Letter:  When Choosing Site Of New School, Consider Traffic

Wildwood School bus departure. Photo: Toni Cunningham

The following letter was sent to the Elementary School Building Committee on May 3, 2022.

As you study the choice of which school site will “soon” house the merged Wildwood and Fort River schools, I’d like to make this obvious point.

There are many factors to consider, and one is traffic, and the impact on the neighborhood.

Having lived on Strong Street for almost 30 years (and having 2 children who attended Wildwood School), I am concerned that the increase in traffic resulting from a new, larger school will further complicate an already super-congested intersection. The traffic in both directions on East Pleasant, worsened by cars emerging from UMass on Clark Hill Road, make that intersection inconvenient, any time of day. I never use it during the beginning and ending of the school day, it’s just a tangle. Almost doubling the traffic will be ridiculous.

And a rotary there will be obnoxious! If you look at the traffic at the rotary on the north of downtown, when there are many UMass students and employees going in and out of UMass, they seem (to me) to be the most inconsiderate, zipping through the roundabout like there are no others trying to enter and exit from north and south. Clark Hill Road traffic will likely have the same tendencies.

Fort River School seems (to me) to have much greater capacity for entry and exit.

But also, I’d hate to see either site sold off to private development. Those sites are public resources, in a time where we don’t know if one day we’ll need another school building, or currently, when we need a place for a teen center, a senior center, early childhood education, LSSE, and more. 

Ira Bryck

Ira Bryck has lived in Amherst since 1993, ran the Family Business Center for 25 years, hosted the “Western Mass. Business Show” on WHMP for seven years, now coaches business leaders, and is a big fan of Amherst’s downtown.

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7 thoughts on “Letter:  When Choosing Site Of New School, Consider Traffic

  1. That report does not appear to consider traffic volume on the existing roadways, just the traffic to and from the school. I would be very interested in the comparison between the two sites when it comes to traffic across the access driveways between the two sites.

  2. It was good to see that at the Elementary School Building Committee meeting on Friday, 5/6, so much time was spent reviewing the results of the recent traffic study (link in the comments above) and discussing the already congested intersections and other traffic issues near both Fort River and Wildwood — even without the new consolidated school — and how the current conditions could be improved. It was mentioned that currently at Fort River, during arrival and dismissal times, custodial staff are assigned to help with the traffic and ensure that students walking/biking to school stay safe at crossings. Unfortunately, improvements to fix the current issues would largely be made off-site of the new school and therefore not eligible for MSBA funding. Other sources of funding could be available. In thinking about the traffic at the schools, it’s important to consider both the car traffic, but students who walk/bike to school as well, and also families in the school’s sending zones who don’t own cars and therefore may rely on transit or walking/biking themselves when they has to go to school. (Way back when, when the Marks Meadow school was open, it was easy walking distance for the families who lived at UMass North Village apartments).
    One other comment: I noticed during Friday’s ESBC meeting and in this column as well, that the terms “roundabout” and “rotary” are sometimes being used interchangeably. Rotaries and roundabouts are not the same in their design nor their main functions. Rotaries are quite large and focused on improving traffic flow and traffic speeds by eliminating intersections where vehicles would need to stop. They do not consider pedestrian or bike safety. Rotary example: South Hadley has a rotary on Route 202 near the Holyoke bridge. Roundabouts are smaller than rotaries, and some roundabouts are only single-lane. With the smaller size of roundabouts, cars must slow significantly while going through them. Roundabouts are designed to calm traffic. Roundabouts, especially single lane-roundabouts, when well designed can significantly improve pedestrian safety over a standard signalized intersection. There are many few fatal and serious crashes reported at roundabouts than other intersections — in part because roundabouts eliminate some of the most dangerous crash types such as a T-crash — with vehicles hitting each other at a perpendicular angle — and running red light crashes.
    MA Dept of Transportation (MassDOT) web site on roundabouts: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/what-are-roundabouts
    MassDOT difference between a roundabout & a rotary: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/what-are-roundabouts#how-are-roundabouts-different-from-rotaries?-
    MassDOT guidelines for roundabout design: https://www.mass.gov/lists/guidelines-for-the-planning-and-design-of-roundabouts

  3. At the most recent building committee meeting, Councilor Walker astutely pointed out that South East St between College and Main Streets will be impacted regardless of which site is chosen for the school. Anyone who lives southeast of these intersections (and is not redistricted to Crocker Farm) would pass through (at least one of) them to get to either Fort River or Wildwood. The need to improve the traffic flow at this location would hold for a consolidated school at either Wildwood or Fort River.

    On the other hand, a roundabout at the entrance to Wildwood would only be necessary, and purely at the expense of the Town, if Wildwood is chosen for the school. The other recommendation of a second entrance/exit onto Strong Street would likewise be a Wildwood-only expense and also ineligible for MSBA funding. However, the steep slope and limited sight lines along Strong St make it very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

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