Support voiced for lower speed limits at traffic safety forum 

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The September 17 traffic safety forum discussed a plan to lower speed limits to 25 on portions of several town roads (darkened areas on map.)

 

The vast majority of the roughly 40 residents who attended the public forum on changing speed limits were in favor of the proposal to reduce speed limits to 25 mph in the center of town. The event, held on September 17, was hosted by the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee (TSAC). 

Background

 

TSAC Chair Deb Belanger, Police Chief John Fisher and Selectwoman Kate Reid led the meeting and presented background information about the proposal. In 2018, Carlisle citizens voted to allow the Board of Selectmen (BOS) to reduce the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph in thickly settled or business districts. Prior to that vote, lowering speed limits to 25 mph happened at the state level and, according to Chief Fisher, when the town tried to lower the limit in the past, the state did not allow it.

After studying speed and crosswalk safety in the Town Center, members of the TSAC developed the proposal to reduce the speed to 25 mph from the rotary out to the terminus of the pathways on each of the main roads. Specifically, the changes would include: 

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 Police Chief John Fisher spoke at the traffic
forum on September 17. (Photo by Sarah Hart)

• Bedford Road eastbound to Stearns Stree
• Lowell Street northbound to Morse Road
• Westford Street eastbound to Rockland Road
• Concord Road southbound to Bingham Road
• East Street northeast to Partridge Lane

Chief Fisher presented speed and traffic volume data for each of the roads under consideration. He found that a significant number of vehicles, up to 60%, were travelling above the speed limit when they approached a flashing sign indicating the speed they were traveling as well as the posted speed limit. He also noted that there has been an increase in traffic and pedestrian incidents and he has had direct observation that vehicles frequently do not stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. Belanger commented, “We have more traffic, we have more speeding, we have more distracted drivers and we have Waze which makes Carlisle a fun place to drive through.” Waze is a nagivation application for cell phones that helps drivers circumvent traffic, sometimes by directing them through smaller roads. 

The TSAC is considering several approaches to address the safety issues in the center in addition to reducing the speed limits. Most immediately, the committee is applying for a grant through the state’s Complete Streets program to make improvements to the rotary, crosswalks and pathways in the center. At the upcoming Special Town Meeting, they will be asking voters for $85,000 to pay for the necessary design and engineering expenses if they are awarded the grant. 

Cross, Curve and Rutland Streets

The committee did note that, although the current focus is on the main roads in and out of the rotary, Cross, Curve and Rutland Streets also have problems with speeding. However, they do not fit the criteria of being densely populated or in a business district, so the speed limit can not be lowered by the BOS. The TSAC will continue to consider how to improve safety on those roads using other means. 

Police cannot enforce existing speed limits

Fisher told the audience that his officers have a hard time enforcing the existing speed limits. They write tickets but those tickets do not hold up in court because the speed was not enough over the limit. He said, “Three quarters of the speeding tickets get dismissed by judges because they don’t think that they are egregious enough.” Fisher later commented, “You can’t enforce two or three [mph] over [the speed limit] but you can enforce 15 over. If we do pass this, we will send the message to slow down.” 

Improving the rotary and crosswalks

Although the purpose of the meeting was to discuss speed limits, the discussion frequently centered around other ways to improve safety. Several people suggested changing the surface of the crosswalks such as the raised crosswalks in Chelmsford center or changing the design of the rotary so that it is no longer a “straight shot” through from Westford Street to Bedford Road.

Belanger explained that the goal is to get attention from a driver who is going too fast and is distracted because that combination means they are not going to stop in time. She said they want to interrupt or interfere with the driver’s experience with solutions like speed bumps, rumble strips or narrowing the pathway, anything that causes the driver to say “This is different, I have to slow down.” Reid reminded the group that these options are being considered with the Complete Streets program, but are not a part of the speed limit discussion. 

Concerns about lowering the speed limit

One resident argued against lowering the speed limit because it will slow down the commuting traffic and the school buses. He said, “I would rather see more police out there, even though you may not beat them in court. When you stop a car, they are going to think twice about it and it’s going to remind them [not to speed].”

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An audience member shares his opinion during the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee’s public input session. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

An audience member said he would like to see more information, specifically on how the new speed limits will be enforced and what the associated cost will be. 

Later on, another person said, “What we’ve heard here all night is enforcement, enforcement, enforcement . . . to start right away, today, not tomorrow, not next week. We have an issue at the rotary that could be better policed also and that could save lives today . . . they are not stopping now for this speed limit, why would they stop for the other?” Reid responded, saying, “Actually, what I heard was the 25 mph speed limit zone is easier to enforce, because if it is 30 or 35 and the cars are going 40 the courts are not backing up the police. But if they are continuing at their same speed in a 25 mph zone, now they are going excessively more than that speed limit and the speed limit can be enforced.”

When Fisher was asked if he had any evidence that lowering the speed limit reduces accidents he answered, “That is homework for me, we should know that.”

Support for lowering speed limit

Several people, including Chief Fisher, shared stories of watching pedestrians being nearly hit, or family members being nearly hit or witnessing car accidents at the crosswalks. 

A Bedford Road resident received applause when he said that vehicles “start at the top of the rotary, they put on their gas and boom—they are going fast before they get to the crosswalk past the library—that is so dangerous because people are trying to cross . . . people are going so fast they can’t stop.” He added, “We need a police presence, we do need the enforcement and we need a penalty if people do go above and beyond. If you go through Belmont or Lexington and you’re speeding, you’re going to get stopped. It sets the precedent if you come through Carlisle, you’d better pay attention.” 

It was suggested that if other surrounding towns lower their speed limits and Carlisle does not, it will have more traffic and more problems. 

A Lowell Street resident expressed her support and appreciation saying, “I am passionately in support of this because I want to live in a town where we want to walk around and meet our neighbors and walk our kids to school and feel like we are safe to get our mail. This is an excellent first step —thank you.” 

Consider making the whole town 25 mph

One audience member asked why the lower speeds were limited to the center, why not make the whole town 25 mph. Fisher said that Bedford recently changed its default speed limit to 25 mph, unless otherwise posted. In a straw poll, 28 people in the audience supported this suggestion. 

A resident of Sunset Road noted that, if the speed limit is not marked, it is automatically 30 mph. She said, “If you drove down Sunset at 30 mph you’re probably going to hit a deer . . . or a pothole. So having it be universally 25,unless otherwise posted, will  really impact all those side roads in a positive way.”

When asked if the Selectmen would consider changing the whole town to 25 mph at their upcoming meeting, Board of Selectmen Chair Nathan Brown said, “That would be unfair—this meeting was posted as the extension of the 25 mph speed limit for specific roads.” He advised those who want to reduce the speed limit throughout town to work with the TSAC.

Town Administrator Tim Goddard later said that he believes changing speed limits in other areas of town would require MassDOT approval.

Communication

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Chair of the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee Deb Belanger and Police Chief John Fisher presented the proposal to reduce the speed limit to 25 mph near the center of town during the public input session. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

Fisher was asked about the process of implementing the new speed limits. He said, “It will be easy to get the word out to people in Carlisle—it will be harder to get to other folks. We will have to give a lot of warning.” He said he wants to convey, “we know this is new, we know this is different, we appreciate you coming through Carlisle. Everyone has to be careful.” He then added, “we will probably see a verbal warning spike in the stats.” 

Decision making process

Reid explained the process for making the decision. The purpose of the forum was to get a sense of public opinion on the proposal. In a straw poll, 37 audience members were in favor of the proposal, four were against it. However, there were several conflicting events at the same time as the meeting, so the Selectmen will allow for more public input at its September 25 meeting. If nothing significant requiring additional information arises at that time, they will vote. Reid said that anyone who has comments, ideas or questions can attend the meeting or send the BOS an email.  ∆