What do the following people have in common: a filmmaker who has won awards for his works about cycling, a 42-year veteran of the State Police force, a decades-long owner of local bike shops, a Ph.D. recipient who wrote a thesis and multiple book chapters on automobile safety, and an engineer turned science journalist turned high school math teacher?
The answer: There was no room for any of them on the new Traffic Safety Advisory Committee, on which the Select Board filled the three available public seats Oct. 11.
It is not uncommon when there are more candidates than seats for an appointment for Select Board members to wring their hands about their difficult choice. Maybe in some cases, that’s performative, but in this case, the board members’ angst was hard earned. Without fail, each candidate had made a compelling case that they were both qualified and eager to contribute to making Marblehead’s streets safer for all.
Perhaps Select Board member Bret Murray was joking when asked rhetorically, “Can we expand the committee?” But it’s not the worst idea and perhaps could be explored with town counsel. We know the language of Town Meeting articles — in this case this past spring’s Article 49 — is nothing to be trifled with. But perhaps additional non-voting seats could be created without running afoul of the new bylaw.
If that is not possible, the TSAC should go the extra mile to ensure that the enthusiasm on display at the Select Board’s Oct. 11 meeting does not escape like so much air out of a punctured tire. To be part of the conversations to come, the unsuccessful candidates should not have to rely on monitoring the town’s website to know when the committee’s monthly meetings are happening. Perhaps an email list could be created to keep interested people in the loop or a digital collaboration tool like Slack could be deployed. (While a town committee’s Slack messages would likely be subject to the state’s public records law, in Article 49 sponsor Dan Albert’s vision, transparency was already expected to be a hallmark of this committee.)
Given the importance of the new committee’s work, we hope that it can live up to its promise. As Marblehead unfortunately knows all too well, when a life ends too soon on our roads, the wound is deep and enduring. Sparing another local family such pain should be a goal everyone can unite over, even as reasonable minds may differ about how to achieve this end.
Beyond that, the committee is designed to ensure the town is not missing out on opportunities to bring in outside money to help improve our infrastructure.
Meanwhile, a helpful use of the TSAC’s first quarterly report to the Select Board might be to review where we have been since a prioritization plan was rolled out in 2019 to implement the town’s Complete Streets policy and where the committee hopes to go from here, now that the policy is under its purview.
We do have a slight concern that the town employee appointees on the committees outnumber the members of the public on the committee, four to three. We acknowledge that with any such body, it can be tricky to strike the proper balance between institutional expertise and activist energy. We just hope that the town officials’ effective veto power does not become a mechanism to stifle innovation in favor of the status quo, if evidence suggests a new approach might produce meaningful progress.
As Albert wrote in a letter to the editor to the Current before Town Meeting: “Let me be clear: This isn’t about surrendering our streets to bicycles. It isn’t about usurping the role of the [Police Department], the [Department of Public Works] or the executive branch. It is about making life less stressful and more pleasant for all road users, no matter how they choose to move.”
That should be a goal all can rally around and welcome contributions toward, no matter from whence they come.
The Current Editorial Board
The members of the Current’s editorial board are Ed Bell, who serves as chairman, and Virginia Buckingham, both members of the Current’s board of directors; Kris Olson and Will Dowd, members of the Current’s editorial staff; and Robert Peck and Joseph P. Kahn. Peck is an attorney, former chairman of Marblehead’s Finance Committee and a former Select Board member. Kahn is a retired Boston Globe journalist.