By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt went to St. Adelaide’s Catholic Church last night with a plan to make it safer to cross Lowell Street, especially after Mass.
Citing the recommendation of Design Consultants Inc., the mayor proposed installing a traffic light in front of the church that could stop drivers with a red light and could be activated by a pedestrian at the push of a button.
About 30 people attended the meeting, which was sparked by the death of Theodore Buttner, 87, last January. A Somerville resident, Buttner regularly attended St. Adelaide’s with his daughter, Peabody resident Patricia Caton, and her family. He was struck by a car while walking from the church to an auxiliary parking lot directly across the street.
“Certainly I’ve been heartbroken, just as you have, about what happened several months ago,” said the mayor, who is himself a St. Adelaide’s parishioner. Moreover, he added, “I know we’ve had a number of near misses.”
Bettencourt estimated the cost of installing the light at $80,000. Those attending the meeting, in the church’s basement hall, gave unanimous approval to the broad outlines of the plan. Details, like the placement of the lights and the duration of time for a red light, are yet to be determined. The mayor resolved to try and push the idea through the approval process and have a light installed before the winter.
Also attending was Ward Councilor Barry Sinewitz and School Committee member Tom Rossignoll.
Design Consultants were in Peabody in June studying the Lowell Street traffic, said Sinewitz. It inspired some head shaking astonishment when he revealed that close to 11,000 cars pass the church each day, traveling on average between 37 to 40 mph.
“So there is an issue there,” said the councilor, suggesting that drivers are moving too fast. But he noted that the parishioners must play their part in making the street safer. “When people cross they’re not crossing in the crosswalk.” Thus, it makes it more difficult for drivers to pass safely.
“We should start a serious campaign,” agreed the Rev. David Lewis, pastor at St. Adelaide’s, insisting that people use the crosswalk. “We really have to push for it.”
Bettencourt said the light would first have to past muster with the finance committee and then the City Council, but stressed that he doesn’t know of a single councilor who would not approve it.
Among the configurations that could be considered: A single signal hung over the street; two signals, one on the right and one on the left; or four signals, two on each side of the street facing opposite ways in case one is blocked from the driver’s view. Complicating all this is the fact that the setting sun is often at street level, making visibility difficult.
“The sunlight can be blinding at certain times of the day,” said Bettencourt.
“It’s good to see that everything is being considered,” said parishioner Rick D’Amato.
“I’m happy to know of the program,” said Lewis.
For her part, Caton offered an emotional thanks to all those responding to her father’s death. “I wanted to thank you for everything,” she told Bettencourt and Sinewitz. As if to remind all of the difficulty in keeping pedestrians safe from careless or impaired drivers, she noted, “My dad was on the crosswalk.”