New downtown Lenox signage hopes to take the tangle out of the trip to Tanglewood
LENOX — For many drivers, the only solution less popular than a three-way stop intersection is a roundabout, a contemporary take on the tried-and-sometimes-true traffic circle.
With that in mind, town officials turned aside an engineer's first choice — a roundabout — to resolve ongoing motorist confusion at the war monument near Town Hall, the most heavily traveled downtown intersection.
Instead, Department of Public Works Superintendent William Gop said, a stop sign is being installed on Wednesday for eastbound traffic heading uphill on West Street (Route 183) from the residential area that also includes Tanglewood, Kripalu, and Berkshire Country Day and Morris Elementary schools.
That makes the convergence of Old Stockbridge Road with West, Walker and Main streets a three-way stop, apparently for the first time. Traffic heading westbound from Walker Street, curving left at the war monument heading toward Tanglewood on West Street, will have the right of way.
The stop sign installation, along with additional traffic guidance signage for motorists approaching the convergence, is the final piece of the town's state-funded, $323,000 Complete Streets project designed to upgrade pedestrian and bicyclist safety by slightly elevating four crosswalks for better visibility.
"When the engineers were in town, we asked them to take a look at that intersection to see if there was anything that could be done to improve it," Gop said. "In the past, there was a roundabout recommendation; that's really what they think is the best option. But it would be challenging because of the grades and the need to move the monument a little bit, so there was a lot of pushback when it was mentioned. No one wanted to touch any of that or deal with that. They didn't think it would fly."
The BETA Group, a traffic engineering firm, scoped out the intersection, observing a school bus protruding in the narrow monument cut-through, motorists running the two existing stop signs, and one or two out of 10 drivers coming up West Street coming to halt because they thought there was a stop sign.
The engineers' recommended alternative turned out to be the three-way stop, Gop noted, "to see if that clears up everything."
"We hope it works and hope it stays, but if we find it adds more confusion or any issues, then we would just pull it," he said. "We'll probably see some confusion at first but, hopefully, it's seamless and we forget that it was ever changed."
In order to ease the transition, Gop displayed signs such as "Traffic from left does not stop," to be installed at the monument cut-through for traffic on Main Street; "Oncoming traffic does not stop" for drivers coming uphill on West Street; and "Traffic from right does not stop" for motorists heading uphill on Old Stockbridge Road.
Summertime traffic exiting Tanglewood up West Street, which becomes one-way after major concerts, will be unaffected, since officers will wave drivers through the intersection or, as Gop suggested, a bag might be placed over the new stop sign until the grounds are cleared.
The new pattern will be reviewed in a few months to see if it effectively has reduced the number of near-misses and backups at the intersection, Gop said.
"We want to see how it works and if it helps," he said. "We've just seen way too many issues."
Meanwhile, drivers are being reminded that, starting Monday, Walker Street from the the Route 7/20 bypass to East Street will be off-limits to through traffic until Sept. 30 because of a culvert-replacement project, part of the state-funded $6.9 million rebuild of the 1.5-mile thoroughfare between Lenox Dale and the state highway. Access will remain available from the bypass intersection to the Cranwell Resort entrance.
JH Maxymillian is the contractor for the reconstruction and widening of the road, with completion scheduled two years from now. It includes road and sidewalk rebuilding and a street widening to a uniform 32 feet from the current 24 to 28 feet. The new width includes two 11-foot travel lanes and two 5-foot shoulders for bicyclists.
According to the state Department of Transportation, the project includes compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act by reconstructing existing sidewalks and building new ones where none exist. Signalized pedestrian crossings will be installed at Route 7/20.
In addition, new construction of sidewalks is planned along the north side of Walker Street from Route 7/20 west to the first driveway into the Kimball Farms Life Care community. This section of road also will be milled and repaved.
Coinciding with the state project is a $600,000 town-funded replacement of water and sewer pipes along the street. The state's rebuild includes replacement of deteriorating and inadequate sections of the Lenox Dale drainage, sewer and water systems.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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