Nearly 500 people packed a school auditorium in South Boston Thursday night to demand traffic safety improvements in the neighborhood still grieving the death of a toddler who was struck and killed by a van.
Public officials, including the city’s new Police Commissioner William Gross, listened as residents called for immediate action after 2-year-old Colin McGrath was killed two weeks ago when a van went up onto the sidewalk and struck his stroller.
The boy’s 4-year-old sister was also injured in the accident at the intersection of L Street and East Sixth Street that has angered local residents.
“We should be able to leave our houses without fear of getting hit by a car,” said Katie Donovan, 44, a lifelong South Boston resident. “I don’t want pity. I want action.”
The issue of pedestrian safety is personal to Donovan, who is in a wheelchair after she and her eight-year-old son were hit by a car in May. Six people, she said, have been struck by cars in South Boston since June 1.
Donovan was among more than 30 people who dressed in bright yellow shirts with “Drive Slowly” printed on them. Many wore the shirts in a peaceful march along L Street held before the meeting, a public display for better safety.
She also presented a six-point traffic safety plan drawn up by residents. It calls for lower speed limits, more stop signs, and better signage at pedestrian crossings, among other steps. Residents also want the city’s transportation department to conduct a comprehensive traffic study.
Much of the discussion during the two-hour meeting at the Joseph P. Tynan Elementary School centered on such busy roads as L Street, Day Boulevard, East Broadway and Farragut Road. South Boston’s bustling seaport has brought more commuter traffic into the neighborhood, residents said.
Gretchen Voolich, 38, said officials need to get “creative” with their approach to traffic safety by engaging with commuters and with businesses in the seaport to curb commuter traffic.
“We can do better,” said Voolich, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years. “People are dying.”
Deirdre Habershaw said she has seen little improvement in the neighborhood since her father, Billy McDermott, was struck and killed by a car while crossing Day Boulevard in 2013.
In the five years since his death, officials have “achieved practically nothing,” in the way of traffic improvements, said Habershaw, who lives in Dorchester.
The only thing that has come from her father’s death, she said, was increased lighting on Day Boulevard.
Public officials said they are aware of the ongoing need to address traffic and safety issues in the neighborhood.
Transportation Commissioner Gina Fiandaca cited some improvements, such as the recent installation of flexible posts at East Sixth and East Seventh Streets and Marine Road, to improve visibility as drivers approach intersections.
The city has also recently installed speed feedback signs, Fiandaca said, which have already shown a drop in speed.
Fiandaca said the efforts are the start of a “neighborhood-wide action plan,” and she expects more community meetings and to collaborate with MassDOT, Boston police, and local representatives.
City Councilor Ed Flynn, who lives in South Boston, outlined the city’s 12-point plan to improve safety, which calls for lowering the speed limit to 20 miles per hour, repainting signs on L Street, and installing new sidewalks on Dorchester Street and West 1st Street, among other measures.
Gross said that he is considering a traffic division for his department, an idea mentioned by a resident during the meeting. He said he will also be speaking with Transit Police Chief Kenneth Green and State Police in the coming days to discuss ways to improve safety conditions.
“We are committed,” Gross said.