Our Opinion: Red Lion intersection tamed at last? Maybe

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As it was in the beginning and ever shall be, Stockbridge's most vexing dilemma concerns a matter of safety versus esthetics. For the picturesque town whose public face was set in amber by Norman Rockwell's depiction of its yuletide Main Street, squaring that circle when it comes to the infamous Red Lion Inn intersection has long been a contentious sticking point. Speaking of circles, a traffic circle (actually, an oval) is exactly what the long-awaited professional traffic study commissioned by the town recommends as a remedy for the accident-prone confluence of South Street (Route 7), Main Street (Routes 7 and 22) and Pine street.

Residents should be aware that the VHB study, conducted to the tune of $13,900, is merely another development in the long-running saga of the star-crossed intersection. Juliet Locke, the traffic engineer who conducted the study for her firm, carefully couched her solution in the most favorable terms — describing it as a modern, modest-sized, low-raised, elongated, oval-shaped, mountable brick roundabout with historic bricks. Most important to certain Stockbridge residents was what she didn't say — that what might really be needed is a traffic signal at the intersection where the logic-defying right-of-way for through traffic includes an improbable left turn for southbound motorists.

That intersection, along with another at the confluence of Main, East and Vine Streets east of downtown (near the firehouse), rank among the top 5 percent in the county for accident rates, and rate an "F" grade for level of service, meaning wait times for those entering them. The commonwealth has a vested interest in protecting the safety of its residents, and just might be convinced to foot the bill for the traffic circle and the T-intersection Ms. Locke recommends for Main, East and Vine — if the town were to go along.

That's a big "if," however. There's a catch to the state funding, which is that the Philistines who work for MassDOT may not share the same sensibilities as certain townspeople and might settle instead upon the dreaded stoplight idea as the most sensible safety measure. Ms. Locke allowed that they would probably consider such a visual crime, no doubt because it would not only be effective in reducing collisions — particularly those caused by confused tourists — but also would constitute the cheapest solution. That said, in what appears to have been an attempt to sweeten her findings, Ms. Locke's emphasized that she had made a priority of the town's historic nature when analyzing the problem and that the Lenox-based MassDOT district headquarters would be sensitive to Stockbridge's unique needs. She suggested other, less invasive remedies like better pavement markings, reducing the intersection's width and more stop signs at Main, East and Vine. Clearly, these would be less effective than the major civil engineering work that tops her list.

The study, which included the two intersections along with recommended crosswalk and bike lane improvements on Main Street, is something substantive that that the good residents of Stockbridge can sink their teeth into. It also puts another arrow in the quiver for those who would accept a small amount of change for safety's sake. Whether it is ever implemented or simply gathers dust on a shelf for a few more decades is up to the townspeople, who thus far have shown themselves to favor the historical argument by simply doing nothing. While Main Street's facades never change, times do — and the democratic process will ultimately determine which course Stockbridge wishes to take.


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