Boston’s commissioner of propaganda speaks

On the radio I heard three false and misleading statements attributed to the Boston Transportation Commissioner. I was tempted to call them lies, but she’s an MBA, not a PE, so she doesn’t have an ethical duty to know what she’s talking about. And she doesn’t. The person in charge of traffic safety in Boston is clueless about the subject matter.

The commissioner was interviewed about a new law allowing cities to reduce speed limits without any safety justification.

Here are three lies in half a sentence, repeated in substantially similar form on WBUR and in the Boston Herald: “nationwide studies have shown people hit by cars at 25 mph are half as likely to die from their injuries as people struck by cars traveling at 30 mph.”

First, it is well known that reducing the speed limit from 30 to 25 will not reduce the speed of traffic to 25. Nor will it reduce the speed of traffic by 5 mph. It is not likely to affect traffic at all. This has been shown by a… drum roll… nationwide study.

Second, pedestrian accidents do not usually involve traffic moving at the speed limit or at the average speed of traffic. Many involve turning traffic moving way under the speed limit. That’s what happened in the the-driver-is-always-guilty case I wrote about recently. If you could actually reduce the speed of cars to 25, pedestrians would still get run over by turning cars.

Third, those “nationwide studies” are somewhere between false and fabricated. The X% of people die at Y mph claims are repeated because they sound scary, but they can’t be confirmed by research. The most commonly quoted statistic was actually disproved by subsequent research. I call it the factoid that wouldn’t die. (See my posts of November 15, 2011 and November 22, 2011.)

These statement show that the Boston Transportation Commissioner doesn’t know what she’s doing. No surprise, because she’s not the city traffic engineer, she’s a parking clerk who moved up to the big time.

Boston’s traffic engineers are not much better. They don’t know and don’t care how stop signs keep appearing on city streets. Whatever the politicians want, the politicians get.

That half sentence above was preceded by “Fiandaca said the Transportation Department does not have Boston-specific data, but said”. There’s a reason she doesn’t have good data: city policy is to hide safety statistics. Ask MassDOT for Boston crash statistics and they tell you, “The Boston Police Department does not send most crash reports to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.” The rest of the state does, but not Boston.

So they don’t know what sort of safety problem they have, but they sure do have a solution in search of a problem. The solution is more tickets.

“I think this will have a widespread effect on public safety in the city,” Commissioner Fiandaca said.

I think this will have no effect on safety, but a widespread effect on abusive police practices.

Remember to pack your radar detector, radar jammer, and police scanner. If you’re currently working in Boston, consider packing your desk too.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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