By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — SALEM — Saying the end of Flint Street near Mack Park is narrow and often too congested for fire engines and other public safety vehicles to pass through, officials lobbied a City Council subcommittee to do away with parking on the street last night.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said police Chief Paul Tucker.
“This is a public safety emergency,” said Lt. Robert Preczewski. “Seconds count in a heart attack.”
With backing from the police and fire departments, Mayor Kim Driscoll had asked councilors to order that parking be eliminated from the section of Flint Street between Mason and Oak streets. Currently, parking is allowed on the inbound side.
In a letter to the council, Driscoll and other officials noted that the congestion in the area during peak hours can result in six-minute delays and that the crash rate at the intersection of Flint and Mason streets — 5.3 per year — is more than double the average at similar intersections statewide.
They also said that eliminating parking would complement larger plans to enhance surface conditions on Mason and Tremont streets beginning this spring and to improve Grove and Goodhue streets, as is spelled out in the city’s long-term plan for the North River canal corridor.
Flint Street goes from Mason Street at Mack Park to the Dalton Parkway near Collins Middle School, crossing Bridge, Federal and Essex streets on the way. It’s a narrow road, but a heavily trafficked one, as it provides a link between Peabody and downtown Salem.
Spurred by former City Councilor Paul Prevey, the council previously tackled the issue of congestion at the end of Flint Street in 2007, and a section of the street was briefly made one-way. The experiment quickly ended after numerous complaints of motorists overloading nearby Oak Street, angering residents there.
This time around, officials said local residents whose on-street parking would disappear could find relief via the parking lot at the foot of Mack Park, which will be reconstructed, or another small lot farther down Flint Street.
A handful of residents spoke at last night’s meeting, some of them Flint Street residents. Many argued that Flint Street to Bridge Street ought to be made one-way again, but in the inbound direction, not outbound as was tried in 2007.
William Penta, a Flint Street resident, told the council that he agreed that current conditions on the road were hazardous, but pedestrians were the ones who faced the greatest danger. He said crosswalks and other conditions should be improved before parking is taken away and residents are forced to cross busy intersections to get to their vehicles.
“Those cars that are on Flint Street block people from being hurt,” Penta said.
Another Flint Street resident, Edmund Leblanc, faulted the city for abandoning the previous one-way experiment prematurely.
“Forty-eight hours ... that’s not enough time to figure out what’s going on,” Leblanc said.
Ultimately, city councilors voted to shelve the matter until later in the year, after roadway improvements are made in the area, in the belief that work already planned could alleviate the ongoing problems.
Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at email@example.com.