Salem Street fails its one-way test

KEN YUSZKUS/Staff photo

Salem Street behind the Saltonstall School in Salem.

SALEM — “The test is over,” City Councilor Josh Turiel happily announced.

“The test” was a trial to turn narrow Salem Street behind the Saltonstall School one-way to address ongoing safety concerns during school drop-off and pickup times.

It was supposed to run 60 days; it lasted a grand total of four. 

“It wasn’t the ideal solution,” said Turiel, the councilor for Ward 5.

Turiel shared the news Thursday that the police department would revert traffic patterns back to two-way. But that’s not the end of it. Turiel will ask his fellow councilors to support another temporary 60-day trial at their next meeting on April 9.

The new measure would place restrictions on Chase Street, which is perpendicular to Salem Street, turning it into a one-way from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. on school days. Vehicles won’t be able to turn onto Chase to get to busy Lafayette Street. The change would become permanent only if the City Council were to pass an ordinance amendment.

Parents should take either Leavitt or Chase streets and pull up next to the school in the loading area in the southbound lane of Salem Street, Turiel said.

The initial test was greeted with skepticism and outright scorn from parents and residents, who argued it was an ill-conceived plan that would only worsen the traffic situation. Councilors, including Turiel, also had mixed feelings about it.

For the past year-and-a-half, the city has tried to find a good solution to reduce congestion behind the elementary school and make it safer for students. Salem Street is a popular cut-through between Congress and Lafayette streets, but police say that parents often don’t obey parking rules.

Lt. Robert Preczewski, who’s in charge of traffic operations, said the last test had ripple effects on adjacent streets and shifted some of the congestion, but also led to parents parking across the street from the rear entrance to the school and then sending their kids across. Not exactly the safest option.

The street is just wide enough for two lanes of traffic to pass with one lane of queuing cars to drop off or pick up students, Preczewski said. The problems start when parents try to pull around each other’s vehicles or leave their cars unattended while they walk their children into the school.

“We’re trying to limit congestion,” he said. “We’re trying to make it flow better.”

Trials aside, parking is prohibited on either side of Salem Street behind the school between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. unless parents are sitting inside their cars actively waiting for their students. U-turns aren’t allowed either.

If more parents adhered to those restrictions, Turiel and Preczewski said, that would largely solve the problem.

A common refrain from critics of the test was that more enforcement was needed by police. Preczewski said officers do go down to the school weekly to monitor the situation and make sure cars are moving along.

Turiel said another short-term measure will include removing the island in front of the school on Lafayette Street to make it a more efficient area for loading. During the new test, police will increase their presence during those times. Parking spots may also be added on the northbound side of Salem Street in the future.

Before any changes are made permanent, Ward 2 Councilor Heather Famico wants to see actual data to back up the recommendation. She voted against the initial trial earlier this month partly for that reason and has raised questions about a lack of data since then.

You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, jcastelluccio@salemnews.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.

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