Of Speed Limits and Safety Zones
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Voters at Town Meeting a couple of years ago approved establishing 25MPH as the basic speed limit town wide. In addition, they approved the local option of establishing safety zones with a speed limit of 20MPH. With these votes, the Selectmen adopted one large safety zone that encompassed most of the streets within the Village core area based on the recommendations of a citizen’s group.
This large area is too broad a sweep for one safety zone in the eyes of the state. They have advised us to create more specific safety zones related to specific circumstances along a stretch of roadway. We also have heard from the public that many of the marked 20MPH areas are difficult to maintain such a low speed and that we should be more strategic in designating the 20MPH areas. Thus, the Selectmen plan to review a revised list of safety zones and speed limits at their meeting on October 19.
Most of the streets between School and Summer streets will remain at 20MPH. These narrow streets serve as walking routes to the schools, houses are densely packed/close to the curbs with many driveways, and the streets are short in length. School Street from Pleasant Street will remain 20MPH but will be 25MPH between Pleasant and Route 128 and then 35MPH out to the Essex line. Similarly, Pine Street is proposed to have a 20MPH from Central to Woodholm, and 25MPH from Woodholm out toward Route 128 where it then goes to 35MPH.
New safety zones are proposed for Tuck’s Point Road given how narrow it is and the playground/beach that exists. In a similar vein, Ocean Street also is proposed to be a new safety zone.
All other town roads would be posted at 25MPH. Route 127, except where it runs through the Village between Ashland Avenue and the 1661 Cemetery, is state controlled. Years ago, the Town designated a short stretch of 127 that is under Town control – Union and along Beach to Summer – as a 15MPH zone which will be re-established. The remainder of Beach is slated to be posted at 20MPH.
These changes are designed to make the speed limits in town match more closely the conditions alongside the roadways. Certainly, within the core Village area, there is a desire to keep speeds low to provide a bike and pedestrian friendly setting. We are very much a walking village and automobiles should not dominate.
In addition to speed limits (which need enforcing to be effective so don’t be surprised if you see an officer pulling aside an offending driver) improved sidewalks, safer intersections and bike lanes are important elements to a bike and pedestrian oriented village. To date, only 2 of the 16 recommendations that came out of the “complete streets” study have been implemented. While some of these recommendations are extensive and complicated, others are straight forward and are not likely to be controversial. For example, creating shorter cross walks at the Norwood/Brook intersection with more clearly defined on street parking is a relatively inexpensive and easy fix. Projects like this will be taken up another time.
Another frequently debated technique for slowing down traffic is the use of speed bumps or tables (a speed table is basically a longer running bump that has proven to be safer than speed bumps.) Speed tables are often used at crosswalks and occasionally in special circumstances to encourage slower speeds. The one officially designated scenic road in town – Mill Street – might be a good candidate for a couple of speed tables.
At their meeting on the 19th, The Selectmen will be reviewing and likely approving a series of new safety zones as summarized above and affirming a 25MPH for non-safety zones for most other streets. A discussion on the efficacy of speed tables on Mill Street along with additional stop signs on Forest, will also be up for discussion.