/TME/
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:44 AM on September 27, 2013

I have volunteer experience doing this and unfortunately your data, even sourced from publicly available, rigorously measured sources, will probably not sway the Traffic Engineer directly to make changes; you must engage in community action and leverage your City representative and other elected officials. Make it an emotional Quality of Life issue in your local community and elected people will respond. It may be a long slog but if you are persistent I'd bet you get some of the changes required to make the intersection safer.

A few things to consider while you do your research:

*Is the road a City road, a County road, or City / County hybrid? This will impact who you need to influence as you may need to work with the City and the County. Good luck if it's a State road.....

*Is the road designated a Snow Route? An Emergency Route? Is it a road required by the City to move traffic efficiently, or is it a residential road? You need to understand this to know that feedback will be required from Streets and Sanitation surrounding plowing and maintenance, from Police and Fire surrounding emergency services, and from Traffic Engineering surrounding the efficient movement of vehicles. Each can have contradictory needs for the road.

If you have a neighborhood association, go to their meetings and make this intersection an issue. In my neighborhood we found success in having our neighborhood association spearhead the local need to have traffic calming measures installed, but it took the combined efforts of 6-8 volunteers, 1 neighborhood association paid staff member, the local city councilwomen and her staff, the county commissioner, the city bike and pedestrian coordinator, and probably a dozen other professionals in some capacity over 7 years (really 3 years of active work, but another 4 years of talking about it.) And this is in a City where I would say it is easier to do this type of stuff than Boston.
posted by lstanley at 10:20 AM on September 27, 2013

You might try SeeClickFix, though some local governments are more responsive to that website than others.
posted by tckma at 11:43 AM on September 27, 2013

Find out who has the responsibility for the road (city, state) and send a detailed letter. It might not get immediate results but it will be part of the agency's records and findable via FOI in the event of a later lawsuit against the (city, state). One or two of those will get someone's attention.
posted by megatherium at 12:44 PM on September 27, 2013

Since you're asking about your general data and advocacy approach-- it is doubtful to me that the narrowness of the lanes has a deleterious effect on safety. Generally, the narrower the lanes, the more of a traffic calming effect is present, causing cars to slow down and pay attention. I'm not sure what intersection you're talking about, but I'd give a fair bet that if the lanes in question were wider the situation would actually be more dangerous.
posted by threeants at 6:19 PM on September 27, 2013

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