“Springfield, we have a problem,” has been the outcry of a community and Strong Towns advocates who have petitioned for the redesign of State Street in Springfield, Massachusetts.
This stroad has become widely known as one of the city’s most dangerous places for walkers and bikers. Based on the concept of forgiving design, State Street is made up of wide lanes so cars can drive safely and have plenty of buffer room, to eliminate the chance of collisions. It’s a common engineering effort to keep accidents down, and it works on highways, but we’ve learned that using this design tactic within cities simply tells drivers that it’s safe to drive faster than they should. Ultimately, it results in crashes and, far too often on State Street, the deaths and injuries of people walking along or attempting to cross the street.
Over the years, Strong Towns President Charles Marohn has written consistently about this catastrophic stretch of pavement. In 2017 he wrote an open letter to the state and utilized the poor street design as a prominent subject in his book, Confessions of a Recovering Engineer.
Something needed to be done to stop the needless deaths and injuries occurring on State Street. At first, the city responded by planting shrubs and placing a fence outside the public library to detour walkers down the street to the crosswalk. It didn’t work. People did the natural thing and continued to cross where the old crosswalk had been to reach their destination, while others died at the intersection. The traumatic collusions dragged on, and the street remained dangerous for walkers, cyclists, and drivers. Strong Towns advocates insisted they were developing the wrong solutions for the problem, and what they needed to do was slow the cars down.
After years of imploring the city to make a substantial change in redesigning State Street to be a safe space for walkers and drivers, they have finally taken a first step in doing so. By arranging orange safety barrels on the street, the city created a temporary construction experiment to see what would happen if they rebuilt the road to effectively slow down traffic. There are plans to make this experimental construction permanent by narrowing the lanes and creating a raised crosswalk.
This is a clear victory not just for Strong Towns members and Springfield, but for everyone who walks, bikes, and drives, on or around State Street. Step by step, we are making our streets safer for all.
(Cover image source: Western Mass News.)