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Newton North neighbors demand fix to traffic woes

Posted by Sarah Thomas  October 1, 2010 12:46 PM

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Fed up with cars snarling their streets before the bell rings each morning, neighbors of the new Newton North High School urged city officials Thursday to develop a parking and traffic plan that works for the whole neighborhood.

At a meeting of the Traffic Council, both officials and residents asked for
meeting times and strategic guidance to develop long-term solutions and temporary fixes for problem areas along their roads.

"As we move forward in the school year, it would help all of us if there was a comprehensive plan in place for all the streets," said alderman Susan Albright at last night's meeting. "Even if we don't always implement it, we can at least use it to inform our decision."

The call for a comprehensive plan came after agenda items saw different parking restrictions upheld on Trowbridge, Elm, Walnut, and Hull streets.

Trowbridge, where residents asked for special parking restrictions in June, has no parking at all on the north side of the road, while the south side has one-hour parking. The restrictions were put in place on a trial basis for 60 days.

"The violations have been flagrant," said Trowbridge resident Bill Franklin. "We've called the police numerous times on people parking longer than one hour or standing on the north side. It impairs vision and makes driving a safety hazard."

The traffic council, which oversaw the trial and listens to citizen recommendation on traffic problems, agreed to extend the trial an additional 60 days, and to add signs to prohibit standing in the no parking zones on the north side, and for the first 50 feet on the south side of the road.

On Elm Road, the traffic council decided to make the no-turning restrictions during pickup and dropoff hours permanent. They will be changing signs at the intersection of Lowell and Elm to specify the hours between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., rather than the 4:30 p.m. that was originally posted.

"It would help traffic on that road to make it a little less restrictive," said traffic engineer David Koses.

Walnut Street, on the other hand, has no parking for much of its length, and residents there said they hoped some parking would eventually be added back.

"Having parking on Walnut Street would serve to calm traffic, not to mention making it easier on us residents when we have company," said Alan Mayer, who lives on Walnut Street.

However, Sgt. James Norcross felt that having people getting out of cars on Walnut - a fast moving and narrow traffic artery - would pose a safety hazard, and traffic engineer James Danila pointed out that parked cars would limit bike access along the road. The council voted to continue the no parking trial.

And on Hull Street, a 'blue zone' for student pickup and dropoff was added for the 200 feet leading up to the staircase at the intersection of Hull and Dexter, despite the fear of some Dexter residents that parents would use their street as a turning lane and create a safety hazard.

"I have pictures of students standing in the road by my house with vans barreling down at them," said Dexter resident Barbara Model. "It's dangerous, and someone's going to get hurt."

Issues on all these streets, raised in response to the heavy volume of traffic created by the new high school, have led some residents to contend that neighbors have turned against each other - and that the lack of communication and oversight meant that problems would just be shifted from street to street rather than being solved.

"We should have a dialogue with all the neighborhood streets to address traffic in a holistic way, treating it as a system rather than a zero-sum game where everyone's trying to protect their own street," said Alan Mayer. "If we look at it holistically, it gives us an opportunity for integrating the school into the neighborhood, and maybe to heal some wounds."

Koses said that the Transportation Advisory Committee would be creating a subcommittee on complete street plans for such situations within the next few weeks.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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