Selectmen vote to reduce speed limit to 25 mph on Essex and Main Streets and Lincoln Avenue
By Mark E. Vogler
Board of Selectmen Chair Debra Panetta told residents attending a public hearing Wednesday night on a proposal to lower the speed limit on several well-traveled Saugus roads that she’s on their side. “We’re all citizens for a safer Saugus,” Panetta reassured the crowd.
“We all believe in the cause,” she added.
After hearing testimony from 18 speakers – most of them expressing support for a measure to reduce the speed limit to 25 miles per hour within three major Saugus streets – Panetta and her colleagues voted 4-0 to back the proposal initiated by the Board’s Vice Chair, Jeffrey Cicolini. Interim Saugus Police Chief Ronald Giorgetti – the leadoff speaker – said he believes the existing speed limits for Essex Street, Main Street and Lincoln Avenue “are appropriately set.”
Cicolini, who has also recommended a 25 miles per hour speed limit for Central Street (which is set for a public hearing at the Board’s Jan. 23 meeting), said he respected the opinion of the Police Department. But, he added, he was going by his “gut” feeling that it is important to lower the speed limit on the town’s four major roads. Cicolini noted the four roads always seemed to be “filled with cars going beyond reasonable speed.”
“A top priority”
Many residents have expressed their views to selectmen through letters, emails and phone calls calling on officials to lower the speed limits, according to Panetta.
“The safety of our residents and visitors within our town is a top priority for the Board of Selectmen and the Town Manager [Scott C. Crabtree] and his administration,” Panetta said.
“This board has taken the traffic situation very seriously, and has asked our Town Manager to work with the police to try to arrive at solutions to alleviate this issue,” she said.
Panetta, Cicolini and Selectmen Jennifer D’Eon and Mark Mitchell all praised the residents who turned out at Wednesday night’s hearing. “We have a common desire for a safer Saugus,” Cicolini said. “If it saves one life, it’s worth it,” he said.
D’Eon said she was thankful to see the turnout out at the public hearing. “I’m so proud to be from Saugus,” she said.
Mitchell said he was impressed by the level of public discussion. “People have a lot of great ideas,” he said.
Panetta said the board is committed to supporting the contributions of town residents, particularly the group “Citizens for a Safer Saugus,” a grassroots group of residents who have been lobbying town officials to take action to make Saugus streets safer, including lowering the speed limit to 25 mph town-wide.
Selectmen said they will await the outcome of an ongoing study being done by The Engineering Corp (TEC) of Andover before addressing the issue of a town-wide speed limit (see related story).
“People have to remember it took 40 years to create these problems, so it’s not going to take four hours to resolve,” Panetta said after the hearing.
More signs and better enforcement needed
Several of the speakers who testified at the hearing said they don’t see the value of lowering speed limits unless the Police Department has the resources to enforce the speed limit. “If you have a speed limit that’s not posted or enforced, I fail to see the reason for lowering the speed limit,” said Town Moderator Stephen N. Doherty, a Town Meeting member who lives on Essex Street in precinct 4.
“My end of Essex Street is like a highway,” he noted.
Still, Doherty said he didn’t see the “piecemeal” approach of lowering the speed limit on individual streets.
Precinct 6 Town Meeting Member Bill Brown, who is chair of “Citizens for a Safer Saugus,” said he understands the need for a comprehensive study. But he expressed skepticism that little has come from past studies.
Bob Davis, one of the organizers of Citizens for a Safer Saugus, said he feels there “needs to be an urgency to slowing down traffic on these main streets. However, you also need to enact a 25 miles per hour speed limit as soon as possible.”
While admitting to being impatient, Davis stressed “there should be an urgency to saving lives.”
Corey Berkowitch, a resident of 124 Main St., displayed a photo of a car that had crashed into his house to show the need to stop cars speeding down Main Street. “Reducing the speed, it will help. But it has to be enforced,” Berkowitch said of the reduced speed limit. He said the flashing signs in Melrose might work well in Saugus.
Ann Condon of 178 Essex St. noted that lowering speed limits might be an inconvenience, but could also save a life. She said the 25 mph speed limit “is reasonable.” “There are people walking in this area and there are a lot of children,” she said.