The Highway Safety Committee is continuing to monitor several downtown crosswalks after receiving its second letter from a concerned resident.
At its April 21 meeting the committee reviewed a letter from resident Brad Russell dated April 2 and expressing concern about the crosswalk at the junction of East Broadway and McAllister Court.
Russell wrote that the pedestrian safety situation “is still going on” and “has gotten worse.”
Several months ago, he wrote, he and his girlfriend “came to within inches of getting hit by a speeding motorist who failed to yield to us in the crosswalk.”
Russell added that he has seen “numerous occasions” of motorists failing to yield, including one situation with a man in a wheelchair. Most recently, he said, his girlfriend and her son had a narrow escape April 1 at 6:15 p.m. with a speeding motorist.
Russell wrote, “Many children use this crosswalk to get to and from karate (at the Professional Martial Arts Studio).”
But Alan Cote, superintendent of operations, said it’s not that simple.
Cote said, “While it’s the responsibility of drivers to look for pedestrians, it’s also the responsibility of the pedestrian to look out for the driver and make eye contact. It is the responsibility of the pedestrian to cross in a responsible, safe manner.”
What it isn’t
Cote said he has contracted with a lighting company to review downtown lighting and see if there is a problem. “We don’t want to fix it if it isn’t broken,” he said. “We need to know what the problem is before we move forward and spend tens of thousands of dollars.”
But Cote isn’t sure lighting is the problem. The latest incident involving Russell’s girlfriend and her son took place at 6:15 p.m., a time in April that is still light, he pointed out.
It also matters where the lights are placed, Cote said, adding, “If the light is beyond the pedestrian, all the driver will see is their silhouette. You want the light before you see the person.”
He is still considering the Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons proposed and researched last year by State Rep. John O’Connor, R-Derry. These would cost about $15,000 each, he said, and the problem he sees is that it would be hard to stop with one. “People would say, ‘Why can’t we have one on Kendall Pond Road?’ ‘Why can’t we have one at Pinkerton?’” he said.
And Cote doesn’t think the safety issue comes from drivers not seeing pedestrians.
Rather, the near-misses come from driver inattention, according to Cote. With the new hands-free law, he said, “I hope over time people will stop using their cell phones while driving. I don’t think it’s a matter of lighting. I think it comes from driver inattention, pedestrian inattention.”
And traffic, member Randy Chase said. “It is extremely busy in that area,” he noted, listing cars queuing up to turn left on Crystal Avenue, people turning right onto McAllister or Manning streets, and people turning left onto Wall Street.
“People waiting for the light to turn don’t leave the crosswalk clear, and pedestrians walk around them,” Chase said.
Committee chairman Scott Savard identified another trouble spot as the crosswalk at the Adams Memorial Building (Derry Opera House). “The lighting is poor and there’s driver inattention,” he said. “We have had many close calls.”
New member John Potucek wondered if the crosswalks needed to be repainted, but Cote said they’re redone every year. He’s tried various configurations to make them stand out but said, “It’s not that the driver doesn’t see the crosswalk. It’s that they’re not paying attention.”
Savard asked about speed bumps, but Cote said in his opinion it’s not a speeding issue. “It’s a congestion issue,” he said, not hard to understand on a road that sees 15,000 to 20,000 cars a day.
The committee agreed to table the issue and return to it after the lighting study is done.