Study recommends roundabout for Stockbridge intersection

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STOCKBRIDGE — A modern roundabout has been recommended as a solution for one of the county's most accident-prone intersections.

That was among the conclusions of a transportation engineer hired by the town last summer to conduct the study of traffic flow through the community, including the notorious intersection at the Red Lion Inn.

An equally troublesome intersection, just east of downtown at the connection of Routes 7, 102 and Vine Street, would benefit from a reconfigured T-type configuration, according to the consultant with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin.

Because of a high crash rate, the Red Lion intersection is "on the state's radar," said Juliet Locke, a representative of the company, during a presentation to the Select Board and about 50 residents on Tuesday night. That means the state Department of Transportation would be receptive to funding recommended redesigns, if there's a consensus among residents and town leaders.

"When I think of roundabout, I think of maintaining the existing environment," Locke said. "There are some out there done so nicely, and they're very popular right now. A roundabout significantly reduces the number of vehicular conflict points, and there's really nowhere for a collision, everyone is yielding as they approach."

The town commissioned the company in July to conduct the $13,900 study in light of a persistent instance of crashes and near misses at the two intersections. The roundabout approach was key among three recommendations outlined during Locke's well-received presentation:

- For the corner where Main Street (Routes 7/102), South Street (Route 7) and Pine Street converge next to the Red Lion Inn, Locke proposed a modest-sized, low-raised, elongated, oval-shaped, mountable brick roundabout with historic bricks, all designed to improve safety and ease congestion — a compact traffic-circle environment, she said, instead of a large "classic rotary."

- For the intersection of Main Street (Route 102), East Street (Route 7) and Vine Street by the firehouse, a T-intersection would ease drivers' confusion over a triple-roadway convergence and improve sight lines.

- And for the busy business block made famous by Norman Rockwell's classic "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas" illustration, the study suggested relocated crosswalks with signage and a reconfigured multi-use lane for pedestrians and bicyclists on the north side of the street.

All this could be funded by the state, if the recommended solution sits well with the Select Board, other town leaders and residents.

The study was conducted during mid-July — "a worst-case scenario," as Locke described it.

On average, 16,800 vehicles a day travel through downtown Stockbridge on Main Street at that time, she pointed out.

Over the past five years, the state's crash database, based on local police reports, shows 25 major accidents at each of the two targeted intersections, defined as $1,000 or more in property damage, with or without injuries. Each had one incident involving a bicyclist. The database includes injuries if any, the nature of the collision (such as rear-end, rollover, jackknife or head-on), the date and time of the incident and the pavement conditions.

The crash rate is above the average for MassDOT's District 1 (Berkshire and adjoining counties) as well as statewide.

The data does not include numerous fender-benders downtown "that cause major headaches," said Fire Chief and Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo.

"Do both of these intersections meet the state's criteria for installing traffic signals?" Locke asked rhetorically. "Absolutely. There's enough traffic going through there that it could be considered."

"But," she added, "I want to make it very clear that I was looking at options that keep in mind the historic monuments, the historic nature of the downtown area and the amount of roadway users — vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers, mopeds, everyone who's out there using the road."

As Locke put it, "It really needs to be a safe environment, especially in an area like downtown Stockbridge."

"You don't see any scenarios here that have big, flashy traffic signals, so I don't want anyone to get scared," she said.

Locke said the state DOT ranks intersections by level of service — a report card of sorts based on delays encountered by entering vehicles with grades of A (the best) through F. "We don't like to call F failing, so it's called `not so good,'" she said.

Both of the town's intersections are graded F, based on delays of 50 seconds or more encountered by drivers at stop signs.

And both rank within the top 5 percent of highest crash rates within Berkshire County, Locke said.

The roundabout analysis showed a potential for significant improvement at the Red Lion intersection.

"We do recommend the town consider a roundabout there, and consider teeing up the East Street roadway as it approaches Main Street," said Locke, as well as crosswalk reconfigurations and relocations, including ADA accessibility requirements, "bringing all that up to speed, which we think can be done while maintaining the historic nature of Stockbridge."

She pointed out availability of "beautiful brick pavers in a very tasteful manner that fits in with the surrounding environment."

However, Locke cautioned that "just because I as a traffic engineer say I'm recommending this, that doesn't mean MassDOT is going to agree with me. That sounds silly; I think they will because I've done enough work in the state and with them."

But, she added, "they need to make sure their funding is being appropriately used. We're going to have to prove it to them, based on comparisons between a roundabout, a traffic signal and if we left it as it is."

Locke conceded that "as much as the town might not support a traffic signal, the DOT is going to consider it. At the end of the day, because it's their funding, they're going to likely have the final input."

Alternative scenarios to a roundabout include better pavement markings, reducing the width of the Red Lion corner intersection of Main, South and Pine streets and stop signs at a reconfigured T-type intersection at Main, East Main, East and Vine streets near the firehouse.

On pedestrian safety, her study cited a major issue — crosswalks, although they are painted "with vibrant colors," lacked legally required signs to alert motorists as well as "bump-outs," sidewalk extensions to ensure pedestrian safety. The crosswalks also fail to comply with ADA accessibility requirements for wheelchair users and visually impaired people.

She also listed angle-parked motorists backing into Main Street bicycle lanes as a safety concern along with several obscured stop signs and insufficient downtown parking.

Locke proposed that "instead of having bicyclists travel between the cars and the parking, why don't we have them travel outside the cars altogether in a separated bike lane, a 5-foot minimum lane with a 2-foot buffer between the bikes and the vehicles for safety reasons."

In response to Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon's point that many in town are sensitive to the Rockwell view of the downtown corridor, she stated that the planning and design would be done in close conjunction with the town.

Locke predicted that the state would be as sensitive to aesthetic concerns because District 1 is based in Lenox, "right up the street, and if anyone has maintained a historic view, it's Lenox. They're going to be very aware and supportive of the approach we're trying to take."

As a next step, she recommended a meeting among the Select Board, police and fire chiefs, VHB traffic engineers and MassDOT officials at District 1 headquarters in Lenox to create a team to confront the safety concerns acknowledged by the state. If all goes well, the town would file for state funding, which she described as "a short process of filing some forms online and providing the state with the study."

The state would then conduct a "road safety audit" that would incorporate many of the study's findings, followed by a ground survey of the area.

The unveiling of VHB's report is only the prologue to months of discussion in town, Chabon noted. Additional Select Board meetings on the study are planned, and a walking-tour site visit and public input sessions are under consideration before any decisions are made.

Many in the audience seemed receptive to Locke's findings, applauding her at the end of the 75-minute presentation.

Finance Committee Chairman Jay Bikofsky asked whether there are studies showing how much the recommended roundabout solution would reduce the crash rate. Locke responded that the information is available from the Institute of Transportation Engineers based on before and after evaluations of safety improvement projects.

Resident Charles Kenny expressed the hope that the state takes into account the key role played by the town in accommodating tourist traffic heading into the Berkshires.

"The DOT is probably well aware of the traffic patterns that come through," Locke replied, including the heavy volume of truck traffic she has observed.

"We saw a tractor-trailer jackknife itself at 9:30 on a Thursday morning," she recalled.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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