News

Petition launched after Mem Drive car accident

MIT Sailing staff was critically injured

After an MIT Sailing employee was critically injured by a car in early September while trying to cross Memorial Drive, Marjory Bravard ’02, an active sailor during and after her time at MIT, launched a petition imploring President Reif and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to “improve pedestrian safety along Memorial Drive.” The petition currently has over 2,000 signatures.

The MIT Sailing employee, Phil Gilbert, was struck while trying to cross the street between the Sailing Pavilion and Walker Memorial. According to an email sent out by MIT Sailing Master Fran Charles, Gilbert had just finished teaching one of the Sunday morning MIT Nautical Association sailing lessons. According to Charles, Gilbert is now “making a remarkable recovery” after spending more than two weeks in a deep coma with severe brain trauma.

Just two weeks before Gilbert was injured, another pedestrian, Mark C. Keiser, was struck and killed on Memorial Drive. According to his obituary, Keiser was on a morning walk along the Charles River when he was hit by a car.

Accidents at the crosswalk and along all of Memorial Drive are considered to be due to insufficient traffic regulations, unsafe driving, and jaywalking by those launching the petition.

In light of the most recent accidents, the MIT administration “has had meetings to outline possible solutions” and is currently working with the Cambridge City Council, said Charles. Furthermore, he said that MIT is willing to cover all of the improvement costs.

Alexander J. Mieloszyk, a graduate student, was a witness and responder in Gilbert’s injury. He “heard a thud like a car hitting a traffic cone… [the employee] was on his side and was slipping in and out of consciousness, and he was bleeding pretty decently.” Mieloszyk attributes the problem to the fact that the employee crossed outside of the crosswalk. However, he added that the high speeds and lack of speed limit enforcement were the real problem, as drivers are not ready to stop when they see pedestrians.

Members of the MIT Sailing community place the blame on the crosswalks on Memorial Drive, many of which consist only of painted stripes called “zebra stripes.” David Larson ’16, an MIT Sailing captain, told The Tech, “a number of times I’ve seen someone in front of me… crossing the street as they should, and a car doesn’t want to stop or doesn’t see them and there’s… potential for an accident.”

“It can be really hard for people to see you,” Bravard said, particularly at night due to the lack of lighting.

MIT Dockmaster Stewart Craig notes that he has to stand and wait for a while for cars to stop, and has seen many accidents “where someone stopped for a pedestrian to go across the crosswalk, and then people hit them from behind” because, he said, even if one driver is careful, most are not.

Still, Craig and Mieloszyk feel that drivers cannot be expected to slow down when there is no regulation.

“The way that the flow is engineered just doesn’t give enough incentive for drivers to stop,” said Larson.

Bravard added, “It’s really unfair to ask a driver to come out of a dark tunnel going 50 mph and have very little space to see someone crossing and make a decision.”

In many cases, the status of the crosswalk isn’t clear even to those who regulate it. According to Craig, an MIT Police officer was under the impression that Memorial Drive was a highway until talking to the state police, who clarified that it is not.

Bravard and Craig suggest reflective flashers, walk lights, and indicators to improve drivers’ awareness of pedestrian presence. Charles also recommends “a dedicated pedestrian walking light where it stops the traffic” or a motion-activated light, which he said has been successfully implemented on Binney Street. Charles wants the focus to be on forcing cars to stop, as he often sees cars speeding up to threaten pedestrians into not crossing. Larson recommends speed bumps or a similar physical speed deterrent.

All interviewees encouraged students to be watchful, make eye contact with drivers, and confirm that they are ready to stop. Bravard believes that “people need to be ultra careful, but even the ultra careful can get hit here.” She also encouraged the MIT community to sign the petition, which currently has 2,167 signatures and is aiming for 3,000. The MIT administration has begun updating her on their progress regarding Memorial Drive safety, which she considers to be a positive sign.

Several pedestrians both in and beyond the MIT community have been seriously injured or killed along Memorial Drive in the past. An MIT student, Michele Micheletti ’00, died in 1997 when she tried to cross Memorial Drive behind New House. After her death, a campaign was led by Ceani Guevara ’99 to improve pedestrian safety. However, since most of the resulting changes were unlit crosswalks, Guevara worried that pedestrians would develop a false sense of security, according to the MIT News Office.

In 2000, many zebra crossings were painted and traffic lights put in for the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Memorial Drive, significantly decreasing accidents, according to Ovadia R. Simha ’57, a faculty member in the Urban Planning department and former Director of Planning for MIT. Simha added that $20 million for safety and other improvements on Memorial Drive was approved recently by the state.

11 Comments
1
Anonymous over 3 years ago

Is there a link to the petition somewhere? Also, one HUGE improvement would be to remove the median between the east and west lanes after the Mass Ave bridge and shift that land to expand the very narrow land along the water. This would allow for more parkland along the river (something very lacking here) and would reduce the pedestrian crossing here while also serving to slow down and make drivers pay more attention (studies show median strips increase speeding and unsafe driving).

2
@CambMABikeSafe over 3 years ago

Here's the link to the petition: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Massachusetts_Governor_Deval_Patrick_MIT_President_L_Rafael_Reif_We_call_on_you_to_improve_pedestrian_safety_along_Memor/?pv=22

3
Anonymous over 3 years ago

I'm disappointed by the article's factual errors and incorrect terminology.

"However, since most of the resulting changes were unlit crosswalks,

...

In 2000, many zebra crossings were painted and traffic lights put in for the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Memorial Drive"

MIT paid the state to install traffic lights at the crosswalks at Endicott and Wadsworth Streets in 2002. Unfortunately they programmed them on a pretimed cycle, instead of using pedestrian pushbuttons and vehicle detectors. So pedestrians have to wait around for the light to change, even when the Don't Walk has been on for a long time and there are no cars coming.

The Mass Ave/Mem Drive light wasn't installed until 2004. http://tech.mit.edu/V123/N18/18memdrive.18n.html

"crosswalks...consist only of painted stripes called 'zebra stripes.'" -- If you're trying to say that these crosswalks should have traffic lights, please say so.

"Bravard and Craig suggest reflective flashers, walk lights, and indicators" -- I have no idea what "walk light" or "indicator" is supposed to mean.

"Charles also recommends 'a dedicated pedestrian walking light where it stops the traffic' or a motion-activated light, which he said has been successfully implemented on Binney Street." Again, if you're trying to describe a crosswalk with a traffic light, please say so.

And the motion-activated flashing yellow warning lights on Binney Street by the movie theater have never worked properly. Cambridge gave up on maintaining the motion detector, and just leaves it flashing at all times (which isn't necessarily a bad solution).

4
Anonymous over 3 years ago

"Accidents at the crosswalk and along all of Memorial Drive are considered to be due to insufficient traffic regulations, unsafe driving, and jaywalking by those launching the petition."

This sentence makes it sound like the petitioners are the problem. Or is the problem that you need better proofreading at The Tech?

I agree, however, that Memorial Drive is hazardous for pedestrians and vehicles as well.

5
Anonymous over 3 years ago

I applaud the petition but don't think the problem resides on Memorial Drive. The problem is lack of clarity about what the zebra means. The problem is the need for decision making at a time when there should be none. I am tired of trying to figure out when I am supposed to stop and allow walkers to cross and when I'm supposed to wait for a light. I am tired of searching for signal lights that are placed in inconsistent patterns where by some are above the middle of a lane while others are on the side of the street-where left turn signals may be anywhere including above what seems like an entirely different lane until you are right under it. The problem is not limited to Memorial Drive. It is a wonder there aren'e more deaths.

6
Anonymous over 3 years ago

Here is the basic problem. this is from the Cambridge gov webpage.

There are many pedestrians in Cambridge. Please note the following:

Pedestrians always have right of way in all crosswalks. If a pedestrian is at a crosswalk, you must stop to allow them to cross.

Almost all signals operate "concurrently" meaning that pedestrians are permitted to cross in the same direction that cars are allowed to travel. So you must yield to them on turns.

When stopping at a red light or stop sign, drivers must stop at the stop bar and not block the crosswalk."

What in the world does this mean? Do I always stop unless there is a light there? Or do I stop even if there is a light that signals go but there are pedestrians? When I am supposed to make these decisions? Do I search to see if there is a signal for the walker or the driver, while trying to process whether or not there is a walker intended to cross? And should I make that decision while also watching for cyclists? Take the decision making and hunting down signals out of the equation and you will have a safer town. Make sure every walkway is the same-There should be no need for further decision making (such as looking for a signal light) after a zebra is detected.

7
anusood over 3 years ago

I recall this being a problem between MIT and the sailing pavilion back in the 80s. They should build a bridge with adequate handicapped access. Vehicles definitely speed by in that area of Memorial drive, and visibility can also be impaired due to trees, parked cars, etc. A split bridge will be nice to allow safe access to the park-like median as well. Will be visiting in June 2015, hope to see something done by then!

8
Anonymous over 3 years ago

#6 - It's really not complicated. The cambridge.gov webpage says it quite clearly: "Pedestrians always have right of way in all crosswalks." If there is a pedestrian entering a crosswalk/in the crosswalk, you must yield to them - whether or not there is a light, and whether or not that light is green, red, or yellow. And yes, you should always watch for cyclists. If you are driving in the city, you need to be capable of doing all of these things at once.

9
Anonymous over 3 years ago

#8. As a general rule, if nearly everybody attempting to do something has problems with a the process or structure and the result is deaths, then the problem is in the process or structure and not the people engaged in the endeavor.

Apparently it is that complicated.

10
Anonymous over 3 years ago

I believe the problem is variation in driving laws across the USA. If it were consistently the law that drivers must stop for pedestrians waiting to cross, and this were well enforced, then there would be far less confusion. I am reluctant to condone modifications to the crosswalks on Memorial Drive as making these more prominent will make crosswalks elsewhere that haven't had such enhancements seem less important, potentially just shifting the problem to these other crossings.

11
Anonymous over 3 years ago

I don't want to sound insensitive, but I believe that according to what has been released by the MA State Police about these two most recent incidents on Memorial Drive, NEITHER of these two pedestrians hit by cars were ON the crosswalk at time of impact. I have been walking, driving, biking and running on Mem Drive for over 25 years, active both at the Sailing Pavillion and Pierce Boathouse, and never have I hit any pedestrian while driving, nor been hit by a car while walking. I think taking the most basic precautions here really make an enormous difference. Cross at the crosswalk, wait for cars to pass before crossing, and LOOK before you go, especially when you can't quite see what's going on in the lane furthest from you.