Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Misconceptions at Congress and Derby

Congress and Derby Intersection 015

[The Congress and Derby intersection, photo by the author.]

There was a letter in today’s News I just had to respond to.  I really don’t want to name the writer, but this is the fuzzy thinking I associate with denizens of  Federal St. or the Common.

Before the city jumps blindly into installing lights at the intersection of Derby and Congress streets in Salem, I hope cooler heads will prevail.

If this intersection becomes fully signaled with accompanying walk lights, I predict several consequences:

“Jumps blindly”.  Right.  That’s ironic in more ways than one;  read on.

First, traffic backups will likely increase. By impeding what is currently a relatively safe flow through a four-way stop, vehicles heading toward the intersection will increasingly back up from Congress to Lafayette Street (and probably to Washington Street), and even north to Essex Street, thus worsening congestion, escalating driver tension, and adding to greenhouse gas emissions from engines idling.

Relatively safe”, emphasis added

However, safety is the real victim here. When green lights are installed, the average speed of vehicles approaching the intersection will increase. Besides presenting a greater danger to pedestrians and bicyclists, collisions at these higher speeds are more likely to cause injuries or worse

“When green lights are installed”


There is no signal there now.   There’s nothing stopping cars from going as fast as they dare, but for the occasional truck, MBTA bus or motor coach.

Last part:

Signalizing intersections is not always the best solution. Currently, traffic entering the intersection from any direction should stop. If vehicles don't stop, it's an enforcement issue — not an engineering one.

A low-cost, low-tech fix, such as adding or enlarging one or two traffic islands or installing flashing red lights, should be considered first. At the very least, a public hearing to review other alternatives should be held before another full set of traffic signals adds to our collective road rage.

Duh.  Look at the photo at the top of the page.  There are traffic islands splitting Derby St. at the travel lanes on both the east (towards Pickering Wharf) and the west (towards New Derby St.)  They’re already there!

And what are flashing red lights but traffic signals themselves?  What, the vendor will tell the city engineer, “oh, those are only flashing red.  50% off!”

Alternatives?  Overpasses?  Rebuild the old Congress Street drawbridge?  (Yes, it was once a drawbridge, until it failed open once too many times and was replaced in the 80’s.)  After hearing what people on Federal St. proposed as “alternatives” for the court complex, I’m not enthusiastic.

Let’s go back to the lede:  “Before the city jumps blindly into installing lights at the intersection of Derby and Congress streets in Salem”

Salemmites, like urbanites and town dwellers everywhere, have a cute misconception of how projects happen.  Mayor Driscoll did not wake up a few days ago and decide she wanted lights at Congress and Derby just because.  The city—and more importantly, visitors, residents and users of the intersection—have wanted to have it signalized for the past five years, if not even longer.  Several years ago, the intersection got new sidewalks and tactile surfaces at the corners for the visually impaired (they’re the brown studded surfaces at curb cuts;  you can just see one at the extreme right of the picture.)

Interesting that the writer talks about “jumping blindly”, because my chairman on the Commission on Disabilities is legally blind and he uses that intersection nearly daily, including to and from our monthly meetings.

The city’s desire to manage traffic at that intersection owes as much to the disabled people who use it, as it does to visitors to Pickering Wharf, the hotel and points all around the intersection.

Where was the writer five years ago?

Source:  Letter: Traffic lights can cause more problems than they solve -, Salem, MA

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