Safety zone eyed for children’s center in Amherst

Staff Writer
Published: 9/18/2023 4:05:57 PM
Modified: 9/18/2023 4:05:14 PM

AMHERST — A three-way stop, speed bumps, a raised crosswalk and possibly making a portion of Henry Street into a one-way road have been among the suggestions for improving safety for children, families and staff at the Cushman Scott Children’s Center.

Letters have been sent and meetings held in recent months with town officials and members of the Town Council, as well as the Department of Public Works, but no solution has yet been identified. A police survey showed that almost two-thirds of vehicles passing by the 71 Henry St. site as children were arriving and leaving were traveling over the posted 25 mph speed limit.

 “We have young children, families and staff who are close to the street during pickup and drop-off times and I have seen some near misses of children or teachers narrowly escaping getting hurt by cars speeding by the school,” Mary Ann Ziomek, the center’s executive director, wrote to councilors in May.

Now, a solution that could create “safety zones,” giving the town authority to lower the speeds to 20 mph and give more protections to people at nursery schools, other schools and places with specific populations, such as senior citizens, is being considered.

The Town Services and Outreach Committee on Thursday voted 4-0 in favor of recommending adopting safety zones.

The vote came after Town Manager Paul Bockelman recently sent a memo to councilors, including those on the council subcommittee that has been reviewing possible changes at the Cushman location, informing them that the first step would be to accept provisions of the state’s Chapter 90, Section 18B.

“However, if the town accepts the statute, and the road is not a state highway, the Town Council may then vote to establish a safety zone upon a finding of certain minimum safety criteria supported by an engineering study,” Bockelman wrote.

The engineering study is a requirement to validate the posting of lower speed limit signs and must include an analysis of the current speed distribution of those vehicles going by.

Based on input from Jonathan G. Murray, an attorney with town attorney KP Law, there would be no approval needed from the state Department of Transportation, should the state statute be accepted.

But Murray said the town would still have to comply with other rules, including that the street is adjacent to a land use that is likely to attract vulnerable road users; that the street has one or more potential conflicts, such as crosswalks, driveways, or side streets; and that the minimum length of the safety zone should be at least a quarter of a mile and should not extend more than 500 feet beyond a side street.

The written appeals and oral comments from families were plentiful back in May.

“I worry that a child could be severely injured or worse if we don’t address the traffic issues on this stretch of road,” wrote Michelle Wilson, a parent of two children at the school.

“I can personally attest that all children at Cushman are being put at risk by drivers who are speeding on Henry Street in front of the school,” wrote Aaron Shragge, who has a child at the school.

“At a historical moment when parents face heightened anxieties around the safety of their children at school and higher levels of government that have been woefully ineffective at passing reasonable firearm reform, traffic safety seems like a small yet vital bipartisan measure we can actually implement at a local level,” Victoria Nguyen wrote.

Before turning to the idea of the town adopting safety zones, suggestions from the town included moving employee parking and reducing the need for people using the building to go across the street.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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