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Councilors, neighborhood residents react to pedestrian safety plan

Paul Tuthill
An aerial view of the block of State Street showing the Central Library and the parking lot across the street.

Deaths in front of Springfield Central Library bring calls for action

There is cautious optimism about a plan to improve pedestrian safety on part of a major thoroughfare in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts.

City Councilors and advocates said they are pleased improvements have been proposed by the city to the section of State Street where pedestrians have been struck by cars and killed attempting to cross the street in front of the Central Library, but they’re seeking more specifics.

Downtown residents, pedestrian safety activists, and library employees attended remotely a meeting of the City Council’s Maintenance and Development Committee where Springfield DPW Director Chris Cignoli discussed the proposed redesign of the block of State Street that was announced last week.

The project would narrow the street from four lanes to two (one in each direction) and install a raised crosswalk with a user-activated traffic light just to the east of the library. Cignoli said the strategy is to slow down the cars.

“From a speed standpoint, basically, anything over 30 mph is going to be next to impossible,” Cignoli said.

The proposed improvements were recommended based on a traffic study commissioned by the city. While the study was still underway last month, there was a fatality in front of the library. Earlier, a child was killed there.

Betsy Johnson, president of the Armory Quadrangle Civic Association and also a member of WalkBike Springfield, said she needs to see more details before she’d consider endorsing the project.

“I like the general concept and the direction we are going,” Johnson said.

Another downtown resident, Linda O’Connell, said if Springfield is going be a “walkable city,” cars must be made to slow down.

“I do wonder, I think overall, whether in these few blocks that are really the metro center heart of the city, we are continuing to give the impression that vehicles are king,” she said.

With no consensus on the details of the administration’s plan, City Councilor Kateri Walsh, the chair of the committee, promised additional meetings.

“Certainly for finally addressing this issue, we want to make sure it achieves what we are looking for and that is no more tragic deaths crossing that street,” she said.

Walsh said she is disappointed that no construction work on the project will begin until next spring.

There have been 22 traffic fatalities in Springfield this year, the most in five years. Eight pedestrians have been killed.

Springfield police began a high-visibility traffic law enforcement campaign last month and have issued hundreds of citations for speeding and violating the hands-free cellphone law.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.