Identifying most dangerous places to drive in Valley



Last modified: Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Easthampton resident Ginnie Pinard was keeping track of the car accidents happening just 25 feet from her front door at the intersection of Route 10 and West Street, but there were just too many this year. She lost count.

“I got to 20 or something and then I gave up,” she said from her living room, which overlooks the most dangerous intersection in the area, according to a Gazette analysis of state crash data.

Pinard, 68, has lived at 49 Northampton St. (Route 10) with her husband Jim, 72, since 1967. Their home is in a heavily traveled stretch of road a block from the city’s downtown rotary. They’ve been affected, many times, by the crashes that take place there.

Once, Ginnie Pinard said, a car came barreling up their lawn and into their driveway, slamming into their daughter’s car and totaling it.

The couple used to have an elm tree, until a driver floored his car and crashed into the tree. Pinard said the driver was having a heart attack.

About four months ago, the Pinards were involved in an accident while attempting to turn into their driveway. A truck in the northbound lane had stopped to let them turn, but a motorcycle came from behind the truck and collided with the Pinards’ vehicle. The Pinards were OK. The motorcyclist, who was cited, was taken to the hospital, Ginnie Pinard said.

“You don’t jump right up when you hear a crash anymore,” she said. “You kind of get up, make sure everyone’s OK, make a phone call [to the police] and they come right away.”

“We like the location,” Jim Pinard said, “but not the traffic.”

Today kicks off two days of coverage on road safety in the Valley. Stories today and Monday will examine the area’s crash hot spots, the similarities among fatal accidents, road safety projects on the horizon and how public commentary and available funding often trump crashes in determining which streets a city improves first.

Using the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s 2010 crash data, a compilation of accidents reported to the Registry of Motor Vehicles by police and people involved in crashes, and a formula that weights for severity, a Gazette analysis has determined the most dangerous intersections and roads in the county’s most-traveled towns: Amherst, Easthampton, Hadley, Northampton and South Hadley.

In 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, 2,644 motor vehicle accidents took place in Hampshire County. Six of these accidents were fatal, and hundreds resulted in injuries that sent people to hospitals. Sites of repeat crashes were usually intersections.

According to the Gazette analysis, the most dangerous intersection among these towns is the one at West Street and Northampton Street (Route 10) in Easthampton, which was the site of nine accidents in 2010, including three that caused injuries. (Unlike the Pinards’ informal tally, the state’s count does not include traffic accidents in which there were no injuries and no property damage over $1,000.)

The most dangerous road by far is Russell Street (Route 9) in Hadley. It was the site of 142 accidents, 29 of them resulting in injuries.

But there are other dangerous roadways — for motorists as well as pedestrians and cyclists. Here are the most dangerous intersections and streets for each community:

Northampton

There were 623 motor vehicle accidents in Northampton in 2010 and 606 in 2009 — a 3 percent decrease.

▊ King Street (Routes 5 and 10): King Street is the most dangerous roadway in Northampton. In 2010, 79 accidents took place on this thoroughfare, which runs from the downtown intersection with Route 9 up to the ramp for exit 20 on Interstate 91 (the road becomes North King Street at this point). Twenty-five of the accidents caused injuries. The most dangerous section is the intersection with Finn Street, where seven accidents occurred, including one three- and one four-car pile-up. Two of the accidents resulted in injuries.

▊ Bridge Street (Route 9)/Damon Road intersection: This intersection with traffic lights was the site of eight accidents in 2010, including two that caused injuries. Four busy roads meet at the intersection: Bridge Street, leading to downtown Northampton; Route 9, leading to Hadley over the Coolidge Bridge; an interstate highway ramp; and Damon Road, leading to the city’s industrial area.

Laura Hanson, the city’s transportation engineer, said improvements to this area have been on the docket since 1998, but Northampton had to reconsider its plans when the state proposed a redesign of the Interstate 91 exit 19 on/off ramp.

“We’re trying to make long-term improvements with the state,” Hanson said. “It takes years to go through the system.”

Amherst

Police and drivers in Amherst reported 443 crashes to the RMV in 2010 — a 380 percent increase in motor vehicle accidents compared to the 92 that were recorded in 2009. The 2009 figure is an aberration for Amherst. From 1990 to 2010, not counting 2009, the low year for accidents was 2004, with 132 reported. The highest year was 1996, with 658.

▊ Intersection of University Drive/Northampton Road (Routes 116 and 9): A variety of factors make this intersection dangerous: heavy traffic, popular shopping centers and access to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a community of 33,000 to 35,000 faculty, staff, students and visitors. This intersection was the site of five accidents in 2010, three of them resulting in injuries.

▊ There was a tie for most dangerous road in Amherst: Both University Drive and Route 9 were the sites of dozens of accidents in 2010. University Drive is a hectic street that connects routes 9 and 116 to UMass. It's home to multiple office buildings, a shopping center and restaurants. Flanking the road and adding to the traffic are a bike path and a two-way lane that allows drivers to cut across the shopping center without having to turn onto University Drive. There were 33 car accidents on this road, eight of which resulted in injuries. On the portion of Route 9 known as Northampton Road, there were 29 accidents in 2010, nine of which involved injuries.

Hadley

In 2010, 266 accidents were reported in Hadley — a record low for the town. That figure is down 18 percent from the prior year’s 324 accidents.

▊ Russell Street (Route 9)/West Street intersection: The second most dangerous intersection in the county’s most-traveled communities is on West Street in Hadley. West Street, a four-lane road with a bucolic common in the middle, serves as the entrance to a network of back roads bypassing Route 9. To turn left onto West Street from Russell Street, a motorist has to cross two curving lanes of fast-moving traffic. This intersection was the site of 12 accidents, two of them resulting in injuries.

▊ Russell Street (Route 9): This road is the most dangerous one identified in the Gazette’s analysis. With shopping centers, businesses, hotels and restaurants, Russell Street, which stretches from one side of Hadley to the other, was the site of 142 accidents in 2010, including 29 that resulted in injuries.

Easthampton

In 2010, there were 286 reported crashes in Easthampton, up from 78 the prior year, according to MassDOT. Easthampton was cited by the state for under-reporting accidents in 2009, and this likely explains the spike in crash figures from 2009 to 2010.

▊ Northampton Street (Route 10)/West Street: The Pinards and their neighbors say part of the problem with the West Street/Route 10 intersection is speeding and the difficulty in making left turns off or onto West Street when there’s heavy traffic, usually between 7 and 9 a.m. and 3 and 6 p.m. People get impatient and cut left when it’s dangerous to do so, they say. Residents of the area said it’s common for motorists to drive onto the sidewalk to get around vehicles waiting to make a turn.

“People don’t like to share the road,” said Dave Altman, who lives at 52 Northampton St., near the intersection, with his stepdaughter, Cheryl Kessler. “It’s like they’re afraid people will get somewhere faster than them.”

Kessler said she always checks on accidents. Once, she said, she ran out to a motorcycle crash with paper towels and alcohol to wash blood off people trying to aid the driver.

The intersection is slated for a major upgrade soon. As part of a $3.8 million project to replace a bridge over the Manhan River adjacent to the intersection, a traffic light will be installed at West Street and Route 10, possibly before the snow starts to fall this winter, said Joe Pipczynski, director of the city’s Department of Public Works. Residents who live near the intersection say they expect the light to reduce accidents, but it may make entering and exiting their own driveways more difficult.

“The light might help,” Jim Pinard said. “I don’t know how we’ll get out, but I think the intersection will be better off.”

▊ Northampton Street (Route 10): This state route is the most dangerous road in the city: 51 accidents took place on this approximately two-mile stretch, which features a heavily commercial section leading into Easthampton’s downtown. Of the accidents, 17 resulted in injuries.

South Hadley

There were 283 reported motor vehicle accidents in South Hadley in 2010, according to MassDOT. This is a 16 percent increase from the 245 accidents reported in 2009 — the fewest accidents reported by South Hadley over 20 years.

▊ Granby Road (Route 202)/Lyman Road: A major intersection with Plains Elementary School on the corner, the crossroads at Granby and Lyman was the site of six accidents in 2010, three of them resulting in injuries.

▊ Granby Road (Route 202): This road was the site of 48 accidents in 2010, including 11 that caused injuries. Route 202 cuts across the town and is one of the major arteries connected to a rotary.

Kristin Palpini can be contacted at kpalpini@gazettenet.com.


 

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