SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 1, 2014

Traffic troubles pile up in Peabody

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — The problem became critical for Diane Gallucio as she drove down Lowell Street toward Peabody High.

Some drivers aren’t aware that the left lane ends at Bourbon Street, she said. When they find out, they sometimes make dangerous attempts to get back into the right lane.

When Gallucio refused to let a car cut in front of her, “he got in back of me, on my tail, tooting his horn.” The driver and passengers made obscene gestures as they followed her down Lowell Street.

These situations happen repeatedly, she said. Recently, on the same stretch, her daughter was run off the road by an SUV.

“There’s got to be a way to configure (the road) so it works,” Gallucio pleaded at a recent meeting of the City Council’s public safety subcommittee.

Traffic problems in Peabody have reached critical mass, according to Councilor Mike Garabedian. The difficulties can be seen at intersections in virtually every ward, from West Peabody to the downtown. The most recent assessment of downtown traffic clocked 27,000 daily vehicle trips on Main Street, including “pass-through” drivers headed for Salem or Marblehead. Some believe the proliferation of no-right-on-red signs is making their passage worse.

Garabedian said that in the decades since he moved to West Peabody, traffic there has soared. Hannaford’s Plaza has sparked a lot of it. While Peabody’s population hasn’t grown excessively, Councilor Tom Walsh noted that families and homes now come with multiple cars.

To deal with this, councilors at a meeting in February will consider solutions such as better signage, better coordination of traffic lights and better road markings. Walsh has volunteered to confer with the Community Development Department and Peabody Police. Councilors will forward lists of what they or their constituents determine to be the most dangerous intersections.

Garabedian cited as an example the difficulty of getting onto Route 1 from Goodale Street. “You don’t know which way the cars are going to go,” he said, adding that “there are seven or eight intersections in desperate need of attention.”

Sometimes, the crush of traffic has led to accidents or near-accidents, Walsh said. He confirmed Gallucio’s belief that the stretch of Lowell Street from Goodale to the high school is particularly worrisome.

One focus of attention is the number of intersections where a right turn on red is prohibited. Walsh cites Howley Street in the downtown, where a right turn that was previously allowed is now prohibited. At the intersection of Lowell and Foster streets, where there’s no longer a right turn on red, afternoon traffic can back up well past City Hall, forcing drivers to wait through multiple light changes.

Fixes, however, usually demand a traffic study, and councilors are conscious of the cost. Community Development Director Karen Sawyer did not question the need for improvements, but she noted that a study for a mere nine-tenths of a mile in the downtown cost $15,000.

Some changes could be made, however, by relying on recent studies already paid for, Walsh said. Commonsense improvements need not involve a study, he said. A case in point is traffic heading toward Peabody Square on Lowell Street and backing up at the Endicott Street light as vehicles wait to turn left, Walsh said. He believes that delaying the green light for oncoming Lowell Street traffic could eliminate much of that trouble.

Getting any no-right-on-red signs taken down won’t be easy. In some cases, they were put up by the state, which has the say on state roads.

“I’m not sure getting rid of the no-right-on-red signs is going to make the difference,” Garabedian added. “No-turn-on-red is put there for a reason — safety.” By the same token, he said, slower downtown traffic may be safer downtown traffic.

Walsh also advised caution, citing the need for safety and acknowledging that the revamping of downtown traffic came in the wake of fatal pedestrian accidents.

“We want our seniors to walk safely in the downtown,” he said.

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.