Parents, crossing guards, and residents say they are concerned about traffic safety outside of Memorial Spaulding Elementary School, pointing to multiple accidents — involving people, cyclists, and cars — and are asking the city to do something about it.
Mira Hariskov, a Newton parent who has lived in the area for 10 years, said ever since her current high school freshman was in kindergarten at Memorial Spaulding, she has witnessed close calls outside the school at Brookline Street and Hartman Road. Last month, she started a change.org petition for a push-button traffic light at the intersection.
“When you’re a parent, you want your kids to be a little bit more independent,” she said. “But then when you live in such a dangerous place, which almost feels like a highway, you can’t really give them this independence because you just don’t have the basic safety that is needed to let them walk around.”
Since 2016, there have been eight collisions involving cars at the intersection, including three with other vehicles, one with a bicyclist, and one with a pedestrian, according to Massachusetts Department of Transportation data. In January 2020 a car struck a crossing guard at the intersection. This, along with another incident near an elementary school, prompted the mayor to update residents on pedestrian safety in Newton.
The petition has more than 300 signatures, and Hariskov said other community members have been supportive of the effort to increase safety for the school, which has nearly 500 students.
“We’ve been trying to get the city’s attention,” Hariskov said. “Nobody’s really helping.”
In an e-mailed statement, Newton Director of Transportation Jason Sobel said the city is aware of the petition for a pedestrian traffic light and has made several changes around the school to increase pedestrian safety — including 20-mile-per-hour school zone flashing lights in both directions on Brookline Street, speed feedback signs, and pavement markings in the wide portions of the street to better define lanes for drivers.
“Pedestrian safety around schools is a very high priority for the City,” Sobel said in the statement.
Julie McDonough, director of communications for Newton Public Schools, described in an e-mail how Memorial Spaulding’s Principal Tom Morris is encouraging families to request changes and express their concerns through the city’s formal processes. The city has an online form for accepting “traffic calming” requests.
Sobel said in the statement that the city will review potential options for additional safety measures on Brookline Street after it issues a memorandum this winter summarizing community requests for traffic calming improvements on Newton’s streets.
Ashley Garcia, another parent of Memorial Spaulding students, said she thinks if the city doesn’t improve safety measures in front of the school, more people could be hurt.
“There are numerous times that myself and my kids with a crossing guard have almost been hit,” Garcia said. “Crossing that Brookline Street is so dangerous. Nobody stops.”
Garcia said she thinks a new traffic light could bring a sense of safety to crossing the street.
“The light will blink,” she said. “The cars will stop.”
Brendan Kearney, the deputy director of Walk Boston — a nonprofit organization working to make Massachusetts more walkable — said Brookline Street is a windy, wide road, which makes it easier for people to speed.
Kearney said adding something such as a raised crosswalk could be beneficial for the area, especially considering the average annual daily traffic of nearly 8,000 vehicles on this area of Brookline Street, according to MassDOT road inventory data.
“It’s an arterial street where people are using it to cut through to different areas — that makes it a fast moving street,” he said. “There are no conflicts on the side. It’s not like there’s parking in this section. So they really have a lot of width to work with.”
For Rabbi Mendy Uminer of Chabad Center at Chestnut Hill, the decision to add a push-button traffic light is a “no brainer.” He said adding a traffic light would make everyone’s life safer.
“The intersection of Hartman is crazy because cars are coming in, and there’s a guard that’s trying to cross kids both ways and direct traffic,” he said. “It’s not within the capability of a guard to do all the things that need to be done at that corner.”
Uminer said he “absolutely” supports the petition because the whole effort is about protecting children.
“When it comes to children and safety and value of life, it’s never good to wait until it’s a catastrophe or until something really sad happens,” he said. “Why wait?”
Colbi Edmonds can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.