Friday August 24, 2012

LENOX -- A concentrated effort by Lenox Police to monitor downtown crosswalks, spurred by the concerns of some Lenox residents, shows that vehicles obey pedestrians in crosswalks more often than not, according to authorities.

On Aug. 17, Lenox Police officers began blocking out time of their scheduled shifts, whenever possible, to devote to closely monitoring the crosswalks in the center of downtown Lenox to ensure vehicles were yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

"We're in the vicinity, but we're not staging directly at the crosswalk," Lenox Police Chief Stephen O'Brien said. "It's not obvious that a cruiser is right there. Sometimes we're on foot."

As of Thursday afternoon, 10 efforts had been carved out of officers' shifts in the past week, O'Brien said. Of those, six occasions had no violations, three times resulted in one violation apiece, and once there were two violations. Those five violations were met with a warning by the police officer. No tickets have been issued from the week-long effort, Chief O'Brien said.

"We're concentrated on the educational aspect of it at this time," he said.

This specific focus on crosswalk safety will continue through the weekend, O'Brien said. After that, he said he will make a decision if this kind of attention needs to be paid to the issue.

"We're always monitoring the crosswalks and crosswalk safety," O'Brien said. "That won't stop."

Another issue with pedestrians in Lenox is jaywalking, especially since there is no ordinance against it in Lenox, according to O'Brien.

"Vehicles need to know where the crosswalks area and obey them, but pedestrians have to realize it's not a free-for-all," he said. "They bear some responsibility, too."

Pedestrian safety has become a pressing issue over the years in Lenox, Pittsfield, Lee, and Great Barrington -- places with heavy foot traffic. A 66-year-old and 79-year-old-woman were killed in Lee and Great Barrington, respectively, in 2006.

Pedestrian safety was brought up at Wednesday's Lenox Select Board meeting, where chairman Ken Fowler called finding a solution an "ongoing effort."

"What I want to say to pedestrians is to be careful, and what I want to say to drivers is slow down," he said during the meeting, where he even referenced a recent close call he had while walking across Main Street.

An option brought up during the meeting by Triad member Nancy Armstrong was to paint the crosswalks to increase visibility to drivers, but Selectman Ed Lane said there are state regulations to do so and paint could make the crosswalks slippery when wet.

"I'm not sure which to classify as the more important issue," Armstrong said afterward. The recommendation to paint the crosswalks was first brought up about three years ago, she said.

Triad is comprised of group members, including Police Chief O'Brien, Fire Chief Dan Clifford, District Attorney David Capeless, plus other group members.

The crosswalks are striped with new paint yearly, O'Brien said.