Slow Giant Crossing: Echo Hill neighborhood kids make their own street signs aiming to slow speeding traffic

Last modified: Monday, September 08, 2014
AMHERST — Families in the Echo Hill neighborhood want to let their children engage in a lively grass fight in the yard, spray each other with the hose, or ride their bikes down the street to see their friends without fear that a speeding car will put them in danger.

One of the streets, Heatherstone Road, is used as a shortcut to get to the Hampshire Athletic Club on Gatehouse Road, said Elizabeth Lingo, who lives on Heatherstone and often sees cars whizzing by in excess of the 30-mph speed limit.

Capt. Christopher G. Pronovost, who heads the patrol division for the Amherst Police Department, said a sewer project in Pelham is also a possible cause of so much traffic on Heatherstone. “The project runs from one end of Harkness Road (in Pelham) to the other, resulting in the need for detours,” said Pronovost. And he suspects some motorists have been using Heatherstone Road during the Harkness Road project.

There are no sidewalks in the area, making Heatherstone even more dangerous.

“I would love my kids to be able to check the mail, and it’s just not safe,” Lingo said in an interview in her yard last week. “It’s gotten to the point that we’re like, ‘We need to do something to keep our kids safe.’ ”

So, over dinner one evening, she and her family decided to do something about it. Her children, Jackson, 11, and Amelia, 7, rounded up a group of friends and made signs urging drivers to slow down.

The children made about 20 signs with colored markers and poster boards that now decorate front lawns along Heatherstone.

Lingo said she believes the handmade signs work better than a bunch of generic ones. They “raise attention to the fact that there are real kids living here, that they draw their own signs, and people can relate to the signs.”

Town Manager John Musante said he also believes the signs will be helpful. “The signs serve to raise awareness that there is an issue of speed,” said Musante. “Raising awareness can be a very positive thing.”

Lingo said the project also provides an important lesson. “Instead of being people who just complain, we want to teach the kids that they can have a voice and take action,” she explained. “We’re empowering a new generation to have their voices heard.”

Amherst Police and the Department of Public Works have been supportive, Lingo said.

“We’ve been trying to get patrols out there as much as we can,” said Pronovost.

Lingo also has spoken with Aaron Hayden, chairman of the Amherst Select Board, who she said expressed surprise that there were no sidewalks in the Echo Hill area. She asked that the matter be placed on the board’s agenda for discussion.

“The town is nearly finished with a comprehensive traffic plan for the town, that will try to understand where traffic-calming measures need to go, or should go,” said Hayden, indicating that Heatherstone Road is not the only area that needs cautionary measures to reduce traffic speed.

“I think everyone realizes what a vibrant community this is,” Lingo said. “I mean we’ve got children riding their bikes, as well as the elderly using their walkers.”

About 10 children gathered in Lingo’s backyard last week to talk about their effort. Their signs are diverse and creative, based on their personalities.

Jackson Lingo made a sign that reads “Got brakes? Use ’Em” which was inspired by the “Got Milk” campaign.

Alexander Marlin, 6, who said he likes sports, wrote “Athletes in Training” on his.

Sophie Schilling, 12, sometimes walks her dog along Heatherstone Road, so she made a sign that says, “Watch out for Animals.” Because of the speeding traffic, Sophie’s younger sisters, Jenna, 9, and April, 9, are not allowed to walk the dog alone. “It’s easy for people to get hit if a car doesn’t see them on a blind turn,” said Jenna. “And sometimes I see road kill.”

Pippa Comfort, another resident of Heatherstone Road, said parents want to encourage their children to walk and use their bicycles to get around when they can but the traffic stops them from doing so. “It’s hard to encourage that when you’re worried about them,” she said. “Instead we have to drive them.”

April Schilling said she stays on the side of the road when she rides her bike, but cars speeding by make her try to move out of the way quickly.

Ben Oates, 10, an avid skateboarder, said that when he’s riding down his driveway, the sight of a car moving down the road too fast can unnerve him. “I’m like ‘whoa’ and almost lose my balance.”

Amelia Lingo cited “kitty crossings” as another reason why drivers should be cautious.

Comfort said the neighbors appreciate Lingo’s work on this issue. “Elizabeth took a very unique, and proactive stance. We all need to be aware of issues and safety,” she said.