Two Different Languages

Police Line Crime Scene 2498847226

Seven years ago, 7-year-old Destiny Gonzalez was killed while crossing State Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. She was fatally struck while walking between the exit to Springfield’s Central Library and the parking lot, which is directly across the street. I made this tragedy the focus of my most recent book, Confessions of a Recovering Engineer.

At Strong Towns, we’ve subsequently written about this crossing many times, including a 2017 open letter to Springfield’s mayor, city council, and senior staff. In that letter, we offered to work pro bono to help them redesign State Street to make it safer. In the absence of such an intervention, we offered to work pro bono as an expert witness on behalf of the next family who had a loved one killed at this crossing.

While dozens of people walking and biking have been killed by motor vehicles on State Street since Destiny Gonzalez, last month, Gayle Ball, a librarian at the Central Library, was killed in the same place and in the same manner as Destiny was killed back in 2014. This was a senseless tragedy. If you would, provide her some humanity by taking a moment to read her obituary (she was a very interesting and accomplished woman) and then this story about her recent wedding. Gayle Ball is a statistic in an ongoing tragedy, but—like Destiny Gonzalez—she was also a person who had hopes, dreams, and many people who loved her.

By choosing to do nothing in the face of overwhelming evidence that their current design of State Street was dangerous, the city of Springfield demonstrated a conscious indifference to the safety of Springfield’s residents. In other words, the city is grossly negligent. That negligence, in the face of an obvious and broadly documented hazard, is going to cost Springfield many times the amount they believed they were saving by ignoring it.

Sadly, once again, the cost of that negligence will not be paid by the public officials who made these decisions. It will be paid by the residents of Springfield, first in a low quality of life as their neighborhoods are turned into drag strips, then in lives lost, and now likely in a very large legal settlement. Springfield’s residents continue to be poorly served by this system.

And “served” is a term I use loosely. In reaction to Gayle Ball being killed, the Springfield Police Department was theatrically dispatched to send a message. That message: Drivers, your reckless behavior will no longer be tolerated. Note that, if your police department can issue 40 citations in three hours along one stretch of street, it’s not the people driving who are at fault. It is the design of State Street that invites people to drive at excessive speeds.

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