LENOX -- Three weeks after the state Department of Transportation installed a trailblazing new traffic signal system -- the first in the state -- at the dangerous intersection of Pittsfield Road (Routes 7 & 20) and Holmes Road, southbound motorists who make the left turn from the busy state highway to the heavily used local road believe safety has been enhanced.
The Jan. 15 installation, following three serious accidents at the site last fall and 17 in the past four years, was completed ahead of schedule at the behest of town government leaders, Police Chief Stephen O'Brien -- who compiled the list of mishaps -- and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.
"It's definitely drawing more attention, people are more attuned, it's so noticeable," said John L. Bortolotto, the branch manager at NBT Bank, which is located near the intersection.
Bortolotto singled out the flashing yellow left-turn arrow, which is part of the four-stage signal pattern designed to warn drivers that they can only make the left after yielding to oncoming northbound traffic.
"The signal is a little strange because you don't see it anywhere else," said Ashley Sykes of Pittsfield, who's employed at Spirited, the wine and liquor store at the intersection. "It's a little puzzling, but I do think it works, along with all the new signs here and there. So, there's really no excuse for any problem. It's definitely more user-friendly, but something to get used to."
In addition to the new signal array, Spirited owner James Nejaime also credited widespread media coverage for increased awareness at the intersection.
"We're happy that so far we're seeing a lack of accidents," Nejaime said.
Sykes said that she considers the intersection safer now "because I'm more conscientious about it. I wait until there are absolutely no cars in sight before I make that turn. It's a little scary, I've always been cautious there, but that flashing yellow arrow definitely makes you a lot more alert."
"It's something unusual, eye-catching," Bartolotto said. "This will have a measurable impact down the road, I hope. So far, it seems people are coming to a complete stop before making that turn."
In the end, safety depends on the good judgment and defensive driving by motorists making the left turn, he said.
"A diligent driver will be OK, no matter what," he added.
Most of the accidents at the location have been multi-vehicle collisions involving left-turning drivers and oncoming drivers traveling north at or above the posted 40 mph limit.
"Personally, I've always been cautious there," said Shelby Harrington of Pittsfield, an NBT Bank employee. She said she sees little difference since the installation but acknowledged that it's too early to tell. Due the many accidents at the intersection, she considers it a dangerous one.
According to Katherin Phillips, a Lee resident and NBT bank teller, the site is safer now "because people are aware they need to be cautious. It makes a little bit more sense having the flashing left arrow."
As a result of the state's intervention, a southbound driver on Pittsfield Road encounters one of four left-turn arrows: a steady red prohibiting left turns; a steady green, allowing left turns because northbound traffic is halted on red; a steady yellow indicating the signal is changing from green to red, and the flashing yellow, meaning that drivers can proceed with left turns cautiously, only after yielding to oncoming northbound vehicles.
At the Family Footwear Center off Holmes Road, Steven Courtney of Pittsfield also emphasized a relocated stop line for left-turning motorists on Pittsfield Road, as much as eight feet closer to Holmes Road.
"That makes a tremendous difference -- it's definitely an improvement," he said. "It's a lot quicker making the left. That's a major intersection, and some people play chicken."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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