Article 49 would create a Traffic Safety Advisory Committee by law to make safer streets, reduce administrative burdens and bring in more state and federal funds.
I sponsored this article at the recommendation of Select Board member Erin Noonan and after numerous conversations with Police Chief Dennis King, Amy McHugh of the Highway Department and Town Planner Becky Curran, among others. All expressed support. In fact, Chief King is already at work developing processes for the committee based on an early ad hoc iteration of a Traffic Committee.
My own background is as a researcher, writer and professor. I have been studying traffic and transportation issues for decades and did coursework on transportation planning at the University of Michigan College of Engineering during my doctoral studies. When not getting greasy working on one of our five cars and trucks, I write about traffic and mobility issues. I also work as a state-certified professional driving instructor for the Marblehead Auto School. Recognizing my interest and experience, last week the Marblehead Select Board appointed me to serve as the town’s representative to the MBTA Advisory Board.
Over the few years, I’ve been heartened to watch the town move toward developing safer streets. In 2018, the Select Board signed a Complete Streets Policy and formally adopted the Rail Trail. Town Meeting in 2020 voted to lower the town-wide speed limit from 30 miles an hour to a far safer 25 miles an hour and empowered the Select Board to set the limit at 20 mph wherever they want to declare a school or other safety zone. Our school principals have committed themselves to work with the federally funded MassDOT Safe Routes to Schools Program to provide students with safe ways to walk, bike and roll.
Yet outside money has slipped through our fingers, departments, especially the police, are overburdened, and residents are routinely frustrated and discouraged with efforts to improve our streets. We find driving stressful, biking harrowing, and have tragic accidents that could be avoided. We need a more holistic approach.
Therefore, following the best examples of communities large and small throughout the Commonwealth,
Article 49 therefore asks the town to establish a Traffic Safety Advisory Committee by law. I have spent the last year reading traffic committee meeting minutes, investigating their structures, and asking their members what works and what doesn’t.
Dedham has a robust, fair, and open process for receiving citizen requests and implementing traffic calming interventions. Falmouth has given its Traffic Study Committee — approved by voters 1967 — an especially wide and proactive remit. Citizen members are appointed to Swampscott’s traffic committee by the Select Board (not the town manager), and its chair rotates annually. In addition, representatives of the police, DPW, and fire departments, the town’s director of community development and a Disability Commission representative serves on the board. And yes, you read that right, even Swampscott has a Traffic Advisory Committee!
The proposed bylaw intentionally has only a few specific provisions. It directs the committee to hold a monthly open meeting, to report to the Select Board quarterly and make recommendations in a timely manner. The Select Board will appoint representatives from the relevant departments and appoint citizen members by majority vote.
In addition to receiving citizen requests for traffic calming, the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee will work to implement the Marblehead Complete Streets Policy and evaluate public safety issues involving traffic, roads and other transportation infrastructure in the town. I believe we should iterate our processes and define our scope during the committee’s first 12 months as we see what works. If necessary, Town Meeting can then refine the bylaw.
Some may object to forming yet another committee and worry that it will increase bureaucracy and administrative burdens. In fact, the committee will incorporate and therefore replace the moribund Complete Streets Committee and Traffic Committees. It will reduce the workload of the Marblehead Police Department, the town administrator and others, while also ensuring better outcomes across the board.
Common to all the many case histories of traffic issues in town that I have studied are the months-long, ultimately fruitless and counter productive email chains. I see the same issues recurring and each time the wheel is reinvented. Town staff waste time, and residents give up in frustration.
Some may worry that this will cost money. In fact, it will help to secure state and especially federal funds. For example, the town has submitted three applications for “Safe Routes to Schools” money. The first two were unsuccessful, in large part because the police chief was left to fend for himself at the 11th hour. Had the School Department laid the ground work over the preceding years and taken a lead role early on, we would have succeeded.
Interestingly, Chief King called on me to query state accident data in support of another grant, which was successful. I’m glad we got it. But the state grant coordinator told me that the feds had thrown so much money into this particular grant that every town that applied was awarded money.
It took all of about half an hour to collect 50 signatures and get the article on the warrant. All I had to do was stand with a clipboard by the Rail Trail crossing at West Shore Drive. I heard from people on bikes, on foot, and best of all, I heard from drivers. Let me be clear: This isn’t about surrendering our streets to bicycles. It isn’t about usurping the role of the MPD, the DPW, or the executive branch. It is about making life less stressful and more pleasant for all road users, no matter how they chose to move.
We need a comprehensive, all-hands approach. The Traffic Safety Advisory Committee is the path forward. I urge you to vote “yes” on 49.
Any questions? Please contact me via email (email@example.com).