Tufts looks to improve pedestrian safety


Tufts administrators are currently working with the City of Somerville to improve pedestrian safety at the intersection of Powderhouse Boulevard and Packard Avenue, where a student was struck by a car and seriously injured on Nov. 8.

Immediately following the accident, the city added a radar feedback sign on Powderhouse Blvd., put pedestrian crossing signs in the intersection, updated the traffic light with LED technology to improve visibility and updated signage in the area, according to Somerville Director of Communications Tom Champion. 

“The City of Somerville is looking at that entire intersection, and we’re going to help them do that,” Tufts Director of Public and Environmental Safety Kevin Maguire said. “Somerville has been a very good neighbor with this.”

Other improvements are yet to come, according to Maguire. The university has hired a traffic engineering consultant from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. to examine the intersections around the Tufts campus.

“They will be looking at the intersections all around the perimeter of the Tufts campus, in Medford as well as Somerville,” Champion said. “Now we will be working with them to review and implement any recommendations they get.”

Maguire said that Tufts is pushing the consultant to complete the pedestrian safety study within a month, but Champion said the factors that contributed to the Nov. 8 accident – important information for making future improvements – would not become clear until the Somerville Police Department releases an incident report. Somerville police are still investigating the accident, and they could not be reached for a comment.

Improvements to the intersection following the accident come in addition to several updates that were made there last spring and summer, including a repainted crosswalk and double yellow traffic lines, as well as several new signs warning vehicles of crossing pedestrians and reinforcing parking laws. The city also cleared tree branches to improve visibility and replaced the faded signs at the intersection. 

“These changes were not to bring into compliance but to add additional margins of safety,” Champion said.

The earlier improvements, although funded by the City, included input from the university as well, according to Maguire. 

“We worked directly with the City of Somerville to facilitate those changes,” he said. 

According to Champion, Somerville frequently consults with the university when pursuing public safety projects near campus.

“That was part of ongoing discussions about pedestrian safety with Tufts,” he said.

Maguire added that Tufts will continue to work independently with the consultant in order to improve pedestrian safety on the rest of campus. The university has also recently made its own upgrades to improve safety in other areas on campus, including at the intersection of Professors Row and Packard Ave., Maguire said. 

“That is a problem intersection that has been identified,” he said. “We did a number of things on and about the university to improve pedestrian safety before students came onto campus in the fall.”

The Powderhouse/Packard intersection has seen several accidents involving Tufts community members in recent years – two students, one on a bike and one walking, were struck in 2011, and a student and a staff member were hit while walking in 2012, according to Maguire. In none of those cases was the victim severely injured, he said.

“I think you’ve got a couple things going on with that intersection,” Maguire said.

Besides a high traffic volume, he said, the street’s width is a problem because it invites speed. He did not, however, see a problem in the presence of a blinking traffic light – yellow, in the case of Powderhouse, on which the car involved in this month’s accident was driving.

Champion, for his part, said the recent series of accidents at that particular intersection is most likely anecdotal.

“Every accident is the result of a number of contributing factors,” he said. “This particular intersection is not far off average. There are other intersections where there are more accidents.”

Maguire emphasized it is important for pedestrians to take initiative if they want to avoid accidents.

“Pedestrians have the right of way at a crosswalk, but they also have more to lose if they’re hit by a 3,000 pound machine,” he said. “These are city streets. You’ve got to be careful.”