Somerville residents hold Safe Streets rally for improved transportation infrastructure

A display for the Somerville bike safety rally is pictured on Sept. 17. Madeline Wilson / The Tufts Daily

Residents of Somerville gathered on Sept. 17 for a rally in support of safer streets at Seven Hills Park in Davis Square. The event was held in response to the death of Stephen Conley, a Somerville resident who was fatally struck by a car door while riding his bike on Broadway on Aug. 12.

A number of speakers were featured at the event, including former Cambridge Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Cambridge City Councilor Burhan Azeem, State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven and Somerville City Councilor Willie Burnley Jr.

Speakers also included community members, such as organizer Lily Linke and resident Nadav Tanners whose wife, Leah Zallman, was killed in 2020 after being hit by a pickup truck.

According to Linke, more than 100 people attended the event, which also included a table with information from the Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets (SASS), opportunities to sign petitions related to street safety and a board to which participants could post notes about their experiences with unsafe street conditions. Attendees bore signs with messages including “People Over Parking” and “Prioritize People Over Cars.”

Since Conley’s death, activists and elected officials have been pushing for legislation that would make Somerville streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists through updated infrastructure. 

The rally on Saturday was held to “demand the Mayor & City Council pass a Safe Streets Ordinance,” according to the event’s flier.

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne issued a statement on Sept. 1 that outlined the city’s plan to accelerate the repaving process of Holland Street and implement protected bike lanes in both directions.

“I have directed City staff to prepare a new plan for Holland Street that includes protected bike lanes from Teele Square to Buena Vista Road that will be implemented this fall,” Ballantyne wrote. “This plan would convert parking on one side of the street to allow for protected bike lanes on both sides.”

The Somerville Traffic Commission will meet on Sept. 21 in order to discuss the changes slated to be made to Holland Street. The city is also working on a second draft of the Somerville Bicycle Network Plan and will incorporate updates to Broadway, where Conley was killed, City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen tweeted.

George Schneeloch, a co-founder of Somerville Bike Safety, noted that while the group initially found the mayor’s response to the accident inadequate, they were mostly satisfied with how the city planned to implement the changes to infrastructure on a feasible timeline. Schneeloch said that the purpose of the rally was to hold the city accountable for the actions outlined in Ballantyne’s statement and noted how these actions will fit into the Somerville Bicycle Network plan.

“After the mayor’s announcement, we feel we want to show public support for an ordinance that will require the bike plan, once it’s finished, to be implemented,” Schneeloch said. “Once the protected bike lanes in both directions on Broadway are in the bike plan, then they can be made a requirement by the city council, and then in 2024 the city can build it. We would like it to happen immediately, but to the best of our knowledge, it’s not feasible to do something with the supply chain issues immediately.”

Joan Liu, a member of the organizing committee for SASS who was present at the rally, highlighted the numerous ways that Somerville’s infrastructure could be improved, including making sidewalks more accessible and removing barriers to visibility for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians at intersections.

“People think about safe streets, and they say it’s just bike lanes, but it’s not just bike lanes,” Liu said. “It changes from street to street, but we have the tools and … the knowledge of how to make safe streets, and it is slowing down the cars and bringing more visibility.”

There were a number of people representing the Fair Share Amendment at the event, a 2022 ballot initiative that would tax Massachusetts residents with annual incomes of over $1 million an additional four percent on the portion of their income that exceeds $1 million. According to State Representative Mike Connolly, who spoke at the rally, the amendment would raise an additional $2 billion dollars, part of which could be directed towards transportation infrastructure.

A number of speakers at the event commented on how updated safety measures for pedestrians and cyclists would also improve conditions for motorists. In an interview with the Daily, Ewen-Campen also emphasized the countless benefits of infrastructure that encourage safer streets.

“If your top priority is [that] there’s too much traffic in Somerville, you want a protected bike lane network so that fewer people have to drive,” he said. “If your priority is saving the planet and reducing fossil fuel consumption, you want as many people biking as possible. If your issue is that there’s no parking in the neighborhood, you want more and more of your neighbors to be biking.”

Most of the speakers at the rally emphasized that they hoped the event would express the situation’s urgency to the city. In his speech, Burnley Jr. stated that it was time for Somerville to take action to prevent future accidents like those that took the lives of Conley and Zallman.

“This rally is more than about thoughts and prayers,” Burnley Jr. said. “It’s about the fact that pedestrians and cyclists shouldn’t have to rely on the thoughtfulness or the patience of drivers in order to ensure our safety. It’s about ensuring that we never lose another neighbor, friend, child, mother or father ever again in Somerville. That is our city’s responsibility.”


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