Our Opinion: Seek simple solution to Stockbridge intersection

Ben Franklin was wrong. In this world, there are actually three things that are certain: death, taxes and problems with the Red Lion Inn intersection in Stockbridge. Resolving the Main-South-Pine Street traffic issue falls victim to several factors that have long militated against any sensible, relatively inexpensive remedy to the chaos that reigns there at certain times of the year.

Stockbridge is both blessed and cursed by being a locale that people want to visit. Its gateway status to other attractions further north in the Berkshires results in its having to handle out-of-town traffic far out of proportion to its population. In the summer, for example, long streams of cars and knots of pedestrian tourists compete for right-of-way, particularly on weekends and when a performance concludes at Tanglewood.

Moreover, the intersection, located at the center of downtown, is confusing. Its design is such that westbound traffic on Main Street that wishes to continue to the south on Route 7 makes a left turn at the Red Lion Inn, unimpeded by a stop sign or traffic signal. This defies reason and convention, as traffic in the three other directions does face stop signs.

In any other town Stockbridge's size, a practical solution would be found. The perspective of many in Stockbridge may be informed by Norman Rockwell's 1967 painting of the central business district at Christmastime that essentially preserved its appearance in amber. But while it would be gratifying to residents and visitors alike if Stockbridge were able to maintain its timeless charm ad infinitum, the realities of the modern era demand that some kind of accommodation be made to the growth of the local tourism industry.

According to Stockbridge Police Chief Darrell Fennelly, the frequency of accidents at the intersection has increased. He opines that in these modern times, distracted and more aggressive driving, when combined with the trickiness of the intersection, have created more dangerous conditions. He has proposed to selectmen that a traffic circle at the location, although there is a serious question regarding whether there is room to locate such a piece of civil engineering. A roundabout, which is a form of rotary that is designed to slow traffic, could be more feasible, although perhaps not ideal.

It has been almost a decade since the last traffic study was made at the location; certainly, another one is called for to explore solutions. In the meantime, some less radical and less expensive remedies ought to be tried. A traffic light is likely to back up traffic and make matters worse, but a four-way stop at the intersection that could be overridden at times of heavy use by a policeman or auxiliary directing traffic could help. A stop sign going west on Main Street would not be easy to see, but it could be cantilevered over the land to assure its visibility. This option does not require major engineering and is easily reversible, at little cost, in contrast to the permanent options of a traffic circle or roundabout.

While Chief Fennelly is concerned that placing personnel in the middle of those roads is unsafe, maybe a raised podium, like those in Europe, might alleviate the safety issue. In keeping with the Stockbridge motif, the officer could be dressed this summer as Leonard Bernstein and could conduct traffic rather than direct it.

At any rate, a study should be conducted and multiple options presented to the town. The status quo at this troublesome intersection is unacceptable.


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