Grant to fund pedestrian safety project in Lenox

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LENOX — Residents and visitors crossing the town's busy Main Street will be safer come summer 2019 thanks to a state grant of $324,000 announced recently by Land Use Director/Town Planner Gwen Miller.

The town was among 23 communities, including Clarksburg and Sandisfield, that shared $5.5 million awarded by the Baker-Polito administration through the state Department of Transportation's Complete Streets Funding Program.

The national program, adopted by a majority of states, encourages towns to compile a priority list of projects aimed at improving traffic flow, signage, bike lanes and compliance with Americans With Disability Act standards.

The project will include improvements such as pedestrian-activated warning devices at the three existing mid-block locations along Main Street, curb extensions and raised crossings to cut down on traffic speed and reduce pedestrian crossing distances.

"It's great to see the Complete Streets effort pay off," Miller said, "and these improvements will be good for long-term pedestrian safety in the village center."

Miller, who secured the grant in a collaborative effort with DPW Superintendent William Gop, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and the town's engineer on this project, BETA, told the Planning Board that the funds will create a new pedestrian crosswalk at the intersection of Old Stockbridge Road, adjacent to Town Hall and the Main Street war monument.

BETA provided several preliminary options for this crossing to town staff for review early last year, describing one suggestion as the "Cadillac" version. It will entail a pedestrian crossing, extending the curbing in front of Town Hall while retaining the sidewalk and adding an additional grass buffer.

Three existing Main Street crossings will be upgraded with curb extensions to make pedestrians more visible to motorists. The crosswalk itself will be more obvious, Miller said, with the use of new material and illuminated signs for drivers, enhancing safety especially at dawn, dusk and nighttime.

"BETA, myself, and DPW are working together to finalize designs so they are built to last, adapt to New England weather, and are easy to maintain," she told The Eagle recently.

Under the terms of the grant, the project must be completed by June 30, 2019. It will be installed in phases to avoid an impact on the busy tourism season, Miller said.

"I have to congratulate our town planner for receiving the grant for these much needed safety enhancements to the downtown area," Police Chief Stephen E. O'Brien said. "Although our statistics don't show many pedestrian-involved encounters, yearly we receive many complaints of violations at our crosswalks. These improvements will only help decrease the chances of future encounters."

According to the state Department of Transportation, the improvements will narrow lanes, install a curb extension, new sidewalk, a crosswalk and two new ADA-compliant curb ramps at the four-way intersection of Main, Walker and West streets and Old Stockbridge Road.

The goal is to "calm traffic, increase ADA accessibility and reduce the pedestrian crossing distance at the heavily traveled crossroads," the state agency's announcement pointed out

MassDOT noted that the intersection serves high-volume seasonal traffic on West Street (Route 183) headed to Tanglewood the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. The route also funnels motorists to Kripalu, Berkshire Country Day School and into Stockbridge.

Last May, the town and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission co-hosted a public forum so residents could suggest priority projects for potential state grants. Completion of a priority list was required before the town could seek funding for specific projects reflecting the community's vision.

The town installed temporary crosswalk bump-outs last summer, built with hay bales and traffic cones, to enhance pedestrian safety.

Communities that adopt the Complete Street policy open the gates for state grants to enhance traffic safety. Since the program was launched in February 2016, about $23.2 million has been awarded.

"The Complete Streets program enables our municipal partners to improve their roadways, sidewalks, multi-use paths and intersections, so that our infrastructure works for everyone, whether they are driving, cycling, walking or using public transit," Gov. Charlie Baker stated in a prepared release.

So far, 148 of the state's 351 cities and towns have adopted the policy, and 90 have approved priority plans for potential grants. Eligible projects include improved street lighting, radar speed signage, intersection signals and new signals at crosswalks.

"This latest round of awards will empower cities and towns to address specific locations which may need ADA improvements, wider sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, traffic islands and other infrastructure to make travel safer and easier for people to get around their neighborhoods," added Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

"MassDOT continues to collaborate with city and town officials to develop, manage and implement programs which help build stronger transportation networks in our local communities," Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack stated.

Clarksburg will get nearly $78,000 for a bicycle lane on Middle Road, part of a repaving project, by creating a 4-foot shoulder to accommodate bike riders. It's a segment of a four-phase reconstruction project from the North Adams city line to the River Road (Route 8) intersection.

Together, improved shoulders and marked bicycle lanes will enhance safety along the two main commuter routes and create a recreational bike riders' loop through the town, the MassDOT announcement said.

For Sandisfield, an award of just over $50,000 will fund installation of two solar-powered speed monitoring signs on Routes 57 and 183. The state describes those roadways as major rural connectors where speeds tend to be high. The traffic-calming measure will help improve the pedestrian and bicycling experience, the announcement noted.

"Many older residents don't feel comfortable walking or biking because of vehicle speeds and narrow roadways," MassDOT stated. The grant also allows Sandisfield to install "bicycle amenities" at the library-playground and bike parking areas at the Town Hall Annex, Old Town Hall and Wilber Park.

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

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