Selectmen vote to cut speed on six streets; plan hearing to consider lowering speed limit on four main roads
By Mark E. Vogler
On Wednesday night, selectmen demonstrated their commitment to making town streets safer for pedestrians and drivers by voting unanimously to reduce the speed limit to 25 mph on six town streets.
But the posting of signs to inform residents about the reduced limit from 30 mph won’t happen until the state has reviewed and approved the new speed regulations for Bisbee Road, Hanson Road, Iron Works Way, Cider Mill Road, Vinegar Hill Drive and Hitching Hill Road, according to Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree.
“I think this is a start in the right direction,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Debra Panetta said after the unanimous 5-0 vote.
A dozen town residents – most of them who live on streets affected by the approved amendments to the town’s traffic rules and regulations – called on selectmen to reduce the existing limits. Many of the speakers implored selectmen to reduce speed even further. But Crabtree and board members told residents repeatedly that 25 mph is the lowest they could legally reduce the speed limit for the roads.
There was also criticism from some speakers that the board wasn’t doing enough to focus on the town-wide speeding problem on at least the traffic-plagued major roads.
The leadoff speaker – Town Meeting Member William S. Brown, who represents Precinct 6 – said he didn’t like the idea that the board was focusing on streets in smaller neighborhoods instead of “starting on your busiest streets and working your way” down the list of streets by size and priority.
“I don’t think we disagree,” Panetta told Brown. The list of streets that the board was acting on had just happened to “come up first,” she added.
But Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini later addressed that concern when he introduced a measure to hold a public hearing at the board’s January 9, 2019, meeting to consider lowering the speed limit to 25 mph on Essex, Main and Central Streets and Lincoln Avenue. “I think this board fully embraces public safety,” said Cicolini, who recently moved with his family to a new home on Vinegar Hill Drive – one of the streets receiving the lower speed limit.
Speed is just a part of traffic study
Town Manager Crabtree, Panetta and other town officials stressed during the hearing that the town will be considering the reduction of speed on streets across town once it receives the results from a special traffic study that the town has initiated.
Crabtree also stressed that speed is only a portion of the overall town-wide study that a traffic consultant is undertaking. “This is a 40-year problem that we are trying to resolve,” Crabtree said.
“Central Street alone has a speed limit that has changed five different times,” the town manager said, adding that town officials are “trying to get something uniform” after safety road hazards, unsafe street crossings and streets without posted speed limit signs have gone ignored in the community for decades.
Crabtree, a former police officer who served his hometown for more than a decade, said he was well aware of the issues, noting “we’ve had pedestrians who were killed in these crosswalks.”
“It’s about safety for pedestrians and traffic,” Crabtree said, adding “speed is one aspect.” He noted “road design is another.”
After the hearing, Brown said he had mixed feelings about the board’s vote and the progress of the town in making Saugus streets safer. “I’m glad they are on their way to getting speed limits reduced,” Brown said. “But I’d like to see this done across the town. Unfortunately, it’s going to take several years to do this.”
“There are 700 streets in the town of Saugus. This is just six streets [with reduced speed limits approved]. That’s one percent. Now, we have to look at the other 99 percent,” he said.
But Brown also applauded Cicolini’s decision to target Essex, Main and Central Streets and Lincoln Avenue for public hearings on speed limit reductions early next year. “That’s a good first step. Those are the major streets in Saugus,” he said.
Precinct 4 Town Meeting Member Albert J. DiNardo, one of the dozen speakers who testified, said he is “looking forward to the overall study.”
But, he added, “90 percent of our problem is that 60 percent of our drivers need to go back to driving school,” referring to poor overall driving habits of many drivers who come through town.
It will take resources to fund enforcement
Cicolini, like the town manager, said he believes aggressive traffic enforcement is key to safety concerns. “Without traffic enforcement and without the resources for traffic enforcement, you can change all the speeds you want,” Cicolini said.
Many of the residents on the streets affected by the selectmen’s vote suggested that the speed limit should be lowered to 20 mph or even 15 mph. Cicolini said he wouldn’t be surprised if the speed limits of some of the six streets that will be set at 25 mph – pending state approval – get reduced even further in the future, after the traffic study comes out.
“This is the maximum reduction we can make without having to petition the state,” Cicolini said. Some traffic experts might consider the 25 mph approved by selectmen “a little unrealistic,” he added.
Selectman Mark Mitchell advocated the use of extra police cruisers in strategic locations to help deter speeding through town. Crabtree noted that the Police Department has been doing that.
Brown advocated more fines being leveled against offending drivers.
“It’s not just a Saugus problem,” Mitchell stressed, referring to the current town concerns over speeding.