Projects to improve safety on Boston's streets
The City of Boston's Public Works and Transportation Departments are tasked with:
- delivering exceptional City services
- building great streets, and
- implementing our long-term transportation plan, Go Boston 2030.
They plan, design, and build changes to City streets. These include everything from accessible curb ramps to the complete replacement of bridges.
Below, you can read about the different types of projects undertaken by the departments.
The Boston Public Works and Transportation Departments are both within the Streets Cabinet. The two departments collaborate on many projects.
Guided by Go Boston 2030
Go Boston 2030 is the City of Boston’s transportation plan, informed by two years of ideas and guidance from the public. The plan envisions equitable transportation options that connect residents to economic opportunity. We’ll also take much needed steps to address climate change.
Each year, we work toward the goals and targets set in Go Boston 2030. More than half of the 58 projects identified in Go Boston 2030 are completed or underway.
- Every year, we review the projects that are underway. Some projects take several years to complete. We look at the schedule for public engagement, design, and construction, as well as staff workload and available budget. We can then understand how many new projects we can begin in the next year.
- New projects are identified from the list of projects in Go Boston 2030. We also look to any neighborhood plans for ideas.
- These projects are then prioritized based on safety, equity, and transportation modal priorities. Potential projects on our High Crash Network or in our highest tier of the City's Social Vulnerability Index are more likely to be selected. We coordinate with planned repaving and sidewalk projects.
- The Streets Cabinet makes recommendations to the Budget Office and to the Mayor. With their approval, projects are added to the Mayor's proposed budget. The proposed budget is reviewed and ultimately approved by the City Council.
Street and bridge reconstruction
The City of Boston completely rebuilds some of our streets and intersections each year. We address underground utilities, add street trees, and make the street safer for people using it. We rebuild bridges that the City owns but need signifiant maintenance. The Public Works Department leads these projects, with input and guidance from other departments and agencies.
Each year, we are able to redesign and rebuild a some of our streets. These projects are intensive and take multiple years to design and to construct. We replace:
- underground utilities
- roadway surface
- streetlights, and
- traffic signals.
As part of these projects, we work to improve safety and accessibility. We are able to use many of our safety tools. We often include separated bike lanes, curb extensions, and raised crosswalks.
Depending on their age and structural condition, we can repair, rehabilitate, and/or reconstruct them. Often, bridge rehabilitation or reconstruction projects include fixing:
- bike connections, and
- traffic signals.
The City of Boston owns and maintains bridges within the City. However, many bridges are owned and managed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
We address safety and access along major streets across the City each year, using quick-build materials or limited construction. Through this process, we can add bus priority, change traffic signals, and create low-stress bike routes. These projects are usually led by the Transportation Department.
Sidewalk reconstruction and repair
Every year, the City of Boston rebuilds blocks of sidewalks. We also build hundreds of curb ramps every year to make our City more accessible to people who use wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, and other mobility devices. These projects are usually led by the Public Works Department.
The City of Boston maintains 1600 miles of sidewalks, including sidewalk ramps. Each year, the Public Works department is able to repair a portion of these sidewalks.
Before 2018, we determined the year's program locations through 311 requests. Since 2018, however, we have taken a more proactive approach. We identify entire sidewalk networks in most need of repair. Then, we focus on those networks in areas of greatest need.
- Our High Priority Network identifies Boston's sidewalk networks with the most foot traffic.
- We look at social vulnerability. We scored all 24,000 block-to-block sidewalk segments based on the demographics of the surrounding neighborhood. These scores are based on six metrics, including:
- minority population
- linguistic isolation
- education level
- population greater than 64 years of age, and
- population younger than five years of age.
- We also use our Sidewalk Condition Index (SCI), which tells us where the most damaged sidewalks are located. The SCI is a ratio of the amount of damaged sidewalk to the total square feet of the sidewalk segment. SCI ranges from 1-100, and the number indicates the amount of sidewalk in good condition. For example, a sidewalk segment with an SCI of 75 would indicate that 25% of the sidewalk is damaged. The average SCI in Boston is 64.8.
Small-scale safety projects
Through our everyday work, we improve safety on neighborhood streets across the City. These smaller changes add up over time and have a positive impact on residents' quality of life. The majority of these projects are completed by the Transportation Department.
The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) receives over 2,000 concerns from residents every year.
When you share a concern with us, we try to understand the cause of your concern. From there, we are able to identify what tools may help mitigate the concern. We apply different tools for larger or busier streets than we do on smaller neighborhood streets. We evaluate which of those concerns we should address first by using the process described below.
How we Prioritize CONCERNS
With have limited resources and some issues requiring more community discussions, resources, and engineering coordination. We need to prioritize concerns in a way that is fair and equitable. We score all reported concerns based on objective criteria. We prioritize working on those concerns with the greatest need.
Areas near hospitals, BCYF community centers, parks, and schools.higher crash history
History of serious crashes at the location. Crash data is based on EMS reports.
Areas where a higher number of children live. This is determined by the percentage of residents within a census block group that includes someone below 18 years old. We use data from the U.S. Census.
Areas where a higher number of older adults live. This is determined by the percentage of residents within the census block group that are over 65 years old. We use data from the U.S. Census.
people living with disabilities
Areas where a higher number of people with disabilities live. This is determined by the percentage of residents within the census block group that includes someone living with a disability. We use data from the U.S. Census.
Different scales, different timelines
Some safety concerns can be resolved within a few months. Others may require several years. After we understand your concerns, our teams review data and apply their professional knowledge to determine which, if any, of our safety tools will help. Some tools take longer to implement than others.
Some safety concerns can be resolved fairly quickly: from a few days to a few months. These concerns tend to be related to replacing or adding new signs or by fixing broken signals. They require little to no additional study.
Addressing other concerns take more time, more effort, and a bigger budget. These include projects that:
- have considerable public processes
- require detailed design processes or in-depth studies
- rebuild sidewalks, streets, or driveways
- change stormwater drainage or utilities
- include new accessible curb ramps
- add or significantly modify traffic signal equipment, or
- involve multiple City and State agencies.
Neighborhood Slow Streets
Neighborhood Slow Streets is the City's program to slow speeds across a network of small, residential streets. Through this program, we plan and build permanent changes to improve safety and quality of life.
We are able to work with three neighborhoods per year. Neighborhoods may nominate themselves for the program using a simple form and 24 signatures of people who reside within the proposed zone. The City evaluates all zones and assigns a score based on:
- Population demographics: Higher scores for areas that are home to more elders, youth, and people with disabilities
- Community places: Higher scores for areas that have parks, public schools, libraries, and community centers
- Crash history: Higher scores for areas with high rates of crashes that have resulted in injury or fatality
- Network connections: Higher scores for areas that are near to transit stations and have walking or biking routes identified in Go Boston 2030 or other neighborhood plan
Through the program, residents are able to co-create design plans with City staff. In addition to zone-wide treatments such as speed humps, we may use additional safety tools at one or two intersections within the zone.