STOCKBRIDGE — Most residents and town officials, especially Police Chief Darrell Fennelly, agree that during tourist season, downtown traffic is a mess and poses safety concerns.
While the focus of discussion has been on the so-called Red Lion Inn intersection, where last year 10 accidents were reported, as well as numerous close calls, voters at Monday's special town meeting will be asked to approve up to $15,000 for an updated study of Main Street traffic flow.
The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Offices gymnasium.
Discussion of a possible traffic circle, rotary or roundabout at the convergence of Routes 7, 102 and Pine Street has been vigorous, to say the least, and there has been substantial opposition to the idea of a multimillion-dollar project that would drastically change the look of Norman Rockwell's downtown.
So, the wording of Article 4 on the special town meeting avoids any mention of the specific Red Lion intersection. Instead, it asks voter approval "to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, borrow or otherwise provide a sum of money for the purpose of obtaining an updated Traffic Study related to intersections on Main Street."
At a recent Select Board meeting, Chairman Donald Chabon acknowledged that "this is a hot-button item. I know that many people feel very strongly about this."
Presenting a motion to add the issue to the special town meeting warrant, Chabon stressed that the study would review "all options for accident mitigation, congestion and traffic control, taking into account the historic and aesthetic importance" of the Red Lion Inn junction.
"This is not a decision on any solution," he said. Chabon quoted from a letter by Fennelly detailing the 10 accidents — fender-benders and rear-end collisions, with minor personal injury in some of the crashes but no major injuries or any accidents involving rollovers.
"I'm surprised we don't see more of it," Fennelly's letter stated. "I believe what prevents serious crashes there is that it is a low-speed area."
The police chief blamed the mishaps that did occur on "aggressive driving, inattention and, most of all, confusion."
Chabon emphasized that "this is not saying we should put in a traffic circle — I've gotten `hate mail.'"
But, he said, "I believe the health and safety of our citizens, for us as a Select Board and for all of us as citizens, is the primary job. I'm not advocating any position, I'm not saying we have to do one thing or the other."
"Some people are saying we need a bypass, some are saying we need a traffic light, some are saying we need more police on the corner," Chabon said.
Finance Committee Chairman Jay Bikofsky, noting that he was involved in a rear-end accident, said that "it would be a great idea to involve the state Highway Department, because this is a major intersection of [Route] 102 and Route 7, and they would have an interest in doing the right thing for the area."
Selectman Terry Flynn blasted any study that involved a potential traffic circle or roundabout as "a complete waste of tax dollars." He said he would not vote to approve adding the study to the town meeting agenda unless those words are removed.
Chabon declared that "my primary concern is the health and safety of the people who live here and visit here," and underlined his neutral stand on what the solution might be.
"A traffic circle or roundabout in that section of our town is basically unthinkable," Flynn said.
"People won't know until they look at it," Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo said. "You can say no traffic lights; it's got to be a part of it. I'm not in favor or opposed to it, I just think the town should have all the options to look at. We need a study to figure out the traffic flow and how to improve it. I go through that intersection a lot, and there are so many near-misses, almost every time I go through."
As Chabon put it, "If a little green sign would solve the problem, I'd be the first one out there digging a hole for the signpost."
"Maybe we should look at a traffic study across the entire town," suggested Ruth Pearce, a Main Street resident and member of the Planning Board. "Police statistics are for reported accidents, not for the nine times I've nearly been run over as I cross the street with my dog. I speak to the people who work at the Red Lion, and they repeatedly tell me they've almost been hit by people who haven't seen them in the crosswalk, or they've had guests who've come in and complained that they nearly got hit in a crosswalk."
The Select Board approved 2-1 the motion to put the question of a traffic study before town voters, with Flynn dissenting.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-637-2551.