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Quincy struggles to improve pedestrian safety

A pedestrian rushes between cars while crossing the intersection of Hancock and Beale streets last week.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

A pedestrian rushes between cars while crossing the intersection of Hancock and Beale streets last week.

Since the spring, Quincy officials have been striving to change the way residents walk around the city. So far, their work hasn’t shown up in the statistics.

From January through September, Quincy police reported 65 pedestrian accidents, three of which were fatalities.

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The numbers have already exceeded those of 2010, when the city had 49 accidents and no fatalities. And with three months left in 2012, the city could surpass last’s year total of 71 pedestrian accidents, two of which were fatal.

To improve safety, Quincy is repainting pedestrian crosswalks to make them more visible to drivers.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

To improve safety, Quincy is repainting pedestrian crosswalks to make them more visible to drivers.

A surge of accidents in January and February prompted a pedestrian safety initiative in April to educate residents, repaint crosswalks, and adjust traffic conditions in troublesome spots.

But that still leaves the problem of pedestrian behavior.

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“We can enforce motor-vehicle infractions and charge people that are found at fault, but we need the public to use crosswalks, use lights, dress appropriately at certain times of day,” said Police Lieutenant Kevin Tobin.

Police Captain John Dougan, who acknowledged that the city is on pace to meet last year’s accident numbers, agreed.

“A number of [accidents] are pedestrians’ fault, trying to run through traffic more or less. They don’t pay attention to lights and crosswalks,” he said. “We have been doing things with the schools and enforcing with cars, but in many of them pedestrians are at fault.”

In similarly sized cities south of Boston, the number of accidents is comparable to Quincy, which had a population of nearly 93,000 in the 2011 Census Bureau estimate and 223 miles of what the state Department of Transportation calls “center lane” roadway (which doesn’t give extra weight to multiple-lane roads).

In New Bedford (population 95,000 and 287 miles of roadway), there have been 61 accidents involving pedestrians from January to September of this year. In Brockton (population 94,000 and 287 miles of roadway), there have been 75.

By comparison, the less-urban community of Weymouth (population 54,000; 176 miles) has reported two pedestrian accidents, one fatal, this year, while Hingham (population 22,000; 223 miles) has had three, none fatal.

Quincy officials don’t have any solid explanations for the differences with other communities or the changes in numbers within their city. But they were spurred into action in early February when there had already been 15 pedestrian accidents this year.

The resulting pedestrian safety initiative featured Public Safety Week in April, when the mayor’s office held meetings and handed out safety information in several neighborhoods. Additional patrols were set up around the city, specifically directed at pedestrian safety, at problematic intersections.

“There was a definitive effort to provide the outreach, and we’re continuing to do that within the schools,” said Christopher Walker, spokesman for Mayor Thomas Koch. “The mayor has been in touch with the superintendent and the Police Department, emphasizing within the schools safety for the children. There is a broader potential going forward.”

In addition to the educational component, Walker said the mayor’s office has discussed other ways to increase pedestrian safety, such as adding signs or enforcement.

“Even things as simple as painting crosswalks, there has been a double-down [effort] on these things. I think that we’re painting crosswalks a lot faster than we ever used to. All these things taken together do improve safety in the city,” Walker said.

According to Daniel Vomhof, an accident reconstructionist and forensic consultant in California, the city is on the right track, as accident probability depends heavily on driver expectation.

Crosswalks provide an enhanced expectation that pedestrians might be nearby; signs indicating the presence of pedestrians also help drivers to exercise caution.

Vomhof suggested that Quincy take tips from European countries that have jagged fog lines as cars approach an intersection. The strips on crosswalks should also be two-thirds the width of the dark sections, which creates a strobe-like effect when walked across.

Making sure visibility isn’t an issue by illuminating trafficked areas is also important, Vomhof said, yet pedestrians also have to be aware, especially when glare or nighttime travel is involved.

“From the pedestrian perspective, it’s part of human nature, the pedestrian . . . [thinks] if I can see the car and driver, the driver of the vehicle must be able to see me, which isn’t necessarily true, particularly at night,” Vomhof said.

Quincy officials also are taking steps to improve safety in specific areas.

According to Chris Cassani, director of constituent services for the mayor’s office, city officials are working on a committee to improve the Sea Street corridor, which has had problems with pedestrian safety.

Although still in the beginning stages, committee members have four main areas of concern.

The city plans to reconfigure the lane at Quincy Shore Drive and Sea Street to ease rush hour congestion, and change the connection of Curlew Road and Sea Street to enhance visibility.

Additionally, on Narragansett Road and Samoset Avenue, officials plan to install or synchronize traffic signals to make it safer for pedestrians to cross and easier for cars to make a left turn out of the hockey rink parking lot.

Where Palmer and Sea streets intersect, officials are considering installing a pedestrian button that is synchronized with the stoplights to force drivers to come to a full stop.

Problems in that area have been known for some time, Cassani said, but a recent accident near Braintree Avenue cast new light on the issue.

“It’s a problem that we know exists, especially this year with some of the accidents that have occurred. The problem got amplified and are sad reminders that these problems have existed for a long time,” Cassani said. “Having one pedestrian struck is too many, so let’s see what we can do to have this’’ fixed.

And while accidents may not be reduced entirely, officials are hopeful.

“I think the goal is to reduce [pedestrian accidents] to the extent that is humanly possible,” Walker said. “This is a city, there are a lot of people and cars, and sometimes those things don’t mix, but the city does do everything in its power to make sure we have the safest possible pedestrian environment.”

As much as the city plans to do, the mind-set of pedestrians is also a major part of the equation, said police Sergeant Richard Tapper, an accident reconstructionist for the city.

“These pedestrians don’t use crosswalks or a mechanical light. For them to think a 2,000-pound-plus object is going to stop on a dime, they are mistaken,” Tapper said.

“That’s what we see. People have a misconception that they have the right of way, but they don’t. When you’re in a crosswalk with a pedestrian light, yes, but if you’re stepping into the street, you have to make sure it’s clear of motor vehicle traffic.”

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.
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