Guest Column: Worcester Kills Children
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Guest Column: Worcester Kills Children

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

A driver struck and killed a 13-year-old girl on Belmont Street in Worcester on June 27.

The teen, identified as Gianna Rose Simoncini, was trying to cross Belmont Street between Plantation Street and Lake Avenue, a six-lane thoroughfare wedged between a residential neighborhood and UMass Memorial Medical Center.

Gianna’s death comes at the end of an often embarrassing campaign to undo a traffic-calming project on Mill Street and just before a debate on lowering the citywide speed limit to 25 mph.

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

“Gianna was more than just my daughter; she was a bright light in our lives, a source of joy, and a soul full of dreams. Her sudden passing has left us devastated and struggling with emotions beyond words.”

We tend to think of these types of incidents as inevitable tragedies, but let’s call them what they are: murders. Gianna Rose Simoncini was killed as part of a massive conspiracy that premeditated the murder of thousands of people. Planners, engineers, and politicians designed a road system that made pedestrian deaths acceptable for the benefit of cars. This kind of capricious neglect has a name: social murder (more on that later).

Belmont Street is a road designed to kill, connecting a high-speed, multi-lane thoroughfare with a local commuter street. It’s a six-lane monster that cuts through the heart of the city, designed to get residents to and from Trader Joes, Whole Foods and other Shrewsbury businesses as quickly as possible.

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

Bill Shaner was quick to point out the half-mile distance between crosswalks where Gianna was killed:

Guest Column: Worcester Kills Children

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), more than 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur on highways, in part because of the speeds they promote. As car speeds increase, they become exponentially more deadly.

The speed limit on Belmont Street east of Lincoln is 30 to 35 mph, and driving over 40 mph is common. When a pedestrian is hit at 20 mph, they have a 90 percent survival rate, meaning 1 in 10 people will die.

Increase that to 30 mph, and the odds of survival are a coin flip: 50 percent survive, 50 percent die. Increase that to 40 mph, and the results are grim: only 1 in 10 pedestrians survives crashes at that speed, a 90 percent fatality rate.

A triptych of speed limits. The box on the left has the inscription "Hit by a vehicle traveling at: 20 miles per hour" above a row of pedestrian icons, most of which are blue to indicate a 90% chance of survival. The center box says "Hit by a vehicle traveling at: 30 miles per hour" above a row of icons that are half blue, half red to indicate a 50% chance of survival. The last field, 40 MPH, has a row of mostly red people icons to indicate only a 10% chance of survival
Courtesy of the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.

Our infrastructure is designed to prioritize cars over everything else. As a result of decades of building roads for faster, denser car traffic, pedestrian deaths have reached record levels. According to NPR“Every day, 20 people go outside and are killed by a moving vehicle.” The GHSA reports that 7,508 pedestrians died in road accidents in 2022, the highest number since 1981:

A graph illustrating the sharp increase in 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 road fatalities rises from the bottom left of the graph to the top right, with the fastest increase occurring between 2020 and 2021 and a slower increase between 2021 and 2022. Image source: Governor's Highway Safety Association
Courtesy of the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.

Those too young or too poor to drive risk their lives every time they leave their homes. In Massachusetts alone, the fatality rate was 1.43 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people in 2022. By comparison, the homicide rate in Massachusetts, which includes traffic homicides, is 2.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

Knowing what we know about public infrastructure, the only reasonable conclusion is that 13-year-old Gianna wasn’t just killed, she was murdered.

While the driver certainly didn’t plan or have a motive, we can easily identify those responsible: politicians and citizens, past and present, who demand that we prioritize car travel over everything else, and who fight tooth and nail against even modest improvements in public safety. Even before the invention of the automobile, the phenomenon was named and stigmatized by Friedrich Engels in his 1845 book. The Situation of the Working Class in England:

“When one person inflicts bodily injury upon another, which results in death, we call that act homicide; 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 situation that they inevitably meet with a premature and unnatural death, which is as much death by violence as by the sword or the bullet; when it deprives thousands of the means of subsistence, 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 consequence—it knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits those conditions to continue, its act is murder as surely as the act of an individual.”

At the time, Engels was addressing the pitfalls of the Industrial Revolution: the exploitative and unsafe workplaces, the appalling living conditions, the lack of health care, and other material conditions of the working class in the 19th century, problems that continue to this day. Social murder, unlike more traditional forms of murder, is a crime by the political elite against the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Social murder is the culmination of years of systemic neglect, thousands of deliberate choices that add up to horrific outcomes. Pedestrian deaths are not simply an unfortunate reality; they are the result of deliberate choices made at the local, state, and federal levels.

In Worcester, even modest traffic-calming redevelopment can draw fierce opposition from residents and city politicians. The Mill Street redevelopment was a key sticking point for Jose Rivera, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign to unseat City Councilwoman Etel Haxhiaj in last year’s election.

During the Mill Street council meeting, Donna Colorio embarrassed herself by attempting to misrepresent the Mill Street accident data, all but demanding that the city manager and the Worcester police fabricate data to support her conclusion that the redevelopment was unsafe (which it was not).

Moe Bergman has introduced a pricey bill to roll back traffic-calming measures and give the City Council veto power over future road improvements. Bergman’s proposal was defeated 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 redevelopment of Chandler Street, another busy and dangerous thoroughfare in the city.

The City Council is also considering lowering the city’s speed limit from 30 to 25 mph, a measure Boston enacted in 2017. In Boston, the change resulted in a 29 percent drop in driving speeds above 35 mph, speeds that we know are especially deadly for pedestrians.

When we build six-lane highways through densely populated neighborhoods, people die. When we skimp on traffic-calming measures, people die. When we fight, retreat, or sandbag infrastructure improvements to make pedestrians safer, people die. We simply cannot ignore these deaths as an unfortunate cost of living in modern society.

The city of Worcester has a chance to save lives by making smarter, data-driven decisions when redesigning transit infrastructure. To give it its due, City Hall is trying. The Department of Transportation and Mobility is pursuing a pedestrian safety initiative called Vision Zero, and City Manager Eric Batista has signaled a commitment to the issue. He uses the term “traffic violence” frequently and deliberately, identifying it as a key concern for his administration. But, as noted, these initiatives are threatened by resistance from the City Council.

If the resistance to traffic calming measures proves effective, blood will be on the hands of those who fought it, especially Councilmen Bergman, Colorio, King and Mero-Carlson. As the debate about safer streets in Worcester continues, we must ask ourselves: Is cutting a few minutes off my commute worth 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 to get involved can be found here . You can support Gianna’s family by donating to their GoFundMe account.

Greg Opperman is software engineer and former programmer at the editorial office Boston Globe. His earlier writing for Worcester sucks includes pieces on Mill Street and the 2023 local election results. Follow him on Twitter @gopperman.