The Winds Of Change Blow Hot And Cold
The Good And The Bad Of Our Summer Trials
By William Legault
Salem continues to change. Nothing remains the same, even if you wish it would. The two constants of American life are death and taxes. They change too. Death is no longer automatically followed by burial. Options exist from cremation to cryogenic preservation, or being biodegraded to help grow a new tree. Taxes rise, and theoretically fall. Everything changes. We can object. We can protest. Change will still come.
We have recently experienced the trials and tribulations brought by what some consider forward thinking and others a sign of a city over reaching.
The once and future King of American traffic? For the purpose of this article we will call them rotaries. and let others have the round-a-bout discussion. We once had two in Salem. The infamous Riley Plaza, and a smaller one at Washington and Bridge Streets. They went the way of the contact hitter in baseball long ago. Going, going, gone.
Now we have one permanent rotary at Swampscott Road and First Street, and a smaller trial rotary at the intersection of Summer Street, Chestnut Street, and Norman Street. I recall that when I was on the City Council the State released a list of the most accident prone, or dangerous intersections across the state. This Chestnut, Summer, Norman traffic point was high on the list of Salem intersections that were problematic in both vehicle to vehicle accidents and vehicle to pedestrian accidents. If memory serves correctly, various configurations of stop signs and yield signs have been tried over the years to very little success.
The bigger intersection on Swampscott Road seems to have passed its trial by fire. Despite the many and vociferous complaints when plans were first revealed to the public and then during construction. It seems to be working well enough. The uproar has subsided.
Our smaller trial rotary is still being evaluated. I’ve spent some time watching traffic move through it. The few tweaks made in the design seem to have worked. It seems that some drivers do not understand how to navigate a rotary, or maybe they just don’t care to do it properly. Many who I have observed drive through incorrectly are using their cell phones at the same time. It is true that big trucks and buses have some trouble with it. But larger vehicles should be routing to Washington Street or South Salem via Bridge Street. This rotary is a blessing to the pedestrian, especially for those with disabilities or mobility issues.
These cute little urban oasis are great in concept. Small, quiet shelters from urban traffic and commotion. There are some communities where these work well. Will they work in Salem? Maybe. The big question is. Are they needed?
The fact is, there is no spot in downtown Salem that is not close to a small park, or some other public space with tables and chairs. The Fountain in Town House Square has seating. Derby Square has seating. The new Charlotte Forten Park has seating. These parklets are not needed.
Let’s take proper care of Lappin Park which is the biggest embarrassment in our downtown with its dirt, weeds and lack of a proper lawn. Tens of thousands of visitors see this park every year and we treat it like a spot behind the tool shed. Whatever happened to those wonderful, colorful Adirondack chairs that graced the park for a few years?
If we do move forward with these parklets, then there must be investment of some kind by the businesses that will benefit from them.
I approached this trial with an open mind. Knowing that most media coverage nowadays is negative, I paid little mind to the many editorials and other articles from around the country condemning these nifty little contraptions. How could they be any different than bicycles and skateboards? I have observed closely everyday. Here are the results of my observations.
- Our downtown is too small for these to be of any practical use.
2. Their profile is much smaller than a bicycle, they make less noise than a skateboard and can sneak up on a car or a pedestrian quickly.
3. Our narrow streets encourage users to use the sidewalk despite the rules and this creates conflict with pedestrians.
I would rather not see these become a permanent part of our community. But if they do, enforcement measures must be taken and our police equipped, if possible, with a device to electronically disable one if the circumstances require it.
None of these efforts are a failure of city government. It is indication of a willingness to try new things, and hopefully to learn in the process.