Conservation Associates Plant Walk June 20. See below

Traffic Control Downtown

by Mary Greendale
August 18, 2009

Do you have an opinion about traffic control downtown?


Below is the opening for the upcoming taping (8/20) of “Just Thinking,” seen on HCAT TV, channel 8 on Comcast and Channel 32 on Verizon. . “Just Thinking” is regularly shown at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and at other times throughout the week. Please tune in for the discussion and be sure to submit comments here before the show, or after, to get your viewpoints included in what will no doubt take longer than one show.

Do you have an opinion about traffic control downtown?

Below is the opening for the upcoming taping (8/20) of “Just Thinking,” seen on HCAT TV, channel 8 on Comcast and Channel 32 on Verizon. . “Just Thinking” is regularly shown at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and at other times throughout the week. Please tune in for the discussion and be sure to submit comments here before the show, or after, to get your viewpoints included in what will no doubt take longer than one show.

A friend and I opened a plant shop downtown in 1975 on Central Street around the corner from Fiske’s. Today it is the seating area of Pejamajo’s. We sold plants and gifts and holiday centerpieces. I had always been active in town, but no matter how involved I got – even as a Selectman – I was never as aware of what was happening in town as I was when I operated The Plant Place.

I learned that downtown really has three separate populations in it. The people who live and work there, the people who come to shop or visit there, and those who are just driving through. For years, some people in town advocated creating a by-pass that would siphon traffic from Washington Street down the abandoned rail tracks to Sherborn. Let them deal with the cars! But, merchants worried that they would lose customers and a combination of cost, resistance and inertia settled in, so we find ourselves years later still suffering the traffic downtown.

As a member of the downtown community, you quickly learn that screeching brakes are commonplace as people try to come to sudden stops to allow for pedestrians or to avoid a collision. We’ve had traffic studies all the way back to the 70’s that explored the use of traffic lights for Central Street; but again, the combination of cost, resistance and inertia set in, so folks  just cringe at the sounds and if the noise goes beyond the norm, they quickly run to windows to check.

Everyone laments that “someday, someone is really going to get hurt or killed.”  And at least two pedestrians have been seriously injured as a result of being struck by cars. It took years for one woman to come close to physical recovery, to say nothing of the emotional recovery. Just last year, the local barber was hit, too, and while he sustained fewer injuries, the trauma was serious nonetheless. Fortunately, the victims have not been children.

When I served on the Board of Selectmen in the 1980’s and then again in the 1990’s, we always had some discussions going on about traffic control in the downtown, whether lights or added patrols or a police officer stationed there. Old timers would tell us that there was a day when there was a police officer downtown regularly.

The most recent attempt by Selectmen has been to install the overhead pedestrian lights. These have received mixed reviews and had a few bugs in their operation to begin with. I, for one, like the lights. I’m still very cautious crossing Washington Street, but I feel that I have at least a bit better defense than I had without them.

But the lights can’t solve the real problem and that is that the traffic moves through the center of town too fast. I think motorists sail along the four-lane section in front of the churches and forget to ease off the accelerator. They have a head of steam and just don’t wake up in time. Even trucks roll through at inappropriate speeds. I have witnessed 18-wheelers screeching to a halt, trailers threatening to jackknife. It’s downright terrifying.

Which brings me to today’s show. Paul Shea, local attorney and lifelong resident, has his office right next door to the Mobil station and his office window overlooks the square. He has the bird’s eye view of the traffic. He phoned me a couple of weeks ago to vent his frustration and to ask what I thought could be done about it.

After some discussion, it seemed like the best idea was to have the Police Chief and the Chair of the Board of Selectmen join us to explore the problems and potential solutions. Chief Tom Lambert was a good sport to agree to appear since he had just taped last month’s show with me. Andy Porter is here as is Paul Shea. So let’s get started. 


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Comments (15)

Mr. Vernon has proposed the simplest and so far the best solution. HR has been calling for red lights since DAY ONE. Adding to the cost but well worth it in my opinion, would be to delete the crosswalk in at Central Street. It will never be safe for the reason Michelle has voiced on several occassions. I still like a rotary at Hollis Street to eliminate all those accidents caused by cars turning left there. Driving through from Central to the right of those trying to turn left onto Hollis, while the Hollis cars turn left onto Washington, results in many a crash. A rotary would force everyone to go around a center island and eliminate the hazard.

- Paul Saulnier | 8/20/09 11:34 PM

On "Taxi" the Reverend Jim repeatedly asked, "WHAT DOES A YELOOW LIGHT MEAN?" The answer was also repeated several times, "SLOW DOWN." Red and yellow means stop for crossing pedestrians.

- Lou | 8/20/09 12:49 PM

As a Certified Safety Professional (CSP No. 12302)with over 25 years of experience, I'd like to echo what most commenters have eluded to; that it is just a matter of time before there is a fatal pedestrian accident in Holliston's square. The solution is obvious and simple; constant flashing yellow lights at each crosswalk which would switch over to a solid red light when a pedstrian pushes the cross button, thus requiring cars to stop. The yellow lights would act as a proceed with caution signal to slow down through traffic, and the red light would require a full stop for pedestrians. I have had a second home in North Conway, NH for more than 20 years and they have a similar situation in their downtown, which is bisected by NH Route 16. They have push-to-walk buttons at all crosswalks which activate a solid red light and this has been very effective in ensuring pedestrian safety. This is the only viable solution that will provide the required level of safety for Holliston's downtown pedestrian traffic.

- Pete Vernon | 8/20/09 11:51 AM

I completely agree with Dianna -- I have thought for years that the downtown really does need traffic lights at Hollis and Washington, and Central and Washington. Anyone witnessing an attempt by drivers to make left-hand turns during rush hours, as well as right after high school lets out, would realize that the drivers are really trying just to make that left-hand turn, and are looking for pedestrians as an after-thought. I realize that there is resistance to traffic lights. But they work. The multiple solutions that have been tried (and money spent on) have not made a difference. Have they?

- Anita Ballesteros | 8/20/09 11:19 AM

I'm so glad we're having this conversation. Driving my kids to and fro requires me to cross through downtown many times a day, and it is stressful! It seems to me that regular red-yellow-green traffic lights are the only realistic way to make drivers stop for pedestrians and to enable safe left-hand turns onto Washington from Central, and onto Washingon from Hollis, and from Washington onto those two streets. Pedestrians, especially, are in great danger in Holliston. I have seen really scary close calls: drivers often cannot perceive the flashing yellows with all of the other, considerable, distractions in the town center. Sometimes the lights aren't even flashing. Unfortunately, even if more aggressive drivers do see the lights or pedestrians, they often won't stop. The flashing yellow crosswalks are not working. Let's just get true traffic lights installed (with left turn arrows) and make life simpler and safer for everyone. Dianna Vosburg

- Dianna Vosburg | 8/20/09 1:30 AM

Mary, I have a difficult time visualizing (I usually need to see a drawing). Are you talking about something like Rt. 140 in Franklin? Also, I know I keep saying this, but I feel it's important. I've witnessed close calls from people who are turning right off of Central onto Washington. They were looking to the left at oncoming traffic and didn't see pedestrians crossing tot he right, until it was almost too late. The flashing yellow lights (which, as Don pointed out should be red) aren't clearly visible to Central St drivers.

- Michelle Zeamer | 8/19/09 7:03 PM

I used to live in Newton. There, the intersection of Watertown Street (also Rte 16) and Adams Street is just as, or more busy, than Holliston center. But it has a real traffic light that turns red and yellow when pedestrians push the button. It is much safer that our system of sometimes activated yellow lights.

- Lou | 8/19/09 6:50 PM

If State law requires a STOP for pedestrians in the crosswalk, why do our lights wrongly signal a yield and proceed with caution Yellow? On the notion that if you slow some drivers you slow traffic, might the town install EZPASS detectors on RT16 at the entrance and exit to downtown. Then fine the accounts of vehicles that transit that distance faster then a reasonable adherence to the speed limit would allow? A policy that had all town vehicles stopping at each downtown crosswalk regardless of signal activation or functioning as pace cars on RT16 would also reduce overall traffic speed.

- Don MacLeod | 8/19/09 4:12 PM

A friend emailed this to me. It is similar to an idea that surfaced in the mid-80's, though that loop went to Railroad St.. What do you think? I've often thought that using the block that Fiske's is on would make a nice one-way loop - not sure how the state would feel about us re-organizing 16 - but it would create a much larger down-town area and 'expand' the business district of Holliston and allow for more store fronts. 1. Traveling eastbound on 16 you would have to take the right onto Central and then the left on Fruit (Table top CVS) then another left onto Charles. Making central street one way headed toward Medway at that portion. 2. All central street traffic going into town would have to take a right at CVS and then a left the left on Fruit (Table top CVS) then another left onto Charles and join rt. 16 eastbound. 3. Hollis and Charles traffic would have the option to go either east or west on 16 and make getting out of Hollis MUCH easier than it is. 4. Westbound traffic would be unaffected and continue on 16 - this would also create a LARGE angled-parking area that would have been the eastbound side of 16. From my count there are 4 residences on the loop that would be affected& arguably it may 'increase' the values of the properties but who knows

- Mary Greendale | 8/19/09 2:47 PM

I have one specific observation regarding the current downtown crosswalks. There are two parking spaces in front of the Superette. As vehicles drive into the downtown area heading west, and if cars are parked in these spaces, drivers cannot see pedestrians as they enter the crosswalk. Unseen pedestrians step out from behind the parked vehicles. Because there is a left turn lane, and a through travel lane the pedestian steps into the through travel lane without being seen. In my opinion at least one of these two parking spaces (if not both) should be eliminated.

- Rich Girvin | 8/19/09 2:30 PM

While certainly pedestrians have a responsibility to be as safe as possible crossing (only use crosswalks, look both ways, try to activate the lights, don't jump out into traffic, etc.), it seems to me that we have never been serious about enforcing crosswalk regulations - there is limited police presence downtown on a regular basis (on the "beat", not in a cruiser), seemingly particularly on days/times when there is heavy traffic. Some towns are known to residents and travelers alike as being real serious about enforcing pedestrian safety, and I think traffic moves accordingly. It would seem appropriate if a real priority could be to have a special or regular officer on the sidewalk at one of the crosswalks, assist with crossings (esp for elderly and mothers with small children) and whistle down and ticket any offenders. I bet after a few weeks, most folks would begin to get the message. Also, how about crosswalk warning markers in the crosswalks, as in some towns? And I know our police do a superb job, and are stretched thin with all they have to do now, but how about using deputized or special officers? I think some folks would be happy to donate unpaid time occasionally (I would) to help keep our town safer for us all.

- Kevin Robert Malone | 8/19/09 1:57 PM

It would be nice if one knew if the yellow lights were actually activated or not. They are next to impossible to see for a person crossing and I hear from motorists that they are to high, so watching to see if the lights are flashing takes away from watching to see if someone is in the crosswalk.

- jackie dellicker | 8/19/09 1:41 PM

I'm not sure there is any (one) solution to the downtown traffic mess. Having crossed Washington St. downtown as a mailman for 25 years I had to use what I was told as a child (look both ways), plus a 6th sense of always looking and listening over my left shoulder. Cookie Bray is correct in her comments about a false sense of security while crossing the street. While driving yesterday I encountered the yellow pedestrian lights flashing in front of the library and not a person in sight. 150 ft. further a mother and child in the crosswalk in front of the Superette, yet the lights weren't activated. Education may be the answer. If anything, the pedestrian lights have slowed my driving when entering the town square. Others are oblivious to the lights as I was almost run down after attending a concert at Goodwill Park and in the middle of the crosswalk recently.

- Bobby Blair | 8/19/09 1:33 PM

Please, no more fancy electronic gadgets and associated signage downtown. KISS. I just returned from two weeks in England - a week in the countryside and a week in London. Except for the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the road, they seem to have solved their intersection problems with "roundabouts". Some of these rotaries consist of only a painted circle in the middle of the intersection. Some are two lanes wide but the majority are just one lane. Cars stop or slow down to allow the car in the rotary to get by. Even during rush hour, traffic moved well. I never heard a horn blow nor saw any form of road rage. There were rotaries as close as they would be at Hollis and Central (hint).

- Paul Saulnier | 8/19/09 12:23 PM

Mary everthing you have said is correct I have been watching this situation all these years....I find the lights give a false sense of security and for the drivers no matter how slowly you approach the downtown area you a desperatly trying to watch the lights,the crosswalk,etc. there is only one thing that will help the cause for safety and that is a person with it police officer or speacial officer to be present and active...very quickly you will see them either take another route or they will slow down if not they can pay the price of a ticket...thank you for the opportunity to vent......

- lucille bray | 8/19/09 12:23 PM



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