SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 18, 2013

City seeks speed limit change following fatal accident

By Bethany Bray
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — City leaders are calling for Loring Avenue to have one uniform speed limit of 30 mph, after an elderly woman was struck and killed there two weeks ago.

Currently, portions of Loring Avenue are 30 mph, while others are 40 mph.

Salem police continue to investigate the June 29 hit-and-run accident that killed 83-year-old Feliksa Mieszczanska, but no suspects have been charged. Mieszczanska died at Salem Hospital after she was struck crossing the street in front of her home at 466 Loring Ave., not far from Vinnin Square.

Mayor Kim Driscoll and longtime City Councilor Joseph O’Keefe have co-authored a letter asking the state to set Loring Avenue’s speed limit at 30 miles per hour from Lincoln Road to the Swampscott town line — a busy stretch that includes what is known to locals as “dead man’s curve.”

Loring Avenue is a state highway, Route 1A, at that location, so the Massachusetts Department of Transportation controls the speed limit.

“There have been several hits and near-misses on Loring Avenue,” Driscoll said. “We’re trying to find out what’s a safe speed of travel for Loring Avenue. Given this incident and prior incidents, we feel a slower speed of travel is in everyone’s best interest.”

O’Keefe, the Ward 7 councilor, said he began to pursue the issue after several of Mieszczanska’s neighbors contacted him about lowering the speed limit in the wake of the accident.

A lower speed might have made a difference that day, O’Keefe said.

Lt. Robert Precszewski, commander of the Salem Police Department’s traffic division, said he fully supports lowering the speed limit along that stretch of road. It’s a densely settled neighborhood, with houses less than 150 feet apart, he said.

“It’s more of a city street than a highway, in my opinion,” Precszewski said. “... My recommendation is that I think it should be lowered because it’s a thickly settled district.”

The speed limit on Loring Avenue is 30 mph at dead man’s curve, but it jumps to 40 mph as you drive away from the city, toward Vinnin Square, Precszewski said. It drops back to 30 mph at Vinnin Square.

Adding to the confusion is that there are two different types of speed limit signs. The square, white signs with black lettering give the state’s official speed limits. The orange signs with black lettering are “advisory signs,” said Precszewski, which give a recommended — but unenforceable — speed.

“Loring Avenue is divided up into many speed zones, some 40 mph and some 30 mph,” he said Tuesday. “Since most of the road is 30 mph, the city has asked that it all be 30 mph.”

Driscoll and O’Keefe sent their letter to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation last week.

In their letter, Driscoll and O’Keefe point out that Loring Avenue, from Lincoln Road to the Swampscott line, includes five crosswalks and just one pedestrian-activated crossing signal. The stretch has a “treacherous curve” and turn-offs to the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA and Salem State University’s south campus, they wrote.

“One signal over a three-fifths of a mile stretch of state roadway also leads pedestrians to take dangerous risks to cross the street in more convenient, yet less protected, locations,” they wrote. “Tragically, this may have contributed to Ms. Mieszczanska’s death.”

Precszewski said he expects the state would conduct a speed survey on Loring Avenue before making a decision to change the speed limit.

Salem police continue to look into leads in the June 29 hit-and-run, Detective Daniel Tucker said this week.

Mieszczanska’s family said that at the time of the accident, she was crossing the street to dispose of weeds from her garden. One of eight siblings who immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1965, Mieszczanska had lived her entire life with her younger sister, Laura.

Police said witnesses described seeing a small dark car, possibly a Honda or Mazda, flee the accident scene toward Swampscott. There was likely damage to the front end and a smashed windshield. Anyone with information about the crash can call Tucker at 978-744-0171, ext. 294.

Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@salemnews.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.