PUBLIC SAFETY: Revisiting Pleasant Street’s safety after recent fatality

The recent death of 80-year-old Karl Johnson after being hit on Pleasant Street has renewed attention on pedestrian and bicyclist safety on the busy road.

A blue ribbon is tied to a tree near the site where 15-year-old Allie Castner was fatally struck by a vehicle while crossing Pleasant Street in 2009. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

Johnson was hit while crossing Pleasant between Smith Street and Mohawk Road. Police Chief Dennis King said the cause remains under active investigation.

Johnson’s death comes 14 years after Allie Castner, a 15-year-old Marblehead High School student, was killed a stone’s throw away from where a vehicle struck Johnson.

Pleasant Street is a two-lane road that intersects with several major cross streets leading to schools, residential neighborhoods and downtown Marblehead. Sections with commercial development and on-street parking limit sight lines for turning vehicles and mid-block crosswalks.

“Pleasant Street between the Rail Trail crossing and Smith Street/Baldwin Road has had a history of being one of the most dangerous stretches of roadway in town,” resident Peter Reuner wrote in a letter to the Marblehead Current. “Look at the ribbons and flowers on one of the trees nearby and be reminded each time you pass to ‘Slow Down for Allie.'”

Resident Dan Albert, a local safe streets advocate who has researched Pleasant Street, called for more action.

“Speeding continues to be a problem along the 25 mph roadway, despite the recent fatalities and ongoing concerns,” said Albert. “We have lots of data to show us the danger points. And those are not crash data.”

He added, “I would like to know, ‘How are the police using the data that they have from the new speed advisory signs?'”

Albert argues that the busy corridor should be evaluated for a “road diet,” reducing lanes and lane widths to slow cars.

“Pleasant Street may be wide enough to accommodate more and current traffic volumes, including bicycle lanes,” he said. “Narrower lanes themselves can slow speeds. So there are two benefits — slower traffic and more space for other uses.”

Town officials note traffic and street changes should occur as incremental steps to improve safety through traffic calming and enhanced visibility of crosswalks.

In 2022, the town installed bump-outs at three crosswalks along Pleasant Street near Mohawk Road, Smith Street, and on West Shore Drive. The curb extensions narrow the roadway width at crossing points to reduce pedestrian exposure and slow approaching traffic.

Additionally, a redesign of the Vine/Pleasant/Village/Cross intersection was completed. The project realigned Vine Street to form a simplified T-intersection with Pleasant Street. Other upgrades include narrowing and realigning Pleasant Street to shorten crosswalks, adding new sidewalks and lighting, and making Americans with Disabilities Act-accessibility improvements.

“It’s a repeating pattern, and that’s a very strong concern,” said Marblehead Select Board member Moses Grader of Pleasant Street accidents. “The police chief is apprised of this and understands the history of that stretch.”

Grader will advocate that the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee look into Pleasant Street and offer its recommendations to the Select Board. Meanwhile, Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer said it’s too early to speculate on Pleasant Street changes.

“Everything is dependent upon the accident investigation,” he said. “We have to wait to see what comes out of that investigation.”

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