LEE -- The Lee Police Department hopes state funding will lead to safer streets in town for walkers, bikers and moped riders, following a rash of local car-pedestrian accidents over the past four years.

Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis is seeking a $3,000 grant to pay for stepped up enforcement of pedestrian, bicycle and moped safety laws.

If approved by the Board of Selectmen tonight, the request will be forwarded to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security's Highway Safety Division. The state agency expects to announce at the end of March awards for safety totaling up to $75,000 for qualified cities and towns, according to its website.

Since December 2008, Lee has had four serious car-pedestrian accidents in downtown-area crosswalks. The most recent one, in May 2012, involved a Canadian motorist who struck two Russian tourists who were crossing Housatonic Street.

None of the Lee accidents resulted in fatalities. Across the Commonwealth, 420 pedestrians and bikers were killed while walking or riding on or near Massachusetts roadways between 2005-10, state public safety officials have said. Another 2,012 suffered incapacitating injuries during the same five-year period.

The increased state-funded enforcement would be for the entire town, but Buffis noted Route 20 through the town center has been the most troublesome.

"We have 14 crosswalks between the [Massachusetts] Turnpike interchange and the Laurel Street Bridge [near Joe's Diner]," he said. "That's a lot in a mile and a half."

The grant covers overtime pay for officers to conduct more enforcement, as well as better signs that alert drivers to crosswalks.

"Right now, the overtime is more critical than more signs," Buffis said.

The police chief believes distracted driving is one of the main reasons for car-pedestrian accidents.

"This day and age, it's inattention," he said, "especially cell phone use, which is very distracting to drivers often unaware they are approaching a crosswalk."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.