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Student’s death puts focus on Route 9 safety

Officials are seeking ways to improve pedestrian safety for Framingham State University students even as the campus mourns the recent death of a 21-year-old senior who was struck and killed last week while trying to cross Route 9 on foot.

The university has gone to great lengths to warn students about the dangers of crossing the busy thoroughfare, officials said.

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In recent months, the school has hosted public safety meetings, sent out e-mails about the importance of using a nearby footbridge, and collaborated with the state to install signs deterring pedestrians from crossing at busy street-level intersections.

“In light of the recent tragedy, we will take stock of the safety in that area and think about other things we can do,” said Dan Magazu, a Framingham State spokesman.

Colleen Kelly, 21, of Melrose, was hit on the bustling highway while crossing to get to Maynard Road near campus around 10 p.m. last Friday, according to Framingham police.

Kelly had reached the divided median, but was struck by a car when she stepped onto the other side of the road. The impact threw her onto the westbound side of the road, where she was hit by another car.

There is no crosswalk at that spot, police said.

‘Do you encourage crossing and make it safer . . . and figure out how to get pedestrians across the street safely? Or do you say, “No, don’t cross at all.’’ ’

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“She was just so young and had so much promise,” said Kelly Matthews, an English professor at the university who taught Kelly this semester. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Kelly’s death comes as planners debate the future of Route 9, and whether the highway should be made more friendly for pedestrians or be primarily reserved for automobile traffic.

Bruce Leish, director of the MetroWest Regional Collaborative, a local branch of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said there have been differing opinions between state planners and individual municipalities on how to define the busy thoroughfare.

“The state determined several years ago that they want Route 9 to be the fastest way from Boston to Worcester — they want barriers; they want it to be an automobile environment,” Leish said. “But people cross anyway. Towns prefer for Route 9 to be slower and prettier and to make it easier to cross the street.”

Leish said the regional collaborative has been discussing the future of Route 9 and smart growth, a planning strategy that emphasizes compact, mixed-use developments that are more amenable to pedestrians and bicyclists. A recent proposal for the Framingham Centre historic area suggested building an enclosed pedestrian walkway crossing above Route 9 near the Framingham State campus.

Development is expected to continue along Route 9, Leish said. “If you have that density and that activity, it makes sense to make roadway improvements in these sections, so you can cross there safely.”

However, at a recent public forum in Framingham, Leish said the community showed differing opinions on how Route 9 should be used.

“Some are saying that Route 9 is so unsafe, so why should we encourage people to cross it?” Leish said. “Now, do you encourage crossing and make it safer, and have developments that will provide better living and shopping environments and figure out how to get pedestrians across the street safely? Or do you say, ‘No, don’t cross at all,’ ” he continued.

Magazu, the spokesman for Framingham State, said the university is no stranger to lecturing students on how to safely cross Route 9. University police regularly host campus safety meetings, where officials warn students to use the pedestrian footbridge near High Street, about a quarter of a mile from where Kelly tried to cross.

“We have classes at the community education center over at the Maynard Building, and students can walk there from campus using that footbridge in five minutes,” Magazu said.

“When students come down Maynard Road, it may not be as convenient’’ to use the footbridge, he said, “but it’s much, much safer.”

Magazu also said the university collaborated with local and state officials in the fall to place a temporary digital sign in the area where Kelly crossed, discouraging students from walking across Route 9.

After the digital board was taken down, the state Department of Transportation in November installed a permanent sign nearby that indicates not to cross there and to instead use the footbridge.

The school also sent an e-mail to students earlier this semester warning them against crossing at street-level, advising them instead to use the High Street bridge. Even though the raised walkway is not owned by the university, Magazu said, the school has paid for bridge maintenance in recent years because many Framingham State students use it.

The intersection where Kelly crossed does not have a crosswalk or lights for pedestrians, police and university officials said.

The intersection features a break in the cement median divider that runs along much of Route 9 in the area, but cars are not allowed to turn there; only emergency vehicles are allowed to use the section for turnarounds, state transportation officials said.

“Route 9 is a high-speed roadway with high volume; there is limited lighting and it is never safe for pedestrians to cross on foot,” said Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state’s transportation agency.

Verseckes noted that the Department of Transportation put message boards along Route 9 indicating that pedestrians must use the raised bridges to cross.

“MassDOT will continue to work with Framingham State University and the town of Framingham to dissuade pedestrians from crossing Route 9,” he said.

Matthews said she and other school officials have already talked about meeting and discussing how to stop another tragedy from occurring.

“I know other faculty and administrators want to take more steps to prevent this from happening,” Matthews said.

She said she wanted to encourage students to use the footbridge near campus, even if it meant an extra 10 minutes of walking.

“Colleen wasn’t a person who took risks without thought. It just shows how dangerous that crossing is,” Matthews said. “The campus needs to look at ways to make the surrounding area safe for students, but students also need to act responsibly and realize how dangerous it is.”

Matthews remembered Kelly as a mature, responsible, poised student who loved learning and had a passion for reading.

“She was a senior in college; she had her whole life ahead of her,” Matthews said. “We all thought she would have gone on to do great things.”

Claudia Springer, an English and film studies professor who taught Kelly in four courses, said she hoped the senior’s death would not be in vain.

“This might be a kind of wake-up call for students to recognize the importance to using that bridge,” Springer said, adding that she thinks there should be more footbridges built. “Another possibility would be to build a big fence to prevent students from crossing there. That would require students to go down to the footbridge.”

Springer, who was also Kelly’s academic adviser, said she remembers Kelly as a quiet and reserved person who approached every academic assignment with enthusiasm. She said Kelly had just started looking into careers in library science or archival work.

“She was about to graduate. She only needed one more class,” Springer said. “Just as she was stepping out into the world and thinking about new directions, her life was cut short.”

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.
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