Report on the Meeting of the Town Services and Outreach Committee, December 7, 2024
This meeting was held on Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.
Anika Lopes (Chair, District 4), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5), Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), Dorothy Pam (District 3), and Andy Steinberg (at large)
Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager)
Neighbors and Parents Near Cushman Scott Children’s Center Express Safety Concerns
Several residents living near the Cushman Scott Children’s Center and parents of children attending the center advocated at this Town Services and Outreach (TSO) Committee meeting for immediate institution of traffic calming measures on Henry Street near the Center. The Town Council recently approved the creation of “safety zones” to protect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and children. The parking lot for the children’s center is across Henry Street from the school, and, according to a police study, 30 to 40% of the cars traveling past the center exceed the 25 mph speed limit.
Parent Jeremy Anderson noted that at its November 30 meeting, the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) recommended electronic speed awareness signs that could be solar powered and installed for a few thousand dollars, but deferred recommendation for any other traffic- calming measures until after an engineering study is done when UMass students return for spring semester. Anderson objected to further delay in addressing the safety of children in this area, saying the public has raised concerns for the past 30 years. He would like to see speed humps in front of the center, saying the school could place temporary rubberized speed humps until permanent ones could be installed. He added that Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring indicated that the town could be liable for any serious injuries or deaths that occurred at the site and that judges have recently awarded families in excess of $10 million for the negligent and wrongful deaths of children. He concluded, “Please take action today and save the life of a child, and the families that live on Henry Street.”
Michelle Labbe also noted that residents of Henry Street have made requests for safety measures time and time again over the past 30 years. Massachusetts Department of Transportation allows towns to create safety zones when usual guidelines are insufficient for local conditions, so the Town Council could create a safety zone today, and lower the speed limit to 20 mph, authorize speed bumps, or implement any of the many other recommendations from residents to ensure the safety of vulnerable populations.
Dan Wood, who lives on Henry Street and has a five-year-old daughter who attends the Cushman Scott Center urged the TSO to take action immediately and institute a safety zone. He acknowledged that the TAC memo said that three-way stop signs are often ineffective, but said that the intersection of Henry Street and Pine Street, just north of the children’s center is a “tough intersection” due to trees obstructing sight lines and cars speeding north on Henry Street. He said that changes would allow everybody to navigate the area successfully.
Aaron Shragge, whose daughter will start at the center in the fall, said he avoids the intersection of Pine and Henry Streets due to safety concerns. He opined, “Inaction is begging for something to happen. It’s extremely unsafe, especially this time of year when, if anyone is picking up their children, it’s very dark.” Another parent, Heather Denno, agreed, saying, ”You’re looking at logistics, and you’re having to consider things that are financial. That makes sense for the town, but I think the humanity of it is really important and to just think about someone having to lose their child in order to make something happen would be overly tragic.”
TAC Responds to Parents’ Concerns
TAC Chair Tracy Zafian said that TAC first considered this issue closely on November 30, so it was not involved when the council discussed it over the past two to three years. The only information that TAC received from the town was the traffic speed study. Members were told that there was going to be a professional engineering study, so the discussion proceeded as if the engineering study would occur. Mooring, the committee’s liaison, cautioned against implementing most temporary measures until a study has been done, and the committee didn’t feel it could override his advice. Therefore, TAC suggested speed awareness signs in both directions and that the 25 mph speed limit sign be moved north of the school.
TSO Votes to Delay Recommendations for Traffic Calming Until After Engineering Study
TSO member Dorothy Pam recommended that the electronic speed awareness signs indicate the speed limit, as well as the speed the car is traveling and maybe flash red or give some other signal if the car is speeding. Ana Devlin Gauthier said that Mooring told TAC that the engineering study could be done in about four weeks and that the recommendations from the study could be implemented within another four to six months. She thought the engineering study would point to the optimal placement of speed humps if they were recommended. She also pointed out that the process for creating safety zones in town is unclear, and she has heard several different answers as to what the next steps should be. She noted that Mooring had said that temporary speed humps are removed in the winter because they can damage snowplows, so they would not be a solution at this time, and that they cost about the same amount as permanent speed humps.
Shalini Bahl-Milne asked if it was possible to get police oversight during times children are arriving at and leaving from the center. Town Manager Paul Bockelman said that there are other requests for police surveillance throughout town, but the council could designate this site as a high priority.
Anika Lopes asked about the possibility of a painted crosswalk across Henry Street, and noted that there are no sidewalks on Henry Street. Zafian cautioned that “[we] don’t want to put a crosswalk in a place where we haven’t done anything to ensure that vehicles will stop at the crosswalk, or we are actually creating hazards.” However, she did think that the area of Henry Street should be a priority for traffic calming, pointing out that it is listed as part of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Network Plan and is near a village center.
Devlin Gauthier wanted to make sure the engineering study will be completed by February. TAC member Kimberly Tremblay said that many UMass students do not return to Amherst until early February (classes start on February 1) for the spring semester, so maybe the engineering study should be done at that time. TSO members and Bockelman were not sure that traffic information was needed in the engineering study, since the speed study was already completed. The committee voted unanimously to recommend to the Town Council that dynamic speed awareness signs be placed for vehicles traveling in each direction on Henry Street and that the Town Manager report back to TSO by February 1, 2024 regarding the recommendations of the professional engineering study.