By Grace Mayer
FRAMINGHAM – Azucena Ochoa was headed home from Walmart, groceries loaded up in the back of her silver Toyota Corolla, with her 9-year-old daughter who was buckled in the back seat. She was driving north on Grant Street, well below the posted speed limit of 35 mph, crawling at a snail’s pace, not only because her daughter was in the car, but because she knew that Grant Street, which partly divides a highly-populated neighborhood, has a history littered with car crashes.
Nobody anticipates getting into a car accident. But after living on Grant Street for five years – a road in Framingham that has gained an infamous reputation among District 7 residents for speeding vehicles and crashes – Ochoa, 27, said she almost expected it to be her turn eventually.
“I pretty much counted down my days, because I knew it would happen one day,” Ochoa said.
That day was a Sunday, May 2. It was just before 5 p.m., sunlight was breaking through the clouds, when a Subaru came barreling past the stop sign posted at the intersection of Mansfield Street and Grant Street, just as Ochoa was making her way into the intersection.
The driver slammed into Ochoa’s vehicle, sending her car, her groceries, and Ochoa and her daughter spinning. Ochoa’s and her daughter’s heads jerked left, and their backs slammed into their seats, leaving behind pinched nerves in their necks and slightly dislocating their spines.
“She hit me so hard my car went spinning,” Ochoa said. “If I would have never swerved to the opposite lane, she probably would have flipped my car. That’s how fast she was coming.”
Neighbors rallied to the scene. Some snapped pictures and took videos of Ochoa’s totaled vehicle, a practice that had become practically routine for the neighborhood after residents witnessed from the windows of their homes crash after crash turn into what felt like a regular occurrence on Grant.
For those living on Grant Street, concerns about crashes have become common. There was a crash yesterday, August 4, and another crash this afternoon, August 5. And then there are the near misses daily.
Despite two large renovation projects designed to address car accidents on Grant Street, a divide between residents’ and government officials’ opinions on whether conditions have improved lingers.
So do inconsistencies between two accident datasets analyzed by the government and collected by the Framingham police, two accounts that when looked at together leave the question of whether Grant Street accidents are down since construction inconclusive.
For the neighborhood, another car crash may not seem unusual, but compared to the rest of Framingham the accidents appear to be slightly above the norm, said William Sedewitz, chair of the Framingham Traffic Commission and chief engineer for the City of Framingham Department of Public Works (DPW).
“It certainly seems like the number of crashes is higher on Grant Street than some of the other locations that we’ve been asked to look at,” Sedewitz said. “For whatever reason, it does seem like that street, in particular, is probably more of a concern than a number of others.”
Records from the Framingham Police Department show the crash Ochoa was in is one of 22 car accidents that have taken place on Grant Street within the first six months of this year, averaging nearly an accident per week so far.
But the road has a long history marked by car crashes, a straight stretch of land that branches into 15 intersections, a road that’s “never ending,” Ochoa said.
In 2017, there were 32 accidents reported on Grant Street.
In 2018, there were 28 accidents.
In 2019, there were 36 accidents.
In 2020, there were 15 accidents, a decrease that could be attributed to two reasons: an overall decline in traffic as employees and kids shifted to working and virtual school from home, and the impact of a construction project that took place on Grant Street in late 2019.
Based on the same data collected by the police department, the majority of accidents on Grant Street from the last five years have occurred at intersections.
But the intersection at Mansfield Street and Grant Street, where Ochoa experienced her crash—has consistently had the highest number of car accidents, except for one year, out of all the intersections on Grant, dating back to 2017.
There was a crash at that intersection yesterday, and another one this afternoon, August 5.
Except for 2019, when Mansfield had the second highest number of accidents compared to the intersection of Pond Street and Grant Street, which had 10 accidents in 2019, the Mansfield intersection has routinely generated the highest number of accidents.
In 2017, the Mansfield intersection had six accidents recorded. In 2018 and 2019, there were five recorded. In 2020, there were only two accidents.
Although there appeared to be a gradual decline in accidents from 2017 to 2020, within the first six months of 2021, the number rose.
This year, there have been more than a half dozen crashes reported at the intersection of Mansfield and Grant, where one stop sign is stationed at Mansfield.
While crashes may be a primary concern for residents, they are just as concerned about speeding.
Currently there are three speed limit signs along Grant Street, two designating 35 mph and one sign lowered to 25 mph near Howe Street.
After collecting traffic and speed data during 2020, the DPW concluded that there wasn’t a speeding issue on Grant, as average speeds collected ranged from 25 to 29 mph.
Lieutenant Harry Wareham of the Framingham Police Department safety division agreed speeding is not a major issue on Grant Street.
Lt. Wareham that the department’s been responsive to citizens’ concerns about speeding and have added a second traffic response officer as a result.
“I’m not convinced there’s a speeding issue, but it does seem like there’s a fair number of crashes for that particular street,” Sedewitz said.
Right now, Sedewitz said, the DPW has no definitive answer to explain why a higher number of accidents may occur on Grant, just that most do occur at the street’s intersections.
While a road’s design can be a factor for accidents, Sedewitz said “things that you really can’t control with engineering,” including distracted drivers and weather conditions, can also contribute to crashes.
The concerns that have stretched across Grant Street have not gone unaddressed.
The Framingham Traffic Commission first heard complaints about speeding and accidents on Grant from residents in 2019 at a public meeting, said Sedewitz, prompting the group to explore plans for a project to resolve these issues.
After observing that on-street parking was edging too close to intersections, obscuring drivers’ views of oncoming traffic, in November 2019, “no parking here to corner” signs were installed along with pavement markings that indicated no parking. Additional pavement markings were also repainted to better signal to drivers that stops were ahead.
These improvements were designed to make drivers exercise more caution at the intersections on Grant. Renovations didn’t stop there, though.
With grant money from the state-wide Shared Streets & Spaces Emergency grant from the Baker administration, between August and October of 2020, the DPW oversaw a project to improve the road and sidewalks on the southern half of Grant
. From Arthur Street to Howard Street, “bump-outs” or curb extensions designed to slow down cars and keep pedestrians safe as they cross streets were added at the intersections on Grant. Drainage improvements, and repaved roads and sidewalks were also a part of the plan.
According to Framingham’s government website, this plan is “a two-phased project designed to mitigate motor vehicle accidents and enhance road safety for all users.”
While the first half of the project from Arthur Street to Howard Street, the southern half of Grant, was completed in 2020, the second half of the project will be completed by the end of 2021. Since the construction, Sedewitz said, there has been a decrease in the number of accidents on Grant, according to data collected by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) crash report website.
“Initially it looked like from the data from the southern half [of Grant Street], the accident counts have come down from the prior years,” Sedewitz said. “But I think it’s a little bit soon to make a definitive conclusion that we’ve absolutely addressed it and we need to do anything else.”
But discrepancies between the Framingham Police Department’s records on accidents and the DPW’S data indicate opposite findings for whether cases of crashes are up or down.
The police department’s crash count for 2021 so far is much higher than the DPW’s count.
From January 2021 through the end of June 2021, the DPW’s data showed that 8 crashes occurred from Arthur Street up to Howard Street, where construction was recently completed.
But police records from January 2021 through June 2021 show that 15 crashes have taken place from Arthur up to Howard, a trend that, if it continues, could match or exceed previous year’s crash counts.
The number of accidents at Mansfield Street, an intersection that was included in the recent renovations, remains high at five crashes, according to police records.
In an email to SOURCE, DPW senior communications project manager Allyssa Jewell, said the data supplied by DPW came from MassDOT, while the police department maintains its own crash list.
“Prior comparisons between the sources were generally in agreement, but one source may include accidents the other didn’t and vice versa,” Jewell wrote.
Grant Street, which spans several miles of residential homes, first, second, and third generations of Framingham families, has had its share of construction projects.
For Kelly Mulherin, who’s lived on Grant Street for 40 years, she believes the construction hasn’t done enough to resolve the problems on the street.
Mulherin, who regularly goes out to take pictures of the crashes on her iPad, believes that the number of car accidents and cases of speeding have only gotten worse during the years she’s lived on Grant Street.
Like Ochoa, Mulherin said she tries to avoid driving on Grant.
“I sit on my porch, and I’ve seen so many almost-crashes happen. I mean there’s so many near misses, you wouldn’t even believe it,” Mulherin said.
Since the time when Mulherin grew up on Grant 40 years ago, when Framingham was still a Town, the young City has made room for over 72,000 residents. New apartment buildings and single-family homes for rent have sprung up throughout the city. And more people equal more traffic.
Mulherin said she believes as the City’s become more crowded, the added traffic has only made the issues on Grant Street, particularly at the Mansfield intersection, worse.
“Between Mansfield and Grant, it’s been getting worse and worse,” Mulherin said. “It didn’t used to be that bad, because we didn’t have that much traffic here growing up.”
After speaking with neighbors, Mulherin said she believes a four-way stop sign located at Mansfield and Grant could address some of the problems—and some of her neighbors have echoed the idea.
Brian Fabbri agrees.
“As the volume of cars increases, so do the violations. No seat belts. Cell phone usage. Trucks violating the ban, speeding, and car accidents,” said Fabbri to SOURCE.
He said this is the worst the street has been and he has lived in Framingham since the 1960s.
He too suggested 4-way stops at the intersections, especially Mansfield and Grant streets.
Magdalena Janus, who is running for City Council for District 7 and lives near where Grant Street and Hartford Street meet, believes the area would benefit from consistent presence of traffic law enforcement.
Janus said that, although the 2019 construction project was meant to address on-street parking, blind spots to oncoming traffic are still a problem at intersections. Instead, she believes the road could have benefitted from additional four-way stop signs or speed bumps to force drivers to drive more carefully as they approach intersections.
“We’ve got to start somewhere and we’ve got to help, because this is almost, in a way, epidemic. It’s dangerous,” Janus said. “We are a residential neighborhood so lives could be at stake, whether they’re people who are in their cars or pedestrians.”
After hearing concerns from residents, District 7 City Councilor Margareth Shepard said she fought for improvements to be made to Grant Street, particularly to address on-street parking and updating sidewalks—concerns of which were addressed in the 2019 construction project. She recently contacted the DPW, upon requests from residents, asking for a traffic calming device for Grant Street. Shepard is not running for re-election to the City Council.
With the recent construction projects, Shepard said she thinks the City is headed in the right direction even though residents may still be wary of accidents and cases of speeding on Grant.
“The residents, they have the history [of Grant Street] in the back of their minds,” Shepard said. “So any crash that happens, it brings out the memories of the past crashes.”
But last week, a constable was struck while doing a detail on Grant Street.
And already this week, three crashes on Grant Street.
Haunted by the memory of the car accident, Ochoa said she and her daughter are too traumatized to drive on Grant Street again, even though her family lives on the street. Ochoa and her daughter have both gone to see a chiropractor every week since the accident. Her daughter becomes frantic about driving safely and wearing seatbelts every time she gets into a car.
“I don’t want it to affect her in the future,” Ochoa said about her daughter. “You know that car accidents, if you don’t treat them, it’ll haunt you.”
Grace Mayer is a SOURCE intern this summer. She is a senior at Boston College studying marketing and journalism. She is also the head arts editor for Boston College’s newspaper, The Heights, where she’s covered the arts beat for three years.