New Traffic Safety Advisory Committee proposed

One way or the other, residents who think their neighborhood could use a stop sign or a reduced speed limit should have a more streamlined way to get their concerns addressed.

Whether Article 49 provides the vehicle — pardon the pun — will be up to Town Meeting.

The article’s sponsor, Dan Albert, did doctoral work at the University of Michigan that included work on transportation land use planning. As he told the audience at a recent forum organized by the League of Women Voters, he has been researching and studying traffic, and writing about transportation safety issues for decades.

Recognizing his passion and expertise on the subject, the Select Board recently appointed Albert to represent Marblehead on the MBTA Advisory Board.

In his article, Albert proposes creating a Traffic Safety Advisory Committee.

“The purpose of the TSAC will be to implement the Marblehead Complete Streets Policy and evaluate public safety issues involving traffic, roads and other transportation infrastructure in the town,” the article reads.

You are not crazy if you are thinking, “Don’t we already have such a committee?” Part of what Albert is trying to accomplish with his article is resuscitate and consolidate the functions of at least two committees that have seemingly gone defunct: a Traffic Advisory Committee that reports to the Select Board and a Complete Streets Committee that was constituted as a means to access state funding but that “doesn’t meet and hasn’t kept minutes,” Albert explained at the League forum.

In Albert’s vision, the new Traffic Safety Advisory Committee would meet monthly, providing a forum to which residents could bring their concerns, and then report to the Select Board quarterly.

Acknowledging that the Traffic Advisory Committee had not met for a while prior to his arrival, Police Chief Dennis King said he had been working with the town administrator and other town officials who had been involved in the committee’s work to regroup and get meetings going again.

“In the meantime, I’ve created a traffic change form for people to submit that should be available soon,” King said.

Implied in King’s comments is a certain level of support for his concept, Albert believes.

“The police chief believes we should have a traffic committee — now, we’re just negotiating the details,” he said.

Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer noted that, with traffic issues, it is often important to build into the process an opportunity to consult with town officials who have expertise and technical knowledge about requirements related to a request for a stop sign or other traffic calming measure.

Albert believes he has accounted for that, specifying that while the committee he envisions would include three members of the public, it would also include relevant town officials like King and Highway Department Superintendent Amy McHugh or their designees.

At least in Albert’s mind, the committee he is proposing would serve three purposes. First and foremost, it would make the town’s streets safer. Second, it should help the town access state and federal funds predicated on the existence of such a committee.

Third, it should make the job of the police chief and other town officials easier, as the committee would funnel residents’ concerns into a body with the capacity to vet and refine them.

“Right now, what happens is I call the chief of police, I say, ‘There’s people driving down the street and I want a stop sign,’ and months and months of emails go back and forth,” Albert said at the League forum. “And there’s no real very good resolution.”

If Town Meeting voted to create it, residents would fill out request forms that would go to the committee.

“That traffic calming request would be heard by the committee, and all of the stakeholders would have an input,” Albert said.

Other article may be postponed

Albert is also the sponsor of Article 50, which seeks to insert into the town bylaws related to new proposed subdivisions a reference to a “Guide for the Planning, Design and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities” published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

AASHTO is an organization that publishes specifications, test protocols and guidelines that are used in highway design and construction throughout the United States.

Albert figured that the proposal would be an easy sell, given that the bylaws already incorporate one older AASHTO guide, “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets,” and as the name implies, adopting the “guides” generally does not bind the town to anything beyond what the law already requires.

Rather, the guides compile in one place both requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws alongside suggestions about best practices and design specifications to achieve different goals — in this case pedestrian safety.

But when Albert took his proposal to the Planning Board to seek its endorsement, members said they wished he had come to them sooner, as they did not feel they had been given adequate time to review the guide and delve more deeply into its implications.

“You say it’s simple, but I haven’t had the opportunity to consider this,” Chair Robert J. Schaeffner said.

Member Edward O. Nilsson added, “I applaud the idea of refocusing planning from the automobile base to pedestrian base, which I think more and more cities and towns are doing. But if it’s a standard that will be implemented by the town, it should be fleshed out and a presentation made before the board, rather than on the floor of Town Meeting.”

Member Andrew Christensen said that it was unclear to him whether there would actually be no additional cost to the town, as Albert had represented.

Albert told the Current that he is not planning to alter his presentation to Town Meeting. He will just make it and let the chips fall where they may, believing there to be some educational value to bringing it to the floor, even if the vote is for indefinite postponement.

Albert acknowledged that there is no great urgency to his proposal — no large subdivision that would be subject to the guide is pending before town boards. But he noted that the state is gearing up to encourage towns to do bigger, denser developments to address a shortage of affordable housing.

“We want to get ahead of that,” Albert said.

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