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Guest column: Worcester kills children
Guest column: Worcester kills children

This article originally appeared on Worcester Sucks & I Love It, an independent alternative news channel covering Worcester, Massachusetts. Subscribe at worcestersucks.email


On June 27, a 13-year-old girl was struck and killed by a driver on Belmont Street in Worcester.

The teenager, identified as Gianna Rose Simoncini, was attempting to cross Belmont Street between Plantation Street and Lake Avenue, a six-lane thoroughfare in the middle of a residential neighborhood and UMass Memorial Medical Center.

Gianna’s death came at the end of an often embarrassing campaign to reverse the traffic-calmed redesign of Mill Street and just in time for the debate over lowering the citywide speed limit to 25 miles per hour.

Gianna’s father, Jose Diaz, described the immense loss in a message on GoFundMe:

“Gianna was more than just my daughter; she was a shining light in our lives, a source of joy and a soul full of dreams. Her sudden death has devastated us and we are struggling with indescribable emotions.”

We usually think of such incidents as inevitable tragedies, but let’s call them what they are: murders. Gianna Rose Simoncini was killed as part of a vast conspiracy that resulted in the premeditated murder of thousands. Planners, engineers and politicians designed a road system that allowed the deaths of pedestrians for the benefit of cars. This kind of willful negligence has a name: social murder (more on that later).

Belmont Street is a street designed to kill. It’s a multi-lane expressway with local access. It’s a six-lane monster that runs through the heart of town and is designed to get residents to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and other Shrewsbury stores as quickly as possible.

The term for this type of thoroughfare is street: not quite a road, not quite a carriageway. Stroads are often known for their high speed limits and lack of safety measures such as traffic calming measures, adequate street lighting and zebra crossings.

In a tweet, Bill Shaner was quick to point out the half-mile distance between the crosswalks where Gianna died:

A satellite map of Belmont St. between Lake St. and Natick St. in Worcester, highlighting the half-mile distance between crosswalks as an 11-minute walk.

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), over 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur on roadways, in part due to the speeds there. As a car speeds up, it becomes exponentially more deadly.

The speed limit on Belmont Street east of Lincoln is between 30 and 35 miles per hour, with speeding over 40 miles per hour common. If a pedestrian is hit at 20 miles per hour, he or she has a 90 percent chance of survival, meaning one in ten will die.

At a speed increase of 30 miles per hour, the chance of survival is zero: 50 percent survive, 50 percent die. At a speed increase of 40 miles per hour, the results are grim: only one in ten pedestrians survives accidents at this speed, which corresponds to a fatality rate of 90 percent.

A triptych of speed limits. In the box on the left is "Hit by a vehicle at: 20 MPH" above a row of pedestrian symbols, most of which are blue to indicate a 90% chance of survival. The middle box says "Hit by a vehicle at: 30 MPH" above a row of symbols that are half blue, half red to indicate a 50% chance of survival. The last square, 40 MPH, has a row of mostly red person symbols to indicate only a 10% chance of survival
Courtesy of Governor’s Highway Safety Association.

Our infrastructure is designed to prioritize cars over everything else. As a result of decades of building roads to accommodate faster and denser car traffic, pedestrian deaths have reached an all-time high. According to NPR“Every day, 20 people walk outside and are killed by a moving vehicle.” The GHSA reports that 7,508 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2022, the highest number since 1981:

A chart illustrating the sharp increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. from 2019 to 2022. The horizontal axis represents the years from 2019 to 2022, and the vertical axis ranges from 6,300 at the bottom to 7,500 at the top. The line representing the number of traffic fatalities rises from the bottom left corner of the chart to the top right, with the sharpest increase between 2020 and 2021 and a flatter increase between 2021 and 2022. Image credit: Governor's Highway Safety Association
Courtesy of Governor’s Highway Safety Association.

Those who are too young or too poor to drive risk their lives every time they leave the house. In Massachusetts alone, the death rate in 2022 was 1.43 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people. By comparison, the murder rate in Massachusetts, which includes negligent homicide, is 2.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

Given our knowledge of the public infrastructure, the only reasonable conclusion is that 13-year-old Gianna was not just killed, she was murdered.

Although the driver certainly had no premeditation or motive, we can easily identify those responsible: the politicians and residents, past and present, who demand that we give priority to cars at the expense of everyone else, and who fight tooth and nail against even modest improvements in public safety. Even before cars were invented, this phenomenon was identified and pilloried by Friedrich Engels in his 1845 book. The situation of the working class in England:

“When one individual inflicts on another a bodily injury which results in death, we call the act manslaughter; when the assailant knew beforehand that the injury would be fatal, we call his act murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably suffer a premature and unnatural death, a death which is as much a death by violence as by sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them in conditions in which they cannot live – compels them by the strong arm of the law to remain in such conditions until death occurs, which is the inevitable result – when it knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to continue, its act is as surely murder as the act of the single individual.”

Back then, Engels was referring to the consequences of the Industrial Revolution: exploitative and insecure jobs, terrible living conditions, lack of health care, and other material conditions of the 19th century working class, problems that continue to this day. Social murder, unlike more traditional forms of murder, is a crime committed by the political elite against the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Social murder is the culmination of years of systematic neglect, thousands of deliberate decisions that together produce terrible consequences. Pedestrian deaths are not just an unfortunate reality, they are the result of deliberate decisions at the local, state, and federal levels.

In Worcester, even a modest traffic calming redesign can provoke fierce opposition from residents and city politicians. The Mill Street redesign was a central issue raised by Jose Rivera, who launched a failed campaign to oust City Councilwoman Etel Haxhiaj in last year’s election.

During a Mill Street council meeting, Donna Colorio embarrassed herself by attempting to misrepresent the accident data for Mill Street, effectively daring the city manager and Worcester police to falsify the data to support her conclusion that the redesign was dangerous (which it is not).

Moe Bergman has proposed an expensive project to roll back traffic calming measures and give the City Council veto power over future street redesigns. Bergman’s proposal was killed after a groundswell of public support for more inclusive streets, but the fight isn’t over: Public hearings will soon be held on a similar redesign of Chandler Street, another busy and dangerous thoroughfare through the city.

The City Council is also considering lowering the citywide speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour. This measure was implemented in Boston in 2017. In Boston, the change resulted in a 29 percent drop in speeds faster than 35 miles per hour. We know that these speeds are particularly deadly for pedestrians.

If we build six-lane highways in the middle of densely populated neighborhoods, people will die. If we cut corners on traffic calming measures, people will die. If we fight, roll back, or delay infrastructure improvements to make pedestrians safer, people will die. We cannot simply dismiss these deaths as the unfortunate cost of living in a modern society.

The city of Worcester has a chance to save lives by making smarter, data-driven decisions as it redesigns its transportation infrastructure. To its credit, City Hall is making an effort. The Department of Transportation and Mobility is running a pedestrian safety initiative called Vision Zero, and City Manager Eric Batista has signaled that he is committed to the issue. He frequently and pointedly uses the term “traffic violence,” calling it a core issue for his administration. But as mentioned, these initiatives are at risk due to opposition from the City Council.

If the resistance to traffic calming measures succeeds, the blood will be on the hands of those who fought against them, particularly Councilmen Bergman, Colorio, King and Mero-Carlson. As the debate over safer streets in Worcester rages on, we must ask ourselves: Is it worth cutting a few minutes off your commute and murdering children in cold blood?

If you want to make a difference and support lower speed limits citywide, you can fill out this City of Worcester public survey. Information about the Chandler Street redesign and how you can get involved can be found here. You can support Gianna’s family by donating to their GoFundMe page.


Greg Opperman is a software engineer and former newsroom developer at Boston Globe. His previous work for Worcester sucks features posts about Mill Street and the results of the 2023 local elections. Follow him on Twitter @gopperman.

By Aurora