SALEM — The City Council’s decision to limit part of a narrow side street to one-way traffic near the Saltonstall School has drawn the ire of neighborhood residents — and even the parents of kids the move is designed to protect.
Surprised to hear the news of the pending change Thursday, parents and neighbors quickly responded with harsh criticism to an update Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel posted to Facebook. They called it an ill-conceived, “horrible” plan that would only make the traffic situation worse around the school.
Turiel’s post explains that Salem Street will become a one-way starting at Chase Street and heading south to Lafayette Place. The change will be in place for a 60-day trial period, starting this week. Northbound traffic looking to escape the congestion on Lafayette Street and instead “slide down” Salem Street — as Councilor-at-Large Arthur Sargent put it — to cross over to Congress and Derby streets will just be out of luck.
About a dozen residents — many of them Saltonstall parents — expressed varying degrees of frustration, saying the decision would “make lots of kids late for school” at Saltonstall as well as at other schools and just push traffic into other areas.
The proposal came from the Salem police traffic division as an attempt to address safety concerns during pickup and drop-off at Saltonstall. Councilors — including Turiel — had mixed feelings about the measure Thursday evening, but the change was approved, 8-3, with councilors Todd Siegel, David Eppley and Heather Famico in opposition.
Turiel, a Saltonstall parent, shared his thoughts again in a Facebook post later that night.
Turiel said Salem Street is a convenient cut-through he’s regularly used himself for 20 years. But he pointed to reoccurring “serious safety problems” at the school ever since Saltonstall reopened at its old location two years ago. The narrow street isn’t wide enough to safely accommodate two-way traffic and parked cars when students are crossing back and forth from the school, said Turiel.
Additionally, parents are also parking on other side streets and even busy Lafayette Street and sending their kids across. There have been multiple accidents, although thankfully nothing major, he said.
The main issue is the parents, according to Turiel.
“We do have major safety concerns on that street,” said Turiel. “I wish the behavior of some parents wasn’t so bad as to make the police consider ruining things for everyone else.”
According to Police Lt. Robert Preczewski, who heads up traffic operations, parents ignore existing no parking signs that are in effect during school hours. Instead they leave their vehicles right underneath the posted signs and walk into the building to collect their children. That parking restriction was put in place last year in an attempt to make pickups and drop-offs safer.
Turiel said Preczewski has tried to find a solution to the problem for a year and a half. The strategy now is to change the traffic pattern.
Several of the parents who chimed in via Facebook said police should just enforce the existing rules on a daily basis before creating new ones. Some, while recognizing the safety issues, were still skeptical it was a good solution.
Once the trial period is concluded, the council will discuss whether to make the change permanent with a new ordinance. The trial may not last the full 60 days the council OK’d.
Famico, Eppley and Siegel wanted to to discuss the plan further in committee before taking any action, but Robert McCarthy pointed out school would be out for summer by the time any changes could pass through the full legislative process with the council.
“Lafayette is already backed up,” said Famico, noting she often uses the cut-through when coming from South Salem. “Other than Canal Street, there’s really nowhere (for northbound traffic) to go.”
You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.