LETTER: Context needed on Pleasant Street safety issues

To the editor:

Peter Reuner wrote to ask “the town and police” to fix the stretch of Pleasant Street between Smith Street and the Rail Trail where an elderly man was seriously injured after being struck by an automobile. There have been a number of such open letters around traffic and mobility issues in recent weeks. Here is some historical context that Mr. Reuner might find helpful. 

Approaching Smith Street inbound, Pleasant has two through (straight ahead) lanes. After crossing Smith Street, drivers have 200 feet in which to merge. Drivers accelerate to “win” this merge, which means cars speeding past the school crossing at the Rail Trail and all the way to the fire station. The MPD could solve this problem tomorrow by making the right hand, inbound lane, a right turn only lane at Smith Street. 

Contrary to popular belief, the town has the power to do this without MassDOT approval. It does not need a traffic study to create a temporary traffic change, say a two month trial. Salem and Swampscott conduct such experiments all the time.

Mr. Reuner also suggests adding a school zone. Until this year, that wouldn’t have been possible. But, the updated Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices now allows creating school safety zones around high schools. That change means that the town could (by my measurements) make the entirety of Pleasant from Maple to Village Streets a 20 mile per hour school zone. Furthermore, the town continues to treat the Rail Trail/Pleasant Street crossing as is a school crossing, which the MPD implicitly recognizes by stationing a crossing guard at that location. 

The MUTCD allows more robust traffic mitigation strategies at school crossings but the town has never considered these.

There’s plenty of reasons to be disappointed in town officials around traffic safety. But taxpayers also have themselves to blame. In 2010, voters rejected an override to fund a $1.64 million safety improvement project for Pleasant Street between Smith and Village. The state would have kicked in $400,000 and the cost would have amounted to $15 for the average taxpayer. Of course the Select Board at the time could have provided leadership and explained the importance of this particular override, especially following the death of Allie Castner.

Mr. Reuner should be commended for taking the time to write the editors to express his views, and we should all thank the Current for publishing it. It’s unfortunate, however, that the public can only communicate on the record with town officials through the media.

Dan Albert

Leicester Road

Letter to the editor
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