WHITMAN — Selectmen, at the behest of Police Chief Scott Benton, are considering a reduction of the number of parking spaces permitted on South Avenue in front of Town Hall to improve pedestrian visibility and safety in crosswalks.
Old Colony Planning Council will be asked to conduct a study on the feasibility of such a move — as well as a reduction of the speed limit in that area to 20 miles per hour.
“We can go to 20, but there’s a petition process,” Town Administrator Frank Lynam said, noting the statutory speed limit is 25 there. Lynam and Selectman Dan Salvucci said the OCPC can work rather quickly on the issue.
“There’s going to have to be some periodic enforcement, too,” Lynam said.
Benton provided a packet of eight photos illustrating the parking spaces and street traffic in front of Town Hall, as well as a copy of the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Devices, to illustrate his points. The photos demonstrate the lack of room for safely opening car doors and visibility problems when pedestrians emerge in the crosswalk from between cars to cross the street.
“I have people come in all the time complaining they almost got killed in this crosswalk out here,” Benton said. “Are we going to count bodies before we say, ‘Well, maybe we ought to take a look at this’?”
Selectman Brian Bezanson said 15 years of holding political signs in the Venus parking lot on election days has demonstrated to him the need to address the problem.
“You get to see a lot of things, and I can tell you that people go way too fast in front of this building,” Bezanson said. “It’s outrageous. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen one of your officers practically jump out of their shoes to get cars to slow down and stop and not hit pedestrians.”
He said the town is between a rock and a hard place, losing parking spots that are like gold to save somebody’s life. A lack of curb cuts for handicapped access to crosswalks is also a dangerous problem, Bezanson said, advocating a close look at the whole picture of safety in the area. Salvuci said the OCPC would require the curb cuts, which Lynam said should be done in any case.
“There’s a reason to do it for the traffic itself, but, certainly for the pedestrians, the biggest problem I see is visibility,” Benton said of the parking space changes. “They’re not visible.”
The federal guidelines place a minimum of 20 feet from a crosswalk to a parking space, with a recommendation of 30 feet or more. Benton said there are about three spaces in that stretch of roadway that are not 20 feet from the crosswalk. At least three parking spaces would be eliminated with the 20-foot guideline, six would be cut with a 30-foot guidelines.
“What we have here, too, a lot of the time is a lot of ‘almosts,’” Benton said. “Somebody goes to open their door without looking, and the door’s going South except for a motorist’s reaction or their person [opening the door] catches themselves.”
The situation also creates a problem of insufficient travel space for traffic in both directions when a westbound vehicle moves toward the center to provide room for opening car doors.
It presents a problem for crosswalks at Central and Davis streets as well as in front of the post office.
According to Benton, courts have held that, if a driver doesn’t have time to see an obstruction and avoid it, they are not responsible for a collision. A left turn out of Davis toward the east end of town, requires cars to make a wide turn — almost into the left lane — to get around cars parked in the corner space, he added.
Large trucks and emergency vehicles are also faced with the challenge of getting past parked cars.
Benton said that removing parking spaces and reconfiguring traffic flow past the 418 block of South Avenue near Raynor Avenue has reduced the number of accidents in that area. Selectmen Chairman Carl Kowalski, however, said the new traffic pattern there makes it difficult to see westbound traffic coming from the intersection of Pleasant and Franklin streets with South Avenue.
“It’s amazing how a line of cars, with almost no space between them, comes through that [four-way] stop sign,” Kowalski said. “Something has to be done with that.”
Benton said the problem with past accidents there was due more to visibility restrictions from traffic emerging from Raynor Avenue because of parked cars along the 418 block.
Kowalski said parking near Town Hall is also important for elders, especially as the back parking lot is often filled with employee vehicles.
Selectmen Scott Lambiase and Randy LaMattina suggested the municipal lot behind Dunkin’ Donuts is available, and perhaps signage is needed to alert people of its presence.