Archive 2008 - 2019

Meeting on Downtown Signalization Project April 13, 2016

by Nancy Farrell

A small group of town residents showed up Wednesday night at the High School Auditorium to discuss the Traffic Signalization Plan that will be voted on at Town Meeting with the Board of Selectmen and our now familiar traffic engineer Maureen Chlebek of McMahon & Associates.

Selectman Jay Marsden said he had recently counted and discovered that there had been 21 public discussions about this Traffic Signalization project. He said that he had recently been told by an unnamed person, wearing a beautiful hat, that he was becoming just a bit grouchy about this. Considering the tragic loss of life in the intersection at Christmas and the long-standing intractability of this issue, it's a small wonder.

Selectman Marsden raised two questions that continue to surface. One: Do we trust the engineers to know what they are doing? Marsden reminded the audience that McMahon is a well-established, experienced engineering firm with a long resume of challenging projects such as this and that they have been very responsive to all concerns and suggestions to the plan. He also addressed the concern that getting commuters through town quicker was a priority focussed on in the Request for Proposal.  He read the text of the Request for Proposal that shows the balance of making the downtown safe to pedestrians while attractive to thriving businesses and relieving traffic congestion; Marsden made it clear that this balance was the goal.  He also commended the Holliston in Bloom committee for their work on the Exchange St. parking lot and the walkway to Central St., just a three-four minute walk to downtown.

Maureen Chlebek of McMahon Associates had the job of responding to the comments from the last discussion. These are posted on the Town website. Chlebek emphasized that their design was always about creating a balance between safety and retaining our beautiful downtown. She answered the frequently asked question about why does it have to be three traffic lights, wouldn't one do, saying that all three intersections met Federally mandated requirements for signalization. And what about a roundabout? Chlebek said that a roundabout would not fit. Responding to suggestions to reduce the speed limit, she said that drivers tend to drive at the speed they are comfortable with. Could we limit heavy vehicles? Chlebek said that this is very difficult to implement. What about aesthetics? Chlebek said that treescape and other aesthetic elements are not part of the 10% design, but could be added down the line. What happened to the curb extensions (or bumpouts) to make the crossing distance shorter? These were part of the plan that the Selectman decided not to choose as an option.

But the question that continued throughout the discussion was the possibility to changing the design from two lanes in each direction along Washington St. to one lane. Maureen Chlebek said that the two-lane design was absolutely necessary to avoid long queues of cars on side streets, causing long wait times, therefore sending cars into neighborhoods and causing agitated drivers. And agitated drivers are unsafe.

There were a good number of supporters of the one-lane design; many suggesting that we try it and repaint the lines if it doesn't work.

Town resident Steve Hedrick summed up concerns with the two-lane plan, saying, "I am concerned that two straight-thru lanes do not have enough time or room to merge back into one lane. There are a lot of large cars and large trucks passing through Holliston center and I do not think that four car-lengths (if that) is enough time or room for the two thru-lanes to merge back together smoothly. The distance that two thru-lanes actually travel thru the center before having to merge back to one lane is very minimal. I would think one smooth-flowing thru-lane would be much more efficient than two thru-lanes which are in a constant state of jockeying/merging. Whether we have the one thru-lane design or the two thru-lane design, there will be traffic queueing up during peak times because of the lights."

Resident John Boyle expressed his concern that two lanes funneling into one will cause more fender benders and that moving traffic through downtown quicker just moves the congestion further down the road to the intersections at Highland and Concord streets.

Jay Leary expressed confidence that the merging of lanes could be managed safely.

Selectman Kevin Conley heartily endorsed the proposal for one lane of traffic in each direction, expressing concern that the delays caused by merging from two lanes to one would cause drivers to become agitated and competitive.

As an experienced traffic engineer Maureen Chlebek does not see the merging as a problem.  Responding to Stacey Raffi's question about the impact on safety of the complexity of drivers' decision making in the center of town, Chlebek acknowledged that drivers have a lot to pay attention to in the intersections.

Town resident and traffic engineer Eric Macki suggested some modifications to the current plan -- narrower lanes, getting rid of left turn lane at Exchange, reconsidering bump outs and implement a protected turn from Washington onto Hollis.

Maureen Chlebek responded to Paul Saulnier's suggestion to move the Exchange St. crosswalk to corner of Exchange and Green, saying that the driveways at the Mobil Station to allow access to large refilling trucks made this impossible.

State Rep and town resident Carolyn Dykema suggested allowing residents to vote on one lane or two lane plans at Town Meeting. Planning Board member Warren Chamberlain and several others expressed concern that the current plan for two lanes will not pass at Town Meeting and will again delay traffic lights. He advised not letting the two-lane plan hold the traffic lights hostage. Geoff Zeamer reminded the group that parking spaces once lost, they are lost forever; he urges that both one lane and two lane plans be presented at Town Meeting. Maureen Chlebek said that there is a feasibility of one lane with lights, saying that the options are out there because we are not changing the lanes along Washington Street.

Town resident Kip Fenton asked for clarification of what we mean when we say one or two lanes -- does two lanes in each direction mean there is a focus on speed through town, and less emphasis on safety and business. Jay Leary responded that the focus of the current two-lane plan is not speed, but efficiency.

Jay Marsden, urging a single plan be presented at Town Meeting, said there was still homework to be done.

Comments (2)

Correction: I suggested to remove the second through lane currently proposed southbound toward Milford and replacing it with a dedicated left turn lane to Exchange Street, similar to the existing condition.

Erik Maki | 2016-04-15 12:35:28

Thank you Selectmen Marsden and Leary for your continued leadership in trying to move this much needed initiative forward. After listening to all the comments at this meeting and again on facebook, I feel a little disheartened because it seems like people have not really been paying attention. The idea that we are moving from one to lane to four was brought up several times. We currently have 3 lanes in most places, the question is do we make 3 go to 4? Which spots? When? And how? This involves only PAINT. Are the lanes right turn/left turn only or do we allow some people to go through OR right. Let's put this in perspective again, this is about PAINT on the road. Allowing for the additional through lanes - which does NOT turn any of Holliston into a superhighway, frankly that's just silly, allows for proper flow of traffic. When you restrict to only two through lanes (especially toward Milford), the traffic is expected to back up over a ΒΌ of a mile (Church Place to Central). These are not all out of towners. There are lot of Holliston residents who live on the other side of the Central/Washington side of town. These folks WILL find other ways to get to where they need to go if the traffic backs up that far. You know where they will go? Through Mudville and Elm and Church etc. Two thru lanes also decrease safety (stated at the meeting by engineers who do this for a living) because when traffic backs up, drivers get angry and take risks. This is not what we need downtown. If you vote for two thru lanes you are voting to make drivers take risks and for traffic to likely seep out into our neighborhoods. If the TWO to three spots where this ONE additional through lane doesn't work out? We repaint it/them as a turn exclusive lane(s). If folks vote down lights because of paint, I think that is really about ego.

Sandra ONeil | 2016-04-15 07:02:53