Great Barrington's Elm Street finally gets a light

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Growing up in Great Barrington, Katina Sebken knew the drill when it came to Elm Street.

"If you wanted to go north [out of Elm Street], you took a right, went south on Main {Street] and then a left at the light on Bridge Street," she said. "That's what everybody does."

A right hand turn out of Elm Street takes you onto Route 7, also known as Main Street in town. And it does indeed take a driver south. But in the old days, trying to take a left onto Main Street from Elm was near impossible because of the traffic.

But it's no longer a problem. There is now a stoplight at the intersection of Elm and Main — much to the delight of many.

"You used to have to hope someone is really, really nice,' said Susan Whalen, a financial services representative at Berkshire Bank. Whalen had been relying on the kindness of strangers for the past 10 years.

But now, if Whalen needs to go north, she waits at the stoplight, and turns left, free as a bird.

Police Chief William R. Walsh said the intersection hasn't had a major accident in years, "but I think it's in part because people recognized the danger and were extra cautious," he said. "Or they just turned right and went up Bridge Street."

But, said Walsh, the town is grateful for the light.

'Yeah," he said. "I think it's a good thing. We're very pleased. I think it'll help the traffic flow."

A new stoplight in town may not seem like a big deal to people in other towns. But Elm Street is an extension of Railroad Street, which is one way. For those who want to visit the two dozen businesses and restaurants on Railroad Street, or take in a movie at the Triplex theater, there's only one way out: Elm Street.

Well, one could also go the wrong way through the Berkshire Bank parking lot, but the left-hand turn onto Route 7 is similarly problematic.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation actually turned the light on as a blinking light last month, according to DOT engineer Mark W. Ringie. The light began cycling from red to yellow to green two Fridays ago. The DOT usually does that to enable drivers to get used to it being here, he said.

So far, so good, although Rebken, who works as the assistant manager at Berkshire Bank, admitted that in the last week, there have been a few screeching tires, as motorists who are unaware of the light suddenly see it in front of them.

"That's the only problem we've heard," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Andrus, executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. "People love it, but the one complaint we have is that a lot of people don't know about it."

Andrus said the Chamber plans to include a notice that the light is there in its next newsletter.

Walsh said the only disadvantage he can imagine is a potential traffic tie-up in the summer when traffic in town is much greater. But summer seems a long way off.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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