Traffic and Safety

The April 2011 edition of Harvard Business Review was dedicated to “Failure” and “How to Understand It”, “Learn From It” and “Recover from It”. In the article “How to Avoid Catastrophe”, authored by Catherine Tinsley, Robin Dillon and Peter Madsen the authors noted that “Near misses preceded every disaster they studied and most were ignored”.

Aerial view of the location

Yesterday, we had a near miss in Medfield, when an elderly woman floored her Jaguar after dropping a letter into a mailbox at the post office. Various reports of the incident quoted the daughter of the driver who was in the passenger seat as saying “We mailed our letter in the post, stepped on the gas and we rocketed.”

The car crossed the adjacent parking lot at 50 North Street and then continued past the building over a steep drop where a stone wall caused the vehicle to overturn (see red arrow in the picture). Unimaginable grief could have been inflicted on this community, had the children been playing outside at the time. This patio is usually bustling with kids.

It takes about 5 seconds for an accelerating car to travel the 200 feet from the mailbox to the patio. The driver had 5 seconds to realize that she had stepped on the gas pedal instead of the break, and to make a correction by putting the foot back onto the brake. 5 seconds are an eternity, but it was not enough. Nobody with a 5 second reaction time should be driving on public roadways, regardless of age.

Let’s make sure that this near miss is not ignored.

Tuesday, February 15, at 5:30 PM
Needham Public Library, Community Room
1139 Highland Avenue, Needham
• Accessible via the Needham commuter rail line
(Needham Heights Station) or MBTA bus Route 59

The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is developing Paths to a Sustainable Region, the next regional Long-Range Transportation Plan. Paths to a Sustainable Region will guide federal investment in the transportation system over the next 20 years.
One of the first steps in developing the Plan is to assess the transportation needs of the region. A series of workshops will be held
in February to present the MPO’s draft needs assessment and seek input from the public.
The MPO will use the final needs assessment in developing a set of projects and programs to address the region’s needs.

This is the conclusion of this analysis of the NHTSA accident fatality database by The Daily Beast. (more…)

A retired Harvard Law School professor whose car allegedly struck and killed a woman riding a motor scooter in Newton last summer has been cited with motor vehicle homicide, prosecutors said today.

Retired Harvard professor cited in fatal Vespa crash – Newton – Your Town –

Dave Atkins of the Westwood Bike & Pedestrian Safety Committee reports an accident involving a 10 year old boy and an Audi convertible. This happened in front of a Hanlon School. Luckily the child only suffered broken bones. Follow the story on Facebook.

Last November, the board of selectmen decided to move forward with the appointment of three new members to the Safety Committee, which is now 5 members strong. The intent was to expand the scope of the work and put a larger focus on pedestrian and bike traffic. The organizational meeting of the group was held in February, and the committee will meet monthly. The public is invited to attend.

Recent traffic accidents on North Street prompted an article in the Hometown Weekly. Based on quotes mentioned in the article, it appears that residents and the police chief are advocating measures that will make speeding safer on North Street. The prevailing opinion is that the road is the problem, not the people driving on it. I find this interesting. I know the location quite well. There is a 30mph speed limit, and most people drive faster there, many significantly faster, and some too fast. Because it is not safe to go faster than 30mph in this curve shown on the picture, even in good weather, we are going to spend money on redesigning the road, so that speeding is safe again. 

It seems that Medfield officials believe that the majority of the Medfield electorate are  members of a secret club – the notorious “I insist on my right to drive 50mph in a 30mph zone and I will vote you out of office if you take this right away” club. I have no other explanation for the reluctance among town officials to do anything that could upset drivers.

Interestingly enough, every other driver I talk to about this issue, neighbors and other parents, is as upset as I am about the relative lawlessness on Medfield streets. Is there possibly a disconnect?

I believe that most people who speed in town, like the Wheelock elementary teacher who races down South Street in a Jeep Cherokee every morning after getting coffee at Lord’s, do it out of habit, not because they want to do something illegal and dangerous. Over time, habits create a sense of entitlement. This is the real danger, and it is not confined to North Street or any other singular spot.

Dover  installed speed bumps on Centre Street last year. They are safe and very effective. If we want to reduce the number of accidents, and especially the number of fatalities, we should be looking into how to slow traffic down, as opposed to how to speed it up. Simply by forcing people to break with their habits. Speed bumps are one way of doing that. Fines are another.

The analysis chart for 2009 shows 2 sets of data over time. The top graph represents the maximum, minimum, and the mean speed per day. The bottom graph shows the number of cars counted per day, plus a 30-day moving average to highlight trends.

Click to view a larger version

Click to view a larger version

The deep snow cover in February blocked the radar device’s the clear view to the street, which caused much lower numbers for several weeks. Only larger cars and trucks would register.

With only one year’s worth of data, there is not too much that can be interpreted into this chart. Aside from isolated events such as snow storms, road construction, holidays etc. that have an impact on traffic patterns, the seasonal variations in traffic make a long-term prognosis impossible. It is interesting to see how little an impact the chip-and-tar application had last August on both traffic volume and speed patterns, though. Or that back-to-school day is busiest day of the year, traffic-wise, with a clear margin.

It appears that both overall volume and speeding offenses are on the increase, but in order to extract a trend, at least 5 years of data will be needed. Once the homes on Eric Road are occupied, there will certainly be an impact on the traffic volume on Green Street that should be apparent on next year’s data. Once there are multiple years of data, I will publish a year-to-year comparison by month, to eliminate seasonal variations.

It was one year ago on November 23, 2008 at 5:44pm when the Green Street speed radar went into operation, and since then it has been dutifully recording every vehicle travelling by, almost 270,000 of them. (more…)

Several Medfield roads have recently been resurfaced using the infamous “oil and chip” technique, sometimes also referred to as “tar and chip”, “chip seal”, or “seal coat”. An asphalt/oil/polymer emulsion is spread on the substrate (usually the existing, but cracked and worn asphalt surface), and then loose aggregate is applied on top of the “oil”. The aggregate is then rolled into the “oil”. The idea is that the “oil” will bind with the aggregate and form a durable top layer that protects the road and slows further erosion of the surface. The “oil” and the aggregate are made from the same materials as regular blacktop (tar and stone). (more…)

Have you ever wondered how the town spends your tax dollars? Here is one way they are doing it.

On snowy days, your money is used to pay for the street plow to come by and plow your road. Then after a little while, it is used to pay for the sidewalk plow to plow the sidewalk. Then, it is used to pay the street plow to plow the street a little more, gaining an inch or two, while completely filling in the sidewalk again. After all, in order to go 60 mph in a 30 mph zone, the road needs to be as wide as possible.
Then, your money is used to pay the sidewalk plow again to clear the sidewalk. Then …
You get the point. This goes on 4 or 5 times a day. Unfortunately, every time the sidewalk is plowed, I lose a chunk of my front lawn, along with the occasional sprinkler head. (more…)

These plans were filed with the Registry of Deeds in June of 2008 and show the exact location of the access easement that will provide a pedestrian and bicycle connection between Woodcliff Hills and the northern side of town on one hand, and Green Street and the center of town on the other hand. At least that was the idea that was discussed in all the planning board meetings.

This month, the award goes to …  (more…)

(This video stream requires the Java Runtime Environment)





A Doppler radar gun purchased on Ebay, 50 feet of Cat5 cable, a soldering iron, and a little bit of .Net programming skills were the ingredients for this low-cost (< $200) traffic data logging system. The radar detector works flawlessly, but if there is a cluster of cars going by the house, not every single car is detected, which means that the number of cars is underreported. I record the video streams of the security cameras to a network storage device and keep the data for 2 weeks. Correlating the video images from the web camera with the speed readings is a fun and interesting exercise ("who just flew down the street at almost 60 mph?"). Does this really work? See for yourself. Just refresh this page (by pressing F5, for instance) after you saw a car going by in the video above and the statistics below will be updated, including the count and most recent speed.

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