Local see crosswalk dangers daily

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> News of Friday morning's horrific accident at the crosswalk at the intersection of Main and Railroad Streets was greeted with dismay by local residents on Saturday and Sunday.

But not surprise.

Friday morning, at about 10:49 a.m., a vehicle driven by an 87-year-old Canaan, Conn. woman struck two women and two children using the crosswalk at that intersection. All four were transported to Berkshire Medical Center with injuries. There was no word on their condition on Sunday, but Great Barrington police indicated that none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening.

The woman, whose name was not released by police, has been charged and will be summonsed to court, police said.

Town residents and local businessmen and women reported on Saturday and Sunday that while there have not been a great number of actual accidents in Main Street crosswalks, there have been countless near misses.

"Speaking personally, I use that crosswalk about three times a day," said Susie Butkus, who works at the T.P. Saddleblanket store at that intersection. "I would say I have about one close call a week."

The issue, said Butkus and several others, is that the Main Street corridor from the First Congregational Church south to the intersection of Main Street and Route 23 is a four-lane highway.

The road from the Bridge Street intersection south to Route 23 is signalized. But the stretch of Main Street from Elm Street south to Bridge Street is not. Within that span of about a mile are two crosswalks, the crosswalk at Rotary Way and the crosswalk at Main and Railroad Streets.

These two crosswalks, say residents, are by far the most dangerous crosswalks in town.

The four lanes _ two going north, two going south _ create what are essentially passing lanes, said Butkus.

"You start crossing the road on our side {the eastern side] of the street," she said. "and the car in the [southbound] outer lane will stop. But a lot of times, the guy driving either behind that driver or in the inner lane can't see you, so he just keeps going. That's where you see problems."

Then there is the speed issue. Mark McGovern, a longtime employee of Tune Street, located across Railroad Street from Saddleblanket, estimates that cars going both north and south on the street reach 40-45 miles an hour.

"Some of these drivers are just flying," he said.

McGovern said he sees an average of four to five near-misses on Main Street weekly.

"I thought when the town put a light at Elm Street [in front of the Congregational Church], it might slow people down,' he said. "It didn't."

Butkus said that sometimes, cars waiting at the light at the Bridge Street-Main Street intersection heading north rev up their motors "like the start of a race. And when the light changes, you can see them coming up fast."

When Searles High School and later Middle School was open, there were crossing guards at both intersections, according to Diane Tracy, a lifelong town resident. Tracy also recalls the police department manning a box at the Bridge Street intersection, directing traffic in the 1970s.

However, when the Berkshire Hills Regional School District abandoned the school, the crossing guard positions were eliminated.

The road was not always so wide, either. The middle lanes accommodated a trolley up to the mid-20th century, according to John Tracy, Diane's husband. When the trolley was removed, the road became a four-lane highway.

Locals are aware of these points. Most cross Main Street with extreme caution.

"You step into the crosswalk and you look both ways," said longtime resident Claire Pollart. "When you get past the first lane of the street, you look again to see if anyone is still going in that inner lane, because they can't see you. Then, you keep going, and when you reach that outer lane on the other side of the street, you look again, because again, the driver can't see or doesn't pay attention. Do that and you'll be okay."

Possible solutions include signalizing both crosswalks, with at least flashing yellow lights, crossing guards and/or more signage.

McGovern suggested a police car with radar on Main Street. With speeding tickets now at hundreds of dollars, "that would calm some of these guys down pretty quick."

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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