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In Chelsea, top crash cluster gets a closer look

Buses chug through a complex intersection in downtown Chelsea; commuters pour out of Central Square’s T stop in Cambridge; in Quincy, college students and others dart to and from a busy MBTA terminal.

The places in Massachusetts where pedestrians are most often injured by motor vehicles have a few things in common, specialists and advocates say: more people and more cars, of course, but also the very thing that makes Greater Boston so pedestrian-friendly — high-use public transportation stops.

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“We see transit stops as being big pedestrian attractors,” said Gabe Rousseau, manager of the Federal Highway Safety Administration’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program.

Federal data, he said, does not break down pedestrian accidents by proximity to transit stops, but their connection is “intuitive.”

In Chelsea, where more pedestrians were struck than anywhere else in the state, according to MassDOT data, the chaotic intersection of pedestrians, cars, and buses is on full display.

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Complex street geometry, a busy transit hub, and students from a nearby school pouring in twice a day all contribute, said John DePriest, the city’s director of planning and development.

“You can provide crosswalks, but whether they take them or not is another thing,” DePriest said.

Indeed, on any given day pedestrians wander in and out of traffic near City Hall. Some catch buses; others are on their way to classes at Bunker Hill Community College’s Chelsea campus. And some come just to linger.

“Given the demographics of the city, it’s part of the culture,” DePriest said. “They’re not just shopping, but hanging out and meeting with each other.”

And occasionally, they are getting hit by cars.

There were 207 pedestrian accidents between 2002 and 2011 in the cluster around the intersection of Broadway, Hawthorne Street, and Washington Avenue and stretching several blocks in each direction. Of those accidents, 154 resulted in injuries; one was fatal.

But that does not mean Chelsea’s central artery is the most dangerous place for pedestrians in the state.

“It’s quite possible that you would have more crashes there, but given the high volumes of pedestrians there, you might have a lower rate,” said Rousseau.

Problems with record keeping when it comes to nonfatal car accidents are widespread; Boston barely appears in the state data, because Boston police typically do not file crash reports with the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

“Relatively few communities do a good job of reporting injuries,” said Wendy Landman, executive director of the pedestrian advocacy group WalkBoston.

But Chelsea, at least in recent years, has improved its reporting, DePriest said.

“The police have improved their reporting and it’s a little more accurate,” DePriest said. “That may be why Chelsea is higher than some communities.”

That data helped earn Chelsea a spot in a state pilot program aimed at improving pedestrian and bicycle safety, and earlier this year, DePriest and Landman were part of a walking audit of the city.

The report is being reviewed, and changes are on the way.

“We’re working with a landscape architect to see how we can address better pedestrian movement,” DePriest said.

“It’s something we really want to promote.”

Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.
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