Fewer cars crashing on parkways

February 8, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

Car crashes on Jamaica Plain’s state parkways are declining steadily since 2006, according to State Police statistics presented this week as part of state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez’s seasonal parkways safety and maintenance meeting.

It was a piece of good news in a meeting devoted largely to perennial resident concerns such as broken streetlights, unpainted road lanes and dangerous intersections.

State parkways are technically state parklands with roadways running down the middle. In JP, they include the Jamaicaway, the Arborway and Centre Street between the Arborway and Walter Street.

The parkways are primarily maintained by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and patrolled by both state and Boston police.

The overlapping jurisdictions and relatively remote state-run maintenance led Sánchez to stage regular meetings where representatives of the various agencies get together to hear residents’ concerns. The latest installment was held Feb. 4 at Curtis Hall.

State Police officials reported 12 crashes on the parkways so far this year: nine on the Jamaicaway; two on the Arborway; and one on Centre.

It’s plenty of crashes for a five-week period. But if the trend holds for the rest of the year, it would mean fewer crashes than the 169 reported last year. In turn, the 2007 crash rate was lower than the 209 reported in 2006.

Police officers were hesitant to pinpoint a cause for the declines, though several residents were quick to suggest improved policing is a big factor.

As with all police statistics, the actual number of crashes is likely higher than those someone reported to police.

State Police have issued 325 traffic tickets this year on the parkways. That’s on top of an estimated 200 to 250 a month issued by Boston Police, according to Mike Santry, the auto investigator at the local E-13 police station.

The State Police stats reported that none of this year’s car crashes appear to have involved drunk driving, and State Police have made no drunk driving arrests yet this year. But they have made three arrests on other charges.

Stripes and signs

Parkways activists have generally praised DCR for improved maintenance since Gov. Deval Patrick took office. But, as usual, there were still plenty of safety and maintenance concerns to be discussed.

Several residents complained about blacked-out streetlights for the previous few weeks on the Jamaicaway between Perkins and Bynner streets. It’s a regular complaint in the area, and, according to DCR maintenance manager Tom Yovicsin, was due to a regular problem: “the same pole that gets knocked down all the time” by car crashes. That pole, at Bynner and the Jamaicaway, was undergoing repairs.

Resident Michael Reiskind noted that the Jamaicaway lacks edge-of-the-road striping—or “fog lines,” as he called them—on both shoulders of the road between Kelly Circle and Perkins Street. That means drivers have no visual cues about where the road ends and parkland and sidewalks begin. Yovicsin said he will examine the situation.

Another resident called for more warning signs at the intersection of Parkman Drive and the Arborway in Kelly Circle, where drivers frequently run a stop sign regardless of pedestrians and other vehicles. Yovicsin and fellow DCR manager James Olbrys said they will look at that situation, too.

Resident and bicycle advocate Jeffrey Ferris noted that the bit of Perkins adjacent to Jamaica Pond, a road also maintained by DCR, was striped with some of the city’s first bike lanes a few years ago. Now, he said, they are fading and deteriorating. He called for re-striping and re-paving.

Ferris also complained of overflowing storm sewers in the area. Yovicsin and Olbrys said DCR has been cleaning out storm drains in the area, but that this season’s heavy snows have slowed cleanup of fallen leaves—a big sewer-blocking culprit.

Reporting that some residents apparently use Jamaica Pond parking spaces as their personal spaces, Ferris called for some type of overnight parking ban there. Sánchez said he would look into the issue, but suggested it is unlikely because the city generally has no such bans.

One of the Arborway’s curious jurisdictional overlaps drew audience laughter, as Yovicsin described how the state Highway Department plows snow on the Arborway’s main, central lanes, but DCR plows the outer side lanes.

DCR plows drew complaints for dumping snow into residents’ driveways. Olbrys said that’s because DCR uses old-fashioned plows that hurl snow to the right of the vehicle. New vehicles with plows that can be swiveled right or left are being phased in, he said, but it appears that won’t happen this season.

Perhaps the strangest parkways issue is the possibility that leaking natural gas lines are poisoning trees. There have indeed been small leaks from underground pipes in the area, as KeySpan previously told the Gazette. Sanchez said those have been repaired.

While gas poisoning of trees is theoretically possible, there is still no evidence it is happening on the Arborway.

“I guess the jury is still out,” said Yovicsin, explaining that DCR officials have no updated information on the situation.

Sánchez said he spoke to the head of a company that offers to test gas-poisoning of trees. But, Sánchez said, the tests appeared to lack any scientific methodology.

Arborway Master Plan

In another familiar issue, Sánchez had to put out the fires of fear about the Arborway Master Plan, a theoretical DCR plan for redesigning the Arborway.

The state never had any money budgeted to carry out an Arborway redesign, and still doesn’t. But, five years ago, it began a process for a master plan that essentially would sit on a shelf until some future flow of money.

After one total restart and many hotly controversial meetings, DCR officials a few years ago presented several alternative designs. The prime feature involved replacing the Arborway’s rotaries with signalized intersections.

While community response has been mixed, there has been wide misunderstanding that some actual project is imminent, leading to demands for more meetings, input or changes. A couple of residents renewed those complaints at the Feb. 4 meeting.

“It’s not going to happen. There is no money involved in anything they put before you,” Sánchez said of the Master Plan designs. “Do not be concerned that something is going to be rammed down your throat.”

On the other hand, various activists have said some sort of smaller improvements to the Arborway are needed.

Sánchez has requested an “executive summary” of Arborway redesign ideas from DCR—a “laundry list” of concepts from the Master Plan process rather than any one specific design. Residents could then discuss the ideas and possibly suggest small-scale changes Sánchez could advocate.

Sánchez noted he requested the executive summary last fall and is still waiting for it. He said DCR officials have assured him it is coming soon, and he hopes to have it in hand for his next parkways meeting in the spring.

Residents can report any concerns about parkways safety or maintenance to Sánchez at 722-2370 or Rep.JeffreySanchez@hou.state.ma.us. He will compile them and pass them along to DCR, police or other appropriate agencies.