Town Council and the Council’s Town Services and Organization Committee (TSO) hosted two online public forums on the Pomeroy Village intersection project last week. The first forum, on March 25, had 38 participants, including 21 attendees from the public, and 17 Council members and Town staff members. The second forum on March 27, included 32 participants: 19 public attendees, and 13 Council members and staff.
At each forum, TSO Chairperson Darcy DuMont, Town Manager Paul Bockelman, and Amherst Planning Director Christine Brestrup provided a brief overview of the project, the Council’s involvement, and the public forums. The primary goal of the public forums is to hear from the public and gather feedback on people’s travel to and through the Pomeroy Village area, their primary concerns, and what improvements they consider most important for this project. (A link to the Town’s brief forum presentation is here).
In 2020, Amherst received a $1.5 million MassWorks state grant to enhance infrastructure and improve traffic safety, including for pedestrian and bicyclists, at the intersection of West Street (Route 116) and Pomeroy and West Pomeroy Lanes. (See here for previous reporting in the Indy). It is anticipated that these improvements will spur new economic development and residential development as well. Some new businesses and multi-unit residential projects are already being planned near the intersection.
The Town of Amherst is considering two primary design options for upgrading the intersection to make it safer and more functional. The first option is an enhanced signalized intersection. The second option is a roundabout. The current project timeframe calls for the Council to approve one of these two options by June 2021. The Council and Town staff are currently conducting outreach, including these public forums, neighborhood meetings, and outreach to property and business owners, to help inform the Council’s decision.
Over twenty members of the public spoke at the two forums combined. Almost all were South Amherst residents. Six were Pomeroy Village business owners or employees. In their comments, almost every speaker expressed the need for better walking access to Pomeroy Village, including more and better sidewalks, and crosswalks. Some mentioned the need for pedestrian crossing signals. The intersection currently has none. One person, Felice DiMartino, who was previously a teacher at the Pomeroy Village-based Montessori School, spoke about a very serious, life-altering accident she had in 2015. After leaving the school one day, she was walking across the street at the intersection and was hit by a large truck. Di Martino sustained numerous broken bones, internal bleeding, and a traumatic brain injury. DiMartino asked for better, safer crosswalks at the intersection and for the traffic signal timing to be changed to give pedestrians more time to cross, and also for a pause from when the green light switches from the vehicle traffic in one direction (for example, north and south), to the other (east and west). She also mentioned concerns about visual glare that drivers can encounter at night from lighting at nearby businesses.
A current Amherst Montessori staff person, Julie Tanguay, described that it is difficult for Amherst Montessori families to walk to school, saying “that intersection is incredibly challenging,” sidewalks are inconsistent, and it is hard for families to cross safely.
Megan St. Marie, an Orchard Valley resident who also owns Modern Memoirs (495 West Street), and who brings her young children to Pomeroy Village, including for school and daycare, discussed the importance of safety at the intersection especially for families and kids. St. Marie would like to expand her business at its current location. St. Marie expressed concerns about having a roundabout at the intersection, saying that “roundabouts aren’t pedestrian friendly because there aren’t any hard stops for vehicles.”
Mixed Reviews For Roundabouts
Half the residents who spoke at the forums said they did not support a roundabout at the intersection, with a number mentioning the vehicle speeds and limited pedestrian access at the Atkins Corner roundabouts for comparison. Catherine Bell (South East Street) stated that “Roundabouts have a traffic uncalming effect.” Susan Lewandowski (Pomeroy Lane) said she doesn’t think that a roundabout would be a good idea because traffic needs to be slowed down.
Others felt differently. Mary Hoyer (Amherst Woods), stated that she would prefer a roundabout at the intersection because they are better for the environment, and because they are safer for pedestrians since the crosswalk crossing distance can be shorter than at a traditional 4-way intersection. Erika Zekos (Hulst Lane) said she would like to see data on whether roundabouts are safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. She also mentioned that roundabouts can be environmentally friendly because they reduce vehicle queuing and idling.
In previous presentations and discussions, such as at a January Town Council meeting, and a Community Chat held the same day as the first forum, Town officials noted that whichever design is selected, this project will make considerable improvements to the intersection for pedestrians and bicyclists. These improvements including new crosswalks on all four legs of the intersection, upgraded/new sidewalks on each street, curb curbs to connect the sidewalks and the streets for better, safer crossings and ADA compliance, upgraded bus stops, new bike lanes on-road, and a multi-use path for walking and biking on the west side of West Street. The level of pedestrian safety and access improvements planned for this intersection are greater than what is present at the Atkins Corner roundabouts, which combined have only one crosswalk, at Bay Road.
At Saturday’s forum, Department of Public Works (DPW) Superintendent Guilford Mooring indicated that if an enhanced signalized intersection is selected, there will be pedestrian activated crossing buttons for each crosswalk (there are currently none). Mooring said that if a roundabout is chosen, the Town is leaning towards installing Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) with audible signals. This would enhance pedestrian access and safety including for visually impaired pedestrians. RRFBs have been installed at numerous roundabouts around the US, including in the Five Corners business district and walkable neighborhood in Edmonds, Washington, and they are mentioned in the current Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Guidelines for the Planning and Design of Roundabouts.
At one forum, Noah Loving (Coach Lane) said that his priority was improved pedestrian safety and walkability. He would also like to see bike lanes included in the project, but considered them less of a priority. He asked how new bike lanes at this intersection would connect to other bike infrastructure and if those adjacent streets would get improved bike access as well.
A number of speakers said they’d like improved pedestrian connections beyond the intersection itself, including to the Crocker Farm Elementary School, the South Amherst Common, Orchard Valley, and the Hickory Ridge property. Town staff indicated that the project grant ($1.5 million) is insufficient to do work beyond the Pomeroy Village intersection, but that increased connectivity to these other areas is important to the Town as well. In addition to funding, one other limiting factor is restrictions on construction in wetland areas, such as along West Pomeroy and Pomeroy Lanes. On Pomeroy Lane, there is currently a sidewalk most of the way from Pomeroy Village to the South Amherst common. However, due to wetlands, there is a gap about 0.2 miles long near the bridge over the Plum Brook, and without a sidewalk on this section, it feels less safe.
Heath Atchley, a business owner (Aikido of Amherst) and resident (West Street), asked about how the project might encroach on private property. Guilford Mooring indicated that either intersection design could involve some property takings at the intersection. Atchley also stated that with the enhanced signalized intersection if turning lanes need to be added to Pomeroy or West Pomeroy Lanes, in addition to having turning lanes on West Street, there could be more takings with that design than a roundabout. He also expressed concerns about vehicles exiting nearby businesses and needing to turn left across traffic could be impacted by the intersection’s redesign. Other commenters stated concerns about the traffic and parking overflow at Mission Cantina on busy nights and about that restaurant and its customers being negatively impacted as well.
After the Town Council selects a preferred design, the project consultant will begin the engineering survey and design work. The project’s current timeframe calls for construction to start during summer 2022 and finish in late 2023.
Additional Opportunities for the Public to Provide Feedback on the Pomeroy Village Project
Engage Amherst web page for the project (engageamherst.org/pomeroy) lets people share their comments and ideas. There is also now a survey on the web page to learn more about the people’s experiences with the intersection and their desired improvements.
Contact the Town Council, email: email@example.com
Design Review Board: April 5th at 5 p.m. (meeting agenda and Zoom link here).TSO: April 8th (discussion) and April 22nd (expected vote)