Boston councilors propose declaring another public health crisis: road safety

Some city councilors are suggesting that Boston’s well-documented road safety issues should be declared a public health crisis or emergency – which could return power to the Boston Public Health Commission, which has come under fire for its unilateral actions during the pandemic.

City Council Speaker Ed Flynn and Councilwoman Kendra Lara introduced a non-binding resolution asking the city to declare “traffic crashes a public health crisis requiring urgent action,” a decision the council adopted by voice vote.

“We need to stay on top of these pedestrian safety issues. And it’s our job as city councilors to make sure we provide the safest neighborhood for our children, our families, especially our elderly and people with disabilities,” said Flynn, who openly advocates for safer streets for years.

Lara, who did not respond to another request for comment later in the week, added at Wednesday’s board meeting that “this is a public health emergency that requires planning and action. financial investments to be corrected”.

As a resolution, like many articles adopted by the council, this approval has no practical effect. But if the city declares a public health emergency or crisis — councilors have used each of those words at various times, though they have somewhat different meanings to the health commission — the city of Boston would again give power to a body that came under fire earlier this year for acting unilaterally under an emergency declaration.

Councilwoman Erin Murphy, the body’s public health chair and earlier this year critic of the BPHC’s continued use of the public health emergency declaration to continue making decisions without any open meetings , said there were a few questions.

“Road safety for pedestrians and those trying to get around the city is of the utmost importance – (as) chair of public health, I would like to know more about what the public health commission would add “, she said.

When Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration and the Boston Public Health Commission were asked whether such a road safety statement was on the table and what it would mean, the administration said that she was studying the question.

“Appropriate city and Boston Public Health Commission teams are reviewing the council’s resolution,” Wu’s office said in a statement. “We are committed to protecting our residents and keeping the streets of Boston safe.”

When asked what that would mean in practice, Flynn said he would have to engage the BPHC more formally to work on the actual logistics.

Two years ago, in March 2020, the BPHC declared the COVID-19 pandemic a public health emergency, a decision that gave its executive director wide latitude to take unilateral action regarding masking rules, trade restrictions and possibly vaccine requirements.

That statement remained in place through that winter, ultimately leading to criticism that the commission was doing questionable enforcement of state law and not being transparent or responsive about major decisions. related to the pandemic.

The commission eventually overturned the order in March.

Slightly different — though the city hasn’t quite explained how — is a “crisis” statement, which then-mayor Marty Walsh made in June 2020 on racism, signing and the Executive Order which proclaims that “Racism constitutes a public health emergency and crisis in the City of Boston.

The executive order, which followed a similar request from Councilman Ricardo Arroyo, also appealed to the BPHC – as well as the Department of Health and Human Resources, which no longer exists in the same form after Wu reshuffled the roles of senior health officials. – work with all other city departments to improve race policies.

The order, whose eight main goals are generally general statements such as “Engage historically marginalized communities in identifying problems and solutions and supporting community responses,” remains in effect.