April pedestrian fatality in Amherst remains under investigation

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate student Jaskaran Singh, 24, died after being struck by a vehicle near this crosswalk on North Pleasant Street in Amherst near Crestview Apartments. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Friday, May 10, 2019

AMHERST — A fatal pedestrian accident on North Pleasant Street north of the University of Massachusetts campus last month, which remains under investigation, is prompting a UMass employee to call on town officials to reduce speed limits in heavily populated areas of town.

John Griffin, a Greenfield resident who works at the university, told the Town Council at a recent meeting that it should consider lowering the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph on certain roads, including North Pleasant near the apartment complexes where graduate student Jaskaran Singh, 24, was struck by a car and killed at about 10:40 p.m. on April 12.

Singh, from India, was studying in the computer science department at UMass.

The crash occurred near the crosswalk at 1001 North Pleasant St., close to Crestview Apartments, in a section of the road that should be considered thickly settled, Griffin said.

Citing a ProPublica article “Unsafe at Many Speeds,” which shows that the risk of pedestrian death goes up as vehicle speeds increase, Griffin said Amherst could use a state general law to impose the lower speed limit and to install more “thickly settled” signs.

Griffin said he made a similar appeal last fall to Greenfield’s Parking and Traffic Commission following three fatal crashes in that city over the past three years.

Griffin pointed to Dedham as one town that has had 25 mph limits in effect since May 1, 2018. Because Griffin’s comments came during public comment, the Town Council took his comments under consideration but couldn’t act on them.

Meanwhile, Amherst Police, Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Northwestern district attorney’s office, and the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section of state police are still trying to piece together how the accident that claimed Singh’s life occurred.

The driver remained at the scene, and no charges have been filed.

Amherst Police Detective Joshua Harris said Thursday that he is seeking all witnesses who might have seen the crash or the events leading up to it, including those who were walking or driving, and especially people who were on board the PVTA bus from which Singh had exited.

Harris said the public can contact him at 259-3010 or at harrisj@amherstma.gov.

Even before the crash, a subcommittee of the town’s Transportation Advisory Committee had begun looking at ways to improve pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular safety throughout town.

The location where the fatal accident occurred was the focus of one of three walking tours done by the Complete Streets/Traffic Calming Subcommittee of the Transportation Advisory Committee. In February 2018, those members walked along that stretch of road, extending from the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 867 North Pleasant St., north to North Amherst center and Cowls Road.

Among the subcommittee’s observations were that travel speeds for North Pleasant appeared to be well above the 35 mph speed limit, that sidewalks were a mix of smooth and wide and narrow and crumbling, and that lighting is “a significant problem.”

“Only one side is lit (mainly west side on North Pleasant); walking at night on the other side there would be little light, and safety concerns,” the report reads. “On the lighted side, there are wide gaps between many lights. Biking and walking, even with good sidewalks, will be limited in poorer weather and nighttime without improved lighting.”

The subcommittee suggested the priority be a 10-foot path on the west side of North Pleasant to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles, noting the “continued possibility of nighttime inebriation.”It also recommended an additional crosswalk, just north of the Crestview bus stop: “Based on bus driving observations, many people get off the bus at Crestview (north) and cross just past the bus stop to get into Puffton and the apartments just before it. If there is a multi-use path that needs tocross the road, this may be a logical place.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.