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.