Select Board names 3 to traffic committee, struggles with depth of candidate pool

In what they agreed was an agonizingly difficult choice given the quality of the candidate pool, Select Board members chose David Kucharsky, Gary Hebert and Rick Smyers to fill the three public seats on the town’s new Traffic Safety Advisory Committee at their Oct. 11 meeting.

Town Meeting created the committee by approving Article 49 on the warrant this past May. The article was sponsored by resident Dan Albert, who did doctoral work in transportation at the University of Michigan and has spent decades researching, studying and writing about transportation safety issues.

Albert was among the 11 candidates for the committee interviewed by the Select Board, and he was not the only candidate with deep experience and a demonstrated passion for helping drivers, cyclists and pedestrians share the road safely left without a seat.

Kucharsky has 25 years of transportation planning experience and currently serves as Salem’s traffic and parking director. In that role, he oversees the city’s Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program and was also involved with the implementation of Salem’s Complete Streets Prioritization Plan and Bike Master Plan.
“I live and breathe this stuff,” Kucharsky told the Select Board.

Asked for an example of his effective service as part of a team, Kucharsky pointed to his time as planning director in Lexington, where he chaired the town’s Transportation Safety Working Group, which evaluated traffic safety requests.

He stressed the importance of using hard data and established criteria to guide decision making.
“Maintaining objectivity in all projects is something that I aspire to do,” he said.

In the first round of voting, Kucharsky was the only candidate to get the support of all five members of the Select Board and on that basis received the longest initial term on the committee, expiring in 2026.

As noted on his resume, Hebert has extensive experience in project management, traffic and transportation engineering and transit planning. Among the myriad parking and safety studies he has worked on, Hebert served as the lead analyst for the Phase II Complete Streets study in Marblehead.

Hebert first expressed interest in serving on the new committee back in June, having had the opportunity flagged by Fire Chief Jason Gilliland, he explained in his initial email to Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer.

Hebert told the Select Board that he had been semi-retired since 2014 and officially retired last year. Even during his semi-retirement, Hebert had conducted a “multi-scenario traffic engineering study” for the Groton Hill Music Center, which opened last year, a facility that “rivals Tanglewood,” Hebert told the Select Board.

Through his long work in the field, Hebert said that he has come to understand that public safety and political officials all bring different perspectives and incentives to projects in which traffic safety may be only one consideration.

How those conflicts are resolved “may not be your personal best solution,” he said. But that mattered less than having “things that work.”

In the first round of voting, Hebert received a vote from four members of the Select Board — all but Jim Nye — and was appointed to a term expiring in 2025.

The last seat came down to either Smyers, who works at Fidelity and helped spearhead the creation of the bike park at Green Street Woods, and Byron Rizos, a recently retired 42-year veteran of the Massachusetts State Police who had worked closely with the state Highway Department and North Shore police departments to manage traffic and mitigate accidents.

Of the effort to get the trails and bike park established, Smyers told the Select Board that at the outset he somewhat naively thought it would be a relatively simple matter. The project wound up requiring the involvement of several different town boards, including the School Committee, Recreation and Parks Commission and Conservation Commission. The Finance Committee was also consulted to ensure that there would be no budgetary implications to the project.

Even the town’s tree warden had to be consulted to ensure that a couple of trees were removed properly, Smyers explained.

But in the end, the effort was worth it, Smyers said.

“The trails are in use all the time, and the kids love it,” he said. “It is an asset for the town.”
Smyers confessed that he would bring a “little bias” in favor of pedestrian and bicycle safety to the committee but added that the roads affect everyone in town — even those just looking out the windows of their homes at passing traffic.

In his cover letter, he said his corporate experience made him deeply appreciative of “the need for cost-benefit analysis, logical, common- sense decision making, and open collaboration.”

After both Smyers and Rizos received two votes in the first round of voting, the tie was broken in Smyers’ favor. Chair Erin Noonan, Alexa Singer and Bret Murray supported Smyers, while Nye and Moses Grader supported Rizos. Smyers will have to seek reappointment next year.

At the end of her public interview, the only woman to apply for a seat on the committee, professional storyteller and leader of Sustainable Marblehead’s transportation working group Judith Black, turned the tables on the board.

“What kind of teeth would this committee have?” she asked.

After Noonan explained that it would be advisory to the Select Board, Black replied, “So, no teeth.” Around the midway point of the candidate interviews, board members began to realize what a difficult choice they had before them.

The board had just finished interviewing Russell King — an avid cyclist who had worked as a systems engineer for the Mitre corporation, as an educator at the Museum of Science, as a journalist and public relations specialist with a focus on technology and finally as a public high school math teacher — when Murray asked semi-seriously, “Can we expand the committee?”

In the hallway outside the Select Board meeting room, candidates reportedly bonded over their mutual interest in traffic safety while waiting for their turn to be interviewed.

Before casting his first set of three votes, Grader remarked that the board was “spoiled for choice,” which was a “wonderful situation.”

“But it’s brutal to make these kinds of decisions,” he said.

Nye would later add that he hoped many of those not appointed would “still stay involved.”

After the resident members were appointed, the board also took a vote to round out the committee by appointing four town department heads or their designees: the police chief, the fire chief, the public works director and the town engineer. Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer will serve as an ex officio (non-voting) member of the committee.

As described in last May’s Town Meeting article, the committee was established to implement the Marblehead Complete Streets Policy and evaluate public safety issues involving traffic, roads and other transportation infrastructure in town.

The committee is to meet monthly and then make quarterly reports to the Select Board.

In the leadup to Town Meeting, Albert explained that one of his goals with the article was to resuscitate and consolidate the functions of at least two committees that had 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,” he said at a League of Women Voters forum in April.

Albert told the Current that he did not consider it a “snub” not to be appointed to a committee he worked to create. More important, he said, was the overwhelming amount of interest residents showed in serving on the committee.

“For what other committee in the history of Marblead did that many people apply?” he said.
Now, it is a matter of the committee living up to its promise, he added.

“The TSAC should give everyone in Marblehead hope that we will actually fulfill the mandates of the Complete Streets Policy to provide safe, healthful and sustainable mobility for all,” he said.

If in the coming months the committee seems to be falling short of his initial vision, Albert suggested he would not be shy about going back to Town Meeting to request the bylaw be amended.

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