Dorchester, East Boston, and Roxbury and other neighborhoods are getting a multimillion-dollar injection to shore up some of Boston’s most dangerous intersections, thanks to an effort by the federal government to remedy “a national emergency on our roadways.”
The $9 million award, which is being announced Wednesday, is part of the US Department of Transportation’s “Safe Streets and Roads for All” program. It has been lauded by advocates as a step toward remedying a long-present danger and encouraging pedestrians and cyclists to ditch their cars without the fear of injury or death.
“We’re really looking at this as a long-term effort to transform all of the streets in Boston, to make them safe and comfortable for people who walk and people on bikes,” said Boston Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge.
The money coming Boston’s way will target nine intersections, many of which are categorized as “high-injury” and are located in underserved communities. A Globe analysis of Boston’s “Vision Zero” database found there have been at least 164 crashes at the nine intersections since 2015.
The money, which is part of the first round of grants from the program, will pay for new speed humps, raised sidewalks, and other improvements to reduce speeding and increase visibility.
Franklin-Hodge said about a quarter of the grant money will be spent on design, when the city will decide which changes to make to each intersection. The remainder will be spent on construction, which the city plans to finish over the next four years.
Although the grant is focusing on making the nine intersections safer, Franklin-Hodge said in the long term, the changes could help relieve the city’s notorious traffic congestion.
“Fundamentally, the way we will most substantially impact congestion in Boston is by reducing the percentage of trips that have to take place in a car,” Franklin-Hodge said. “And one of the most critical ways we can do that is by building streets that are safer.”
On average, a child in Boston is struck by a car requiring an emergency response every four days, he said, and the city sees about 3,000 overall crashes each year that require a response.
“This is not acceptable,” he said.
Springfield, the state’s third-most populous city, is receiving about $15 million from the grant to target areas that have seen a disproportionally high number of fatal and serious crashes across the city. The money will go toward improving intersections and crosswalks, and managing speed on particularly dangerous stretches of roadway.
About a year ago, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a national effort that involves encouraging better driving behavior, improving crash-prevention features in cars, tackling speed limits, improving access to emergency room care, and creating safer road design, which the grants announced Monday are meant to target.
Nationwide, the purpose of the grants vary. In some communities, the money will go toward creating crosswalks or improving lighting. In others, the project may involve redesigning entire intersections.
“Every year, crashes cost tens of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to our economy,” Buttigieg said in a statement, in which he called traffic fatalities a “national emergency.”
In the third quarter of 2022, fatalities overall declined nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, fatalities among cyclists and pedestrians continued to rise.
One reason for the uptick in fatalities is the growing size of SUVs that make them more dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists than sedans, said Yonah Freemark, a researcher at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. A raised crosswalk can encourage a driver to slow down as they approach and also puts a pedestrian crossing in the street closer to eye level with the driver of an SUV.
“Driver behavior is heavily influenced by the design of streets,” Freemark said. “There’s a reason people drive at 80 miles an hour on an interstate and 10 miles an hour on a small street in Cambridge.”
The first round of funding will go toward 37 multimillion-dollar projects — including those in Boston and Springfield — for improvements to places considered “high crash” areas. Hundreds of other, smaller, grants — including some in other Massachusetts communities — will help planning for future projects in the years to come.
The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization is getting around $2 million to plan improvements across the Boston region, a spokesperson said. In a statement, executive director Tegin Teich said, “the grant will fund an analysis of crash data to identify trends and high-risk corridors, which will lead to the formulation of evidence-based, data-driven policy and project recommendations to improve safety.”
The safety grants are the first of their kind to come out of the new program, which will eventually award $5 billion over the next five years for safety improvements across the country.
Brendan Kearney, deputy director of the advocacy group WalkBoston, said he was pleased to see federal dollars going toward road safety, not just traffic congestion. It’s an urgent issue, he said, and one that is literally life-or-death.
He recalls a particularly urgent conversation with a manager at the Boch Center’s Wang Theatre at Stuart and Tremont Streets, one of the intersections targeted for safety improvements.
“He’s incredibly nervous about the safety of their patrons,” Kearney said.
Kearney noted that the commitment to Springfield is meaningful, too.
His group, which advocates for walkability in communities statewide, released a report last spring that found Springfield, despite being about a quarter of the population of Boston, had the same number of fatal pedestrian crashes in 2021. In 2022, Springfield saw 12 fatal crashes and 94 serious injury crashes, according to state data, and Boston saw 23 fatal crashes and 31 serious injury crashes.
Senator Adam Gomez, a former Springfield city councilor who represents the city, called the infusion of federal dollars “extraordinary.”
“When I used to represent West Springfield, we heard from individuals on a consistent basis, about how some intersections are in poor condition,” he said. “I know [Springfield] has a long laundry list of projects that need to get done.”
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