Hank Investigates: Danger Zones
Commonwealth Avenue near the Boston University Bridge is one of the most dangerous places in Boston. Here's why:
A girl runs through traffic to catch the T. Cars are zooming past the speed limit. Everybody walks though the sign says "DON'T."
What they don't know is that documents we obtained show this is a danger zone. Here alone in the last three years, 23 people didn't make it across the street -- they were hit by a car.
"Is that how this is supposed to work?"
Ralph Hingson, Traffic Expert, Boston University
"I think that's too many injuries. I think some people think that everybody is going to stop for them and that doesn't happen unfortunately."
In fact, our analysis of police accident records and highway department reports from seven major Bay State communities uncovered dozens of dangerous crossings, places where there's a pattern of pedestrians injured or killed.
The view from the driver's seat shows a constant battle between those on foot and those behind the wheel.
In Boston, traffic expert Ralph Hingson is finding where pedestrians are most likely to lose.
"Is this one of the most dangerous intersections in Boston?"
"This is one of the most dangerous stretches."
Blue Hill Avenue between Seaver and Morton: cars speeding through and 28 pedestrians hit
Tremont Street between Park and Stuart -- highly congested -- at least 43 accidents.
- Ralph Hingson
"People are in a hurry, and they want to get home. Pedestrians don't want to wait for the lights. Drivers don't want to wait for the pedestrians."
And it's not just Boston. Every community we checked had accident hot spots.
Melissa Gagnon walked right into one in Lowell. The police accident report says "she appeared from nowhere" and the oncoming driver "couldn't stop in time."
- Melissa Gagnon, Accident Victim
"I smashed the whole windshield, flew up in the air and hit the ground."
And our investigation found Pawtucket and Mammoth is one of Lowell's most dangerous crossings.
- In Quincy: the number one danger zone is Hancock Street between Granite and the Southeast Expressway.
Framingham: along Concord, Hollis and Waverly Streets.
Lawrence: Broadway between Lake and Essex.
Worcester: Belmont between Edward and Rodney.
And in Cambridge: Massachusetts Avenue between Magazine and Smart, the stretch of Cambridge on both sides of Lambert and Memorial Drive near MIT where honor student Michelle Micheletti was one of the victims.
- Elmer Micheletti, Victim's Father
"Why does a person have to run across the street for his life to go to the other side? It shouldn't have to be that way."
So what causes the danger zones? Sometimes we found pedestrians are walking into a trap.
A major stop for the bus and the T is in the middle of the block, but there's no crosswalk -- so pedestrians just walk into traffic.
The Lowell crossing light where Melissa was hurt -- push the button -- but it never says "Don't Walk."
And where Michelle was killed there's a crosswalk now, but there wasn't then.
Add to that dangerous mix: The many drivers who may be speeding, drunk or who ignore yield signs.
We crossed the sidewalk properly, and we were almost hit by a car turning right.
But experts tell us: The biggest problem is jaywalkers. Ninety percent of pedestrian accidents happen outside the intersection. It's illegal, but our investigation found jaywalkers can break the rules without fear of law enforcement.
"How many tickets did you give to jaywalkers last year?"
Margot Hill, Boston Police Dept.
"My guess would be probably none."
Not one ticket for jaywalking in Boston! Frustrated police officials explain one reason why. In Boston the fine is one dollar.
- Margot Hill
"The fines need to be greater so we can enforce them so we're not laughed at."
It's the same thing in Cambridge, and Worcester police admit they haven't given a jaywalking ticket in 30 years.
National traffic safety experts were concerned by the danger zones we showed them, and they admit that in Massachusetts, too many people are hit by cars.
- George Luciano, NHTSA
"We have one of the highest injury rates in the nation. It's shocking and disturbing."
There are some new changes, in Boston at least. Here's what you'll see: areas designated danger zones will be highlighted with caution signs and special street painting. City officials say both drivers and pedestrians need more education on how to share the roads.