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Massachusetts father leads group for change after 5-year-old daughter killed in crosswalk



After an unthinkable tragedy, a group of Massachusetts families are calling for commonsense pedestrian safety improvements.

Eric Olson, who lost his 5-year-old daughter, Sidney Mae Olson, in a tragic accident last month in downtown Andover, and a group of concerned parents called Sidney’s Rainbows, will be speaking out at a public forum on the safety of Elm Square, where the accident occurred.

Olson has issued the following statement.

“On a cool, bright evening in early May, a large truck hit and killed my five-year-old daughter Sidney in an Andover crosswalk. She was on her way to art class with her family. In an instant, we had an impossible void in our lives.

“My wife and I lost a daughter. My son lost his big sister. Her classmates lost a dear friend.

“No one should die in a crosswalk. Yet, there have been three similar incidents in the last 18 months on Elm St alone. Andover is thriving, but the slow pace of progress on pedestrian and bicycle safety means we risk our community members dying.

“Solutions to these problems exist, but progress has been slow. If we work together, we can do better, starting with Andover’s Community Forum on this topic Thursday, June 8th.

“Sidney was a soft-spoken and smiley girl with springy curls. Like many in our family-filled downtown neighborhood, she navigated these roads daily.

“We walked to school at Shed Children’s Campus. We rode scooters to Andover Center Playground, danced to music in the park, and met friends at JP Licks. Saturdays, we ventured in for breakfast at Perry’s Plate. On chilly winter afternoons, we’d get hot chocolate at Cafe Nero and huddle up at the library, which stands just feet from the crash.

“Andover’s bustling downtown is as attractive to families as it is unique in the Merrimack Valley. Businesses are thriving, and our population has grown from 25,000, when downtown roads were redesigned in 2005, to around 37,000 today.

“Recently, there has been some progress in safety. As an avid cyclist and runner, I applaud the efforts by the town and state, including the so-called “four-foot rule” passed by the legislature in January, the town-wide 25 mph speed limit, and the Elm Square Road Safety Audit.

“Yet, the pace of change in road usage far exceeds that of pedestrian safety improvements.

“Crashes in Andover are up 30% over the past 10 years, according to MassDOT data. Statewide, pedestrian fatalities exceeded 100 last year, up 35% from 2021. Despite global advances in protecting vulnerable road users, we’re going backwards.

“That data doesn’t include the near misses. We see them every day in our neighborhood. Large trucks encroach on intersections, unable to see pedestrians, particularly small children. Cars following Waze to avoid traffic speed down residential streets. Distracted drivers on phones swerve on crowded streets. At Elm St, vehicles take left and right turns through crosswalks while pedestrians see “walk” signs.

“These are problems communities have solved. Having lived in Boulder, Colorado and Europe, my wife and I have seen it first-hand. The safest are committed to zero-fatality standards. They’re working collaboratively to hold drivers accountable and designing roads with more space for walking and cycling, and less space for dangerously large vehicles.

“How can we follow the lead of the safest communities?

“First, let’s commit to zero fatalities and serious injuries with a standard like Vision Zero (a non-profit campaign to increase safe, healthy, equitable mobility) as part of Andover’s 5-year Complete Streets Policy.

“Second, conduct a thorough pedestrian and bicyclist road safety audit for downtown, and create a working group to incorporate ideas from citizens, experts, MassDOT, the town, and advocacy groups like WalkBike Andover.

“Finally, and most urgently, make the simple and obvious changes now:

“Make common sense changes to Elm Square crosswalks, starting with moving vehicle stop lines back farther from crosswalks, adding flex posts to slow speeds, and eliminating turns through intersections when pedestrians have a walk sign

“Post police details at Elm Square and other busy intersections at peak traffic times.

“Improve awareness and enforcement of speed limits on Elm, High, and Central streets with portable speed bumps, signage and radar signs.

“There is no action that will bring back our daughter, but we hope this terrible incident can bring us together to create safer streets. We’ve created a group of Andover families, called Sidney’s Rainbows, who are eager to partner with the town, state, and advocacy groups to drive that change. Please join us by following Sidney’s Rainbows on Facebook and attending the Andover Town Meeting on the Elm Square Project Thursday, June 8th at 7pm at Doherty Middle School.”

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