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Man’s death on Route 128 in Newton sparks questions on pedestrian safety

The recent death of a young Malden man who was trying to cross Route 128 in Newton while apparently on his way to work has added new urgency to longtime concerns about pedestrian access in the area.

Reishaun Hopkins, 18, was hit by two cars and killed Jan. 3 at around 6:30 a.m. State Police believe he was trying to cut across Route 128 from the MBTA’s Riverside Station to his job at the Honey Dew Donuts concession at a rest area along the busy highway.

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“We have to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Alicia Bowman, volunteer pedestrian coordinator for the city. “It won’t bring him back, but making sure we fix this for other people is important. And fixing it for the neighborhood — not just the rest stop — is a great thing.”

Local residents say there is no truly safe way to get to the rest stop except by car. Even if workers cross over the highway using the Grove Street bridge, they must walk along Route 128 ramps that lack sidewalks to reach the rest area, which also has a McDonald’s restaurant and a gas station.

There are preliminary ideas about how to change the situation, ranging from adding sidewalks to providing a shuttle for workers, but city and state officials stress that it’s early in the process.

John Stewart, a former alderman who lives in the Lower Falls village of Newton, said he has raised concerns in the past about pedestrian access to the nearby rest stop.

Over the years he has seen countless pedestrians, sometimes as many as two or three people a day, walking along the exit ramps to get to the rest area, he said.

‘We have to make sure this doesn’t happen again. It won’t bring him back, but making sure we fix this for other people is important.’

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“It’s very, very dangerous because it’s a curve,” he said. “The exit road just comes off and curves around to Grove Street.”

People walk along the shoulder, sometimes next to dense vegetation, and it’s hard for drivers to see them, especially when it’s dark, said Stewart.

He and other residents are asking why the rest stop doesn’t provide a shuttle from the T.

“I think if employers are going to be hiring people there, they need to give them safe access to the rest area,” said Bill Renke, who also lives in Lower Falls and is chairman of the Riverside Station Neighborhood Coalition.

Bob Hogan, who owns both the Honey Dew Donuts and the McDonald’s at the rest stop, declined through a spokesman to address the shuttle question directly.

“The event from last week is tragic and we were deeply upset to hear this news,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “To my knowledge, roads and walkways leading up to the service plaza are at the discretion of the City of Newton and MassDOT, and we will comply with their policies.”

The state Department of Transportation provided the lease, which does not appear to address how employees come and go.

“Safety is MassDOT’s first priority,” said Sara Lavoie, a department spokeswoman. “We will help identify the appropriate stakeholders to have a conversation, and to consider any actions that would assure a tragic event such as this does not happen again. This will include a review of the lease.”

City leaders have been fielding concerns from residents since the accident.

State Representative Kay Khan, whose district includes Lower Falls, said she is in the process of setting up a meeting with the Department of Transportation to talk about the lease, and whether anyone is checking on how employees get to work.

“I think it would be interesting to find out what’s in their lease, to find out if there’s anything that could be woven into the current lease, if there’s nothing in there, that talks about employees getting to these locations,” she said.

Another idea being discussed is whether some kind of pedestrian access, in the form of added sidewalks or the like, could be negotiated.

According to Bowman, the city’s pedestrian coordinator, the state has authority over the roadways in question. And the Transportation Department doesn’t always consider pedestrians as much as she would like.

“Ideally we would also use this as an opportunity to continue to push back on the state to make sure future projects take into account access by non-car transportation,” she said. If pedestrian access is pursued, there might be some ideas drawn from the Massachusetts Turnpike, which Rooney said provides special access for employees at some service areas so they don’t have to pay tolls

Bob Rooney, Newton’s chief operating officer, said providing a shuttle would be easier financially and logistically, since adding pedestrian access would require federal, state, and local cooperation. But it’s too early to say whether the city will call on the employer to provide some remedy, he said. “Based on e-mail traffic, that pressure is there already,” Rooney said of the shuttle proposal.

“This unfortunate accident has spawned a whole new round of discussions around the safety of pedestrians getting to the rest stop,” said Rooney.

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeLisaKocian.
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