THE ADVOCATE ASKS: A longtime, avid walker shares concerns about need for pedestrians to get streets back
Editor’s Note: For this week’s interview, we took a four-mile walk around town with Rosemarie Verderico, a Pearson Street resident who is concerned about unsafe road and sidewalk conditions for town residents, who, like herself, love to walk. Verderico is a 1962 Saugus High School graduate with degrees from Regis College and B.C. School of Social Work. Her children, Paul and Laura, are both Saugus High School graduates. She said she’s been walking since her days in Saugus Public Schools. Some highlights of this week’s interview follow.
Q: What are your concerns as an avid walker and how often do you walk?
A: Just about every day. And I probably do at least four miles a day – I would say between four and six miles a day.
Q: And you had a close call recently that you would like to talk about?
A: It will be two weeks Friday; at quarter of nine in the morning, I was walking down to volunteer for the Food Pantry … and I pick my crosswalks now because there’s a difference. Some are safer than others. Somebody stopped and somebody was taking a left onto Jasper Street, and she was coming toward the rotary [across from Town Hall]. All of a sudden, she escalated. She hit the accelerator, and I was halfway across the crosswalk, and I didn’t know which way to go. I don’t know who shook more … her or me. It was that close.
Now, of all the walking I do, I would say half the time that people don’t stop and let me go on the crosswalk. I do not cross any street in this town in the center. The center is horrendous. The worst place in the world – that I gave up walking there two weeks ago – is Lincoln Avenue through Cliftondale. You see the big trucks coming in. You see the near misses. You see the people that can’t get across the street because the street is so narrow. You see cars parked on the sidewalk, and you see the traffic going, and it’s so busy, you’re just looking to witness something you don’t want to see.
Q: You told me earlier that exercise – walking in Saugus has almost become “like a contact sport.”
A: It is a contact sport. One of the guys, Mike – I understand he volunteers up at the food pantry, and I think he’s been hit recently – for a second time in the last two weeks. Somebody backing out of their driveway, I guess, on Essex Street.
Q: Wow. Now, when did you start complaining to Town Hall about the situation? And what’s been the response?
A: I was upset on the Friday, maybe two weeks ago, and I digested it all weekend. And Monday morning, I was so upset, so that’s when I started making some phone calls. So, I couldn’t get directly to some people and left messages. And they were all the same messages to the town manager. And I asked that the head of the Selectmen get the same message. I told them to get out and walk; it is so dangerous right now; and that they needed to see just how bad things were. And I even called to Representative Wong’s office because we have a town that is split, east and west and north and south by Route 1. On the west side of Route 1, there’s no crosswalk at all. When you pass by Pierce, there’s a crosswalk, and that’s the end of the crosswalk.
Q: Yes, I notice that when I take the Main Street exit ramp off of Route 1.
A: And it’s really dangerous.
Q: So, two weeks ago this Friday, a lady came out of Jasper Street? Right in front of the East Boston Savings Bank, near the crosswalk going to Emory Street?
A: Yeah, and she finally has eye contact with me, and I’m jumping up and down in the crosswalk, saying “Stop! Stop!” She didn’t even see me – didn’t even see me.
And that one over there [in front of the Hammersmith] – I don’t even walk there. That’s where a relative of people at The Hammersmith got hit a few years ago in the crosswalk.
Q: Hurt seriously?
A: They were killed – right here. See the memory marker [flowers and flags attached to a tree].
Q: So, you never cross that crosswalk?
A: And there are cars that park there, so you can never see.
Q: So, that’s been there a long time?
A: Yes. People are getting hurt on this street.
Q: Have any town officials accepted your invitation to walk with you?
A: I called Peter. Peter Rossetti is a good guy. And I called and left a message with him that Saugus Center was bad enough, but that Cliftondale is worse. Anyway, he [Rossetti] did call me back, and he sent me some articles that were in the paper. And I know the businessmen in Cliftondale have met over this problem for years. It’s nothing new. What’s new is the escalation of it all.
Q: I believe at a recent selectmen’s meeting – the most recent one – the chair and other members of the Board of Selectmen extended an invitation to people who want to talk about the problem as they see it. They invited members of the public to share some input on the situation. So, what would you like to tell them?
A: I think if they go out of town and come into town, and began to observe things – today I wound up going into Melrose, and from Melrose I went into Arlington to pick up something and came back through Winchester and Stoneham and Melrose, and they all have updated signage. One of the signs in Winchester going into Stoneham says “densely populated” throughout the town and says 25 miles per hour. And they gave you notice on that sign. And it’s relaxing driving through there. As soon as you hit Saugus, it’s the darn Wild, Wild West! So, I’m coming down on my way back at noontime and there’s a kid on a motorcycle that I see behind me. I stop at the light at Vine Street, and he came around me with the light that was already red. He came right on that double red line on Vine Street to Main Street and just took off because he wasn’t going to stay in line. And I was doing the speed limit.
I believe this is a lot about attitude. And I want to see that there’s got to be some correction in attitude – and the public attitude. You just can’t think that you are the only one that needs to park or get into the bank and use the ATM. Friday night I went down to mail a letter in front of the bank, and I see in the “No Parking” spot a beautiful, black Audi. Handsome car. And it’s parked three feet away from the curb right in front of Jasper Street. And out comes this young woman dressed professionally, getting in this car. And I said to her, “This your car? It’s really nice. But look where you parked.” She looked at me and she asked, “Are you recording this?” And I said, “No, but do you see where you are? You’ve got a gorgeous car and you are blocking all of the traffic.” There is somebody trying to come off of Jasper and go right and go around her and head into the center. It’s a royal mess. So, she blows me off and says to me, “I use the ATM. They don’t say anything to me. Hey, I’m not doing anything.”
And I told her, “This isn’t the bank. This is the town. It’s not safe to park here. And you’re the first one who is going to get hit.” She dismissed me. And then, before she got in the car, one of her friends go out and she was going to park there, too. But that’s the entitled attitude – that people don’t want to walk … not 10 feet. And the bank has got parking in the back. And who uses it? But they’re not going to walk 10 feet. And I see that all of the time.
Q: So, how many years have you been walking in Saugus?
A: When I was in High School, living in Oaklandvale, mother nicknamed me “Miss Adams Avenue, because Adams Avenue is down here, and I would be walking it all of the time, because a lot of my friends were walking it.
Q: So, you are a Saugus High graduate?
A: Yes, Class of 1962.
Q: And you have been walking a long time?
A: Yes. And I gave up smoking in 1994, and really, I had a stressful job and really started to walk.
Q: So, at what point did you notice the hassles with the traffic and the lack of safety for pedestrians?
A: I think it has really gotten bad in the last two to three years. Last year it was not only the traffic and crossing the street, it was all the needles [hypodermic needles] and whatever else. And I’d be calling in to the nonemergency line. One Saturday morning, there were five needles at the end of my street. And you can tell the history of the town and what they are doing, but what’s in the street. And you can tell what they’re drinking. In my time, it was beer. Now, it’s that cinnamon hot alcohol.
Q: So, what are your recommendations to the town manager [Scott Crabtree]?
A: I think he needs to get together with people from different parts of this town, especially Saugus Center and Cliftondale, and start coming up with something that is going to impact the traffic. Because it’s not just signs: It’s attitude; it’s planning. Nobody has ever accepted the true problems of living so close to Route 1.
Q: Now, did he [the town manager] return your call?
A: No. I didn’t expect him to. I just gave him the message.
Q: How long ago did you make the call?
A: It was a week ago yesterday [Monday]. I called him, Rep. Wong, Peter [Rossetti] and I talked to the bank manager. Because I also said I was going to talk with whoever I do business with.
Q: So, who returned your calls?
A: Peter. But it’s not a game. It’s serious; it’s serious enough to come out and look at it. The town manager was a cop. If anybody has walked the walk, he has. So, my sense is, they have no clue. When you see the firetrucks and the ambulances speeding by, they [the cars] don’t even get out of the way for them.
Q: You have walked all over town – so what are the worst intersections for pedestrians?
A: I think for accessibility … and Al DiNardo [Town Meeting member who lives on Essex Street] is one of the most committed people I know in town. He was a neighbor of mine. His dad and mother lived right around the corner. And he has put so much time into making the sidewalks safer. Nobody can keep up with the sidewalks, because half of the population is parking on them.
Q: So, what do you hope happens now, in response to your concerns and the concerns raised by other citizens about walking safety in town?
A: I hope it gets very specific. And I hope we can come together on things that just aren’t structural … on signs and attitudes. I think the different parts of this community that come together – and that’s the business part of the community and the police and the public servants and the people on the universe that we share – and hopefully, so we can stop somebody from getting seriously injured or killed, because it’s really bad.
Q: So, that’s an observation from somebody who has been out there six days a week, walking around town? And you normally do a loop all the way from Saugus Center up to Cliftondale and down Main Street.
A: And sometimes I go down Winter Street, too. There was somebody killed there in a car going too fast. And there’s another bend and another big sign that came down and never went back up. There are all of these long roads and they come right through Saugus Center, and they connect us with the outside world – and I don’t know how many of these people who are constantly going east and west, never mind north and south. Route 1 is screwed up at 5:30 in the morning. This morning, it was super early. I think at 6 o’clock they were saying it’s all bad.
I hope it gets people to seriously say things need to get better.
Q: So, for you, what’s the most glaring issue as you try to walk on the sidewalks?
A: I think you just can’t trust a crosswalk any more – at all – and there are multiple, multiple reasons, and that’s attitudinal. And it’s not the town painting them red.
Q: And it boils down to some enforcement, too.
A: Well, I think there’s enforcement and there’s saying to somebody, “Why are you doing this?”
“Oh, because I can and because it’s convenient.” No. No. No. No. No. That’s not allowed. And when they figure out they’ve been stopped this time, and it’s not going to change. It used to be that the word was out that you couldn’t go through Saugus if you had an expired inspection sticker, because they would pull you over and you would park your car and get it towed until you had an inspection sticker. It wasn’t them saying, “Good luck to you. You have a day to get it.”
And I think that there’s that courtesy that’s in other places, and we’re surrounded by it. And like I said, you come into this town and you can feel it, you can see it … who’s driving too close, who’s cutting you off, who can’t get there too fast – that has to change. That has to be changed. Nobody wants to be treated like that.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share?
A: No. We are a nice town. We were a nice town, and we need to get back to where we don’t feel it’s unsafe.
The nicest part of anybody’s day is going for a walk. And to lose that ability because you’re afraid … that’s not a good situation to be in.
I think the people in all parts of town need to walk the streets to see what we need to do. This should be a Town Meeting thing. People in all of the precincts need to see what the problem spots are in their neighborhood, even if they just start out by walking around in their own neighborhood.
I’m just a retiree who enjoys walking the streets, and I want to keep my neighbors and family safe.